As the temperatures drop and the smell of wood burning chimneys and stoves fill the air it is prime time to have your chimney cleaned and inspected to remove creosote buildup. Creosote is a category of carbonaceous chemicals formed by the distillation of various tars and by pyrolysis of plant-derived material, such as wood or fossil fuel – simply it is the black stuff that accumulates when incomplete combustion (burning) occurs and it “sticks” to cooler surfaces like the inside of your chimney. This is why double- and triple-walled stovepipe is preferred over single-walled. On multiple walled stovepipe the inside wall is actually able to stay at a higher temperature and the unburned fuels (creosote) going up your chimney tend to not “stick” as much and exit through the top.
Since creosote is basically unburned fuel and it collects on all stovepipe (single-, double-, and triple-walled) over time it needs to be cleaned or “swept” on a regular basis. We suggest sweeping before you start to burn in the Fall and once again halfway through Winter (middle to late January depending on how much you burn). If you are hiring a company to sweep your chimney, it is a good idea to have them inspect your system – providing you with “peace of mind” concerning materials, construction and clearances.
Whether you clean it yourself or have someone else do it, the investment in a good cleaning is well worth it in peace of mind alone.
This is also a good time of year to check if you have CO (carbon monoxide) detectors and smoke alarms properly installed and operational. Both of these are relatively inexpensive insurance policies for your life and property. The following is an excerpt from Colorado House Bill 09-1091 concerning CO detectors:
• This law requires homeowners and owners of rental property to install carbon monoxide alarms near the bedrooms (or other room lawfully used for sleeping purposes) in every home that is heated with fossil fuel, has a fuel-fired appliance, has a fireplace, or has an attached garage.
• This requirement applies to every home that is sold, remodeled, repaired, or leased to a new tenant after July 1, 2009.
• This law also protects a property owner, an authorized agent of a property owner, or anyone who installs a carbon monoxide detector from any potential future liability (or damages) resulting from the operation, maintenance, or effectiveness of the detector, so long as the detector was installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions and in accordance with this law.
• This law also protects persons holding real estate licenses pursuant to Article 61 of Title 12, C.R.S from any damages, claimed by a purchaser, and related to the operation, maintenance, or effectiveness of a carbon monoxide alarm if such licensed person complies with the rules set forth in this law.
From Section R313 of the 2003 International Residential Code (which is the adopted code in La Plata County) concerning smoke alarms:
[F] R313.1 Smoke alarms. Smoke alarms shall be installed in the following locations:
1. In each sleeping room.
2. Outside each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms.
3. On each additional story of the dwelling, including basements but not including crawl spaces and uninhabitable attics. In dwellings or dwelling units with split levels and without an intervening door between the adjacent levels, a smoke alarm installed on the upper level shall suffice for the adjacent lower level provided that the lower level is less than one full story below the upper level.
When more than one smoke alarm is required to be installed within an individual dwelling unit the alarm devices shall be interconnected in such a manner that the actuation of one alarm will activate all of the alarms in the individual unit. The alarm shall be clearly audible in all bedrooms over background noise levels with all intervening doors closed.
All smoke alarms shall be listed and installed in accordance with the provisions of this code and the household fire-warning equipment provisions of NFPA 72.
Please follow all manufacturer specifications for correct model and installation of heating appliances for your specific application.
Ashes & coals – these will both continue to ‘burn’ up to 72 hours after taking them out of your stove. PLEASE make sure you are transferring ash to a heavy duty metal (not plastic) bucket for the first cooling and then to a second bucket which you can douse with water (watch for steam) and cool completely. Do not place the ash bucket on a combustible surface such as wood. This seems like common sense, but how many times do we throw out common sense for speed and shortcuts? Please, take the time needed to safely dispose of hot ashes.
Lastly, space heaters get used a lot on these cold days. Space heater concerns are how close it is to flammable materials (curtains, wall hangings, books/papers) and how accessible it is to small children and pets.
Here are some quick things to remember as we move into this Winter heating season:
• Heating equipment is involved in 1 in every 6 reported home fires and 1 in every 5 home fire deaths.
• Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet from any heat source like fireplaces, wood stoves, radiators, or space heaters.
• Keep portable generators outside, away from windows, and as far away as possible from your house. Install and test carbon monoxide alarms at least once a month.
• Have a qualified professional clean and inspect your chimney and vents every year. Store cooled ashes in a tightly covered metal container, and keep it outside at least 10 from your home and any nearby buildings.
• Plug only1 heat-producing appliance (such as a space heater) into an electrical outlet at a time.
This Year's “Put a Freeze on Winter Fires” campaign will be focusing on electrical safety.
Electricity is so ingrained in our daily lives that most of us take it for granted, but it does carry fire risks. In fact, electrical home fires are a leading cause of home fires in the U.S. In 2013, electrical fires or malfunctions were factors in an estimated 44,900 home structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments. These fires caused 410 deaths, 1,180 injuries and $1.3 billion in direct property damage. On average each year between 2007 and 2011, roughly half of all home electrical fires involved electrical distribution or lighting equipment, while nearly another half involved other known types of equipment.
NFPA offers a wealth of electrical home fire statistics that underscore the impact electrical fires have on the home fire problem. Meanwhile, our electrical safety tip sheet (PDF) provides simple steps for safely using electrical appliances this winter and all year long.