How Safe are Fireplaces and Woodstoves?
Safe home heating when treated with care and respect
Some people consider fireplaces and woodstoves to be a very risky proposition for heating a home, yet for thousands of years these kinds of hearth equipment have been the main heating choice for people all over the world. The simplest answer is that fireplaces and woodstoves are very safe when used properly and treated reasonably. The main difference between a wood stove or fireplace and a natural gas fireplace is the additional work required on the part of the operator. Since woodstoves and fireplaces do not usually have automatic safeguards of any kind, the operator must assume more knowledge and responsibility than would be necessary with other types of heating equipment. If you are unprepared to spend the time necessary to maintain your woodstove or fireplace, then perhaps a different heating method would be better suited to your needs.
There are a number of potential concerns with woodstoves, such as chimney fires resulting from unchecked creosote buildup, carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of improper or insufficient ventilation and an inadequately airtight stove, and burns as a result of getting too close to the hot surface of the stove itself. All of these unfortunate events can be prevented through proper maintenance , an adequate understanding of your heating system, installation of safeguards to prevent children from getting too close to the stove, and ensuring that your family or anyone near the stove is educated as to its use. Maintenance of your heating system includes maintenance and replacement of batteries for your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers.
With all of that said, most wood heating systems simply do not allow the level of autonomy found in natural gas fireplaces or systems using other fuels. If your home will be frequently left unattended for more than a few hours at a time, a fireplace or woodstove just isn't a good primary heating system for you. Other options, such as masonry heaters, allow greater safety and flexibility when leaving the home unattended for more than a few hours, but are very expensive and bulky – there are always compromises. All in all, the safest and most convenient option is a natural gas fireplace a corn-burning or wood pellet stove.
If you have further questions about woodstove and fireplace safety, contact your local fire department or fire marshal for brochures or booklets which will give you detailed information on fire prevention in your own home.