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The Comforts of Home


setting the stage

It might be tempting, but you should never use unapproved accelerants to start a fire. These include things like gasoline or butane. You'll get a fire all right, but it may not be where you want it. Stick to old newspapers and dry kindling or approved chemical fire starters.

Tip:   The best way to reduce smoke and therefore air pollution is to use a high-efficiency wood stove or fireplace that's low emission certified by the EPA. When used properly, they can cut smoke by up to 90%.

Local fire codes often require that you install carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms, and to have a functioning fire extinguisher, but whether fire codes dictate these safety precautions or not, it is quite simply the safest course to have them installed in your home.

Tip:   Keep sparks where they belong with a properly fitted fireplace or stove screen.


Creosote is a hard black deposit left behind by chimney smoke, and it can ignite if it's allowed to build up so…

  • Only burn well-seasoned wood that's been split and dried properly ("fall to fall is best of all")


  • While it may seem like a good way to get rid of garbage and plastic, don't burn anything that will release toxic fumes. It's dangerous and will cause creosote builup.

    Tip:   When the fire is burning, it's not normal to smell smoke in your home; if you do, there's a problem you should investigate immediately.


    The best way to make sure that your wood burning system is safe is to hire a certified chimney sweep to conduct a maintenance check every year. Early spring is best, right after the heating season is over; that way any potential corrosion problems won't be compounded by warm, humid summer air.

    Visually inspect your chimney. With flue pipes, look for corrosion that can weaken joints. Masonry chimneys should n ot have black or white stains on outer bricks, and keep an eye out for cracks. It's also a good idea to see how things are looking in those "hidden spaces": check your attic for any signs of flue or chimney deterioration.

    If you have a wood stove, check:

  • Door tension springs. These prevent smoke leakage, and you can tell where they need to be tightened by looking for streaks of soot on door glass.


  • Door gaskets and seals. Essential for efficiency, some may need to be replaced as often as once a year.

    Tip:   Clear out ashes regularly. It's a good idea to have a small metal bucket to carry ashes outdoors to a covered fireproof container that's well away from your house.

    common problems

    There are two things that most commonly cause fireplaces or wood stoves to spill smoke into your home (aside from systems that are badly designed):

  • Cold-Backdraft-Standby Syndrome. Fans and other appliances in new, airtight, homes can push out enough air to cause the pressure inside the house to be lower than outside. Combined with cold air in an uninsulated flue, this can actually suck smoke down your chimney.


  • Not hot enough. A smoldering fire will not be hot enough to produce enough draft, causing smoke to pour into your home. This can be especially dangerous at night.


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