Fireplace Safety for Older Adults

Nothing warms a room like the crackling heat from a roaring fire as the winter chill takes hold.  But older homes with wood burning or natural gas fireplaces can present safety concerns, especially if they have not been recently cleaned and inspected.  And older adults are more than twice as likely to die in fires and those over 85 are four times more likely to die in a fire than the general population, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Adults with a history of lung disease may want to avoid wood-burning fires altogether.  According to the Cleveland Clinic, smoke from wood fires contain small particles which can irritate eyes and contribute to respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis.  Wood smoke also contains toxic substances such as benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein and methane.   Older adults, young children and those with heart or lung disease are more likely to be affected by the fine particles from wood smoke that can travel deep into the lungs.

If you do choose to use the fireplace this season keep in mind the following safety tips and limit exposure to wood smoke for those who may be more sensitive.

Fireplace safety

  • Have fireplace and chimney cleaned and inspected each year by a certified professional.
  • Check for gaps, crack, drafts and creosote build-up.
  • Check smoke detectors are in good working order.
  • Ensure the room with the fireplace is well ventilated.
  • Fireplace ash or embers should be disposed of outdoors in a metal container with a lid, dousing the ash with water.
  • Do not burn wrapping paper or packaging in the fireplace,  the intense combustion can cause a flash fire.
  • Do not hang Christmas stockings from the mantle when the fireplace is in use.
  • Burn only dry, seasoned wood.
  • Never leave fire unattended.
  • Always place a screen in front of fire or better yet have a tight-fitting door installed
  • Never use an accelerant (gasoline, lighter fluid) to start fire.
  • Do not burn Christmas trees in the fireplace.

Source:  Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs

Newer fireplace inserts (since 1992) are significantly more clean-burning than older models due to newer air quality regulations.  A gas burning fireplace is an alternative to traditional wood fireplaces, however they emit nitrogen dioxide which can also irritate the lungs.

For more Fire Safety Tips visit the U.S. Fire Administration(USFA) website by following this link.