Fire Safety Week is in October, which just happens to coincide with the start of fireplace season. It’s a good time to review the safety of all fireplaces. Below, we cover the basics of fireplace safety, and compare electric fireplaces to gas and wood-burning fireplaces.
Fireplace Safety: Containing Sparks and Logs
When we think of fireplaces, the first ‘fire hazard’ we might think of could be live sparks from a wood-burning fireplace. As logs burn, they give off sparks that can fly out of the fireplace cavity and into the room. For this reason, wood-burning fireplaces normally have a non-flammable hearth – that area in front of the fire that is stone or concrete. You should also be aware that logs can fall off the grate and onto the hearth, or even into the room. To prevent these hazards from starting a fire in your home, it’s imperative that you have a mesh screen or fireplace doors on the fireplace opening. A good set of fireplace doors has glass doors that open, with mesh doors that latch together to prevent logs from pushing through. It’s also important to have a good-quality grate that is the right size for the fireplace and the logs that you are burning.
One advantage of gas and electric fireplaces is that there are no live sparks or burning logs that could make their way into your room.
Fireplace Safety: Flammable Materials around the fireplace
Wherever there is combustion or extreme heat from a fireplace, we have to be concerned about the proximity of combustible materials around the fireplace. With a wood-burning fireplace, we already mentioned the risk of combustion in front of the fireplace. There is also a risk of having furnishings, window coverings or mantel decorations too close to the flames. Fire can occasionally shoot out of the opening and will latch on to nearby flammables if they are present. Look at most wood-burning fireplaces, and you will notice a darkened area above the opening, where charring and smoke have stained the stone or brick. For this reason, there are guidelines for the minimum distance that flammable mantel ledges may be placed above the fireplace opening. A wood-burning fireplace also generates heat in the walls around it, which is why the chase, or chimney, must be constructed of non-flammable materials.
While gas fireplaces don’t create sparks, there are live flames to consider. Gas inserts have glass fronts, but gas logs require the addition of a screen or doors to separate those flames from the room and its inhabitants. Gas flames are more controllable than a wood fire, and less likely to jump out into the room, but doors or a screen will prevent children and pets from getting at the flames. Gas fireplaces also heat up the walls around them, so all gas fireplace manuals dictate minimum clearances to flammable materials in the walls and on the wall above the fireplace. Be careful to pay attention to these clearances when placing a wood mantel ledge or a TV above a gas fireplace. And don’t forget these guidelines at Christmas or any other time when you may want to decorate that mantel; you don’t want flammable decorations dangling too close to a gas fireplace!
The issue with heat transference from gas and wood-burning fireplaces is called pyrolysis – when wood is subjected to high heat over time, it slowly breaks down until it’s possible for it to catch fire without live flames. This is why the walls around gas and wood-burning fireplaces are not built with wood studs and drywall, but with metal, cement board and stone or tile.
Fortunately, electric fireplaces do not create live flames, sparks or heat transference. They truly are zero-clearance. Flames are created with LED lights, video images, or mist. Even when the heaters are turned on, they are not creating the extreme heat that is created by the combustion inside gas and wood-burning fireplaces. This means that they don’t heat up the walls around them or pose a risk for flammable wall coverings, mantel ledges or TVs. The main concern is to be sure that you don’t put flammable furnishings or fabrics directly in front of or next to the heat vent on the front of the fireplace, as this piece of metal can get quite warm. Otherwise, the hot air from the heater is blowing into the room, and is not affecting the walls above or around the fireplace.
Fireplace Safety: Hot Glass on the front of the fireplace
Combustion of wood logs or natural gas inside the fireplace creates heat. That heat is not only transferred to the walls around the fireplace, but also to the glass on the front of the fireplace. In fact, the glass on the front of a gas fireplace is hot enough to burn skin on contact. For this reason, all gas inserts are required to have a safety mesh on the front of the fireplace, to provide a bit of a barrier between the glass and stray fingers or pets. With a wood-burning fireplace, glass fireplace doors will also get super-heated, if they are closed during the burn. Most fireplace doors are made with tempered glass, which will pop if exposed to prolonged high temperatures; these doors must be open when the fire is burning. If you wish to burn with your fireplace doors closed, then you need to upgrade to ceramic glass, which can handle the extreme heat, much like the stove top on an electric range. Keep in mind that this glass will also get hot enough to burn fingers and pets, so precautions must be taken to keep children and pets away from wood-burning fires, even with doors in place. The same is true if you are adding glass fireplace doors in front of gas logs – the glass will get superheated if it’s closed during the burning, and must be ceramic glass in this situation.
Electric fireplaces create flames without combustion, and the flames are not the source of heat. Heaters in electric fireplaces do not heat up the glass on the front of the fireplace. For this reason, the glass on an electric fireplace poses no burn risk to kids and pets. As mentioned previously, the only area that gets warm is the metal grill where the heat is expelled; this gets hot enough to make us move our fingers, but not hot enough to burn the skin on contact.
In summary, electric fireplaces are the safest of all fireplace types. The fact that they are zero clearance and have no combustion also makes them the simplest to install into any type of wall or cabinet. Electric fireplaces are also safer than portable space heaters, as they are generally installed into a wall or cabinet and are not in danger of tipping over or being pushed into the path of flammables.
Stylish Fireplaces knows that adding a fireplace to your home can be challenging. With an electric fireplace and their NFI Certified Hearth Design Specialists, it’s easy to create a space you’ll love to share with family and friends. Check out all the options and connect with their experts for help to find the perfect electric fireplace for you. You’ll live stylishly ever after.