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Christmas is traditionally a happy time that brings families together in their homes. The ambience of Christmas is often enhanced by decorated trees, strings of colourful lights, candles and burning logs in the fireplace or wood stove.

Unfortunately however, we inevitably hear on the news broadcast and read in the newspaper about accidental, sometimes tragic, and always sad cases of fires that displace families from their homes and shatter their holiday visions. To some of us who must respond to these tragedies as part of our job and profession, these circumstances can be particularly disheartening.

Many of these losses involve wood heating appliances (i.e. factory-built fireplaces and wood stores). Not surprisingly, recent installations and nonprofessional workmanship are common concerns. A significant proportion of these fire losses can be avoided with common sense and prudence.


Code Requirements

The installation of new wood burning appliances is regulated by the National Building Code of Canada and the Ontario Building Code. To ensure that these installations are safe, it is essential that permits be obtained and the necessary inspections be done by local building officials.

Factory-built fireplaces and wood stoves (among other appliances) must comply with CSA standard CAN/CSA B365-M91, Installation Code for Solid-Fuel-Burning Appliances and Equipment. This standard explicitly stipulates design, materials and installation requirements with particular emphasis on clearances to combustibles.

If you are unsure about any aspect of your appliance installation, don't procrastinate! Call your local building official or fire inspector and request that an inspection be done.


Chimney Fires

Even an approved installation is not guaranteed to prevent to a fire loss. Chimney fires can burn with high intensity, reaching temperatures of 2000°C, thus posing a threat to the home as well as surrounding houses and property when burning embers are thrown out of the chimney.

Creosote buildup is a major cause of chimney fires. Creosote is essentially the condensed wood tars and alcohols that result from burning any solid fuel. Three major factors influence the rate of creosote buildup in connector pipe and chimney flues; inefficient burning, obstructions, and cold spots in the system.

Cleaning is by far the best method for keeping creosote deposits to a minimum. The Fire Code sets a maximum inspection interval for one year and requires cleaning "as often as necessary to keep them free from accumulations of combustible deposits".

Fuel use can also influence the rate of creosote buildup. Generally, gummy resinous woods such as pine and cedar produce smokier creosote laden fires. Freshly cut green wood is thought to make larger amounts of creosote than seasoned wood.

Of course, people will tend to burn whatever is readily at hand. Remember, where possible, burn seasoned hardwoods. Never use your wood heating appliance as an incinerator to burn Christmas wrappings, cardboard cartons, or the like. And ensure that it is cleaned and inspected regularly.

Remember, common sense and prudence may be your best insurance for a safe and enjoyable Christmas and heating season.

The information contained in this web site is intended for marketing purposes only. It is not all-inclusive, and does not fully describe the many and varied services that the company provides, nor does it completely describe the education, training, skills, or expertise of our staff.


Walters Forensic Engineering | 277 Wellington Street West, Suite 800 | Toronto, ON M5V 3H2
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