Opt for a safer insert or stove.
Electric inserts are the safest fireplace option for preventing fire spread, burns, and air pollution, especially if little ones are around. “To date, electric fireplaces are the safest option for families with children or pets,” says Jen Stark, who runs the home improvement blog Happy DIY Home. Electric fireplaces don’t create real flames. Instead, they light up to give the impression of fire while putting out heat. Because they don’t release pollutants, they don’t require a chimney, which means they can be installed in more places. The glass front also typically doesn't get hot to the touch so you don’t have to worry about burns.
Natural gas fireplaces can be safer too: “Natural gas burns significantly more clean than any kind of wood product, requires less cleaning and maintenance, and in most cases, is a closed system that makes it difficult for people to touch the flame itself,” says Leonard Ang, the CEO of iPropertyManagement, an online guide for property owners. Gas fireplaces also have an oxygen-depletion sensor to detect unsafe levels of carbon monoxide. According to Stark, gel and ethanol fireplaces are also safer alternatives than a traditional wood-burning set-up.
Smart Tip: In some places, it’s no longer legal to install new wood-burning fireplaces or stove inserts. Check your local rules and building requirements before installing a new fireplace or wood stove.
If you have a wood-burning fireplace that you can’t replace and that is necessary to heat your home, there are things you can do to make it safer. Inspect it often to make sure that the protective linings and smoke ducts are clean and in good condition, and that the chimney is clear. Choose firewood that’s been dry for at least six months, and place the wood toward the back of the fireplace on a sturdy iron grate. To ignite your fire, use only a fire lighter, never a gasoline or charcoal lighter or other fuel.
Prevent embers from igniting furnishings or flooring with a fireplace screen that fully covers the opening. Remove anything even remotely flammable—such as pillows, books or magazines, and rugs—from the hearth and the area surrounding the fireplace (at least three feet is a good rule of thumb).
Test your carbon monoxide detector and smoke alarms monthly to ensure they’re working properly, keep a fire extinguisher nearby, and always put the fire out completely before you leave the house or fall asleep.