Gas Fireplace Safety for Warm & Cozy Winter Days

A fireplace is a popular feature in millions of homes where families gather to relax, share conversations, and sip cocoa. Many homes now feature gas fireplaces that offer more efficient heating, quick ignition, and involve minimal maintenance. While gas fireplaces are considered safer than wood-burning fireplaces, they nonetheless can pose serious burn and other safety hazards for your loved ones.

A common style of gas fireplace has a glass front.  Extreme caution is always needed because the glass heats up quickly, is a known cause of serious burns and is especially hazardous to children and pets. Within minutes of turning on the fireplace, the surface temperature potentially reaches 400F-600F or greater with potential to cause third-degree burns. Every day, three children under the age of six go to emergency rooms across the country for fireplace-related burns. It is crucial to never leave children or pets alone in a room with a gas fireplace, even after it is turned off, as it stays dangerously hot long after the flame is gone. 

For consumer protection, safety standards have been implemented since January 1, 2015, where glass front fireplaces are required to be equipped with a protective heat barrier to the glass surface. If your home’s gas fireplace was manufactured prior to this date, now is the time to consider immediate installation of a freestanding safety screen or an attachable protective cover approved by the gas fireplace manufacturer.

After a long day or busy weekend who can resist the warmth and soothing visual effects of a gas fireplace to relax and decompress? It is important to know real firewood or other combustible materials cannot be burned with a gas fireplace as this poses a significant safety hazard and can easily destroy the heating element of the fireplace.      

The ease and convenience of firing up a gas fireplace has improved greatly. Newer gas fireplaces often have a simple on/off knob or switch with a protective childproof cover; some also have remote controls operated by a smartphone or other remote-control devices. Older gas fireplaces often utilize a key for turning on and off the gas.

Regardless of the activation method for the fireplace, children may see adults using these devices and try to mimic their actions resulting in accidentally turning on the gas. Close supervision and keeping all activation devices stowed away securely from curious little hands is always important.  These safety measures are not only essential while at home but also when visiting hotels, restaurants, or other people’s homes to avoid a family vacation or evening out resulting in a trip to the emergency room.

Having met with thousands of homeowners over the years, many have frequently commented the need for regular service is not necessary for their gas fireplace, because it does not cause soot or creosote build-up like a wood-burning fireplace.  This is a false perception!  A gas fireplace in regular use should be serviced each year to check the gas valve connections and inspect the chimney for any structural issues, debris or nests that may have developed affecting the proper function and airflow of the fireplace.  Having a spark arrestor at the top of the chimney is also a great way to keep unwanted debris or critters from accessing the fireplace flue.   

Last, and certainly not least -- an important health hazard associated with gas fireplaces for everyone in the household -- is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, the so-called silent killer. An improperly ventilated or maintained gas fireplace may not completely combust the natural gas fuel source, leaving carbon monoxide to linger in the air, potentially causing dizziness, nausea, loss of consciousness, and even death. To exercise optimal safety precautions, have CO detectors installed near the room with a fireplace and never leave the fireplace running when not at home or while sleeping.

With the cooler temperatures of the season upon us, these safety tips and reminders can help assure peace of mind.

Geannie Brubaker is Assistant Vice President, Chubb Personal Risk Services.

The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.