Why You Should NEVER Use Paper to Start a Wood Stove

My family and I have been visiting my in-laws over the Christmas holidays. The time has been nice and mostly without incident, but the day after Christmas we had an unpleasant surprise await us when we returned from the movies… the house was full of smoke!

You see, my brother-in-law had been trying to keep the house warm with my in-laws wood stove as it’s been rather cold of late here in Missouri.

Unfortunately, he had been using paper to get the wood burning fireplace going rather than firestarter bricks which they normally use.

That, coupled with the fact that they (my in-laws) haven’t had their stove flue cleaned in probably a few years AND, equally important, the flue has two 90-degree bends in it, well… the inevitable happened and the flue clogged up just enough to continue a very slow burn yet not exhaust the smoke up the chimney. And since the smoke had nowhere to go it filled the house.

Normally, we would have quickly noticed something was wrong but, since we all went to the movies, there was nobody home to realize it!

Who knows why my brother-in-law decided to try and start a fire even though we were all leaving. I assumed he wasn’t successful and had given up when I walked out the door, but I was wrong… which brings up another great point: NEVER leave your home unattended if you have a fire going because you never know what might happen.

You see, my in-laws have a few dogs, one cat, and even our dog was trapped in the house as well. Here’s my father-in-law with all the dogs standing outside in the cold:

Fortunately, my sister-in-law (who chose not to go to the movies with us) had decided to stop by and, to her surprise, found a house full of smoke along with a handful of terrified animals. If she had been 15 or 20 minutes later, who knows if we would have had a few dead animals on our hands as well.

When she realized what was going on my sister-in-law quickly called 9-1-1, ushered out the dogs, and managed to corral the cat too. Within minutes the fire department showed up, along with an ambulance and two police cars; I’m sure it was a scene for the neighbors, to say the least.

Within an hour or so the fire department had removed the obvious smoke so we could go inside again. Regrettably, ever since then the entire house has smelled like a campfire but worse because there’s no fresh air to replace the smoky smell. The first night or two most of us had a bit of a headache and I actually slept with the window open even though it was quite cold that night.

It was so bad that we (really my wife and sister-in-law) decided to wash the walls with a vinegar/water solution and vacuumed the carpets with baking soda. Eventually, they’ll get the carpets cleaned professionally too. The cleaning has helped, though, it will probably be months before the smell complete dissipates.

Anyway, I figured I would share a personal example of a failure to be safe to get the New Year off to a running start, lol. Yes, it was a “perfect storm” of mistakes that caused the problem, but all of the mistakes could have easily been avoided had we considered our safety–and that of our pets–and bit more.

Be safe out there.

Here’s One Time You May Not Be Testing Your Smoke Alarms

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So I was downstairs in the basement this morning getting a fire going and I was having a hard time of it. Reason being is that this particular fireplace has a 90-degree bend in the flue which makes getting it going a bit challenging and takes some patience.

I wasn’t feeling very patient today and so I just “went for it” using kindling that was a bit too large and more than I should have started with, knowing full-well that I would probably smoke out the basement as a result. And, of course, I did have to open the doors to air the basement out while I was getting the fire going.

The thing is that I wondered why the smoke alarm nearest the fireplace didn’t go off because I was sure that it would have. And I knew for a fact that the batteries were good because I just recently replaced them a month or two ago.

Clearly, I wondered what was wrong, so I took the smoke alarm down and pressed the test button… nothing. I then opened the battery cover, removed the 9-volt, and my problem was obvious: I’d put the battery in backwards… literally 180-degrees the wrong way!

No doubt THAT smoke alarm was going to do me no good should I have ever needed it. Fortunately, I probably go overboard with my smoke alarms throughout the house, so I was likely covered by another–relatively nearby–smoke alarm but, regardless, I made an easily preventable mistake that I don’t believe I’d ever made before. And it was a mistake that could have cost lives.

Now I get to go check the rest of the smoke alarm batteries just to be sure they’re all installed correctly and, of course, I should be pressing the “test” button to ensure each of them works as expected… especially after I replace the batteries.

7 Things You Should Never Burn in Your Fireplace (and why)

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I have a bunch of old papers that I need to get rid of and it occurred to me that I could just burn them in my fireplace one day, but I got to wondering if that was really a good idea as I’d never done so before (I’d always done this outdoors).

Well, it turns out that “it depends” on precisely what I’m burning, but I did find this article on several items I should never burn in the fireplace and wanted to share it with you, too, so you’re aware as well…

“The fireplace looks like a handy place to dispose of unwanted combustibles, but it’s safest to burn only dry, seasoned firewood.  Many items you might innocently pop into the fireplace create serious hazards.

  1.  Don’t burn colored paper.  The inks used in wrapping paper, newspaper inserts, and magazines contain metals that can give off toxic fumes when burned.  Paper burns very quickly, so there is also a danger that flames may enter the chimney and ignite the creosote deposits in the flue.  Balls of paper can ‘float’ up the chimney on the hot air that is rising through the chimney and ignite flammable materials outside the home.

  2. Never burn painted, stained, or treated wood or manufactured wood such as plywood and particle board.  Chemicals in ‘salt treated’ wood, paint, or stains can produce toxic fumes when burned.  Likewise, burning manufactured wood products produces toxins and carcinogens…”

Read the full article here

You Know What’s Worse Than Smoke Alarms Going Off For No Reason In The Middle Of The Night?

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Last night at about 1:45 am, which is technically today, our interconnected house smoke alarms went off for no reason. You know, the smoke alarms where if one goes off, they all go off. Yeah, those. I make this distinction because we also have a handful of independent, battery-powered smoke alarms throughout the house and none of those went off.

Anyway, I never do well when I’m startled out of bed in the middle of the night and last night was no exception; it took me a few seconds to realize what was going on, but once I did my wife and I bolted out of the room and started looking for the trouble… followed very closely by a now shaking dog who NEVER appreciates it when the smoke alarms sound.

Once I realized that there wasn’t a problem on the main level, I quickly ran downstairs fearing that the kids had maybe left the space heater on and it caught something on fire. But, when I checked, I saw no fire and smelled no smoke. So, I quickly moved to my boy’s room (they share a room)… nothing. Finally, I checked on my niece’s room… nothing again.

My oldest son managed to rouse himself from his slumber enough to ask me what was going on. I didn’t know and told him to go back to bed.

The smoke alarms were still going off at this time and, realizing there wasn’t an immediate threat, I started to attempt to silence the smoke alarms but they stopped blaring at about the same time. I then choose to do one last check around the house just to be sure. Still nothing.

Confused, I tried to lay back down and wouldn’t you know it… the smoke alarms went off again about 20 minute later!

Less concerned that there was an actual fire, I decided to silence the alarms initially because they were driving me nuts, and then I set off to check the house yet again. Nothing. I’m not disappointed, mind you, just confused.

This morning I did a quick search to try and figure out why I was so rudely awoke in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, and I happened upon this article which gave me a few possibilities besides the obvious ones, including:

  • Humidity / steam. Apparently smoke alarms can’t distinguish between smoke particles and high moisture content which I think is odd, though probably not my problem because it’s wintertime and not super humid in the house.
  • Chemical odors. This would be strong odors, such as ammonia or paint fumes. I wasn’t using any strong chemicals or painting in the middle of the night, so this probably isn’t the issue either.
  • Dust. I think I knew that dust could set off a smoke alarm but, again, there’s no reason for heavy amounts of dust to have been in the air.
  • Insects. I had no idea that small bugs could crawl into a smoke alarm and set one off. And, if I had to pick one odd reason, this would be it because we do have an inordinate amount of creepy-crawlies around and inside our house.

Now, let me get to the entire point of this post…

You Know What’s Worse Than Smoke Alarms Going Off For No Reason In The Middle Of The Night?

Besides being started half-to-death, what’s worse is that my youngest son (who’s now twelve years old) didn’t even budge when the alarms went off!

And it’s not like they went off for only a few seconds; the first time they went off they had to be sounding for at least a minute or two. That should clearly be long enough to have woke him up at least to wonder what was going on, but apparently not.

You know, when my kids were much younger, I did worry that they wouldn’t wake up when a smoke alarm went off because I’d seen it happen. After all, young kids can seemingly sleep through anything. I figured, however, that my now much older kids would surely wake up. I was wrong.

In fact, I just asked him this morning if he’d heard the smoke alarm last night and he responded, “No. The smoke alarms went off last night?”

And that’s what I’m now still afraid of.

You Would Probably Be Dead If You Tried To Put Out This Fire

Last week we had some heavy winds roll through the Pacific Northwest where I live and, as a result, we had a tree branch break free and contact a power line. You can probably see the branch on fire but not the power line it’s touching:

Well, we called the fire department and they came out, but only stayed for several minutes before running off to deal with more pressing matters. Apparently this is normal for them when major wind storms hit the area.

Anyway, I wanted to point out that if it ever did cross your mind to grab a garden hose and try to put the fire out that it would be a VERY bad idea!

That’s because water and live power lines simply do NOT mix… you’ll likely be electrocuted trying to put out the fire.

Ultimately, the fire died out on it’s own and eventually the local power company came out and cut down the offending branch so no big deal, but it was alarming to see.

I made it a point to make this a teaching moment for my kids as well because who knows what they may try to do in the moment… and I’m reminding you as well.

Be safe out there.

Checked Your Fire Extinguishers Lately? I Haven’t And That Was A Mistake…

Fire Extinguisher,

Just the other day I’d decided to check on my smoke alarms and fire extinguishers and while I was at it have my youngest son try to put out a very small (and controlled) fire in our driveway just so he had an opportunity to hold and use a fire extinguisher which I don’t think I’ve ever had him do.

Well, as it turns out the first fire extinguisher I grabbed indicated “red” meaning it needed replaced; I gave it a try anyway… it was dead as a door nail. So I grabbed another one that indicated “green” and with a quick test THAT one didn’t work either!

I thought, “Uh oh… when’s the last time I checked these?” Believe it or not, I used to keep a good list of all the prepping tasks I needed to check on and when but, sadly, I can’t find the list anymore let alone remember the last time I even looked at it.

As it turns out it’s probably been a LONG time since I’ve actually looked at one of my fire extinguishers and, sadly, I found another one that needed replaced too. Surprisingly, the extinguishers I have in our vehicles still worked even though I would have assumed they–if any of them–would be bad since they’ve been exposed to both extreme hot and cold for many years… go figure.

The good news is that this has caused me to create a new prepping tasks list and, of course, to replace my fire extinguishers too.

I did briefly look into trying to refill them but apparently the type I have can’t (or shouldn’t) be refilled because they have plastic heads as opposed to metal ones and are prone to leaks… perhaps that’s why they don’t work any longer.

Anyway, just last night my wife was cooking dinner when the kitchen smoke alarm went off which isn’t unusual and so I didn’t bother to move from the basement couch as my wife was sort of yelling something incoherent which I did my best to ignore. As it turns out one of the burners had something stuck to it and caught fire. It wasn’t a big deal but I’ll take that as a sign I need to replace my fire extinguishers sooner rather than later, lol.

My suggestion: go check on your fire extinguishers and while you’re at it your smoke alarms just to be sure they’re still in working order.