Curing or “burning in” a new fireplace

When a new fireplace is lit for the first time, materials found on the external surfaces, such as paint, sealants, lubricating oils and gasket adhesives, can produce odours and a small amount of Carbon Monoxide (CO), a dangerous gas that can cause asphyxiation. This is called ‘curing’ or ‘burning in,’ a process that can take up to 24 hours of run time. During this curing, the fireplace should burn for no less than five to six hours at a time with a high flame.

If the fireplace is equipped with a fan, do not run it during the curing period. The fan cools the surfaces and will inhibit the curing process. Ensure your home is well ventilated during the curing process. If your home has a CO detector, it may detect CO and sound an alarm.

Natural gas fireplaces have eclipsed the popularity of solid fuel-burning appliances in most municipalities. Generally, gas fireplaces operate in much the same manner as natural gas furnaces and should command an equal amount of caution and operational awareness. Read your owner’s manual carefully. Fireplaces and other open flame appliances should never be left unattended when lit.

Most natural gas fireplaces pull combustion air from the outside through an inlet vent. Do not obstruct this vent. Conventional gas fireplaces have their own air intake and exhaust paths, so there is no damper to open and close as there is in wood burning fireplaces.

After several years, it’s not uncommon for a sensor (called a thermocouple) to fail. When the sensor fails, the fireplace will mysteriously shut down and extinguish the pilot light. Because the thermocouple can be serviced without disturbing the natural gas line, a homeowner can safely replace the sensor on his/her own. If you are not comfortable making this repair, call a service technician.

The efficiency of solid fuel-burning appliances has increased greatly since the late 1990s. Today, most new appliances have positive closures on their doors to eliminate the drafts that can move down the chimney and cool the room. Higher quality models bring air directly to the firebox from the outside to ensure the appliance does not draw air from the home.

Make sure the chimney flue is open to prevent generating a large amount of smoke when you initially start a fire. You should also preheat the chimney. To do so, build a small, hot fire with paper and small slivers of wood. You can also use a hair dryer. You may want to open a window slightly to provide replacement air to the room before lighting a fire.

As gas or solid fuel burns, it releases heat, moisture and combustion gases. These gases include CO. Smouldering embers do not generate enough heat to maintain the chimney draft and gases can accumulate in the firebox. Because these gases are heavier than air, they can flow out of the firebox. To prevent this, do not leave appliance doors open and do not close the chimney damper until all ashes are cold to the touch. If any smoke or gas is being emitted, a closed damper could cause gases to divert into the living space of your home with tragic consequences. A CO detector should be placed near a wood burning appliance in accordance with the Alberta Building Code and/or the manufacturer’s recommendation. Smoke detectors are not the same as CO detectors.

CO is a colourless, odourless gas. You can’t see, taste or smell it. CO is a common by-product of the burning of natural gas, gasoline and solid fuels (wood, pellets, etc.). Fireplaces that are properly installed, maintained and operated will produce little CO. However, if anything disrupts the venting process (such as a bird’s nest in a chimney) or restricts the oxygen to a gas burner, CO production can quickly rise.

Gasoline engines produce CO, especially when a cold engine starts. CO can accumulate if you start and idle your vehicle or gas mower in the garage. CO can enter a home through connecting walls or doorways and quickly rise to dangerous levels. Doors leading from the garage to your home should be regularly checked to ensure they are properly sealed.

Changes to the 2006 Alberta Building Code made it mandatory for CO detectors to be placed in any room that shares a floor, wall or ceiling with a garage. Rooms with solid fuel-burning appliances must also have a CO detector.

Make sure you read the owner’s manual for your CO detector, so you know what level of CO your model is capable of sensing. You should also know what your CO detector alarm sounds like.

Before you install your detector:

  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before installing a CO detector
  • Do not place the detector within five feet of household chemicals
  • Do not place your detector directly on top of or directly across from, a fuel-burning appliance. These appliances will emit some CO when initially lit.

Testing your detector is important:

  • If your CO detector is wired directly into your home’s electrical system, you should test it monthly. For an added level of protection, install a battery operated detector as well in case of a power failure
  • If your CO detector is battery operated, test the detector regularly. Change the batteries every spring (along with any smoke detectors) or more regularly if recommended by the manufacturer.

Smoke detectors are not the same as CO detectors. Smoke detectors are required by code and are available as 120-volt, wired-in models and as nine-volt battery models. Experts encourage homeowners to have both power options in the home. The 120-volt detectors do not need a battery and battery-operated models will protect your family in the event of a power outage.

  • Test your smoke detectors monthly by pressing the ‘test’ button. An American study found that when a home smoke detector fails, it tends to fail totally as opposed to a creeping failure (e.g. loss of sensitivity over time). Regular testing will find a faulty detector quickly and ensure your family is protected
  • Replace the batteries in your smoke detector as soon as it chirps to warn you the battery is low. You can also schedule battery replacements for the same day you change your clocks from daylight savings time to standard time in the fall
  • Do not borrow a battery from a smoke detector
  • Do not disable smoke detectors—even temporarily. If your smoke detector is sounding ‘nuisance alarms,’ try relocating it farther from kitchens or bathrooms where cooking fumes and steam can trigger an alarm
  • Vacuum or dust your smoke detectors regularly (follow manufacturer’s instructions)
  • Consider installing smoke detectors with ‘long-life’ batteries
  • Do not paint a smoke detector
  • Smoke detectors have a lifespan and better technology is always coming onto the market. Consider replacing smoke detectors in your home every 10 years or less.