Fireplace Safety

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Fire

There’s nothing quite like enjoying a warm, cozy fire in the fireplace.  It’s a place to create memories such as sitting around the big fireplace every Christmas Eve listening to the Christmas story and music.  It’s important, however, to keep your home and family safe by keeping your fireplace clean and properly serviced.

Here are some tips for a wood-burning fireplace.

  • Before making a fire:
    • Open the glass doors (if you have them), open the metal screen, and place your kindling and logs inside.
    • Open the damper and a window (just a few inches). Check to make sure smoke will go up the chimney by lighting a match in front of the fireplace, blowing it out, and watching the direction of the smoke.
  • What to burn:
    • Burn only dry, well-seasoned hardwoods in your fireplace.
    • Buy your wood in the spring and store it off the ground and protected from excessive moisture.
    • It takes 6 months to a year for green firewood to be seasoned enough to burn.
  • What NOT to burn:
    • Never burn any materials that are not approved by the fireplace manufacturer.
    • Never burn plastic or Styrofoam.
    • Do not burn trash because it can create a fire that you cannot control or possibly release dangerous poisons into your home.
  • When burning a fire in the fireplace:
    • Use your fireplace for short-duration fires, 5 hours or less.
    • Safety Screen
      • Opening a window will help air flow up the chimney and will keep your house from getting smoky.
      • If your fireplace has glass doors, make sure to keep it open so air is drawn up the chimney.
      • Keep your metal firescreen closed to keep sparks from popping out on the carpet.
    • Never use flammable liquids (such as gasoline) to start a fire.
    • Never leave a fire unattended, especially when children are in the house.
    • Never use your hands to handle burning logs. Use appropriate fireplace tools.
    • Ensure that you wait at least 30 minutes after turning off your fireplace, insert, or stove, before touching it for any reason. The surfaces retain heat.
  • Keep your family safe.
    • Keep track of children and the infirm around your fireplace.
    • Children should not be allowed to play near the fire or to play with fire tools and equipment.
    • You may want to have additional barriers, like baby gates around the fireplace to ensure that the children cannot get near the fireplace.
    • As soon as they are old enough to understand, teach your children about fireplace safety.
  • Prepare your home.
    • Keep a non-flammable rug or other material in front of the fireplace to protect from flying sparks.
    • Be sure your home is equipped with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Check them regularly to make sure they work properly and have working batteries. Each level of your home should have detectors and there should be detectors in or near sleeping areas.
    • Equip your home with a fire extinguisher and know how to use it properly. Teach your family members how to use it properly.
    • Flammable materials should be at least 3 feet (or more) away from your fireplace.
  • Keep your chimney in good condition.
    • Keep your chimney clear. If animals nest or debris accumulates and blocks the chimney, it can cause carbon monoxide to flow into your house.  Be sure to have an appropriate chimney cap to protect against blockage and water damage.
    • Use a spark arrester on your chimney to prevent from sparks flying out which can potentially start a fire on your roof or lawn.
    • At least once per year or after approximately 80 fires, have your chimney inspected and cleaned by a certified chimney sweep. Ask him to show you hazards to watch for.
  • After a fire:
    • Cleaning the Firebox (area where logs burn)
      • During the months that you use your fireplace, clean the firebox when ashes build up and at least once per week.
      • Leave about an inch of ash because it helps the coals to heat faster and retains heat easier.
      • Keep the firebox completely clean during months you do not use the fireplace.
    • Remove the ashes.
      • It can take up to 3 days for fireplace coals to completely cool. Always wait that long before you remove the ashes.
      • Close the damper to reduce excess dust.
      • Wear a dust mask and open a window in the same room as the fireplace (to prevent negative air pressure).
      • Shovel the ashes into a metal container. Store the container far away from any combustible materials, surfaces and floors.
      • Never use a vacuum to remove or clean up ashes because they could contain live coals.
    • You can shine your brass fireplace tools with Worcestershire sauce and a toothbrush.
    • If you have glass doors, you can clean tough stains (from flames and heat).
      • Make sure they are cool and then use a razor blade to scrape off tough gunk deposits.
      • Clean the rest of the stains off with a cleaning solution. Spray or sponge the cleaner on and wipe it away with a newspaper (which is lint-free).  Three possible cleaning solutions include:
        • Add a squirt of liquid dishwashing detergent to a bucket of warm water.
        • Add a cup of white vinegar to a gallon of water.
        • Purchase appropriate fireplace glass cleaner at a fireplace store.
      • Cleaning your exterior hearth
        • A slate hearth should be washed, dried and coated with lemon oil every six weeks to make it shine.
        • A brick hearth should be cleaned with a brick cleaner purchased at a fireplace shop.

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Fire Series

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Fire Series

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Fire

In 2016, there were 352,000 residential fires. These resulted in almost 3,000 deaths, 11,000 injuries, and over $6.5 billion in damages. Although these numbers have been getting lower over the last decade, they paint a harrowing picture.

Don’t be a statistic.  Read these articles to help you keep your loved ones safe from a house fire.

Are you Covered in Case of a Fire? Review Your Home Insurance

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Fire

Have you checked to see if you’re covered from house fires in your homeowner’s policy? If so, are there any limitations on what you can claim in the event of a fire? If you’re not sure, then now is the perfect time to contact BJI and do a review. These are the most common forms of coverage for house fires.

  • Dwelling Coverage: This includes the structure of your home as well as any attached pieces, like a garage.
  • Personal Property: Most plans will cover a certain amount of property based on an estimate. This is most likely what you need to review so that you can be sure that everything you own is covered. In many cases, homeowners don’t update this part, and they are left with much less than they need to replace everything.
  • Detached Structures: Other buildings on your property (i.e., detached garages, sheds) are also usually covered.
  • Temporary Housing: If your home burns to the ground, or you can’t live in it while it’s being repaired, make sure that your policy will cover the cost of housing during the reconstruction period.

When looking at your insurance, it’s helpful to do an annual review to ensure that you have sufficient coverage for the price of your home and your belongings.

For example, if you got your policy when you first bought the house and it’s appreciated in value since then, you may come up short. Also, if you have more belongings than you did initially, you need to cover the difference.

Bottom Line

It’s never too soon to update your homeowner’s insurance with regards to fire coverage. Click here to contact BJI (or call 865-922-3111) today and set up an appointment. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Fire Series

What to Do in a Fire

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Fire

In our last post, we discussed how to keep your home safe from a fire. However, even if you’re extra careful and cautious, a fire may break out from unforeseen circumstances. Regardless of the cause, there are some things to remember when faced with this kind of situation so that you and your family can make it out unscathed.

For Small Fires

If things haven’t gotten out of control, then you may be able to extinguish it on your own. Here are some methods that can work.

Smother It: grease fires will only spread if you use water, so cover it with a pot lid or a large, heavy blanket. Make sure that it’s fully covered at once so that the blanket doesn’t ignite as well. Wool is ideal in this situation.

Fight It: if you have an extinguisher, then read the instructions and aim the foam or spray at the base of the flame. It will get messy, but that’s nothing compared to losing your belongings or your home.

Douse It: if you’re sure that the fire was not caused by electricity or oil, then you can throw water on it to put it out. However, if you’re not sure, use either of the previous two methods instead.

For Large Fires

If it looks like things are getting too intense, then evacuate the home as quickly as possible. Leave any and all belongings and focus on getting yourself and your family out first. Never run back into a burning building. Instead, call 911 and wait for them to arrive. Nothing is worth your safety or your life.

When evacuating your home, remember that smoke rises, so stay low to the ground. If necessary, practice a fire drill with your family so that they know where to go and what to do once they are outside.

If you have a multi-story home and the stairway is blocked, then try to climb out of a window or call for help. An escape ladder is always a good idea for this reason, and you should keep it somewhere accessible.

Safety Tip: Don’t Open Doors!

In some cases, the fire could be contained inside a room, which means that if you open the door, it could spread and engulf the rest of the house. Thus, be sure to test it first and see if the knob is warm. If it is, then leave the door closed.

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Fire Series

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Fire

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Fire

If your home burned down, what would you do? This is a horrible thing to consider, but the fact is that you never know when or how it could happen. If you’re not prepared, then it could cost you a lot more than you might think.

So, to alleviate your concerns and ensure that you and your family stay safe, we’re going to talk about fire safety in the home and what you can do to protect yourself. Also, it’s imperative that you double check your insurance policy to see if you’re covered and what may be missing from your plan.

Don’t wait until it’s too late, be proactive today with these tips.

House Fire Statistics

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) tracks and documents residential fires across the country by year. According to their data, it seems as if Americans are becoming safer overall, but there is still a lot of damage being done.

In 2016, there were 352,000 residential fires. These resulted in almost 3,000 deaths, 11,000 injuries, and over $6.5 billion in damages. Although these numbers have been getting lower over the last decade, they paint a harrowing picture.

The overwhelming cause of house fires is due to cooking accidents. Whether you left the stove on or something caught ablaze while you were making dinner, over half (50.8%) of fires are a direct result of these incidents.

As such, it’s imperative that you and your family understand the risk factors and work to correct any issues before they cause a serious problem. Although you may be able to put the fire out before it causes catastrophic damage, you don’t want to experience that kind of situation if you don’t have to.

Common Risk Factors in Your Home

Your house may be more vulnerable to a spark than you may think. Every year, people start fires on accident, because they aren’t aware of how easy it is for something to ignite. Thus, we want to make sure that you have a fundamental understanding of what could cause a blaze to erupt so that you can plan accordingly.


For the most part, you shouldn’t have to worry about these if your house is newer and up to code, but problems can arise if you try to plug too many items in at once. Although many extension cords and power strips are designed to shut off if the circuit gets overloaded, the outlet may still act up and pose a fire hazard.

Old Light Bulbs

If you’ve ever touched an incandescent light after it’s been on for a while, then you know that they can get scalding. If you haven’t upgraded to LED yet, you could be putting yourself at risk if one of these old bulbs touches something flammable. Thankfully, newer models are not only safer, but they save you a ton of electricity as well.


We’ve already mentioned that cooking is the leading cause of house fires, so we would be remiss if we didn’t stress it again. Everything that gets hot in your kitchen can be a potential hazard, from the pots and pans to the stovetop itself. Pay extra attention when cooking with oils as they are hard to put out when they ignite.


Since these have an open flame, it’s imperative that you treat them with caution. A romantic evening can turn into a disaster if you’re not careful, so watch where you place your candles and make sure that they are completely out when you extinguish them. Candle smoke can ignite, so just because there isn’t a flame doesn’t mean you’re safe yet.


Even though these are usually well contained, an errant spark or ember can become deadly. Not only that, but the chimney collects all kinds of residue and debris that can ignite and spread throughout your home.


Whether it’s a furnace on the wall or a space heater, these units can get extremely hot and pose a threat to you and your family if you’re not careful. Modern ones will usually have built-in safety mechanisms, but they can’t prevent all accidents from occurring.

How to Stay Safe

Now that we know what to look for it’s easier for us to plan accordingly and protect ourselves and our families. Here are some tips to remember when fire-proofing your home.

  • Never leave cooking unattended. As soon as you walk away from your pot, pan, or stovetop, something could happen. It doesn’t take long for a fire to spread, so even a minute or two can be disastrous.
  • Have a fire escape plan. We’ll go over the specifics of what to do in a fire in our next post, but it’s essential that you and your family have a plan in place should the worst happen. Usually, serious injury or death occurs because people panicked and didn’t know what to do.
  • Have extinguishers handy. Places where fires happen naturally (i.e., stove, fireplace, etc.) should have an extinguisher nearby. Thankfully, you can buy small cans of foam or aerosol mixes that can stop a fire in its tracks.
  • Clean your chimney. If you go months without using your fireplace, it’s crucial that you clean it out before tossing a match inside. There can be a harmful buildup of flammable materials that need to be cleared first.
  • Keep combustible items away from heat. Drapes, clothes, paper products, and cooking oil can all ignite with little warning if they are exposed to enough heat. If there is a potential hazard in your home, clear the area around it as much as possible and keep it clear at all times.
  • Inspect your electrical system. If your house is old, it may not be up to code. Getting inspected can prevent something terrible from happening when you least expect it.
  • Check your smoke alarms. Although they can get annoying when they beep on low battery, these devices can be lifesavers. As such, don’t disrespect them or ignore them.

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Fire Series

Preparing Your Home for Winter

Preparing for Winter

Since your house may get covered in snow and ice, you want to be sure that the severe weather isn’t going to breach the inside, nor leave behind lasting damage that will have to be repaired. Although you can’t prevent any and all kinds of problems from occurring, you can avoid many common issues that plague homeowners this time of year.

When it comes to protecting your home from the harsh winter weather, your primary goal is to make sure that the cold stays outside where it belongs. Also, you want to keep an eye on parts of your home that are exposed to the elements, including the roof, windows, and gutters.

Keep in mind that this list is not comprehensive, but it should give you an idea of what to think about to get your home ready this winter.

Clean Your Gutters

If leaves and water are sitting in your gutters during the cold season, they could freeze over and cause damage to the gutter itself. In addition, if they get too heavy from an abundance of ice and snow, they could buckle and damage your roof in the process.

Overall, you want to keep them as clear as possible so that when the snows arrive, they aren’t adding to a bunch of gunk that is already there. One thing to remember is that it’s best to wait until there are no more leaves dropping so that you only have to do this once.

Repair Cracks

As water freezes inside these cracks, the ice will expand, widening and deepening the damage. Over time, a little break can turn into a fault line, which can put your home at risk. Ideally, you will work on cracks on both the pavement surrounding your home as well as any masonry that is on the outside (i.e., the chimney).

If your foundation is starting to crack, it’s imperative that you patch it up ASAP. If you let it go too long, then it could spell disaster for your house and lead to significant damage.

Inspect Your Heating System

Depending on where you live, you likely don’t have to use your heater until the weather gets colder. This means that it sits unused for months on end, which can lead to inefficient operation when the time comes.

As such, you want to get all of your machinery inspected before the temperatures drop so that you can improve your energy and heating bills and ensure that it won’t break down when it counts the most.

Reverse Ceiling Fans

This is a minor step, but it can have significant effects. By reversing the flow of the fan blades, you’re moving hot air up and around the home more efficiently, which can help you save some money on heating bills. Also, it enables you to use them all year long since you don’t have to worry about the fan cooling you down when it’s already freezing outside.

Clean Your Chimney

Unless you have a gas fireplace, chances are that your chimney needs some cleaning before you start putting wood inside. Many house fires are started from flammable material that wasn’t removed, so don’t put yourself at risk. If necessary, hire a professional to inspect and clean the inside thoroughly.

Preparing For Winter Series

Tips for Handling Power Outages

Tips for Handling Power Outages

If you are not already prepared for the event of a power outage, it is something that we highly recommend. Power outages can occur for a number of reasons and can happen anytime, without warning. We recommend that you have a list of materials ready in the event that you have a power outage, and an action plan put in place in the event of a power outage.

Preparing for An Outage

Make Sure Your Devices are Charge

This one is pretty simple, make sure that your cell phone, laptops and other electronic devices are fully charged at all times.

Have Backup Batteries

You may want to make sure that you have some backup chargers and portable batteries that you can use to charge your devices in the event of a power outage.

Have a Generator

Having a backup generator is critical in the event of a long term power outage. Make sure to speak with an expert about what size you need for your home.

Get a Cooler

Coolers are always handy in the event of an outage. Make sure that you have a reliable cooler that can keep your food cool for six to seven days, in the event of a long term power outage.

Have Ice Bags or Packs Stocked

To accompany the cooler, make sure that you either have a bag of ice in your freezer or individual ice packs that you can use in your cooler to keep your food cold.

Keep Your Gas Tank Full

In case the outage is widespread, make sure that you always keep a full tank of gas in your vehicles. This can come in handy in the event of an emergency.

Know How to Manually Open Your Garage

If your cars are parked in your garage and the power goes out, make sure that you know how to manually open your garage doors.

During an Outage

Here are some pointers that you can use during an outage.

Use Flashlights

Use flashlights instead of candles to prevent a fire from occurring.

Keep your Refrigerator and Freezer Closed

Keep your refrigerator and freezer closed when you aren’t using them to keep your food and drinks cold.

Go Somewhere Cool

If it is hot, go somewhere cool like a movie theater or find a shelter.

Keep Warm When it is Cold

If it is cold outside, layer up so that you can stay warm.

Disconnect Appliances & Electronics

Make sure to disconnect any of your appliances to avoid a surge when the power comes back on.  If any of your electronics are not protected by a surge protector, unplug them as well.


Although a power outage is many times a temporary inconvenience, other types of damage to your home is not. Homeowner’s insurance helps protect in case you experience loss or damage to your home or property.  If you’d like, call us at 865-922-3111 (local) or 800-624-3339 (toll free) or click here to contact us.  Our staff are trained to help you make the best choice to protect your home and property.

5 Tips to Keep Your Home Safe this Halloween

Home Safety Tips for Halloween

Halloween kicks off the holiday season with festive and “spooky” decorations, fun costumes and treats galore. But with fun and festivities come increased risks around your home that can ruin what is meant to be an enjoyable holiday.

The good news is, you can avoid the risks with these simple Halloween home safety tips.

Keep your porch well-lit and clutter free

If you plan to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween, be sure the walkway to your porch is free from cords, ropes, and other clutter that can could easily trip a young ghost or goblin.

Make sure that you keep your walkway and porch well-lit so visitors can see and avoid tripping on flower pots and any decorations or debris.  Turning on your porch light and adding additional lights, if needed, can help you avoid any accidents.

Be careful with open flames

Festive decorations can be one of the most enjoyable things about Halloween, but can also pose risks.  Candles with an open flame can be a fire hazard in your home. Keep paper decorations far away from candles. If you put candles in your carved pumpkins, do not leave them unattended.

Keep pets away from trick-or-treaters

Your furry friends may want to join in the fun of greeting trick-or-treaters at the door, but it’s best to confine them away from young strangers in costumes.  While your pet may be very friendly, the excitement of having the doorbell ring frequently and having youngsters reaching out for candy, could stress your pet and cause them to jump or even bite.  Avoid this situation by keeping Fido away from the front door.

Keep your Decorations and Gags Safe

If you plan to dress up your yard with Halloween decorations, make sure they are not sharp, dangerous in any way, or meant to alarm anyone who visits your home.  Decorations are meant to be fun, so make sure they are just that!

Keep Halloween a fun and festive night for you and your neighbors!

By following a few, simple Halloween home safety tips, you can enjoy the spirit of the season while avoiding unnecessary risks and expense. Keep your home safe for your family and your trick-or-treaters!


Grilling Safety Part 4: Flavoring your Food with Wood

Grilling Safety Part 4: Woods to Use for Flavoring

Sometimes safety is about using the right materials rather than less desirable choices. When it comes to using wood to help flavor the food, make sure that you choose the right one.

There are many types of woods available for grilling or smoking food.  Here are some tips regarding your wood choices.

  • Softwoods burn quickly and many times the flavor that the smoke adds to the food is undesirable.
  • Hardwoods burn longer and provide more heat. They also provide more flavor because of the aromatic smoke produced while burning.
  • If you are using another fuel source such as charcoal, you can toss in wood in small quantities.  The flavor from the burning wood will add unique flavor to the food.

Woods that Should Not be Used

Some woods are better not to be used such as softwoods that can influence the flavor negatively.  However, some types of woods SHOULD NOT be used because they are hazardous.  Here are a few.

Lumber Scraps in General:  It is difficult to determine the type of wood in lumber scraps whether new or used, and, therefore, what effect it may have on the food. In addition, it is possible that used lumber could have come in contact with harmful substances that could be absorbed. It can pose a danger when burning.

Pressure Treated / Chemically Treated / Painted / Stained Lumber: Pressure- and chemically-treated woods are often used in projects such as outdoor decking.  Of course, paint and stain are used on many wood surfaces.  When these woods are burned, they release hazardous and releases toxic smoke and fumes.  At best, it will add undesirable flavor to your food. At worst, you are exposing your body to harmful substances.  Do not use these woods for grilling.

Mold or Fungus Covered Wood:  The smoke produced when mold and fungus are burned leaves a very undesirable tastes in food.

Popular Woods Used in Grilling

Sweet Flavor

  • Alder
  • Apple
  • Birch (smoky and sweet)
  • Blackberry
  • Cherry
  • Corncob:  The heart of the corncob can be ground into small granular bits that can be combined with other woods.  It can provide a sweet flavor that may overpower the food.  Start with small amounts and check until you get the desired flavor.
  • Grape Vine
  • Maple (smoky and sweet)
  • Mulberry
  • Peach
  • Pear

Smoky Flavor

  • Beech
  • Birch
  • Hickory (smoky bacon flavor)
  • Maple (smoky and sweet)
  • Pecan

Distinctive Flavor

  • Cedar
  • Mesquite
  • Oak
  • Pimento (peppery with possibility of flavors of other spices)
  • Seaweed (spicy, natural flavor)
  • Walnut
  • Wine or Whiskey Barrels


Grilling Safety Part 3: Gas Grills

Grilling Safety Part 3 - Gas Grills

A story was reported on NBC news a few years ago.  Julie was grilling hot dogs.  She looked outside and “saw 5-foot flames spewing from her family’s gas grill.”  Her friend emptied their kitchen fire extinguisher on the fire, but it didn’t stop.  She called 911 who advised her to wait until the flames died down and then shut off the propane.  Once the fire was out, she saw that the knobs and the shelf were melted off!

Julie was lucky.  She caught the fire before the tank blew up or anyone was hurt. It could have been worse.

Don’t let Julie’s experience happen to you.  Keep your outdoor barbecuing experience fun and reduce your risk with these tips.

Safety Checks

Many gas grill fires happen when using a grill that has been left inactive for a period of time.  They can also happen just after refilling and reattaching the gas container.  It is important to check them thoroughly.

Check your gas cylinder hose for leaks before your first use each year (or periodically if you use your grill year-round).

  • Bubble test:  Apply a light soap and water solution to the hose. A propane leak will release bubbles.
  • Smell test:  Pay attention for the smell of gas.

Check for blockages in the tubes that might be caused by insects, spiders, or food grease. If found, a pipe cleaner or wire can be used to push the blockage out of the tube.

Check for hoses in bad condition.  In addition to checking for leaks, look for any cracking, brittleness, or holes.  Ensure that any hoses or tubing have no sharp bends.

Position gas hoses properly.  Move them as far away from hot surfaces or where hot grease might drop.  If that is not possible, install a protective heat shield.

Check your connectors.  Replace any that are scratched or nicked.

If You Find a Leak or Break

If you find a gas leak, by smell or the soapy bubble test, and there is no flame, turn off both the gas tank and the grill. If the leak stops, get the grill serviced by a professional before using it again. If the leak does not stop, call the fire department.

If you smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not move the grill.

Keep fire/heat sources away from a leaking grill.  This includes, but is not limited to, cigarettes, matches or any open flame.

Do not attempt repairs yourself.  Go to an LP gas dealer or qualified repair person.


Starting the Grill and While Cooking

Open the lid before turning on the gas — always!  Gas can build up inside a closed lid. If ignited, the lid can blow off and cause injuries and/or burns.

If the flame goes out while cooking, turn the grill and gas off and wait at least 5 minutes before re-lighting it.

Only use a grill outdoors. It should be at least 10 feet away from any building.  Do not use it in a garage, breezeway, carport, porch, or under a surface that can catch fire.

After Cooking

Completely close off the valve.

Store equipment correctly:

  • Your grill and propane tank should be stored outside and away from your house.
  • Flammable liquid (LP gas, gasoline, etc.) containers should be stored upright and away from the grill. Never store them indoors.
  • A filled gas container should never be kept in a hot car or car trunk.  Heat causes gas pressure to increase.  This causes the possibility of the relief valve opening and releasing gas into the vehicle.