It has been a long hiatus! We’re back to talk about the importance of gas fireplace safety.
Reuben shares that he has been too casual about child safety with fireplaces. They talk about how the fireplace glass surface can get very hot and potentially melt skin very quickly.
Would you happen to need a fireplace screen? Reuben discusses how screens can help protect children from injury. They talk about the availability of these products from manufacturers or visit Fireplace Safety Screen • Fireplace Safety Screen. He also shares other DIY options such as safety gates. Tessa inquires about how easy these are to install.
They suggest that home inspectors include this in their reports and for homeowners and real estate agents pass this message along to others.
Share your comments and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Reuben Saltzman: Welcome to my house, welcome to the Structure Talk podcast, a production of Structure Tech Home Inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman. I’m your host alongside building science geek Tessa Murry. We help home inspectors up their game through education and we help homeowners to be better stewards of their houses. We’ve been keeping it real on this podcast since 2019 and we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom.
RS: Welcome back to the podcast. It has been a hot minute. Good to see you, Tessa. How are you doing?
Tessa Murry: Hey, Reuben. Good to see you too. It has been a while. I think this is the longest we’ve gone without recording a podcast. Is that true?
RS: Yeah. We warned at the beginning of this year at our new season that the podcast was going to be changing once we lost Bill. We said we’re not gonna be committing to every single week, but we did a pretty good job of doing every single week anyway. But no, this has been three weeks off that we’ve taken. No, we’ve never taken this much time off, have we?
TM: No, we haven’t. We haven’t. I’ve been pretty busy. I’m sure you have been too with school season ending and kids getting out and have you guys been…
RS: Oh, for sure.
TM: I’m sure you’ve been traveling.
RS: Did a little bit of travel. It wasn’t related to school getting out and all that. It was a home inspector conference, IEB’s annual big one called Unite. I was there. That was great, lots of interaction with lots of other fantastic home inspectors. Had a really good time there, but that’s about it.
TM: Where was it this year?
RS: This year it was in San Antonio. And everybody who attended agreed this was the best location so far. It was a nice resort. Everything was set up just perfectly. It was well run. Those conferences just get better and better.
TM: I was going to say, [chuckle] pretty epic. Yeah. That sounds like fun.
RS: Yeah. It was great. How about you? What’s new in your world?
TM: Let’s see. I’ve had two trips. I went to Ohio a few weeks ago to help my aunt. She actually had a house fire last year. She’s been displaced for about nine months, and she lives in Worthington which is a suburb of Columbus. So I went out there to help her basically move back into the house and I learned that the reason for the house fire was actually wiring for the AC unit was going through the wall sheathing and didn’t have any conduit around it. And so for years, that wire had been rubbing on the wall and eventually the insulation rubbed off and it started a fire.
RS: Wow. And that’s pretty common.
TM: Isn’t that crazy? Yeah. So she had extensive smoke damage and had to have everything taken out of the house, everything either cleaned or thrown away. And then they had to rebuild the side of the house. It was a two-storey house, and some of the flooring. It was a really big project. But what blew my mind is that between the insurance companies and all the contractors that were working out there, it appears to me that no one did a thorough inspection of the electrical in that house after this fire despite the cause being an electrical issue.
TM: Which, it doesn’t make any sense, right? So I went through her house and found all these crazy electrical things going on and a lot of hazards and I told her, I wrote them down. I told her about it, told my cousins about it, and hopefully they’re gonna have some contractors look at that stuff and eventually fix it, but yeah, I just couldn’t believe it that the insurance company never had anyone go through and look at the rest of the electrical in the house.
RS: Wow. Wow. No doubt. I mean, the house almost burned. It didn’t burn down, but it got severely damaged.
TM: Yes, severely damaged.
RS: And they just said, all right, this one area is bad and everything else should be assumed to be good, let’s go.
TM: Yeah. I mean, she has all these ungrounded three-prong outlets, mis-wired outlets, outlets wired in ways I’ve never even seen my outlet tester light up. She had a lot of other things going on too. Yeah, hopefully she gets that fixed. And then actually, I just got back last night at like 8 o’clock from a trip to Canada. I went to Saskatchewan with my family. My grandpa grew up on a farm up there actually about 100 miles north of the Montana, North Dakota border. And my mom and aunt had been holding on to some of his ashes for like the last 10 years with the intentions of taking them up to his farm where he grew up. And it just hasn’t happened until now. So, we drove up there. I got to see beautiful North Dakota [chuckle] on the way up and back and made a few pit stops along the way. We stopped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park which was actually beautiful. Saw bison like 10 feet away.
RS: Oh, cool.
TM: And wild horses and all sorts of beautiful things. The landscape was gorgeous. Stopped at International Peace Gardens. And the weirdest part of the trip was probably driving across Manitoba and Saskatchewan and then just like oil boom towns in Northwest North Dakota where the Bakken oil field is and just seeing hundreds and hundreds of oil wells and no people. [laughter] I’ve never seen anything like that before. It was really something.
RS: Sounds like some good trips.
TM: Yeah, it’s been fun. It’s been a fun summer. So, yeah, but I’m excited to get back to this podcast and enough about me. What are we talking about today, Reuben?
RS: Well, today I want to cover gas fireplace screens. And I know it sounds like a boring topic, but it’s something that has come up before over the years and I never realized how big of a deal it is to have a protective screen over your gas fireplace if you’ve got one of those modern ones with a glass front, and pretty much all gas fireplaces today have a glass front. The way these work is it’s an appliance called a direct vent appliance where it’s a two pipe system where it takes all of its combustion air directly from the outdoors, mixes it with gas, burns it, and then vents all the exhaust gases directly to the exterior. It never actually mixes with the air in the house. That’s part of the reason you have a glass front is so that it can be sealed combustion. If you have one of those old school fireplaces where it’s basically a wood burning fireplace and then somebody stuck a gas log in there, that’s not what we’re talking about. Those are just open in the atmosphere. We’re talking about the gas fireplaces that just get installed in new construction today or a gas fireplace insert, which gets retrofit into a wood-burning fireplace. And again, it would be a sealed system with a glass front.
TM: So you’re talking about putting a screen over the sealed combustion fireplace over the glass?
RS: Over the glass. Exactly. And the first person to talk to me about this was Milind. And it’s back when he first had kids. He brought it up to me as kind of a safety concern. And he said, “Reuben, I think we gotta do something in our inspection reports. We gotta mention that kids can burn themselves if they touch the glass.” And I remember just kind of poo-pooing this and not making a big deal about it ’cause I’m like, “Well, where do we draw the line?” I mean, as home inspectors. Where do we stop for child safety? Do we need to tell parents to put a gate over the stairs going down to the basement?
RS: Or keep the door closed to the basement, otherwise their kids could fall down. And what about if there’s a retaining wall? Do we tell parents not to let their kids play there?
TM: Yeah, it’s gray area. Yeah.
RS: Yeah. I mean, I just said at some point we’re going overboard as home inspectors. We’re not gonna tell parents how to parent. You can’t warn people about every possible hazard in the house. And I remember kind of flippantly telling Milind, if my kids put their hands on the fireplace, it’s gonna hurt. They’re gonna get burnt and they won’t do it again. Like, there. What’s the big deal?
TM: Yeah, that’s the point.
RS: And I even jokingly took some pictures of my daughter. I had the fireplace on and I took a picture or two of her kind of playing near the gas fireplace when she was a toddler. And I’m like…
RS: Look, she knows not to get too close. If she puts her hand up there, it’s hot and she stays away.
TM: Yeah. Okay.
RS: And so, I was just like, dude, we’re not telling people how to parent. This is going overboard. But recently it has come to my attention through some smarter people on the team here at Structure Tech, [laughter] people who take child safety a little bit more seriously than I do, that I have been way too casual in my approach about these gas fireplaces, because what ends up happening is that glass surface gets ridiculously hot. I mean, insanely hot. In our infrared cameras, I tried to check the temperature with the infrared camera. The FLIR E6 that we all use only goes up to 536 degrees.
RS: And it quickly registered 536 degrees and it said it’s hotter than that.
TM: Oh, my gosh.
RS: We’ve got those little stick thermometers that we use.
RS: And temperature probes or whatever.
RS: Those only go up to like 350 degrees. I didn’t know that. So those were useless. I don’t know how hot the gas fireplace fronts get. I’ve heard it can approach 1000 degrees, Tessa.
TM: Oh my gosh!
RS: Yes. Yes.
RS: I find that hard to believe. But this is just what I’ve heard, but I don’t think it’s impossible. The bottom line is, it gets ridiculously hot. It gets so hot that it will melt children’s skin in a very short period of time. And when you have a… I know, this gets gruesome. You’re covering your mouth right now for anybody listening.
TM: Yeah. Warning. We should have done a warning before this. Yeah.
RS: Yeah. But no, it gets worse, Tess. It gets worse, ’cause what ends up happening, and this is what we heard from a nurse who works in a burn unit, is what ends up happening is you have toddlers, they will fall against the glass. They put their hands there to catch themself…
RS: And their reflex are a little slow. The pain doesn’t register right away. Their hands melt. They go to pull themselves away and they pull their face against the glass. Yeah. Tessa is covering her mouth with both hands. It’s a gruesome picture.
TM: This is terrible. I’m thinking about my…
RS: It’s terrible.
TM: My little nephew just turned two last week and we have a gas fireplace here and we know that the glass gets hot. So we have never turned it on and had it on with him over here. But now I’m just like, holy cow! Think about all the houses we inspect that have these gas fireplaces and there’s so many young families with little kids walking, crawling, walking near those things. And now that I know that, oh my gosh, I would make sure to comment probably to every family how hot that gets.
RS: You know, we talk about these burns, but its like this is not a quick trip to the ER and they bandage the kid’s hands. This is where the kids need skin grafts. And the grafted skin doesn’t grow at the same rate as the rest of the skin. So they need to keep coming back and they need to keep getting new bandages and they need to wear these gloves and kids get developmental delays because they can’t use their hands for a long period of time. And…
RS: The trauma that parents go through and the guilt that they feel…
TM: Oh my gosh.
RS: It’s just unbelievable.
TM: Yeah, I can imagine. That’s crazy. How long have these fireplace manufacturers been allowed to just… I mean, it sounds like now they require screens, right? But they didn’t for a long time. Most of the fireplaces I’ve ever seen don’t have screens.
RS: That’s right. This did not become a standard until, I wanna say 2016. It was either 2015 or 2016. It’s just recently that it became a mandate for all gas fireplace manufacturers to add these.
RS: But before then, maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. For me, I’ve got a Heat & Glo. Well, I’ve got two of them at my house, though the one in my basement already has a screen. It’s just built in and… Well, it’s removable, but it’s a screen that fits over the front. And then the one on my first floor did not have one. It was made in 2001. Apparently they didn’t even offer them in 2001. But then after, I want to say 2003, they started offering safety screens as an option. So for Heat & Glo, if you have one made before 2003, they’ll just give you one. They’ll be like, we didn’t offer it. Send us your info. Pay the shipping fee. It was like 15 bucks shipping. And they sent me a screen and it showed up a week or two later and it was pretty simple to install. Not a big deal. And I do have it installed on my first floor fireplace now. My kids are way too old to be affected by this, but I’ve got nieces and nephews who come over.
RS: And who knows who’s gonna live at my house after me. So it’s just let’s protect this for the next homeowners.
TM: Do the safest thing. Yeah. So would you… I’m gonna go look at the fireplace we have and see what the manufacturer is, ’cause I think this house was built around 2005. So would you recommend just checking the manufacturers of the fireplace that you have and then contacting them to see if you can get a screen that would fit the right model?
RS: That’s exactly what to do. Yep. That’s what I do, if you have a gas fireplace with a glass front and you don’t have a screen on there, and a good question that came up amongst our team when we’re discussing putting this recommendation in our home inspection reports is, what is that screen really gonna do? I mean, you have the metal touching the glass, isn’t…
TM: Gets hot too.
RS: The metal going to get to the same temperature as the glass? And in reality the answer is no. It gets to a hot temperature, it’ll hurt if you touch it, but it’s not going to sear your skin unless you hold your hand there for a long time. It’s way, way safer, it’ll get to a couple of hundred degrees most.
TM: Okay. And are these screens easy to install, like would a standard homeowner be able to order this and then install it themselves with some basic tools?
RS: I’d say probably, for my basement fireplace, it was designed to accept a screen from the day it was built. And there is absolutely nothing to it. You just, it’s as simple as putting the front on one of those gas fireplaces, and you’ve done that hundreds of times. It’s got these little clips that slide in, it drops down and it’s locked into place, boom. Now, for my first floor fireplace, which was not designed to have a screen, it was a pain in the butt, I’ll admit, it never fit quite like the instruction showed. It’s a very generic screen made for many different models of fireplace, but you didn’t need any tools to do it and I did get it to fit. I had to make some modifications that weren’t in the instructions just by… It came with these clips that got in the way and I removed the clips. Just take a Phillips screwdriver and take a couple of clips out, and then it fit.
RS: But if you’re not mechanically inclined, it might be slightly challenging, but at least give it a shot. If you can’t do it, any handyman should be qualified to take care of this for you.
TM: Okay. And the fireplace manufacturers aren’t offering a worker or an employee of their company to come out and install them, they’re sending you the screen basically.
RS: Yeah, I haven’t tried, it’s very much supposed to be a DIY project.
TM: Yeah, okay.
RS: Yeah, you shouldn’t have to hire a pro.
TM: So it’s not something that you’re probably gonna be taking on and off.
TM: Like once you’ve got it on, you just leave it on.
RS: It’s a one and done type of thing, and there’s also a website I found that even if you can’t find a gas fireplace manufacturer or they’ve gone out of business or whatever, there’s this website, it’s fireplacesafetyscreen.com. Again, that’s fireplacesafetyscreen.com. You go there and they say that they will make replacement screens for any existing fireplace, and it’s basically one price, any screen, any fireplace up to a certain size. I can’t remember what size it is, but they’ll make it for any fireplace. Oh, it’s pretty expensive though. I just got on their website. Yikes, it’s really expensive.
TM: How much is it?
RS: Oh my gosh. [laughter] It says all screens under 37 inches wide, take a guess.
TM: Oh, $500?
RS: Good guess, it’s $340. That’s ridiculous, I gotta say, but…
TM: Oh, yeah. That’s an investment. Well, the price of everything is going up these days, so I’m not surprised that it’s $340.
RS: Okay, let’s go with that, Tess.
TM: But I think that that’s a wise investment if you are someone who has little kids or you’ve got small children coming over, like you said, you just wanna be a good steward to the next homeowner who’s gonna live in your house, that screen’s gonna last forever.
RS: And hopefully you don’t need to go through them and you can just contact your gas fireplace manufacturer. And even if that doesn’t work or you don’t wanna do that… I mean, I remember at Milind’s house what he did, he didn’t have the safety screen, he just got one of those child fences. It’s kinda like this little baby gate that is designed to go up around your fireplace so the kids can’t even get close.
TM: Okay. That works too.
RS: Thats safe and effective, that’ll get the exact same results, just keeping your kids away from it, or you could just disable it, you could just turn the gas off while you’ve got toddlers and not use it. There’s another option too.
TM: Would you say the glass gets dangerously hot with just the pilot light on or only when the fire is going?
RS: Only when the fire is going. With the pilot light you don’t even notice.
TM: Yeah. For someone who’s looking for the model number, how would they find that on their fireplace?
RS: Oh, great question, Tess. If you go to the bottom of your fireplace on just about every one, there’s a little door or gate or grill that will flip up if you stick your fingers in the bottom and when you pull it towards you, almost every one of them, you can access the controls down below there. And if it’s 20 years old, it’s gonna be super dusty. You’re not gonna be able to read a thing. It’s gonna be covered in a thick layer of dust. So grab a wet cloth and then you’re gonna have a little data plate inside there and you just wipe it off a little bit and you’ll be able to read your model number and your make.
TM: Cool. Well, thanks for the info. Yeah, that is really important information I think for a lot of people to have. And thanks for sharing that and your research and I’m gonna go look at my fireplace and see what manufacturer it is, see what year it is and see if I can find a screen.
RS: Yeah, yeah. And as a home inspection company, this is something we all agreed about a month ago that we’re gonna start including in our home inspection reports. And our recommendation is gonna be either contact your gas fireplace manufacturer and get a screen or go to this website and get an aftermarket screen or make sure that it’s disabled if there’s gonna be little kids around. Or one of those three, it’s not like this huge safety thing, but it’s a heads up. ‘Cause once we started talking about this with our clients within the last month and bringing this up to people, the stories have come out of the woodwork, Tessa, this is not an isolated incident where this happens to one every million parents. This has happened to a lot of parents, and I did a blog post about this last week or two weeks ago and I actually shared some photos. You gotta click on a link to share some, and they’re gruesome but they’re not the worst. We got some photos that we didn’t even share, that we did not get permission to share, but somebody did share with us. And Tessa, it would make you sick. And in every case where we’ve heard about this, what we hear over and over is just guilt and shame and remorse for not being better parents. And I could just as easily be in that category.
TM: Wow, anyone could. That kind of thing happens so fast and then you don’t know what you don’t know.
RS: Exactly, exactly. And I will admit this is kind of a boring topic for a lot of people I think, this was maybe the least popular YouTube video I have released ever.
RS: It seems that nobody cares about these child safety tips, but too bad. I know that there’s a fair number of home inspectors that listen to this podcast and I am suggesting to any home inspector out there, this is a good thing to include in your reports. And for any homeowners, real estate agents listening, this is a good message for you to pass on to others. It’s something that people just aren’t aware of.
TM: Spread the word and if this just saves one little kid from having really severe burns on their hands, then I think it’s been worth it, so…
RS: Yep, I agree, cool.
TM: Well, thanks, Reuben.
RS: Thank you, Tess.
TM: If people have comments or stories they wanna share, how can they get ahold of us?
RS: Thank you. You can go to podcast… Email us email@example.com.
TM: Perfect. Thanks for listening everybody.
RS: All right. Thank you all. We’ll see you next week.