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Gas Fireplace Safety Information and Burn Statistics

safety screen

The glass panel on the front of a gas fireplace gets to be over 350 degrees F on most gas fireplaces. In recent years manufacturers have made the gas fireplaces bigger and they burn hotter, and the glass can remain hot for at least 30 minutes after the fireplace is turned off. Our safety screens were built to give your fireplace a makeover and to create a safety barrier between your hand and the hot glass.

Our screens attach to your fireplace with 1/2" magnets so they allow for a 1/2" air space between the hot glass and the screen. This will help reduce the temperature, but even our screens will get hot enough to burn someone if they grab onto it for long enough. Our screens just don't get as hot as the smooth surface of glass on the front of the gas fireplace. 

It is always recommended to follow good gas firepalce safety tips and educate your guests about your fireplace.  It usually takes 45 minutes for the glass front of a fireplace to completely cool down, but for an idea of how quickly the gas front of a fireplace can get hot - in the time is takes to cook your veggies (less, actually, if you like your vegetables well cooked), a gas fireplace door can have a temperature more than double that of boiling water:

"Within an average of 6.5 minutes, the [...] fireplaces reached 392F. Further, an average of 12.3 minutes was required for the appliances to cool from 392 F to 212 F. One unit was cooled to 122 F, which required 27.5 minutes." (Pollack-Nelson, 2011).

gas fireplace safety

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And though not hot enough to cause immediate 3rd degree burns, 122F is still dangerous to touch.

After one second of contact with a surface of about 150 degrees Fahrenheit, necrosis happens - third degree burns. The glass fronts on many gas fireplaces will reach more than 3 times that temperature; in fact the self-regulating industry standards cap temperatures for glass fronts at 500 degrees Fahrenheit not because of safety, but because after that point the glass is more likely to fracture. And if the glass is ceramic, industry standards allow temperatures to go as high as 1,328 degrees F, which is comparable to the temperatures that the pyroclastic flows from volcanoes reaches.

There are industry standards in place for the regulation of fireplaces inculding warning labels and maximum temperatures, but there are not federal regulations. The industry regulations that are put in place regarding temperature are enforced more so that the glass does not break than for safety.  Safety stickers or notifications are many times located somewhere inside the bottom panel of the gas fireplace that many times the homeowner doesn't find it.

Since 2006, the Children’s Hospital Colorado Burn Center has seen burns on the hands from the glass fronts on gas fireplaces increase by 50%, and between 1999 and 2009 there have been an estimated 2,000 children ages 5 and younger have suffered injuries from gas fireplaces. (Children's Hospital Colorado, Pollack-Nelson)

With children, especially young children, there are a few different factors that affect the safety of glass fronts on fireplaces. Not only does the glass itself reach extreme temperatures that many are not aware of or do not conceptualize the risk of, but young children are prone to falling and stumbling, catching themselves on nearby surfaces, and also have a slower reaction time - as slow as 15 seconds. To put it in perspective, "[e]very day, 435 children ages 0 to 19 are treated in emergency rooms for burn-related injuries and two children die as a result of being burned" (CDC).

As gas fireplaces increased in popularity, so, too did the injuries resulting from gas fireplaces. This is understandable - but what is not is the lack of education since that point. Education is improving, but for homeowners with older model gas fireplaces installed prior to 2004, many fireplace manufacturers placed caution tags inside the control panel which isn't always seen by the homeowner - which state "Hot while in operation. Do not touch. Severe burns may result. Keep children, clothing, furniture, gasoline and other liquids having flammable vapors away." Many will be found on the fireplace itself - this specific example was "attached to the pilot light which is located beneath the fireplace, and behind an access door" (Pollack-Nelson). Oftentimes these warnings are also included in the owner's manual for the fireplace, which doesn't usually find it's way to the current homeowner for a variety of reasons.

There have been numerous cases (listed on the Consumer Product Safety Commission) of fireplaces being recalled for the glass fronts shattering and injuring people, and there was recently a class action lawsuit against Lennox which made the company "to offer to send protective screens to more than 500,000 owners of its Lennox and Superior brand gas fireplaces. The company, which did not admit liability, also agreed to pay $4.93 million in fees and expenses to three law firms that filed the case" (Fair Warning, "Burn Cases Turn Up the Heat...").

In a recent hearing with the CPSC, "CPSC staff asked Mr. Lerner and some of the manufacturers and standards organization personnel in attendance whether the issue could be addressed by pursuing a means to insulate the glass to reduce the exterior surface temperature. One of the manufacturing representatives commented that this was not a viable option since many fireplace designs also use radiant heat through the glass for heating purposes" (CPSC Meeting Log, April 14, 2011).

Recently though the Hearth, Patio & Barbeque Association (HPBA) has stepped up realizing that something needs to be done to address the issue of Gas Fireplace Safety.  

The CSA America Vented Gasfired Warm Air Heaters Technical Advisory Group met in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 13, 2011, and approved language mandating certified barriers to protect children and other at-risk people from the glass fronts of gas fireplaces. This recommendation for a revised standard now goes to the CSA Z21.50 and Z21.88 committees for their review.

If ultimately approved by the ANSI Board of Standards, the revised standard would mean that a gas fireplace or gas heater must include a certified barrier if the temperature of the glass front can exceed 172 degrees. The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) supports this revision and is committed to educating homeowners on safety precautions to be taken when using their fireplaces and other home-heating products.

Jack Goldman, HPBA president and CEO, says, “Safety is our first priority, and we want people to enjoy the warmth and ambience of their fireplaces and stoves, but be reminded that they can get hot. Children are, by nature, curious, and need to be protected from hot surfaces.”

Perhaps the most important thing to realize and understand is just how hot glass fronts on fireplaces will be, even after the fireplace has been turned off or turned down. Just because you turned off the fireplace a half hour ago does not mean that it is safe to touch now. 

Sources:

  1. "CDC - Fire Deaths and Injuries: Fact Sheet." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 06 Sept. 2011.
  2. "CDC - Injury - Safe Child - Burns." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 06 Sept. 2011.
  3. "Gas Fireplace Glass Door Burn Prevention - Children's Hospital Colorado-Denver Area, Rocky Mountain Region." Top Children's Hospital Best for Kids & Teens - Children's Hospital Colorado-Denver Area, Rocky Mountain Region. Web. 06 Sept. 2011. 
  4. "Preventing Burns from Hot Fireplace Glass." Consumer Reports News. Web. 06 Sept. 2011. 
  5. "Dangers of Fireplace Glass." Consumer Reports News. Web. 06 Sept. 2011. 
  6. "Heat & Glo Recall of Gas Fireplaces." CPSC Home Page | Cpsc.gov. Web. 06 Sept. 2011. 
  7. "Heat & Glo Indoor/Outdoor Gas Fireplaces Recalled for Fire Hazard." CPSC Home Page | Cpsc.gov. Web. 06 Sept. 2011.
  8. "Wall Mount Gas Fireplaces Recalled by Valor Heating." CPSC Home Page | Cpsc.gov. Web. 06 Sept. 2011.
  9. "CPSC Issues Fireplace Safety Tips." CPSC Home Page | Cpsc.gov. Web. 06 Sept. 2011. 
  10. Franken, Al. Letter to Inez Tenenbaum. 16 Mar. 2011. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Web. 6 Sept. 2011.
  11. Lerner, William. "Meeting Log." Interview by CPSC. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Web. 6 Sept. 2011.
  12. Levin, Myron. "Burn Cases Turn Up the Heat on Fireplace Makers." Fair Warning. June-July 2011. Web. 6 Sept. 2011. 
  13. Levin, Myron. "Toddlers Suffer Severe Burns From Broiling Fireplace Glass, as Businesses Write Their Own Safety Rules." Fair Warning. 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 06 Sept. 2011. 
  14. Levin, Myron. "Toddler Burns From Fireplaces Draw Heat from Senator Franken." Fair Warning. 4 Apr. 2011. Web. 6 Sept. 2011. 
  15. "Burn Injuries Take Devastating Toll On Nation's Children." Medical News Today: Health News. Web. 06 Sept. 2011.
  16. Pollack-Nelson, Carol. "Petition For A Standard For Gas Fireplaces." Letter to Todd Stevenson. 23 May 2011. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Web. 6 Sept. 2011.
  17. "Child Injury - Statistics." Minnesota Personal Injury Attorney and Lawyer Powerhouse, Minneapolis MN. Web. 06 Sept. 2011. 
  18. "CVO Website - How Hot Is A Volcano?" USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO). Web. 06 Sept. 2011. 
  19. "CPSC Fines Cosco/Safety 1st $1.75 Million for Failing to Report Product Defects." CPSC Home Page | Cpsc.gov. Web. 14 Sept. 2011.
  20. USA. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Federal Hazardous Substances Act. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Web.
  21. Patioin & Hearth Products Report  http://www.patioandhearthproductsreport.com/index.php/current/certified_fireplace_barriers_approved_for_gas_fireplace_fronts1

Here are some medical websites that are trying to bring more attention to the issue of children getting burned on gas fireplaces:

www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions/skin/burn/fireplace-glassdoor-burnprevention.aspx

www.sickkids.ca/AboutSickKids/Newsroom/Past-News/2010/fireplace-safety.html

Here are some consumer product safety websites that discuss the safety issues with gas fireplaces:

Consumer Reports - news.consumerreports.org/safety/2011/08/preventing-burns-from-hot-fireplace-glass.html

Fair Warning.org - www.fairwarning.org/2011/06/burn-cases-turn-up-the-heat-on-fireplace-makers/

Class action lawsuits: - www.topclassactions.com/lawsuit-settlements/lawsuit-news/1004-lennox-hearth-fireplace-class-action-settlement

Fireplace inustry links to information about gas fireplace safety: - Hearth Products and BBQ Association - Gas Fireplace brochure (PDF)