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In the US, a staggering 120,000 children are treated in hospital for burn-related injuries each year. Of these incidents, 65% involve scald injuries from either boiling liquids or from being in contact with hot objects, like fireplaces.
So if you’re expecting a baby, you might be thinking your quaint looking fireplace suddenly looks like a potential death-trap! What can you do about it? You could install a safety gate, add a glass door with a lock, ensure you baby proof the fireplace hearth, purchase a carbon monoxide detector and keep any fireplace tools in a safe place. Let’s look at these options in more detail so you can baby proof your brick fireplace and keep your little one safe and sound.
Install a safety gate
No matter what design they have, fireplaces seem to attract the prying eyes of every baby and toddler. It could be the orange glow from a fire, the pile of wood or coal, or the chimney itself (which to an infant sort of looks like a magic hole!) Even for older children who may understand the risks of a fireplace, they can fall and hurt themselves on the solid stone or brick hearth. So the easiest way to resolve this is to install a safety gate which encloses the whole fireplace and hearth, keeping your child at a safe distance.
However, you can’t purchase any old safety gate. It shouldn’t be a freestanding one as it could topple over and enable your baby to access the fireplace. A fireplace safety gate should securely attach to the walls either side of the hearth and have a secure door so adults can access the fireplace if they need.
What distance should the safety gate be from the fireplace?
A lot depends on what type of fireplace you have. If you have an open wood-burning fireplace, then embers and sparks can pose a threat to your baby, so the safety gate should surround the hearth at a further distance than a gas or electric fireplace. Obviously you don’t want the safety gate to be so far back that it ends up taking too much space in your living room, but if you aim for at least 90cm from the hearth that should ensure your baby is far enough away from any hot flames and the safety gate won’t get too hot to touch.
How do you install a safety gate?
Here is a step-by-step process for installing a fireplace gate:
- Measure the dimensions of your fireplace (and hearth if you have one)
- Add at least 90cm to the length and width so you can work out what safety gate size you need (this will keep your baby at a safe distance from any flames and from the hearth itself.
- Purchase a fireplace fence based on these dimensions (fortunately many of these products are adjustable so it makes it a little easier to fit them to the size you need)
- Install the gate making sure you read the instructions carefully. You will likely need to drill holes into the wall around your fireplace to installed mounted brackets for the gate to attach to. You may also have other screws and fastenings to install each gate panel and the door.
Add a glass door
An alternative to purchasing a safety gate is to install a glass door. Although your child can get closer to the fireplace with this method, at least it is shielded so they are not at risk of getting scolded on any naked flames. For a brick fireplace, installing a door is not the easiest job so unless you are a DIY master, you probably should hire a professional to do it.
Fireplace door lock
Once the door is installed, you should definitely purchase a door lock. This will ensure your toddler cannot access the fireplace at all. The downside to this is that you will have to unscrew it from the door each time you want to use the fireplace when the kids aren’t around. You may also have some issues finding a lock which fits your fireplace door properly.
Baby proof the fireplace hearth
If you decide not to go with a fence/gate around your fireplace, you’ll still need to baby proof the hearth itself as they have sharp corners made out of brick, stone or marble which can cause a nasty injury if your toddler falls over.
If you have a flat hearth, things are a little easier. Assuming you have no intention of using your fireplace while your kids are small, you can just cover it with a thick rug. You could even block off the fireplace entirely with another piece of furniture, although it might look a bit strange in your living room! A better option might be to block it off with a large basket of toys.
It’s far more likely you will have a raised hearth surrounding your fireplace which is more problematic. The sharp, hard corners and edges are a bad combination for toddlers who could easily hurt themselves if they slip over.
You can purchase some edge and corner guards which can minimize the risk of injury, or even hearth pads which cover the entire thing.
Which is the best option?
To be honest, if you would still like to use your fireplace from time to time, I would go with a safety fence. I think adding a door and lock to the fireplace itself is a more costly option if you don’t already have these installed. However, if you have no intention of using your fireplace, I think a hearth cover with some corner and edge pads will be fine, along with some objects to block off the fireplace.
I opted for a super low cost option and just attached bubble wrap around the hearth with cushions on top and the fireplace was blocked off with a couple of vases of flowers. We never had any issue with my daughter or son when they were babies or toddlers. They just didn’t seem interested in the fireplace. My son picked at the bubble wrap once or twice but that was it! However, your set up might be different in your home and you might need something more secure.
Other considerations for baby proofing a fireplace
Here are some other things you should bear in mind when you’re thinking about the safety of your kids around the fireplace.
Purchase a carbon monoxide detector
You should have a working carbon monoxide detector in your home, whether you use a fireplace or not. Of course if you’re using a fireplace regularly, the risk goes up, particularly for young children as they have smaller bodies and lungs.
Even though we have never used our fireplace, we had a scare once when my wife would feel a bit drowsy when she would work in the kitchen for a while. After doing a blood test, she had a fairly high level of carbon monoxide in her blood. We realised she was often sitting near our gas boiler and it turned out it had a small leak of carbon monoxide! Remember carbon monoxide has no smell, and you can’t see or taste it. We now have two carbon monoxide detectors in our home, one in the kitchen and one which doubles as a smoke detector. Don’t take any risk with this hidden gas!
Keep your chimney clean
If you use your fireplace regularly then you should always keep the chimney clean. Failing to do so can create a blockage due to all the soot so the smoke won’t be able to escape upwards. Instead, it will go into your home. You don’t need me to tell you about the dangers of smoke inhalation, especially for young children.
Keep fireplace tools in a safe place
Fireplace tools are sharp, heavy and big, making them dangerous for curious babies and toddlers. If you have a wood burning fireplace, make sure you put the tools in a safe place, away from prying eyes! A locked cabinet would be your best bet.
Explain the danger of fire
Some children pick up on what is dangerous quicker than others, but it doesn’t hurt to explain the risks of fire even from an early age. Toddlers can understand when a parent is being serious about something, or when they disapprove of a particular action.
Graham is a father of two who founded Dadometer to share his parenting journey with other moms and dads.