Driving Safety Guide for Business Owners

Updated April 4, 2017 . AmFam Team

Keep your dream in drive by educating yourself and your employees with this safety program for motor vehicle operators.

You’ve worked hard to build your dream business, which is why it’s important to educate yourself on safety programs that will protect it. Follow this guide to find out how to properly inform your employees on safety approaches when operating a motor vehicle, so you can avoid on-the-job accidents and focus on keeping your dream in drive.

Accidents1 on and off the job have far-reaching financial and psychological effects. Employees involved in accidents (and often their families), coworkers, and their employers can all be affected. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in the United States, motor vehicle accidents cost employers $60 billion annually in medical care, legal expenses, property damage, and lost productivity. Accidents also drive up the cost of benefits, such as workers’ compensation, Social Security, and private health and disability insurance, and increase a company’s overhead costs involved in administering these programs and maintaining operations.

According to U.S. government statistics, the average accident costs an employer $16,500. When a worker has an on-the-job accident that results in an injury, the average cost to their employer is $74,000. Costs can exceed $500,000 when a fatality is involved. You need a safety program:

  • To save lives and to reduce the risk of life-altering injuries within your workforce.
  • To protect your organization’s human and financial resources.
  • To guard against potential company liabilities associated with crashes involving employees driving on company business.

Your program should work to keep drivers safe, as well as those with whom they share the road. The program must work to change driver attitudes, improve behavior, and increase skills to build a “be safe” culture. By instructing your employees in basic safe driving practices and then rewarding safety-conscious behavior, you can help your employees and their families avoid tragedy. The information in this publication provides guidance on the areas that need to be addressed to implement a safety program in your organization.


Management can take many actions that will directly impact the level of safety and reduce accidents. You need to have certain general policies in place to guide your employees in following safe operating procedures. As management sets the example for the employees, it is imperative that they adhere to safe operating procedures at all times. All personnel must be held accountable for deviations in safe practices. If possible, a single individual responsible for safety should be designated and this individual should report to the president or owner of the company.
Action: Create a written motor vehicle safety policy and procedures document(s) that states expectations, responsibilities, and actions to be taken to ensure a safe work environment.

Safety Policy

Irrespective of the size of the operation, it is essential for management to make their employees aware that safe operation is of paramount importance. This directive commonly takes the form of a safety policy. Basically, the safety policy should state management's concern with safe operations, including vehicular safety, and should serve as a guide for safe conduct by management and employees. The policy statement should be signed by the owner/president of the company and be well publicized throughout the organization.

A simple, direct safety policy might be stated as follows:

“The efficiency of any operation can be measured directly by its ability to control losses. Accidents resulting in personal injury and damage to property and equipment represent needless suffering and waste. Company policy regarding safety is:

  • The safety of the employee, the public, and the operation is paramount, and every attempt must be made to reduce the possibility of accidents.
  • Safety shall take precedence over expediency, or short cuts, at all times.
  • Our company intends to comply with all applicable safety laws and regulations.

It is the responsibility of every employee to maintain the safest conditions and equipment at all times. Each employee will be expected to demonstrate an attitude that reflects this policy and promotes safe work habits.”

Regulatory Compliance

Depending on the type of transportation service involved, there may be government regulations that apply to the operation and drivers. You must determine what regulations apply to your business and assure that the business is in compliance with them.


Management should insist that the driver and all passengers be secured in a seatbelt whenever a vehicle is in motion. Drivers taking medications should be aware of their side effects, and should have the right to decline to drive a vehicle if they have any concerns about adverse reactions to the medication. Drivers should also take steps to minimize distractions while driving. The use of cellular phones and other communication devices should be prohibited when the vehicle is in motion.

Substance Abuse

The consumption of alcohol should be prohibited for drivers anytime during working hours and for four hours prior to driving. The policy should also prohibit the use of controlled substances.

Employee Vehicles

Even when employees are using their own vehicles to perform business activities, such as sales calls, management must be concerned about their driving skills. An up-to-date copy of "proof of insurance" for the employee's vehicle, preferably with the liability limits of the policy, should be kept on file in the event an accident occurs.

Personal Use of Vehicles

Management may allow employees to use company-owned vehicles for personal activities. If this is allowed, the business should have specific rules on who is allowed to operate the vehicle and the acceptable radius of operation.

Driver Qualification

Whether it is a coast-to-coast trucking operation or an incidental fleet for sales and other business activities, establishing and maintaining a meaningful and realistic driver qualification program is vitally important to reducing accidents in any motor vehicle operation. By placing sufficient emphasis on selecting the best available driver, a company helps to avoid future financial losses resulting from accidents and abuse of equipment.

The opportunity to select the right person for the position will largely depend on management's ability to develop job standards that reflect the prerequisites and skills necessary for satisfactory job performance. In order to achieve a program that is effective and still practical for its operation, management should decide the degree of emphasis needed in each area, as well as understand the regulations with which the business must comply.
Action: Develop a driver qualification program that allows you to select the best qualified driver and assure that the driver stays qualified.

Job Analysis

The first task in any employee selection process is to determine the specific requirements for each job category. You must determine exactly what the employee must do, how it must be accomplished, and what skills are required. Once these facts are known, management can establish standards that will reflect the specific nature of the position and make it possible to recognize the best applicant.


Government regulations will control the type of license and, frequently, the qualifications that a driver must meet, depending on the type of operation and size of the vehicle. You must assure that the applicant possesses the necessary qualifications for the position.

Application Form

For a position requiring driving, an application form should be detailed for a full-time driving position or be an addendum to a general application form for incidental drivers. Information about the applicant that should be requested on the form includes:

  • Driver’s license(s).
  • Traffic violation convictions.
  • Driving experience.
  • Accident record.
  • Criminal history.
  • Special training related to driving/transportation.
  • Authorization to investigate the applicant’s background.


The purpose of the interview is to develop more detailed information regarding the applicant's qualifications and experience, as well as his or her general suitability as an employee. A standard interview pattern should be followed for a given job classification in order to obtain all desired information and to afford a means of comparison between applicants. Questions must focus on the applicant's ability to perform the tasks required of the position, not on any disability. The interview should be used to resolve any questions regarding the information obtained or omitted on the application form. A visual check of the driver's license should be made to ascertain that the driver has the proper class of license, whether there are any restrictions, and if the license is current.

Reference Checks

A check should be made with previous employers to develop information about the driver's general character and professional ability. Factors, such as length of employment, job(s) performed (including operation of vehicles), accident record, and whether the previous employer would re-hire the individual, should be included. This check can be accomplished by a telephone interview, a letter, or a personal visit.

The driver's qualification file should verify that these checks were made and should record the responses received. When a previous employer cannot be contacted, a certified letter should be sent to that employer's last known address to help verify that an effort was made to complete the reference check. 

Motor Vehicle Record

A copy of the driver's Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) should be obtained to ascertain that the applicant has a valid license and to review the driver's past record. A history of accidents and moving traffic violations could indicate a major problem with the applicant.

An MVR also should be obtained periodically for each driver and reviewed to determine whether remedial training is necessary. The MVR should be reviewed with the driver and made part of the driver's file. This review may give the supervisor insight as to the driver's attitude regarding traffic rules and regulations.

Companies should establish criteria for what constitutes an acceptable MVR and the penalties involved in not meeting such criteria. However, caution should be exercised to assure that all applicant’s/employees are being evaluated under the same criteria. If your company’s policy is to dismiss an employee convicted of ‘driving under the influence,’ it may require that you dismiss, for example, your top sales person. However, a requirement that the employee complete treatment prescribed through an employee assistance program might better serve the company’s needs.

Physical Qualifications

The physical fitness of the applicant should be considered before hiring, but only after the driver has been offered a job. The employer should arrange for physical examinations, with individual physicians or industrial clinics. The medical examiner should be aware of the physical and emotional demands placed on the employee, so that it can be determined whether the applicant is qualified for the position. In addition to checking an employee’s physical condition before hiring, periodic physical examinations should be required and arranged for by the company. Reexaminations may indicate the onset of a problem and therefore allow appropriate corrective measures to be taken.

Road Test

Giving a driver a road test will allow you to ascertain deficiencies in driving skills and provide needed training prior to assigning a driving task. The same type of equipment that will be assigned to the driver should be used in the test, and the test should be sufficiently long to cover a variety of situations. This test should be designed to help identify the driver's competent areas and weak points.

Additional Background Information

Depending on the position, additional background information may need to be generated through checks with credit bureaus and police departments (where permissible), or through the use of professional investigative agencies. Standards must be non-discriminatory; pertaining equally to all applicants.

Driver Qualification Files

Driver selection is a one-time process; assuring that the driver remains qualified should be an ongoing process. A qualification file should be maintained, for each person hired, to facilitate review of the driver's record, and to provide future reference to the driver's qualifications. Information that should be kept in the file includes:

  • A copy of the driver's application form.
  • Notations regarding information developed during the driver's interview.
  • The driver’s most recent motor vehicle record.
  • Results of reference checks with previous employers.
  • Information indicating the successful completion of a road test.
  • Information indicating the successful completion of a physical examination, if applicable.
  • Results of background checks.
  • Any information that will give management insight to a driver's qualifications, such as additional training (including dates of completion).

Driver Training

Training must supplement the driver selection program to assure that new employees have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform the job in the manner expected, as well as to provide the opportunity to review individual company policies with each driver. The amount of training that is needed varies directly with the complexity of the job and the knowledge and experience of the employee. An effective training program addresses the knowledge and skills necessary for an employee to perform in a satisfactory and safe manner, and attempts to bridge the gap between the employee's existing level of knowledge and that required for the job.

Proper training reduces operational disruptions and minimizes unnecessary costs from accidents and equipment abuse. Positive driver attitudes can be promoted by emphasizing that the intent of the training program is to benefit drivers by helping them to perform their jobs safely and efficiently. Drivers must be shown the critical relationship between their actions and the success of the business. Action: Establish a multi-faceted driver training program to provide initial and on-going education for your drivers.

Types of Training

Three types of driver training should be considered when establishing a driver training program - initial, refresher, and remedial.

Initial training should be given to new personnel so that each employee is properly indoctrinated prior to starting work. Even drivers with many years of experience have a need for orientation due to differences in types of cargo, vehicles, and operations. As there are few "perfect" drivers, initial training should address the areas identified during a driver's road test that need improvement.

Refresher training can be very useful for regular drivers to update information on operational changes, new routes, cargo, equipment, and government regulations, and to reinforce defensive driving awareness.

Remedial training may be useful to help alleviate substandard performance. The need for remedial training may be identified by customer complaints, complaints from the public, accident involvement, moving traffic violations, or reports of vehicle misuse or abuse.

Driver Trainers

A key element of a successful driver training program is to carefully select a qualified instructor. Depending on the size of the operation, this may be a full- or part-time responsibility. Whenever possible, a driver trainer should be recruited from within the organization to avoid problems resulting from an "outsider's" lack of familiarity with the company's operations, lack of knowledge of existing problems and policies, or possible resentment by the existing drivers. While these factors can be overcome with an “outsider,” the effort might prove to be time-consuming and disruptive. Training an existing employee to perform the driver training function can prove to be a tremendous asset to the company.

The person selected to be the driver trainer should have a superior personnel and safety record (to serve as an example for others) and sufficient experience with the company to have knowledge of its operations, procedures, and future plans. A mature, enthusiastic individual is essential in order to gain the respect of the other drivers and to deal effectively with supervisory personnel. It is also necessary for the driver trainer to be able to analyze and interpret driver performance and accident records, as well as to communicate those findings.

Beyond the fundamentals of safe driving, driver training should also address other areas, such as company rules and policies, operation of specialized equipment, routes and schedules, emergency procedures, cargo handling (especially when hauling hazardous materials), security, and government regulations.

Management must do everything possible to provide the necessary support systems to make the driver trainer effective. Foremost, it must recognize that the person selected must be able to teach others effectively. If the individual lacks the necessary teaching experience, it may be advantageous for that person to attend a course designed specifically to “train the trainer.”

Training Approaches

There are two general approaches to training - classroom and hands-on.

Classroom training can be accomplished using either a one-on-one or group approach. This type of training is used for company rules, government regulations, routes and schedules, accident and emergency procedures, basic cargo handling methods, and basic defensive driving techniques.

Hands-on training is most effective for equipment familiarization, pre-trip inspections, cargo handling, and defensive driving. It can provide one of the best methods of giving practical instructions to a driver under closely controlled conditions.

Program Contents

The driver training program needs to address the areas that a driver will face in the course of day-to-day operations, as well as unusual or emergency situations that may occur. At a minimum, a good driver training program should address the following areas:

Company Rules and Policies - Company rules and policies should be provided to drivers in written form. Revisions to this information should be given to drivers on a timely basis, and it should be assured that each driver understands the changes. The person who indoctrinates a new driver into the company should review the rules and policies with the driver.

Equipment Familiarization - Equipment familiarization is necessary to minimize unintentional equipment misuse and abuse. It makes good operating sense to show a newly hired driver the proper way to operate specific equipment for maximum efficiency and minimum maintenance. Special controls, including loading and unloading devices, should be demonstrated, and the driver should be instructed on how to make a proper vehicle inspection.

Routes and Schedules - Routes and schedules should be explained. This information could be included in the materials given to drivers on company rules and policies. Routes should be established to avoid congested areas, poor road conditions, high accident frequency areas, and roads with restrictive conditions, such as low or narrow overpasses or bridges with restricted weight limits.

Defensive Driving Techniques - Defensive driving is driving to prevent accidents in spite of the incorrect actions of others or adverse driving conditions, such as weather, traffic, lighting, vehicle or road condition, or the driver's physical or mental state. The defensive driver assumes that other drivers may make mistakes and is on guard in the event an error is made. When giving a prospective driver a pre-employment road test, defensive driving techniques should be evaluated. Any bad driving habits should be corrected prior to a driver's first trip. In order to effectively achieve a change in a driver's habits or attitude, it is essential to have in-vehicle training.

Regulations - Traffic and safety regulations should be explained to a new driver, with specific emphasis on those regulations peculiar to a company's operations. Drivers should be kept well-informed of any changes in regulations that might affect them.

Cargo Handling - Various cargoes require different skills to load, transport, and unload. Dump trucks and trailers, tank trucks, dry bulk products, new-car carriers, hazardous materials, and different "size" loads all require specialized knowledge that a driver may not have acquired previously. In order to minimize cargo losses, equipment damage, and third-party claims, it is essential that new drivers are made aware of specific cargo hazards and how to deal with them.

Emergency Procedures - Emergency procedures should be established to deal with problems encountered while en route. In case of mechanical problems with the vehicle, the driver should know what to do with the disabled vehicle, the proper placement of emergency warning devices, and the person(s) to contact for assistance.

Proper procedures to follow in the event of an accident must be established. As the driver may be under extreme stress at the accident scene, and because the initial actions of the driver are often critical in minimizing the effects of the accident, the procedures to follow must be clear and concise and the responsibilities of the driver must be well-defined. An information packet containing instructions and forms for use in the event of an accident should be carried in the vehicle, and the driver should be familiar with its contents.

Driver Supervision

Drivers are under their own supervision for a substantial portion of the workday. Also, as drivers deal with many facets of the business, they frequently receive instructions on performing their job from a number of people. All supervisors must be aware of the job tasks assigned by other supervisors and must coordinate their instructions accordingly. Drivers must know who their immediate supervisor is and how to contact that person.

One of the critical elements for a successful driver supervision program is the establishment of specific guidelines for job performance, including evaluation criteria, incentives, and disciplinary procedures. These guidelines must be clearly understood by both supervisors and drivers, and applied equally to all drivers. A number of techniques for monitoring and enhancing driver performance are explained below. Management must tailor its own program to suit your company's particular needs.
Action: Establish a driver supervision program that provides consistent and thorough evaluation and control of the driving function.

Hours of Service

Every company having employees who drive, either full-time or part-time, needs to assure that drivers and their supervisors are aware of the effects of fatigue and that work hours are established accordingly. The rationale for restricting a driver's hours of work is based on the concept that the longer a driver works, the more fatigued the driver becomes, and thus more susceptible to being involved in an accident. The nature of the work performed by the driver, in addition to driving, also must be taken into consideration when evaluating the potential for the driver to suffer from fatigue.

Driver fatigue can be avoided by regulating work/rest cycles and limiting the number of hours a driver works. Particular attention should be focused on hours of service if accident records indicate a frequency of accidents that may be fatigue related, such as run-off-the-road, rear-end, and single-vehicle accidents.

Many drivers are required by law to limit their driving time. To verify compliance with these regulations, drivers may be required either to complete a driver's record of duty status (log) or to use an automatic on-board recording device. Comparison of the record of duty status with other documentation of the trip, such as fuel receipts, toll receipts, road observation, meal receipts, motel receipts, accident reports, and road call receipts can prove helpful in determining the accuracy of entries.

Routing and Scheduling

Most supervisors will have a fairly good idea of the factors, such as route or area the vehicle will be using, number of miles for the trip, average time required to complete the trip, loading arrangements, etc., associated with a trip. These items can be supervised to a limited degree through random checks to verify that the driver is actually following the prescribed schedule.

Vehicle Location Checks

Depending on type of operation or commodity value, the supervisor may wish to establish certain procedures for verifying the location of the vehicle. This may include two-way radio or telephone contact, designated check-in stations (the arrival and departure times may be recorded by requiring the driver to punch a time clock, where available, or by making an entry in a log book kept at a check-in station), or global positioning systems (GPS) that track the exact location of the vehicle.

GPS that provide a link between a dispatcher and an on-board vehicle computer are being used on a limited basis. Most of the systems automatically transmit vehicle location information back to a dispatcher on a periodic basis. While some of the systems are land based, especially within "city limits," most transmit information via satellite. Some of these systems allow for direct communications between the driver and the dispatcher.

Trip Recorders

Trip recording devices can aid in the supervision of drivers by providing management with very accurate, objective vehicle operating data. Advising drivers as to how the system works and how management plans to use the information generated will help to foster driver acceptance of the system. Confronting drivers every time the system indicates a violation of company policy and establishing a policy that tampering with the device will result in dismissal will add much weight to the program.

Beyond improved labor productivity, fuel savings, and operations improvement, tachographs and on-board computers can provide valuable information in accident investigation.

Road Observation

Research has shown that 95 percent of vehicle crashes are due to driver error and 5 percent are mechanically related. Even good drivers can develop bad habits, so the ongoing coaching of drivers is very important to companies that are operating vehicles. For the most part, little on-the-road supervision is done by management once a driver has completed the hiring process.

Supervision of operations through the use of a road observation system allows for the direct observation of the actions of drivers, as well as general observation of the condition of vehicles and, when performed by the business itself, helps to identify road conditions likely to affect operations or cause undue hazards. Road observation can be performed through periodic check rides with the driver or through the use of a road patrol system.

Through the use of “How’s My Driving” programs, the public can be used to add insight/data to the driver supervision task. Managed by either the fleet operator or a third-party vendor, the use of telephone reporting of a driver’s behavior by the public has shown increasing value. Generally, such programs use a toll-free number prominently displayed on a decal on the vehicle to provide the public with on-the-spot information to report dangerous or commendable driver behavior.

In general, over 90 percent of public reports are complaints about poor driving, 5 percent are calls to report a crash or spill, and approximately 3 percent cite compliments about drivers. The proper handling of reports is critical to a program showing a positive bottom-line result. Reports must be sent to supervisors and action taken expeditiously, while the incident is fresh in the driver’s mind. Actions taken with drivers should be recorded on the report and returned to a data center to “close” the report. Negative reports should trigger driver improvement efforts. Following–up on reports with drivers and using the opportunity to coach drivers for better performance, rather than using the program for strictly disciplinary purposes, can enhance the performance of drivers. Some third-party vendors also provide materials to help in the coaching of drivers for enhanced performance.

Incentive Programs

Some drivers will perform expertly for wages alone or the self-satisfaction in accomplishing a task, while others may require additional forms of motivation. One motivation technique that has met with success is an incentive program. Incentive programs can be used for accident-free driving, fuel-efficient driving, or whatever else is suitable for a particular operation.

These programs can provide many different types of awards (e.g., safety pins, patches, belt buckles, etc.) and may provide a substantial return on investment if they are administered properly and stimulate the driver's interest. The quality of the reward should relate to the length of time and effort required to meet the required goal.

To be successful, an incentive program must have clearly defined goals and written rules and procedures that are understood by both drivers and supervisors. Complete and accurate records must be maintained. Awards should be made promptly, preferably by top management, and before fellow employees.

Vehicle Maintenance

Well-managed vehicle maintenance programs are extremely important in any business that operates motor vehicles. Reduced operational costs, reduced accidents from vehicle defects, and improved public opinion are direct benefits of a well-implemented maintenance policy.

All successful maintenance programs depend on the support of top management and effective communication. Drivers, maintenance personnel, and supervisors must be held accountable for the condition of vehicles, and clear lines of communication need to be established between them. Periodic review of a company's existing maintenance program, and the degree to which it is being carried out on a daily basis, will help management determine if any program modifications are necessary.

When a company performs its own maintenance, adequate facilities and equipment must be provided, as well as ongoing training of mechanics to keep them abreast of changes in equipment and repair procedures. Companies using vendors for vehicle maintenance want to assure that they are qualified to perform the work and are reputable. When vehicles are leased, it must be clearly stated who is responsible for providing maintenance. The schedule for performing vehicle maintenance must be detailed and performed accordingly.

While an effective maintenance program will afford efficient scheduling of vehicle service, it is important to have procedures in place in the event of vehicle breakdown or discovery of a serious vehicle defect. A vehicle with a known safety defect must never be allowed on the road until repairs have been completed. Placing an out-of-service tag or similar identifier on the vehicle can help to highlight that the vehicle is unavailable for use.
Action: Develop a maintenance program that assures vehicles are properly equipped and maintained. Establish a recordkeeping system that supports the maintenance program.

Vehicle Selection/Specification

A company's maintenance program starts with the selection of its vehicles. Regardless of whether vehicles will be purchased or leased, management must analyze the company's transportation needs to assure that selected vehicles will be able to perform the expected tasks. If a vehicle is improperly "speced," it will reflect in the vehicle's performance and cost. If a vehicle is "over-speced," it will cost too much initially and will not return its proportionate share in reduced operating expense. If it is "under-speced," management can anticipate shorter life, more breakdowns, and a higher overall maintenance cost.

When selecting vehicles, management should consider both initial cost and the cost of ongoing maintenance. Choosing a vehicle solely on the lowest initial bid can result in significantly higher operating costs over the life of the equipment.

Preventive Maintenance

It is essential that a company have a realistic preventive maintenance (PM) program if a vehicle is to give the most economical service possible. The groundwork for a good PM program usually starts with the manufacturer's recommendations concerning necessary maintenance and the time or mileage when it should be performed. These recommendations should be considered minimum requirements and can be modified by the actual experience of the business; however, careful consideration must be given to the maintenance that must be performed in order to meet the requirements of the manufacturer's warranty. PM allows a firm to schedule its repair work so that it is not faced with large fluctuations in work flow (which stabilizes the work force needed).

Preventive maintenance differs from demand or crisis maintenance in that it attempts to anticipate problems and to plan for their correction before they become serious. PM is normally performed on a mileage or a time basis. Typical jobs that are performed on a routine basis include oil and filter changes, lubrication, tightening of components, engine tune-ups, brake jobs, tire rotation, replacement of specific engine hoses, and radiator maintenance.

The PM interval will vary from one company to another depending on the initial vehicle specifications, the type of operation in which the vehicle is used, and management's appreciation and knowledge of operational costs. A well-defined, consistently applied PM program will result in the lowest total vehicle maintenance cost.

Demand Maintenance

When maintenance is performed only when the need arises, it is often referred to as demand maintenance. Some vehicle parts are only replaced on a "when failed" basis, such as light bulbs, springs, window glass, wiper blades, wiring, gauges, and seat cushions. Other parts will be replaced or repaired when they are worn and when this wear is detected by periodic inspections, such as tires; engine, transmission and rear-ends; universal joints; bushings; batteries; and fatigued, corroded, or deteriorated structural members. Components necessary for the safe operation of the vehicle should be inspected regularly to assure that a failed condition is detected promptly.

Crisis Maintenance

If preventive maintenance or demand maintenance is ignored or postponed, a likely result will be crisis maintenance when a vehicle has a breakdown on the road. A mechanic will have to be dispatched to repair the vehicle and another vehicle may have to be sent to replace the one having problems. In extreme cases, the mechanical failure could cause, either directly or indirectly, an accident. The sudden failure of one item will frequently result in damage to other component parts. Crisis maintenance is much more expensive than preventive or demand maintenance due to the cost of:

  • The driver's downtime.
  • Supervisory time expended to organize necessary repair procedures and possibly reroute deliveries.
  • The mechanic's time to get to and return from the location of the breakdown (or having an outside garage make the repairs).
  • Additional time required due to the inefficiency of a mechanic working on the road versus working at a garage.
  • Additional damaged parts.

A company's reputation can also be damaged by customer dissatisfaction if a delivery schedule/appointment is missed.

Maintenance Records

Every good maintenance program includes a thorough and up-to-date record keeping program. Management cannot guess about maintenance costs and past performance of vehicles or accessories. To be useful, maintenance records must:

  • Clearly identify the vehicle.
  • Be kept current.
  • Only record meaningful data.
  • Be reviewed on a periodic basis.

One maintenance record that every motor vehicle operator should use is the driver's vehicle condition report. This report provides direction to the driver in inspecting the vehicle in a systematic manner to help assure that the driver does not overlook any important areas. It also provides a convenient means for the driver to note vehicle deficiencies and to report these to the maintenance department. By keeping a copy of the last vehicle condition report on the vehicle, the driver, mechanic, or other interested parties can ascertain at a glance the known mechanical problems with the vehicle. There should be a record of all PM and repair work performed on a vehicle. Such a record will allow management to develop needed cost data and to review the past performance of a specific vehicle or group of vehicles. Management can analyze the maintenance work that has been performed on a vehicle to determine if additional work is necessary or can be expected. The maintenance record can also provide clues to help determine the source of problems that might have been overlooked in routine maintenance, or to identify equipment that is not being operated correctly by a driver.

Accident Reporting, Recording and Analysis

As every accident results in a reduction of company assets, the management of any business that operates motor vehicles, irrespective of size or type, should consider the elimination of all accidents as a major goal. In order to achieve this, a system of reporting, recording, and analyzing the facts surrounding vehicular accidents must be established. These procedures should be reviewed often to assure that all those involved know their role in an accident investigation and that the procedures provide for a thorough analysis of the events that led up to the accident. Action: Establish a program to manage the reporting, recording, and analyzing of the facts surrounding vehicular accidents.

Driver Responsibility

The driver's initial actions at an accident scene are often critical to minimizing financial loss resulting from the accident. The driver may be under extreme stress at the accident scene; thus the procedures to follow must be clear and concise, and thoroughly understood. To help facilitate this, an informational packet containing instructions and forms for use in the event of an accident should be carried in the vehicle at all times. A disposable camera can be provided in the vehicle to record conditions at the accident scene and to document damage.

After protecting the accident scene and assisting anyone who was injured in the accident, the first step in accident reporting is for the driver to collect all pertinent information at the scene in a preliminary accident report. Thoroughness in performing this task will be of great help in assessing the accident afterwards. Once the driver has obtained the basic information for the preliminary accident report, the driver should contact your company.

Management's Responsibility

When the driver calls to report the accident, the person receiving the information should have a checklist for recording the accident data. This will aid in collecting all vital facts so that it can be determined whether someone should be immediately dispatched to the accident scene. If there are any fatalities, multiple serious injuries, or extensive property damage, it is normally considered desirable to immediately send someone to the accident scene to initiate an investigation. If the driver is injured or killed, someone should be immediately dispatched to the accident scene to represent the company. Government regulations or company policy may require the testing of the driver for the use of controlled substances following an accident.

All accidents should be investigated to some extent. Management needs to know exactly what happened and why it happened in order to determine what might be done to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. Key personnel should be trained in basic accident investigation and the investigation should be started as soon as possible, while witnesses’ memories are fresh and any evidence is still available. The investigator should determine how the accident occurred, what physical evidence might be available, and any factors contributing to the accident. The investigator should be able to reconstruct the events leading to the accident and record those facts for future reference. Photographs are often helpful for recording conditions at the accident scene and to document damage.

Accident Records

A company representative should complete a formal accident report to be sent to the company's insurer as soon as possible, as well as any government reports that may be required. A permanent file should contain all the pertinent information concerning the accident, including:

  • The preliminary accident report from the driver;
  • Copies of accident reports submitted to various agencies; and
  • Accident investigation data, police records, witness reports, and any other information which might be useful in evaluating the accident.

In addition to the individual accident files, all vehicle accidents should be recorded, in chronological order, in an "accident register," to provide management with an overall summary. Analyzing the accident register may indicate problem areas or trends that would not otherwise be obvious by reviewing accident reports separately. The accident register should include at least the following information:

  • Date of accident
  • Name of driver
  • Vehicle identification number(s)
  • Location of accident
  • Brief description of accident
  • Number of fatalities
  • Number of injuries
  • Amount of property damage

Determining the Preventability of Accidents

A determination should be made as to whether the accident was a "preventable accident" on the part of the company's driver. This is irrespective of the legal conditions involved with the accident, as preventability relates to "defensive driving" and not legal culpability. A preventable accident is one in which the driver failed to exercise every reasonable precaution to prevent the accident. In order to avoid becoming involved in a preventable accident, it is necessary for a driver to understand the concept of, and to practice, defensive driving. Defensive driving is driving to prevent accidents in spite of the incorrect actions of others or adverse driving conditions, such as weather, traffic, lighting, vehicle or road condition, or the driver's physical or mental state.

The determination of preventability should be entered on the driver's individual record, thus giving management a complete synopsis of the person's driving history. Reviewing that record may indicate that remedial training or disciplinary action is necessary.

Accident Analysis

Proper accident analysis involves the gathering of facts, arranging them in a usable format, and analyzing what transpired. A properly developed accident reporting and recording system will allow management to determine not only "primary" causes of accidents but also "contributing" causes, which might be otherwise overlooked.

The investigation of each accident should not merely seek the specific act that was involved, but should go further into the conditions responsible so as to avoid problems in the future. The investigation must include areas, such as:

  • Checking the driver's record for similar occurrences, length of service, and indications of poor attitude or lack of skill.
  • Questioning whether a proper job of selection was done, whether training was adequate, and if the driver was properly supervised.
  • Determining if there were previous indications that should have warned of an impending accident.
  • Evaluating if scheduling or routing could be improved.
  • Ascertaining if there was any indication of improper maintenance procedures or if an equipment deficiency was involved.
  • Evaluating any conditions related to the vehicle's cargo.

A detailed investigation helps to identify the areas in which either specific or general corrective action should be taken. The information derived from the accident analysis should be used constructively to educate employees or change procedures in an effort to prevent future occurrences.

Doing what’s best for your business means taking the time to educate yourself and your employees on safe practices in the work place — so you can run a smooth operation and keep your dreams on track.

1 Accident, as used in this publication, is any motor vehicle-related incident that results in a fatality, injury, or property damage. Currently, multiple terms are used to describe a mishap involving a motor vehicle, including incident, crash, and collision. Rather than try to blend these terms, the description ‘accident’ will be used and may include incidents where a vehicle collision did not occur.

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  • Young workers at business on computers preventing cyber crime.
    Young workers at business on computers preventing cyber crime.
    Responding to Cyber Incidents

    Any organization that does business online can fall prey to a disruptive network intrusion or costly cyberattack. A quick, effective response to cyber incidents can prove critical to minimizing the resulting harm and expediting recovery. The best time to plan such a response is before an incident occurs.

    We’ll go over small business computer security best practices as defined by the Cybersecurity Unit of the Department of Justice to assist organizations in preparing a cyber incident response plan and how to respond to a cyber security incident.

    Table of Contents:

    How to Prevent Cyberattacks

    Responding to a Cyberattack

    Who Should You Notify of Cyber Crime?

    What Should a Company Avoid After a Data Breach?

    After a Cyberattack

    Cyberattack Protection for Businesses

    How to Prevent Cyberattacks

    Having well-established plans and procedures in place for preventing, managing and responding to a cyberattack is a critical first step toward preparing an organization to weather a cyber incident. Such pre-planning can help organizations limit damage to their computer networks, minimize work stoppages, and maximize the ability of law enforcement to locate and apprehend perpetrators. Organizations should follow the precautions outlined below now, before learning that a computer security incident has affected their networks.

    Identify essential data, assets & services

    Handling a cyberattack will depend on each company’s critical needs. For some organizations, even a short-term disruption in their ability to send or receive email will have a devastating impact on operations; others may suffer significant harm if certain intellectual property is stolen. For others still, the ability to guarantee the integrity and security of the data they store and process, such as customer information, is vital to their continued operation.

    The expense and resources required to protect a whole enterprise may force an organization to prioritize its efforts and may shape its incident response planning. Before formulating a cyber incident response plan, an organization should first determine which of their data, assets and services warrants the most protection.

    Prioritizing the protection of an organization’s critical information is an important first step to preventing a cyberattack from causing catastrophic harm. The Cybersecurity Framework produced by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides guidance on risk management planning and policies and merits consideration.

    Have a cyber incident response plan in place

    Organizations should have a plan in place for how to handle a cyberattack before an intrusion occurs. During a data security breach, management and personnel should be focused on containing the intrusion, mitigating the harm, and collecting and preserving vital information that will help assess the nature and scope of the damage and the source of the threat. A cybersecurity incident is not the time to be creating emergency procedures or considering for the first time how best to respond.

    The cyber incident response plan should be “actionable.” It should provide specific, concrete procedures to follow in the event of a cyberattack. At a minimum, the procedures should address:

    • The decision maker for public communications, information technology access, implementation of security measures and resolving legal questions
    • How to contact critical personnel at any time, day or night
    • How to proceed if critical personnel are unreachable and who will serve as backup
    • What critical data, networks or services should be prioritized
    • How to preserve data related to the intrusion in a forensically sound manner
    • The criteria for ascertaining whether data owners, customers or partner companies should be notified if their data is stolen
    • Procedures for notifying law enforcement and/or computer security incident-reporting organizations

    All personnel who will play a role in making technical, operational or managerial decisions during an incident should have access to and familiarity with the cyber incident response plan. For instance, the cyber incident response plan procedures can be integrated into regular personnel training.

    The plan may also be practiced through regularly conducted exercises to ensure that it is up to date. Such exercises should be designed to verify that necessary lines of communication exist, that decision-making roles and responsibilities are well understood, and that any technology that may be needed during an actual incident is both available and effective. Deficiencies and gaps identified during an exercise should be noted for speedy resolution.

    Cybersecurity plans for small businesses may differ depending upon an organization’s size, structure and nature of its business. Similarly, decision-making under an incident response plan may differ depending upon the size and nature of a cyberattack. In any event, familiarity with the organization’s framework for addressing a data breach will expedite response time and save critical minutes during an incident.

    Implement data protection technology and services

    Organizations should already have ready access to the technology and services that they will need to respond to a data security breach. Such equipment may include:

    • Off-site data backup
    • Intrusion detection capabilities
    • Data loss prevention technologies
    • Devices for traffic filtering or scrubbing

    Computer servers should be configured to conduct logging to identify a network security incident and to perform routine backups of important information. The requisite technology should already be installed, tested and ready to deploy. Any required services should be acquired beforehand or identified and ready for acquisition.

  • Caution sign is posted warning others of a wet floor while a person mops_web
    caution sign is posted warning others of a wet floor while a person mops_responsive
    Housekeeping Accident Prevention

    It’s a situation no business owner wants — a person slips on a wet floor or a piece of ice and takes a tumble. Or, maybe someone trips over debris or an exposed object and falls, resulting in a minor injury. In a busy world where we juggle several tasks at once, it’s important to prioritize keeping the workplace safe for everyone. It could even mean the survival of your business.

  • Security alarm system to prevent burglary at your business.
    Security alarm system to prevent burglary at your business.
    Preventing Burglary at Your Business

    Burglary is a crime of opportunity. Research into the crime indicates that burglars look for places that offer the best opportunity for success. In choosing targets, burglars look for locations that contain something worth stealing and then select those that look easy to break into. Burglars appear to be strongly influenced by the look and feel of the business they are planning to burglarize. Consequently, if the exterior of a business appears to reflect attention to security, the burglar will likely look for an easier opportunity.

    Businesses that are at risk to burglary should implement measures to reduce the opportunity for the crime. This report provides information on the elements of a burglary prevention program for a business.

    Preliminary Analysis

    The first step in a burglary protection plan is to determine if the business is worth burglarizing. Some basic questions to ask include:

    • Is the business located in a high-crime area? The local police should be able to provide statistics on property crime and burglary for the area.
    • Is it obvious that there is cash or valuable merchandise stored inside the premises?
    • Is the merchandise considered a high-risk target item, such as computer components, or a desirable consumer product, such as home entertainment equipment? The more valuable or desirable the merchandise, the greater the risk of burglary.
    • Is cash on the premises or in safes kept to a minimum by making frequent bank deposits?
    • Is an up-to-date inventory of all valuables kept?

    Use Common Sense

    The next step is to look at the business as if through the eyes of a burglar. Burglars look for premises that afford concealment and appear easy to break into. Consequently, if the exterior of the business appears secure, the burglar will likely look for an easier target.

    Windows should be kept clear so that the view into and out of the premises is not obstructed. Window displays should be arranged to provide for visibility into the premises. Indoor lighting should be located towards the rear of the premises, so an intruder's silhouette will be visible from the street. Automatic timers can be used to turn lights on and off.

    All equipment should be marked with a serial number or other identification. This serves as a deterrent to theft (burglars don't like to steal marked goods) and provides a means for returning property that is stolen and subsequently recovered. Cash register drawers should be emptied during non-business hours and left open to prevent unnecessary damage.

    Lighting serves as a strong deterrence to burglary, since burglars do not like to be seen. Interior and exterior lighting levels should be adequate. The Lighting Handbook, published by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, provides information on lighting systems and recommended illumination levels. Exterior lighting fixtures should be protected against breakage and damaged lighting fixtures or burned-out bulbs fixed or replaced as soon as possible.

    Equipment or structures in outdoor areas that could be used by a burglar to gain entry should be removed or otherwise protected. For example, a ladder could be used by a burglar to access the roof or an upper-story window. Likewise, building alcoves and overgrown foliage could provide the burglar with cover to work without fear of being seen. Landscaping shrubs and trees should be kept trimmed to maintain clear visibility throughout the property. Alcoves should be properly illuminated.

    Goods stored in yard areas should be protected by a fence or other barrier. The standard, ASTM F-567, Practice for the Installation of Chain-Link Fence, published by the American Society for Testing and Materials, provides requirements for the installation of chain link fencing. For additional information on fencing, see Crime Prevention Report CP-31-10, Chain Link Fencing.

    Loaded cargo trailers should be secured with king pin locks to prevent their being stolen. Otherwise, thieves could easily hook up a tractor to a trailer and drive off with the cargo.

    If burglars were to successfully enter the premises, it should not be made easy for them to get the goods out. For example, forklift trucks that have been left with the keys in the ignition, and side and rear entrances and doors to loading docks that are easily opened from the inside, can be used by burglars to help move merchandise out of the building.

    An inspection should be made before closing the premises to assure that all doors and windows are locked, as well as any safes or vaults, and that the alarm system has been turned on. All closets, bathrooms, and other hiding places should also be checked - don't lock the burglar in. A walk around the property should be taken, before leaving, to see if everything appears normal.

    For more information, see Engineering and Safety Service CH-20-17, Burglary Prevention Checklist.

    Lock Out the Burglar

    Burglars will first look for easy ways to enter a premises - through unlocked doors, unlatched windows, and unsecured skylights. A study by Temple University found that, in 50 percent of commercial burglaries, entry was gained through a door. Failing that, burglars choose entry points that offer the least resistance to entry. While some burglars have the expertise to pick a lock, in most cases, entry is made using physical force - smashing doors, crow-barring doors or windows, and breaking window glass. Some burglars have even resorted to breaking through building walls with sledge hammers, pneumatic drills, or explosives.

    All exterior doors should be provided with deadbolt locks that have at least a one-inch throw. Side and rear doors should be provided with supplemental protection, such as an iron gate, police bar, or four-point locking device. Outward swinging doors should have hinges with non-removable pins. For hinges with removable pins, the hinged side of the door should be secured to prevent removal of the pins and opening of the door on the hinged side. Regardless of the locking devices used, they should not create conflicts with building and life safety code requirements.

    In mercantile premises, during non-business hours, the front of the business (e.g., entrance and show windows) should be protected by a roll-down grille or ferry gate. If aesthetics are of concern, the grille or grate can be installed inside the premises behind the glass surfaces.

    Side and rear doors should be of solid-wood or steel construction and installed in reinforced steel frames. Hollow-core wood doors or panel doors should be replaced or be reinforced on the inside with sheet steel panels. Glass panels on side and rear doors should be replaced or backed-up with burglary-resisting glazing materials that are listed by Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL). Side and rear doors should be illuminated from above and the lighting fixtures protected against accidental or intentional breakage.

    Side and rear windows should be protected with ironwork, such as burglar screens or bars, installed on the inside behind the glass. While bars installed on the exterior may serve as a deterrent, they are more easily attacked by the burglar; installed on the inside, however, the bars are harder to attack - the burglar would have to break the glass before attacking the bars or their attachment hardware. Skylights and other roof openings, transoms over doors, and air vents should be protected by a grille or burglar bars, or otherwise secured.

    Padlocks used to secure sidewalk and basement openings, fence gates, and grilles should be of substantial construction and have hardened shackles to resist sawing or cutting. Hasps should also have a hardened staple and be solidly mounted. The term "lock hasp" may also refer to the style of latch most often used with a padlock. This latch uses a strip of metal on a hinge with a hole on the other end. Through this hole passes the staple, which looks like a link of metal chain. This staple passes through the hole, and it is secured with a padlock.

    Control the Keys to the Premises

    Control of keys is as important to the integrity of a locking system as is the proper selection of locking hardware. Keys are subject to being lost or stolen, resulting in a situation where an unauthorized person may have access to the locked premises.

    Keys should be issued on a need-for basis only. Extra keys should be stored in a locked cabinet. Procedures should be established for collecting keys from terminated and/or departing employees. Lost keys should be reported immediately and affected locks rekeyed or replaced, as needed. All keys should be marked "Do Not Duplicate." For additional information, see Crime Prevention Report CP-35-20, Key Control.

    Keep Valuables Safe

    High-value merchandise should not be left unsecured during non-business hours. Small, high-value merchandise should be put into a safe. Larger merchandise can be secured in a security cage or other enclosure.

    The right type and class of safe should be chosen for the values to be protected. Safes are either fire-resistive or burglary-resistant and are available in various protection classes (or levels). The greater the values to be protected, a correspondingly higher level of protection should be afforded by the safe. UL has listings for safes in various protection classifications. For a discussion of these classifications, see Crime Prevention Report CP-61-10, Burglary-Resistant Safes.

    The safe door should be left open when the safe is empty; otherwise, it should be locked at all times. Safes should be secured to the floor to help prevent their removal from the premises.

    The number of people with access to the safe or vault combination should be kept to a minimum. The combination number should not be written in an easily accessible place, such as a desk blotter. The combination should be changed on a regular basis.

    Alarm the Premises

    Executing a burglary involves locating and collecting items of value. Experienced, older burglars tend to remain on the premises longer than younger criminals and they tend also to make larger hauls (the smash-and-grab type burglar will smash a show window or glass front door, grab the goods, and be gone in a matter of minutes). Time on the premises can range from two to three minutes, to as much as a day or two, depending on:

    • The skill and confidence of the burglar(s);
    • If valuables are stored in a safe or vault; and,
    • If there is a premises alarm system, the anticipated response by the police or alarm company personnel, assuming the system cannot be compromised (i.e., turned off).

    A premises burglar alarm system can be effective in preventing or deterring a burglary. A UL-Certificated central station burglar alarm system that sends a silent signal to a monitoring station, which dispatches guards on receipt of the signal, is preferred. An alarm system that sounds a local bell is better than no alarm at all - at the very least, it may scare off the burglar.

    Safes and vaults (and security cages) should be protected by a burglar alarm system. For businesses at high risk to burglary, such as jewelers, or where the values are high, the safe/vault alarm system should be monitored separately from the premises alarm system (i.e., by a different central station alarm company). Alarm systems for such risks should be provided with line security to prevent compromises of the system. For a discussion of central station burglar alarm systems, see Crime Prevention Report CP-46-20, Central Station Burglar Alarm Systems.

    The alarm system should be tested regularly and maintained properly. A testing and maintenance contract is a requirement of UL Certification. A sign indicating that the premises are protected by a burglar alarm system should be posted in a conspicuous location.

    Head to our loss control and risk management page to learn more ways to protect your business.


    1. Engineering and Safety Service. Burglary-Resistant Safes. CP-61-10. Jersey City, NJ: ISO Services, Inc., 2008.

    2. Burglary Prevention Checklist. CH-20-17. Jersey City, NJ: ISO Services, Inc., 2017.

    3. Central Station Burglar Alarm Systems. CP-46-20. Jersey City, NJ: ISO Services, Inc., 2015.

    4. Key Control. CP-35-20. Jersey City, NJ: ISO Services, Inc., 2008.

    5. The Texas Department of Insurance (TDI). Division of Workers’ Compensation. Small Business Crime Prevention Guide. Austin, TX: TDI, 2010.

    COPYRIGHT ©2017, ISO Services, Inc.

    The information contained in this publication was obtained from sources believed to be reliable. ISO Services, Inc., its companies and employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with either the information herein contained or the safety suggestions herein made. Moreover, it cannot be assumed that every acceptable safety procedure is contained herein or that abnormal or unusual circumstances may not warrant or require further or additional procedure.

  • Woodburning stove
    Woodburning stove
    Safe Alternative Fuel Sources to Wood

    Burning wood is one of the most hazardous ways to heat your home, farm or business. If you have a woodburner or are considering installing one, this article is designed to help make you an informed wood-fuel user — because an informed wood-fuel user is a safe wood-fuel user.

    Woodburning is different from heating with oil, electricity or fuel gases — a wood stove cannot be completely controlled with a wall thermostat, fuel cannot be cut off by flipping a switch or turning a valve, wood doesn’t burn cleanly like modern fuels, wood stoves get hotter than conventional furnaces and produce hotter exhaust gases, wood requires more physical work, and wood stoves require frequent cleaning and generate large volumes of waste.

    Installing and using a wood stove is a lifestyle change for most people. It has been compared by some to adopting a new child into your home. It involves a lot of work, care, attention and knowledge, even if you don’t cut your own wood. Many people aren’t using the wood burners they spent a lot of money to install for those reasons. Others are taking dangerous shortcuts because they won’t make the commitment to woodburning and the lifestyle changes required to do it safely.

    If you aren't willing to do the work and to become an informed wood-fuel user, you risk your home and family every time the wood stove is lit.

    What to Know Before You Buy Your Wood Stove

    Check with your local building code officials, fire department and insurance agent before purchasing a woodburner (in most cases, a building permit is required to legally install one). These people can provide vital information about safe installation and operation and do the inspection services to help assure your family’s safety.

    Check your local library, bookstore, government agencies and university extension services for good, reliable, current information about woodburning and safety. The National Consensus Standards for Woodburning Safety was changed by the National Fire Protection Association on February 11, 2000. Any material written before the changes may not be up to date.

    Talk to people who are woodburning in your area about problems they’ve encountered and the lifestyle changes they’ve had to make. Talking to them may be the best way to determine if woodburning is for you.

    Wood Stoves in Mobile Homes

    We do not insure mobile homes with wood stoves installed in the residence. They have proved to be very hazardous in mobile homes because of limited space, airtight construction and use of lightweight combustible material in construction. If you insist on installing a wood stove in a mobile home, purchase only a complete system listed by Underwriters’ Laboratories for use in a mobile home and install and use it exactly as the manufacturer recommends.

    Wood Heat Is a System

    Once you’ve made an informed decision to use wood as a heat source, you’re ready to buy your heating system. It is a system, not just a stove, because you must think of your wood heat as a total system. The system must include a source of:

    • Seasoned wood
    • A good heating device
    • Proper clearances
    • Floor protection
    • Smoke pipe
    • A proper chimney
    • Draft control
    • Care and maintenance

    This entire system must be put together with your home or building and your lifestyle in mind. The cost of the stove alone is often less than half the cost of the entire wood heat system. Any improper parts or mistakes in putting together the system can greatly increase your chances of a disastrous fire.

    CAUTION: Wood heat is hazardous! Please realize that wood heat is hazardous and even if you comply with all suggestions and regulations, a fire or other mishap can occur. There are no known wood heat devices that are 100 percent safe.

    The best place to buy your wood heat system is from a reputable wood stove dealer. They can sell you an entire system — not just a stove and assorted parts. A reputable dealer can advise how to use and care for your woodburner installation and can provide the accessories needed for safe and economical operation.

    Don’t risk your home and family by buying a bargain basement system from someone who can’t provide good service and adequate information.

    About the Woodburning Device

    The core of your system is the woodburning device. There are many from which to choose, but it’s important to pick a quality device that will fit well into the area where you want it installed while maintaining proper clearances to combustibles.

    Some points when picking a wood stove:

    • Reputable manufacturer
    • Relatively efficient design
    • Plate steel (at least 1/8 inches thick) or quality cast iron construction (unlisted sheet metal stoves, barrel stoves and poor quality cast iron stoves may eventually burn through or crack — resulting in a serious fire)
    • Well-written instructions and installation manual emphasizing safety and providing clear directions and illustrations
    • Labeling by a recognized testing laboratory

    The advantages of buying a wood stove labeled by a testing laboratory are:

    • It is evidence that the stove has passed stringent testing on many aspects of its use. Although the testing procedures are extensive and standardized — because every use pattern cannot be anticipated — not everything that might cause loss or injury from a wood stove is tested.
    • Some building officials do not permit installation of unlisted wood stoves.
    • Many listed stoves are tested for reduced clearances to combustibles — an important point when you must save space with installation.
    • Labeling is a good indicator of stove quality and the manufacturer’s commitment to safety.
    • Labeled devices must have good instruction manuals.
    • Listed stoves must be manufactured under a recognized quality control program.

    Types of Wood Fuel Units

    Most wood stoves are either of radiant or circulating design. The radiant type has one layer of metal enclosing the fire with no circulating air space. The exterior gets very hot.

    The circulating design has a second metal enclosure creating an air space between it and the firebox. Air is heated in the space. This design often needs lesser safety clearances from combustibles and reduces the chance of accidental burns.

    Controlled combustion (airtight) stoves may be either radiant or circulating. They have very airtight fireboxes and all doors and openings are gasket or finely machined, so the amount of air entering the stove can be controlled. They can be more efficient than non-air-tight stoves because the precise draft control governs the burning rate. Many of these stoves also include advanced design features like baffle arrangements, special draft patterns, thermostatically controlled draft and secondary combustion air to improve efficiency. Airtight stoves can increase creosote buildup when run frequently in an air-starved condition (we’ll talk more about creosote later). They may also puff back and burn the operator if the door is opened before the draft controls are opened. This occurs because the sudden increase of oxygen caused by the open door on hot smoldering fire creates a fireball as volatiles ignite. Therefore, safe operating procedures are a must.

    CAUTION: Some stoves on the market resemble airtight stoves but they are so leaky that the air controls have no effect on the fire.

    Box stoves and parlor stoves are small, non-airtight radiant stoves. They are inexpensive and generally inefficient. This type of stove is suitable for heating one room but it requires a lot of attention.

    Wood furnaces, add-on furnaces, wood-fired boilers and dual-fuel furnaces are designed to fit into or replace the existing central heating system in the house. They are generally efficient and airtight. Installation is very critical and professional help is recommended. Also, any unit of this type should have passed the national standard test.

    Homemade and barrel stoves are not recommended. Burn-throughs and other defects allowing the fire to escape the firebox are so common that we do not consider them suitable for any use. Most building officials will not permit them.

    Wood-fired ranges or cookstoves are increasing in popularity. Many in use are antiques. Modern, efficient designs, however, are reaching the market. They can be used both for cooking and heating. Many also heat domestic hot water. Care must be taken with any wood stove with a built-in water coil or heater where sufficient expansion space, circulation, water storage and pressure relief is provided so a steam explosion cannot occur.

    Fireplace stoves are designed so they can be operated with the door open to provide a view of the fire. Some of these units are airtight and of very high quality.

    Fireplace inserts are factory-built, field-installed products consisting of a firebox assembly designed to be installed within or partially within the fire chamber of a fireplace that uses the fireplace flue to vent the products of a combustion. This is a popular way to make an open fireplace more efficient. Many units feature circulating designs for even more heat efficiency. Some important points when using a fireplace insert are:

    • Use inserts only with masonry fireplaces (including masonry heat frame units). They are not safe to use in zero-clearance fireplaces, unless specifically listed by a testing laboratory for zero-clearance fireplace use.
    • A hearth extension will probably have to be used to extend at least 18 inches in front of the insert.
    • Block open or remove the existing damper on the fireplace before installing the insert. Some building codes may require a permanent pipe attachment to the flue.
    • Use only an insert that can be removed easily for cleaning. Clean behind the insert regularly because a dangerous amount of creosote can accumulate there.

    If you plan to vent a conventional wood stove through a fireplace, we recommend you either:

    • Seal the damper on fireplace and install your smokepipe through the chimney wall above the fireplace
    • Or have a sheet metal contractor fashion a reducer that fits in your fireplace’s existing damper space and onto which your smoke pipe will attach. It should be removable so the chimney and smokeshelf can be cleaned. This will work only if your wood stove is shorter than your fireplace opening.

    Outdoor wood boilers and outdoor forced air wood furnaces should be installed with adequate clearance to the dwelling. Caution should be used when operating these units. These wood fuel units must meet the following requirements:

    • The unit must be labeled by a testing laboratory.
    • If it is a pressurized system, it must have a working pressure relief valve.
    • The unit must be at least 25 feet from any insured dwelling or building.
    • The unit should sit on a full concrete slab with the slab extending at least 4 feet in front of the unit to enable the area to be kept clean of ashes and wood chips.
    • Firewood must be stored at least 10 feet from the unit and the area between kept clean.
    • In colder climates, the unit must have anti-freeze added to the system to prevent the freezing of the underground lines.
    • The unit must be installed by a qualified heating professional.

    Furnaces, Add-Ons and Boilers

    A detailed discussion of these devices is beyond the scope of this article. We recommend you buy only systems that have passed the national standard tests. There will be extensive and detailed instructions for quality units of this type. They must be followed. It will probably be necessary to consult an experienced heating contractor to properly measure the draft and set up a barometric draft regulator. Some hints about installing and using these systems:

    • Don’t permit intentional or accidental hot air flow through the cold air return system ductwork. (Use only manufacturer-suggested arrangements and proper backflow dampers.)
    • Use a draft gauge to determine if you have adequate draft.
    • Use proper hot air ductwork clearances (18 inches to plenum and ductwork within 3 feet of furnace, 6 inches clearance between 3 feet and 6 feet of furnace, and 1 inch clearance for all other warm air ducts). Proper wall and ceiling heat shields can be used to reduce these clearances.
    • Do not install a unit without complete limit and fan controls.
    • Do not attach these units to any counterflow heating installation.
    • If you are installing a wood-fired boiler, make sure it has been tested to meet the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Pressure Vessel Code. Get the help of an experienced steamfitter or boiler mechanic or a devastating steam explosion might occur.

    Creosote and Clearances

    The two most common fire problems with woodburning systems are creosote accumulations and improper clearances from combustibles. You should understand why creosote accumulates and how pyrolysis works.


    Creosote deposits in your chimney and chimney connector provide the fuel for chimney fires. Chimney fires can destroy the most substantial chimneys and ignite houses. Creosote is a natural by-product of woodburning. It is a dark, tarry substance that can range from being solid and hard to liquid and runny depending upon the conditions under which it was deposited. It is also very corrosive and can damage metal parts of your system.

    Wood burns in three stages:

    1. Moisture is driven off. Heat from this stage does not warm the stove or room.

    2. The wood starts to break down chemically and volatile matter is vaporized. These vapors contain between 50-60 percent of the heat value of the wood.

    3. Charcoal remains and combustion of the charcoal completes the process.

    All three stages of combustion are usually occurring in your wood stove at the same time until all wood in the last loading is converted to charcoal. Creosote is formed in the second stage of woodburning. If the hydrocarbon volatile gases are not burned in the firebox, the draft carries them into the chimney connector and chimney in the form of dense smoke. They encounter cooler temperatures in the chimney system and may condense on the chimney walls to form creosote.

    Up to half the heat energy available from the wood you burn is contained in the volatiles that form creosote. Thus, it makes sense for both safety and efficiency to burn these volatile gases in the firebox before they can escape up the chimney and form troublesome creosote.

    This is not as easy as it sounds because firebox temperature must be maintained at 1100 degrees Fahrenheit and above to burn these creosote-forming gases. However, you can learn to operate your system with a minimum of creosote development by frequently inspecting your chimney and adjusting operating procedures accordingly. Experts formerly recommended an annual chimney inspection. With today’s efficient airtight systems, an annual inspection probably isn’t adequate because an airtight stove usually operated during air starvation conditions can completely clog a chimney with creosote in as little as two weeks. We now recommend a chimney inspection every 1-2 weeks in the beginning until you become confident you’re operating your system to reduce creosote. Monthly inspections may be adequate. Accumulations of as little as 1/4 inch in your chimney can cause a serious fire. Therefore, we recommend you clean your chimney several times a year. (We’ll explain more about chimney inspection and cleaning later.)

    How do you operate the stove to reduce creosote? Here are some tips:

    • Burn only dry, well-seasoned wood. Green wood contains up to 50 percent water. Wood seasoned a year has only 20 percent moisture content. When green wood is burned, much of the fire’s heat is wasted driving off excess water (stage one combustion) so your firebox temperature is lower and more volatile gas can escape the chimney. Make sure all wood you burn is seasoned at least a year. If you buy firewood, do it a year in advance.
    • Don’t shut down the air controls or damper to make the fire smolder until most of the wood in the firebox is charcoal. Charcoal (or stage three burning) produces very little creosote.
    • Split large pieces of wood into smaller chunks so they can pass through stages one and two faster and not smolder as long.
    • The practice of filling the stove with large chunks of wood at bedtime, closing down the air control or damper and letting the logs smolder all night produces a lot of creosote. It is better to build up a large bed of charcoal before bedtime then close down the air control. The charcoal will probably last all night in an efficient stove and provide a reasonable level of heat. You can ensure sleeping comfort by using thick comforters, electric blankets or reduced output from your conventional heating system.
    • Monitor your stack gas temperatures. There are several relatively inexpensive thermometers that attach to your chimney connector that can be of great help in teaching safe wood-fuel burning. The insert-type thermometers work better than the magnetic surface ones. They are available from good wood stove dealers. They can warn when the smoke leaving your stove is too cool (less than 300-350 degrees Fahrenheit) and is likely to condense on the chimney system as creosote. They can also warn if the exhaust smoke is too hot (over 1000 degree Fahrenheit) and is likely to ignite creosote deposits or cause structural damage to the chimney. By frequently inspecting your chimney and regulating the wood fire by the stack thermometer, you can learn to operate your system efficiently with very little creosote accumulation. There is also a new alarm system on the market that performs this function and gives a loud alarm when conditions are right for a chimney fire. False alarms, however, may be a problem.
    • Many experienced wood burners used a brief hot fire once a day or once a week to burn out or drive out chimney creosote deposits. This method seems to work well if you are sure there is very little there. If you want to try this method, inspect your chimney first or you could have a very serious chimney fire!
    • Do not burn trash or paper in your wood stove. This causes smoldering fires and flying sparks that can ignite creosote. Fire department records show that many chimney fires occur on Christmas Day when families are burning wrapping paper and evergreen boughs.
    • Some stoves are equipped with catalytic converters. You may consider purchasing one of these units. It may reduce creosote and air pollution.


    Parts of your wood heat system get very hot and can radiate that heat to nearby combustibles such as walls, floors, ceilings, doors, furniture, woodboxes, etc. Over sufficient periods of time, even temperatures as low as 200 degrees Fahrenheit have been known to ignite wood through a process known as pyrolysis. Combustibles near woodburning systems can get a lot hotter than that so ignition might occur in a matter of days or weeks. To reduce the changes of ignition of combustibles, the National Fire Protection Association changed the clearance requirements for solid fuel burning equipment in the February 11, 2000, edition of the national consensus standard ANSI/NFPA #211 “Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents and Solid Fuel-Burning Appliances.”

    CAUTION: Even with proper clearances and listed devices, continual overfilling of a woodburning device can result in a fire from overheated combustibles.

    • For installation on combustible floors, see the Floor Protection section.
    • The above clearances are for wood, drywall or plaster walls (drywall and plaster provide no protection to the wood underneath them for clearance purposes). Materials such as paper, fabrics, draperies and furniture must have greater clearances.
    • If a combustible door is located near your woodburner, all parts of the arc of the door swing must be outside the required clearance area.

    Where to Locate Your Stove

    Try to locate the stove centrally in the main living area of the house. Large, open areas are easier to heat than small rooms with poor air circulation.

    Wood space heaters require lots of room unless the walls or combustibles are properly protected. Cut out a piece of cardboard the size of the space heater you are considering and try it in the area you are planning to install the device. Can you get proper clearance? If not, you will need wall protection according to our Clearance Reduction section or you can try to find a device that’s listed for lesser clearance by a testing laboratory. Don’t forget to consider chimney access when planning the location.

    Smokepipe Clearances

    The smokepipe is used to connect the stove to the chimney. It’s also called “vent pipe,” “chimney connector,” and “stack pipe.” Use a porcelain-enabled, black-painted or dark-finished smokepipe for good heat transfer. Up to 15 percent of the heat from your system is given off by your smokepipe and dark surfaces radiate heat best. Don’t use a galvanized or zinc-coated smokepipe because at temperatures above 750 degrees Fahrenheit toxic zinc oxide fumes will be given off, which could cause headaches and metal fume fever.

    Proper clearance from smokepipe to combustibles is 18 inches. There are two exceptions to the clearance requirement:

    • If the specific material you’re using for a smokepipe is listed by a recognized testing laboratory at a different clearance, use the clearance.
    • You can reduce the clearance, if necessary, by using a wall shield or heat protector as described in our Clearance Reduction section.

    Rules for installing and using a smokepipe are:

    1. Keep loose combustibles away from the smokepipe and stove. It’s a poor place to dry wet towels.

    2. Use a smokepipe made of 24-gauge metal or heavier.

    3. Keep smokepipe as short and straight as feasible and located as close as possible to the chimney or vent. The horizontal length of a smokepipe to a natural draft chimney or vent serving a single appliance shall not be more than 75 percent of the height of the vertical portion of the chimney or vent above the smokepipe inlet. It two or more complete 90 degree elbows exist in your smokepipe, you may have a problem keeping a good draft.

    4. Lap stovepipe joints 2 inches and secure with three sheet metal screws at each connection. Connect pipe with male ends down so creosote won’t leak out of joints.

    5. If smokepipe is over five feet long, support with hanger straps every five feet.

    6. Use a proper stainless steel, cast iron or clay tile thimble at the chimney inlet. Extend it into the room so a secure attachment can be made. The smokepipe must snugly fit the chimney inlet. This fit is critical. Consult an experienced installer or dealer for ideas about how to make this a secure connection.

    7. The horizontal part of the smokepipe must have at least 1/4 inch of rise per linear foot. The end at the chimney inlet is the highest point.

    8. When you clean the chimney, clean the smokepipe.

    9. Avoid running the smokepipe through a combustible interior wall. If you must do it, protect that wall in one of the following ways:

      a. Use Underwriter’s Laboratories list of all fuel or solid fuel chimney material for that section of the stovepipe that passes through the wall. Instill it in accordance with the listing and the manufacturer’s instructions. Use only solid insulation packed chimney pieces. Thermomsyphoning-type A11 Fuel chimney’s won’t work in a horizontal position.

      b. Use a metal ventilated thimble at least 12 inches larger in diameter than the smokepipe to protect the wall. (If you cannot purchase such a thimble, a local heating contractor or sheet metal shop can make it for you.)

      c. Use a metal or burned fire clay thimble built into brickwork or other solid fire resistive material extending at least 8 inches from all sides of the thimble.

    Smokepipe Don’ts

    • Don’t run smokepipe through closets, attics or any concealed area.
    • Don’t use smokepipe for a chimney.
    • Don’t run smokepipe through an exterior wall or window.

    Clearance Reduction

    Clearances from hot parts of your system to combustibles can be reduced by using proper heat shields and wall protectors.

    There are now wall protectors and heat shields on the market that have been tested and listed by recognized testing laboratories. These products are acceptable when installed and used in accordance with their listing and are available from quality wood stove dealers.

    Other wall and combustible protection systems are acceptable if they are designed by a registered professional engineer using criteria set forth in NFPA standards for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents and Solid Fuel-Burning Appliances (NFPA #211-2000) Paragraph 9-6.2.1 and 6-5.1.2 and are approved by local building code authorities.

    Installation Notes

    For clearance reduction systems using air space between the combustibles wall and the wall protector, adequate air circulation shall be provided. Adequate air circulation can be provided by leaving all edges of the wall protected with an air gap of at least 1 inch. An air space of 1 inch is usually required behind most heat shield and wall protectors. This 1 inch air space is critical to allow air flow to remove heat from behind the shield. Even a 4 inch thick brick wall will not protect a combustible wall directly behind it without this 1 inch air space. The space may be more than 1 inch, but not less. Remember to allow at least 1 inch space at the bottom of the shield to allow air circulation. Also remember the heat shield must cover all combustible material within the minimum distance. Suggestions for spacers are channel irons, porcelain knobs or nails driven in part way. Flexible heat shields, such as sheet metal, must be supported or spaced out every 16 inches to prevent them from flexing and touching the combustible wall.

    Floor Protection

    A floor protector is a noncombustible surface applied to the floor area underneath and extending in front, to the sides and to the rear of a heat-producing appliance. If you install your stove on a combustible surface, you must provide a floor protector extending to 18 inches on all sides of the stove. On an existing installation, 6 inches on the sides and 18 inches on the front is acceptable. If in doubt, check with the local authority having jurisdiction in your area for recommended existing codes.

    You may not install a woodburning furnace, add-on furnace or boiler on a combustible floor unless it has been specifically listed for such installation by a recognized testing laboratory. Carpeting should be removed under the stove and floor protector.

    Several good floor protectors have been listed by recognized testing laboratories. These are acceptable when used according to their listing and are available from quality wood stove dealers.

    The amount or type of floor protection depends on the leg height of the stove. Leg height refers to the ventilated open air space beneath the fire chamber or base of the unit.

    Leg Height and Protection Needed:

    18” or more — 24-gauge layer of sheet metal

    6” to 18” — 24-gauge layer of sheet metal over or under 2” of closely spaced masonry units of brick, concert or stone.

    6” to 2” — Use 4” of hollow masonry laid to provide air circulation through the masonry layer covered by a sheet of 24-gauge sheet metal

    Less than 2” — May not be installed over combustible floor unless listed by a testing laboratory

    The Chimney

    The chimney is the exhaust system of your woodburning setup. It’s critical to remove carbon monoxide, smoke and other poisonous combustion products from your building. To do this, it relies on the natural draft created by the principle that warm air rises. The draft created by a chimney is related to:

    • Height of the chimney
    • The interior cross sectional area of the chimney
    • Amount of air that can enter the wood-fired system
    • The difference between inside and outside temperature
    • Exterior obstructions to flow, such as rooflines and trees
    • Temperature of the chimney liner

    An adequate draft can be developed by controlling the above variables. Most wood stoves come with instructions as to height of chimney and size of flue required for most situations to have an adequate draft. For draft problem situations, an experienced heating contractor with draft measuring equipment should be consulted.

    In general, a chimney must extend above the roofline and other obstructions for an adequate draft and to control downdrafts.


    A downdraft is when the smoke fails to rise in the chimney. Instead, air flows downward forcing smoke and dangerous carbon monoxide into the house. If you have the problem, correct it. Your heating contract has draft test equipment and most likely can assist in determining corrective action.

    Keeping Your Chimney Safe

    There are two types of chimneys, one that is safe and one that could burn your house down. And, just because your chimney is safe today, doesn’t mean it’ll be safe next year.

    Wind can damage your chimney. A loose brick can fall inside the flue causing a blockage and a house full of smoke. So can a bird’s nest or a hive of wild bees. A chimney fire can crack or buckle the chimney. A fire that burns too hot can also damage a chimney when it’s new or being used for the first time in the heating season. Keep the first few fires small to dry out the flue.

    Chimneys get tired with age, mortar weakens and disappears, buildings shift, foundations settle and crack chimneys. So be wise and inspect your chimney before each heating season.

    Chimney Inspection & Cleaning

    Good access for chimney cleaning and inspection should be built into your system from the beginning. Plan the cleanup doors or accessways so they’re readily accessible. You may inspect the chimney from the bottom using a mirror. You may have to remove the chimney cap to get enough light to see properly.

    You may wish to lower a flashlight down the chimney on a line in order to carefully view all joints and parts. Be careful if using a drop cord hooked up to house current. A broken bulb or snagged cord could lead to electrocution, especially with a metal chimney.

    The best way to clean your chimney is to hire a reputable professional chimney sweep. They’ll do a thorough job with the right tools and equipment and shouldn’t make a mess of your house. If you must clean a chimney yourself, get the proper tools and advice from a wood-stove dealer. Another important reason to have your chimney regularly inspected, cleaned and maintained is any device that burns fuel, such as wood, is a potential threat of carbon monoxide poisoning.

    CAUTION: Working on roofs can be very hazardous without the proper equipment or experience.

    Chimneys can be easily damaged during cleaning. Metal brushes shouldn’t be used on some metal chimneys.

    To your knowledge, none of the chemicals sold to be burned in a fireplace to clean the flue are effective. They cannot replace a thorough chimney cleaning.

    Chimney Fires

    Don’t disregard odd rumbling, roaring or rushing noises coming from your chimney. Investigate the cause. A rumbling noise is many times made by a chimney fire. Feel the outside of the chimney — is it hotter than normal? Check outside — are flames coming out of the chimney? Your smokepipe may also vibrate rapidly during a chimney fire.

    If a chimney fire occurs:

    • Call the fire department
    • Shut off oxygen supply to chimney
    • Use your fire extinguisher and chimney fire flares.

    Shut off the oxygen supply by closing draft openings. An airtight stove is an advantage since by closing draft openings, the oxygen supply is easily shut off.

    If you don’t have an airtight stove, close the damper. You may get some smoke in the house after closing the damper, so be sure to open a door or some windows to get plenty of fresh air. Put out the fire as soon as possible to avoid smoke and carbon monoxide build-up in the house.

    When installing your system, instruct all family members on what to do. Evacuate the house at the first sign that the fire has escaped from the chimney.

    If you don’t have a chimney fire, carefully inspect the chimney for damage before using it again. Check the inside (with a mirror) for blockage and cracks. Check the outside for cracks and be sure to check concealed areas such as the attic. If you can’t get up on the roof, maybe the fire department will inspect the chimney before they leave.

    If the chimney is found to be damaged, repair or replace the chimney before using.

    We recommend that a questionable flue be smoke tested. A small fire is made at the base of the flue (use material that produces dense smoke or a special smoke test candle) and when the flue is full of smoke, block the top. Examine the exterior of the chimney for leakage from the top to bottom. Careful — don’t smoke up the entire house.

    Two Types of Chimneys

    There are two types of chimneys for woodburning system use — a masonry chimney or a factory-built all-fuel or solid-fuel chimney.

    Masonry Chimney

    A masonry chimney is a field-constructed chimney of solid masonry units, bricks, stones, listed masonry chimney units, or reinforced portland cement concrete that is lined with suitable chimney flute liners and built by an experienced mason or conform to accepted masonry practice.

    Interior chimneys are better than those built outside an exterior wall because they stay warmer when surrounded by in-house air. Warm chimneys have better drafts and cause less creosote to condense on their surface. Exterior hollow concrete block chimneys can be a problem because they cool faster than brick or stone and are much more susceptible to water and moisture damage. Hollow concrete block chimneys are very economical, but if installed on the outside of a building they should be made of special moisture resistant blocks or should be painted or treated with a moisture proof coating every two years.

    Let’s review some basics about suitable masonry chimneys:

    1. A safe masonry chimney must have a tile clay liner. Such liners are smooth and hard and crack easily. Liners are made of material like a clay flowerpot, but are harder. Such a liner protects the masonry exterior from the flue gases.

    An unlined chimney may be lined by using a special stainless steel pipe listed by a recognized testing tab for such purpose. The stainless steel pipe is installed in the chimney and rigidly connected to the vent pipe from the stove. Make sure to leave access for proper cleaning of the stainless steel pipe.

    There’s a process for lining an old chimney that uses a high temperature cement-type material poured or pumped around a special balloon inside an existing chimney. It appears to be an affective relining done by a trained contractor. When masonry chimneys are relined, the liner shall be listed or of approved material that resists corrosions, softening or cracking from flue gases at temperatures appropriate to the class of chimney service. Listed liner systems shall be installed in accordance with the listing.

    Neither method of lining should be tried unless the chimney is otherwise structurally sound.

    2. The chimney must not be used to support any part of the structure since a settling or shifting of the house will crack it. There should be 2 inches of free clearance around the interior chimney. This keeps excess heat from igniting combustibles.

    3. A masonry chimney used for wood heat must be built from the ground up; a chimney supported by brackets can easily be damaged by a chimney fire and a house fire may result. A shifting or sagging of the bracket will cause the chimney to crack.

    4. If your chimney has more than one smokepipe inlet, cover these with a piece of tile clay liner and fill up the inlet with masonry material equal to the chimney thickness. Thin metal snap-in covers are not safe. The initial explosion of chimney fire often blows out such a cover. This opening would then provide oxygen for the chimney fire. You can no longer control it and often the house catches fire at this point. (See Chimney Fires section for control of chimney fires.)

    5. Your chimney must have a metal clean-out door at the bottom. Clean-out openings shall be equipped with ferrous metal, pre-cast cement, or other approved noncombustible doors and frames arranged to remain tightly closed and secured when not in use. You need this to remove soot loosened after a chimney cleaning. Otherwise, the chimney will eventually fill with soot and plug the smokepipe resulting in a house full of smoke. A good mason can usually install a clean-out door in an existing chimney. The clean-out door is handy for inspecting the inside of the chimney.

    6. Another reminder is to check the inside of the flue with a mirror before the heating season. It’s surprising what can happen. On one occasion, a chimney was blocked with a wad of insulation which blew over from a nearby construction project.

    7. Vent only one heating device into a flue. (A chimney may contain several separate flues.) Several things can happen, including an automatic furnace failing to ignite and raw fuel is pumped into the chimney. Hot exhaust from a wood fire could then cause an explosion. Fuel oil furnaces and space heaters often fail to function properly, wasting fuel and potentially causing a house full of smoke. Also, the remaining space surrounding the chimney liner, gas vent, special gas vent or plastic piping installed within a chimney flue shall not be used to vent another appliance.

    8. Masonry chimneys serving appliances shall be sized and configured in accordance with the appliance manufacturer’s instructions.

    What happens if a chimney fire occurs? You can’t control it because you cannot shut off the draft openings of a gator fuel oil device. With only a wood space heater vented into a chimney, you can control the chimney fire by shutting off the draft (air supply). Dangerous combustion gases also may be forced into the dwelling.

    Multiple venting can also reduce the efficiencies of all devices attached to the same flue because the draft created by one appliance will draw warm, already heated air through the other appliance(s) at a faster rate, resulting in energy wasted.

    9. Screening material that’s attached to chimney or vent caps to prevent the entry of animals and insects should be installed in such a manner to not adversely affect the chimney or vent draft.

    10. Spark arresters, where required by the authority having jurisdiction for chimneys attached to solid fuel burning equipment, shall meet the following requirements:

    • The net-free area of the arrester shall be no less than four times the net-free area of the outlet of the chimney flue it serves.
    • The arrester screen shall have heat and corrosion resistance equivalent to 19-gauge (0.041 inch) galvanized steel or 24-gauge (0.024 inch) stainless steel.
    • Openings shall not allow the passage of spheres having a diameter larger than 1/2 inch or block the passage of spheres having a diameter of less than 3/8 inch.
    • The spark screen shall be accessible for cleaning, and the screen or chimney cap shall be removable to allow cleaning of the chimney flue.

    Where spark arresters are part of a listed chimney termination system, they shall be constructed and installed in accordance with the listing.

    Masonry Don’ts

    • Don’t use an old chimney without a proper liner.
    • Don’t use a chimney built on brackets.
    • Don’t use a chimney with poor mortar.
    • Don’t use single-wall metal chimneys or unlisted metal chimneys.

    Factory-Built Chimneys

    Factory-built chimneys are intended for venting gas, liquid and solid-fuel fired residential-type appliances and building heating appliances in which the maximum continuous flue-gas outlet temperatures do not exceed 1000 degree Fahrenheit. Factory-built chimneys are intended for installation in accordance with the Standard for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents, and Solid-Fuel Burning Appliances, NFPA 211, and in accordance with codes such as the BOCA National Mechanical Code, the Standard Mechanical Code, and the Uniform Mechanical Code. They’re intended for installation inside or outside of buildings or both, in a manner that provides a vertical (30 degree maximum offset) conduit or passageway to transport flue gases to the outside.

    There is some evidence that at least certain kinds of factory-built chimneys fail easily and early when subjected to chimney fires, resulting in a burned house. This may be due to design defects, to rapid deterioration of the chimney in “real world” conditions or to inadequate test methods. Work is being done in all these areas to find an answer to the problem. Meanwhile, if you choose to use a factory-built chimney, we recommend the following:

    1. Inspect your chimney frequently (every 1-2 weeks during the heating season). Clean the chimney as needed to prevent creosote accumulations. Look for any corrosion or other damage, especially at joints and fittings. Replace or repair damaged chimneys before continuing use.

    2. Use a thermometer to monitor stack gas temperatures. These temperatures should be above 300 degrees Fahrenheit and well below 1000 degrees Fahrenheit.

    3. If you experience a chimney fire, do not use your chimney until it’s thoroughly inspected by an experienced heating contractor or chimney sweep.

    Factory-built chimneys should be rated “All Fuel or Solid Fuel” by Underwriter’s Laboratories, Inc. “All Fuel or Solid Fuel” means the chimney is built to use with wood fuel. These chimneys were formerly called “CLASS A” chimneys.

    There are four types of All Fuel or Solid Fuel factory-built chimneys. They are:

    1. Insulated type — This is a double-walled stainless steel pipe packed with a mineral insulating product. It’s suitable for use with wood stoves provided joints between sections are clamped together with the optional locking rings provided for these chimneys. Without the locking rings or other rigid support, the joints could wear out because of vibration form the wind or a chimney fire and cause heat and smoke to leak into the house. Some designed of this type of chimney buckle and collapse in sever chimney fires because of thermal expansion differences between materials.

    2. Triple wall thermosyphon chimneys — These are three pipes — one inside the other. Flue gases flow up the center pipe. Cold air is drawn down the inside of the outer shell of the chimney all the way to the bottom of the chimney. There it heats up and rises up the inner shell of the chimney to cool the flue. This is a natural convection process. These chimneys run very cool and consequently can build up creosote rapidly. These chimneys were designed for and must be used with zero-clearance fireplaces. They’re often not suitable for use with wood stoves unless specifically called for by the manufacturer of a listed fireplace stove.

    3. Air insulated triple wall chimneys (sometimes called modified thermosyphon chimneys) — These chimneys are similar to the thermosyphon type above but have internal baffling and provision to allow air exchange between the two outer shells at each joint. This produces a warmer chimney and makes it suitable for woodburning stoves.

    4. Insulated triple wall —This is a type of chimney that has an inner pipe which is made of a heavy refractory material. It combines the advantages of the other types of factory-built chimneys, but it makes a very heavy chimney. Additional structural support may be needed.

    If you decide to purchase a factory-built chimney, do first what many people do last — read the manufacturer’s instructions. Install exactly per those instructions. If you’re not sure, get help. (It’s easier than calling the fire department later on.)

    Factory-Built Don’ts

    • Don’t use a Class B, BW, L or single-wall chimney. Wood heat melts these.
    • Don’t use smokepipes for a chimney.
    • Never multiple vent into factory-built chimneys.
    • Don’t mix parts from various types of chimneys or different manufacturers in your chimney system.

    Metal chimneys are made so the weight is carried on a special base furnished with the chimney. This base can be installed in a ceiling or in a floor. If your chimney goes through more than one floor or ceiling, we recommend a masonry chimney.

    Other Considerations


    A manual damper is a shut-off plate installed in the stove or smokepipe. You can regulate the draft through the stove and the burning rate with it.

    Check the manufacturer’s instructions that came with your stove. Some stoves have automatic dampers or draft controls and a manual damper shouldn’t be used with all models. In stoves without a built-in damper, install one in the smokepipe.

    Always use a “cast iron” damper if you must install a damper in the smokepipe.

    Never use an automatic damper — one that shut completely — with a woodburning device. You have to have a draft at all times when there’s a fire going. (This does not apply to factory-installed automatic dampers.)

    Heat Reclaimers

    We don’t recommend installation and use of heat reclaimers on smokepipes. Heat reclaimers are devices installed in the smokepipe between the stove and the chimney that transfers heat from the flue gases that would ordinarily be vented out of the chimney. These devices allow more heat to remain in the living area, which would seem like a good idea. However, these devices can cause problems such as lowering the temperature of the flue gases allowing creosote build-up inside the chimney.

    And, unless cleaned often, they may quickly get plugged with soot and/or creosote blocking the smokepipe. Heat reclaimers will generally cause problems on short chimneys. If you do use one, make sure it has a cleaning device on it and make sure to clean it often.

    Also, use a heat reclaimer only when you have a hot fire. The flue temperature on a low fire may be too low already, and using the device compounds possible creosote buildup.

    There are thermostatically controlled heat reclaimers that should reduce creosote buildup by operating only when exhaust gas is hot enough above the reclaimer to carry volatiles out the chimney.

    Never use a heat reclaimer as a clearance reduction device.


    Generally, use only a fan designed by the manufacturer for your stove or device. Install the fan per the manufacturer’s instructions.

    Do not place a floor or window fan so it blows on or around the device. The fan may increase the draft causing it to overheat or may suck smoke or even hot ashes from the device.

    Smoke Detectors, Fire Extinguishers & Carbon Monoxide Detectors

    These are a good investment and should be standard with a wood heat system.

    Smoke detectors should be listed by a testing laboratory. They need to be located where normal products of combustion that escape in small amounts from any woodburning device do not set them off.

    Fire extinguishers should be listed by Underwriter’s Laboratories for Class A (ordinary combustible) fires. We recommend extinguishers that are rated 2A-10BC because they provide good extinguishing capability and can be used on burning liquid and electrical fires, too.

    Chimney fire extinguishing flares may be effective in fighting chimney fires. You might have several on hand to supplement your regular fire extinguisher. Carbon monoxide detectors should be used with nearly all types of heating systems. Wood heat creates carbon monoxide gas. It’s an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas that can be harmful and even fatal when you’re exposed to dangerous levels. It’s recommended that carbon monoxide detectors be placed near the living room and/or bedrooms.

    Fresh Air

    Because today’s homes are built tighter, it may be necessary to provide fresh air for a wood stove. One way is to install an air duct form the outside to a location near the stove. Try opening a window if you have a problem with correct operation of your stove.

    Some stoves now on the marker incorporate outside air ducts in their design. You might consider this type of unit to boost your system’s efficiency.

    Wood Fuel

    Choosing the kind of firewood to burn naturally depends on what is available. Softwoods, like pine, spruce and fir are easy to ignite. They burn rapidly with a hot flame and burn out quickly.

    If you have a choice, for a long-lasting fire use the heavier hardwoods such as ash, beech, birch, maple and oak. These hardwoods burn less vigorously than softwoods and with a shorter flame. They produce a good bed of coals. Whatever type of wood you select, be sure it’s seasoned before you use it. Seasoned wood has been dried so the moisture content is about 20 percent. Green wood increases creosote accumulation.

    It takes at least six months to air dry (season) fresh cut green wood, 12 months is better. Plan ahead for your fuel supply. Splitting the wood will reduce drying time. So will single stacking with both cut ends exposed. You will recover more heat value from dry wood than from green wood. Provide for at least some dry storage of wood. Snow and rainy weather will temporarily soak dry wood. Arrange your dry storage area so you can keep it full but have access to the driest wood.

    Firing a Wood Stove

    Start a fire with a small pile of paper under some kindling. Place heavier wood on kindling. Never use flammable liquids!

    If you have no experience at burning wood, read the stove manufacturer’s instructions. Then start with small amounts of wood, gradually increasing the amount as you gain experience in setting the damper and/or draft controls.

    Firing a Wood Stove Don’ts

    • Don’t operative a stove with the fire door open. (Unless it’s designed for such use and equipped with a good spark screen.)
    • Don’t throw water on a hot stove.
    • Don’t store flammables in any part of the house heated by wood heat.

    Ash Disposal

    Hot sparks and burning embers can exist in your wood stove ashes for several days. Many fires have been started when ashes cleaned from wood stoves are placed in combustible containers or dumped with ordinary trash. We recommend you have a separate metal container or bucket with a tight-fitting lid only for disposal of ashes. It should be kept outside except when in use for wood stove cleaning.

    Wood ash makes excellent garden fertilizer, provided it isn’t mixed with coal ash, burned plastic residue, or other contaminants.

    Other Fuels

    Some people try to burn fuels other than wood in their wood stoves. This can be a dangerous practice unless the stove is designed to handle them. (Consult your stove manufacturer’s instructions.)

    Coal is the most common fuel other than wood that’s burned in stoves. Some stoves are designed to permit the burning of both but the burning characteristics of coal are so different that it cannot usually be burned efficiently in a stove designed predominantly for wood.

    Some stoves designed primarily for coal can burn wood relatively efficiently but their firebox size is often very limited. Bituminous and anthracite coal require different types of coal stoves to efficiently burn these different fuels. Coal stoves are equipped with shaker grates to remove ash without excessively disturbing the firebed. Bituminous coal produces large, hard clinkers of fused ash that must regularly be removed from the firebox. Improperly burned anthracite coal can also produce clinkers. Efficient coal burning is an art that must be learned. A good place to start is from a coal instruction manual.

    Properly burning coal doesn’t produce creosote but it does produce soot and corrosive smoke that may damage chimney linings (especially the stainless steel variety) if regular chimney cleaning isn’t done. Coal stoves usually need barometric draft regulators on their smokepipes to provide a proper constant draft. Also, smokepipes for coal stoves usually are installed with the male connectors up because escape of carbon oxides from the exhaust system is more critical than creosote dripping out of the joints.

    Coal ash shouldn’t be used as a fertilizer. Thoroughly clean the inside of a coal-fired system after each heating season because moisture over the summer can cause acids in the residue to severely corrode the system.

    “Fireplace coal” or “Cannel” coal produces large volumes of volatile gas and a very active, sparky fire. It’s not safe to use this type of coal in a closed stove. Numerous flashbacks and small explosions may occur because of the volatile gas. This is probably true of peat.

    Compressed logs or pellets made of sawdust or wood plant by-products may be acceptable for your stove if they are recommended by both the manufacturer and the maker of the logs or pellets. A pellet fuel system consists of a solid processed fuel of specified size and composition capable of being fed to an appliance combustion system at a controlled rate. Some appliances burn so efficiently they don’t need a chimney.

    Decorative fireplace logs of compressed sawdust, chemicals, and a wax or paraffin binder are not safe to use in a closed wood stove because they produce too much volatile gas and the chemicals used to make the pretty colored flames may corrode parts of your woodburning system.


    Wood heat has a poor fire record. Take the time to instruct all members of the family in the proper operation of your wood heat system. Don’t skimp on proper materials or safety. Do inspect your equipment often.

    Wood heat will require lots of attention and a lot of your time. It’ll involve hard work. If you aren’t willing to do both — then perhaps wood heat is not for you.