What is a Spark Arrestor?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Many fireplace screens are both functional and decorative.
Many fireplace screens are both functional and decorative.

People who own or operate woodburning stoves and fireplaces face several responsibilities, one of which is to keep burning embers from escaping into the neighborhood. It only takes a few sparks in a dry area to trigger serious brush or forest fires. This is why many communities require the use of a spark arrestor whenever a solid fuel fireplace or stove is in regular use.

It only takes a few sparks in a dry area to trigger a serious forest fire.
It only takes a few sparks in a dry area to trigger a serious forest fire.

There are actually two different types of spark arrestors that a person may encounter around a woodburning fireplace. The one mandated by regulation is an open-mesh screen placed securely over the top of the chimney stack. Manufacturers offer models in various sizes, according to the diameter of the chimney cap. This type should prevent any burning embers or sparks from escaping through the chimney.

A fireplace screen can keep stray burning embers from escaping.
A fireplace screen can keep stray burning embers from escaping.

Another type of spark arrestor can be either functional or decorative. It is generally a self-supporting screen or shield placed a short distance from an open fireplace flame. It serves the same purpose as an exterior screen, keeping stray burning embers from escaping from the fireplace and possibly starting a fire. Manufacturers offer reproduction models reminiscent of those found in castles or mansions, and there are many more basic, functional models suitable for regular home use as well.

Spark arrestors can help prevent stray sparks from fireplaces.
Spark arrestors can help prevent stray sparks from fireplaces.

Experts suggest that a spark arrestor should be large enough to protect the chimney from animals and debris, but small enough to allow a positive draft in the chimney. A functional exterior arrestor must be regularly maintained and cleaned, like gutters or the chimney's flue. A trained chimney sweep may be able to remove the mesh screen and clean it while performing other duties. If a professional is not available, then it falls on the owners to periodically sweep out accumulated dirt, ash and leaves from the external screen and dust the interior version.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

anon33428

So the mesh should be small enough to protect from animals entering and large enough to allow a good flow? Smaller, when taken to its extreme, would not increase flow, and larger, when taken to its extreme, would not protect against animals.

anon5448

What is difference between

Spark arrestor-

flame arrestor-

stack arrestor-

fire arrestor-

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    • Many fireplace screens are both functional and decorative.
      Many fireplace screens are both functional and decorative.
    • It only takes a few sparks in a dry area to trigger a serious forest fire.
      It only takes a few sparks in a dry area to trigger a serious forest fire.
    • A fireplace screen can keep stray burning embers from escaping.
      A fireplace screen can keep stray burning embers from escaping.
    • Spark arrestors can help prevent stray sparks from fireplaces.
      Spark arrestors can help prevent stray sparks from fireplaces.