If things haven't got complicated enough for persons concerned with protecting their homestead, it appears that the soft, soothing glow of a candle's flame may disguise some problems. Specifically, the use of candles may result in:
- reducing the internal air quality of your home
- increasing the chance of fire losses
- damages by particulate deposits on interior and exterior walls, carpets, furniture, appliances, window treatments, floors and other surfaces
Further, their use may also contribute to health problems from inhaling particulate matter or ingesting harmful chemicals.
What's The Problem?
Actually, there are a number of problems and they have been accentuated by a change in the market for candles. The last few years have seen an explosive growth in the popularity of candles. They are increasingly used for their traditional, decorative purpose and they are now marketed as scented candles for deodorizing and for a health-related purpose called aromatherapy.
Of course, to boost sales, candle-makers find that they have to offer products with an intense scent. This is accomplished by adding scented oils into their wax mixture. This often causes the candle to burn improperly and increase the production of soot.
A Sooty Situation
It looks like soot, which is a carbon residue produced by burning, can create a large, expensive problem. Since soot is particulate matter that can be carried through the air, it can seriously stain walls, carpets, and personal property. Studies show that electronic and plastic components are also vulnerable to soot damage. Unfortunately, soot produced by improperly burning candles bonds very strongly, making it difficult to impossible to clean. Further, soot may contaminate a home's heating system, including ductwork. The soot can then be spread throughout a home, creating widespread damage that is difficult to repair. Property stained by soot may have to be cleaned by professionals and, often, the property has to be replaced.
What's in those things anyway?
You may have assumed that the only materials found in candles were the wick and some type of wax. Surprise! Here's a list of ingredients which may either be found in a candle or may be created during combustion:
- Acetone Benzene Trichlorofluoromethane
- Carbon disulfide 2 Butanone 1 1- Trichloroethane
- Trichloroethene Carbon tetrachloride Tetrachloroethene
- Toluene Chlorobenzene Ethylbenzene
- Styrene Xylene Phenol
- Cresol Cyclopentene Lead
Another surprise is that the candle-making industry is not required to tell consumers about the ingredients used in their products, including when a wick is used which contains a lead core.
Poor candle design or practices
Besides the use of oils and chemicals, candle-makers sometimes create problems because they make other mistakes. Candles may also burn improperly (causing soot) because a candle's wick may be off-center or there may not be a proper amount of air in the candle mixture. A candle may have a higher likelihood of causing a fire loss due to:
- an improper candle mixture which results in intense heat or high flames
- improper holders (glass that shatters or spills flammable liquid)
- wood holders that catch fire
- flammable items imbedded in the candle mixture such as potpourri
Coverage under a homeowner policy?
Damage to a home or personal property due to soot can create serious problems for both an insurer and a homeowner. Losses involving soot can create thousands of dollars in damages. Depending upon the details surrounding a loss and the wording of the particular homeowner policy, coverage for the damage may not be available. Why? Because the source of loss might be considered the result of pollution, which may be excluded. Another reason for rejecting a claim may be an assumption that the damage was gradual instead of sudden, so it wouldn't be considered accidental and sudden damage. A claim could even be affected by the knowledge of the insured. For instance, even if the policy covers soot-related losses, a claim could be denied if a homeowner knew that the type of candle they used could cause damages.
Since the damage is caused by matter that is invisible to the naked eye, it could be difficult to prove that the loss was sudden. Tests can be used to determine the cause of stained or discolored property, but the testing can be expensive and the cost may have to handled by the homeowner.
What to do?
It's all up to you. You might wish to ask more questions about the type of candles you use or curtail your use. You can also discuss whether coverage is available under your homeowner policy with an insurance professional. If you do use candles frequently, you may also want to check your home thoroughly for any stains or discoloration, including any contamination of your heating system.
Candle, candle, burning bright? Not if you cause a claim tonight.
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