Are Scented Candles Damaging Your Home?

    The use of candles dates back to prehistoric times. They've been used for lighting, heating, and decoration. Candles
    might also be causing irreparable damage to your home — and your insurance might not cover it.

    Candle soot
    Many of the popular scented candles today are made by mixing oils into the candle wax. The more oil in a candle, the
    stronger the scent.  More oil also means a higher potential for soot, which can eventually coat your carpets, drapes, and

    After the soot settles, cleaning it off your walls, carpet, couch, and appliances can become impossible. The electrically
    charged bond is too strong for household cleaners to break. You have little choice but to replace the soiled surfaces or
    buy new items.

    Ron Bailey, engineer and owner of Bailey Engineering in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, has tested candles. One of
    Bailey's tests involved using a model home as the proving ground. He burned four candles for 15 hours. Soot deposited
    on the walls, appliances, and drapes.

    Bailey says he’s seen homes, where candle soot has caused tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage. "It's eye-
    opening. They had to replace the carpets and clean up and repaint the walls," he says.

    One homeowner in Texas faced nearly $200,000 in damages and replacement costs because of candle soot. The soot
    particles infested her heating and cooling ductwork, which had to be replaced.  Much of her furniture was covered by
    candle soot.

    Frank Vigil, a building specialist with the Applied Building Science Team at North Carolina State University, says the
    problems from candle soot are becoming more and more evident. Vigil has investigated several cases, including one in
    which he was hired by State Farm. "There was quite substantial property damage [in that case], over $10,000," he says.

    Vigil says he knows of many claims made against insurance companies as a result of soot from candles. "This is
    becoming a big issue, near epidemic in proportions," he says.

    Home insurance might not pay
    Insurance companies have not addressed candle soot specifically in homeowner's policy language, and the industry's
    stance on the issue is ambiguous.

    "There's a potential for coverage, but like every other claim, it will be investigated on its own merits," says Phil Supple, a
    spokesman for State Farm. "We would look particularly closely at the 'named peril provision' in the policy." That's the
    provision spelling out what is and what is not covered. In addition, home insurance policies have what's called a "sudden
    and accidental occurrence" provision, which separates harmful events that happen suddenly from those that develop
    over time.

    Candle makers warn customers about soot
    Candle-Lite Incorporated, based in Leesburg, Ohio, does provide specific warnings on its candles about soot. Some of
    its warning labels read, "For best burning performance and to reduce soot emissions, trim wick to ¼ inch, and do not
    burn candle near a draft."

    Most labels don't say why consumers should trim the candle's wick before lighting. "The labels are to ensure the candles
    burn evenly," says Maryanne McDermott, executive vice president of the National Candle Association, a group that
    provides guidelines for the industry. McDermott says an even-burning candle won't produce soot.

    "There could be deposits that certainly would be noticeable," says Jim Becker, an engineer for American Greetings'
    candle unit. "I've had experiences in my home in which I've burned a candle and there was a lot of smoke that was
    generated. I'm sure a very bad situation could arise."

    McDermott points out, "Candles have been used for hundreds of years without problems." Of course, the tremendous
    popularity of aromatherapy and scented candles presents problems that no one has dealt with before. McDermott also
    says burning candles in drafty places — which can create soot — is a "dumb thing to do. You can see [the uneven
    burning]. I think it's common sense."

    Last updated February 11, 2003

    Information provided by by Joe Frey  March 3, 1999
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