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Safety -- Make sure you are safe!

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Old 2019-01-18, 9:59am
yonil's Avatar
yonil yonil is offline
Senior Member
Join Date: Feb 14, 2009
Location: New Hampshire
Posts: 653
Default My Experience Getting Insurance and Fire Department Approval for my Lampwork Studio

**As a disclaimer, I get the impression that there is no “one size fits all” for getting approved for a glass studio in your home. Different insurance companies have different rules, and the local fire department has a lot of say. Lampworking is not well known, and many insurers and fire department workers are hesitant to work with something outside of the norm. Your experience may and probably will differ in some way. I just wanted to walk through the steps I had to take, in case it’s helpful to you.**

I live in New Hampshire. I don’t know how much that matters.

When my husband and I bought a house last year, I was excited to finally be able to make a *real* glass studio, but also more than a little nervous about the homeowner’s insurance end of things. I had previously lampworked at a rental property, in a detached garage. The landlord spoke to his insurance rep, and it wasn’t an issue-- I’m assuming because the garage was separate from the house.

For our house, the garage is attached. And proof of homeowner’s insurance is required before the purchase of the house can be finalized. So before we even had the house, I had to find an insurer that would allow a studio.

Step 1: Start phoning insurance companies.

I got straight to the point, on the phone. We were looking for homeowner’s insurance, and importantly, I would be running a torch and kiln, and I do sell what I make*. This opening statement was enough to for two different insurance companies to kindly say, “Sorry, but we can’t help you.” The second agent gave me contact information for another area insurer that might be more amenable. It seems like the bigger deal at the offset was the selling part, and less the torch/kiln part. The “business” part required additional business insurance.

The third phone call led me to an insurer that was happy to work with me, and worked to add a business policy, to cover potential loss of equipment. (If anyone is interested in numbers, $10,000 of business coverage added $75 to my premium. I’m completely inexperienced with homeowner’s insurance, but that is way cheaper than I expected.) Then, we discussed the torch and kiln. Concerns the agent had included fuel storage, and the kiln. The agent agreed to “sign off” on the lampworking studio if the local fire chief approved of the set-up.

Step 2: Contact the fire department

This was a huge source of anxiety. I’ve read anecdotes of fire departments who categorically refuse to allow glasswork from home (source: Torchtalk group on Facebook), and I hadn’t contacted any local fire departments when searching for a home. This step was scary because it was out of my control. Nevertheless, I phoned the local fire department and explained the situation. The fire chief was happy to schedule a meeting for me to come in and discuss the details of a glass studio, which was a huge relief. I was asked to bring in any manuals/information for different components of a studio—the kiln, the torch, ventilation.

Step 3: Meeting with the fire department

To prepare, I printed out 1) the manual for my kiln (Paragon Bluebird XL), 2) Salient points from Mike Aurelius’ ventilation primer, including the specifics of my ventilation set-up, and 3) the International Society of Glass Beadmaker’s “What are the safety issues associated with glass beadmaking”**.

When I met with the fire department, I learned that to prep for our meeting, they had done some reading of their own on lampworking. They had read a safety manual for a kiln, for example. I found this encouraging, because it indicated they were going to work with me. Highlights of the meeting:
1. Oxygen needed to be outside of the garage, and properly stored; i.e. in a cage or on a cement pad. (I’ll detail what I ended up doing, which is neither a cage or a cement pad, below.)

2. Propane had to be outside of the garage, and the city building inspector had to approve of the method used to bring propane to the torch. This is important, because I have read anecdotes of cities that require the gas company to run a hard line into the house for torchwork. The fire department didn’t say outright I would need this, but they weren’t sure, so they told me to talk to the building inspector.

3. The kiln. Oh, the kiln. The fire chief was very intense about the kiln in the meeting. Part of the issue is that my kiln manual included information for all types of kilns that the controller could run, so there was safety information for ceramic kilns included. Ceramic glazes can exhaust harmful material, so separate ventilation for those kilns is specified in the manual. The fire chief wanted to know my plans for a second ventilation system for my kiln, and I had a hard time convincing him that it 1) wasn’t needed, and 2) applied to ceramics kilns. In the end, we compromised, and I agreed to keep my torch ventilation running while the kiln is running. It’s a true compromise, because I don’t want to go through all of that, but I definitely don’t want to make a separate ventilation system. We discussed properly placing the kiln away from the wall. Also, there were concerns about the electricity. I was already working with an electrician to add a kiln-only circuit, and this needed a permit( I forget if it was $20 or $50). Finally, almost everyone I spoke to through this whole process assumed my kiln was the size of a small auditorium. Joking aside, everyone pictures huge ceramics kilns, and that’s part of why alarm bells go off when “kiln” in mentioned. Everyone that sees the kiln in person goes, “Oh, that’s it? Not what I expected.” (Not to say kilns can’t be dangerous.)

4. Ventilation. The important thing I learned here is that we have to be our own advocates for safety. They knew about the importance of ventilation, but no one took time to go over my numbers or to make sure my system would be adequate. Everyone took my word for it.

5. General fire and carbon monoxide safety. They wanted two fire extinguishers, wall-mounted at different locations in the garage, and not next to the kiln/torch. They wanted a fire/smoke/CO alarm mounted on the ceiling.

6. Paperwork to give to the insurer. This was a rocky step. The fire chief said that if I had everything in order, and was cleared with the building inspector, then we could schedule a walk-through, and then they could give me a thumbs up. However, then he said they “wouldn’t want to sign anything” to endorse the set-up, which is exactly what I needed from them. (Panic.) He did say that they inspected wood stoves, etc. in homes for insurance purposes, and had a carefully drafted letter they used for those instances. They had consulted with a lawyer to make sure that their “thumbs up” letter is not “tacit acceptance of responsibility if something goes wrong.” I asked if they could pretty pretty please draft me a similar letter, and they said they would work out some sort approval letter for me.

Step 4: The Building Inspector
The building inspector came to see the studio. As soon as he walked in, he went straight for the nuclear-reactor grade kiln, and when he saw it he said, “Oh, is that it?” He never spoke about the kiln again. He did recommend a piece of sheet rock go up on the ceiling, to cover a previous repair that was not up to code, but there was no time constraint on that repair. For our town, it was fine to have the propane hose come from outside in, and I didn’t have to have the gas company install a hard line. So that inspection passed.

Step 5: Making the suggested changes and how they were perceived on the fire department walk-through.
1. Oxygen. I ended up getting a SafTCart 401S.*** It’s not a full cage, which is ludicrously expensive, but it’s a compromise. There is a metal bottom, and a back support, with a chain. This bolts onto a wall or into the floor. The fire chief thought this was fine.

2. Kiln. It’s not against a wall, and it’s on a dedicated electric circuit. The fire chief said, “Oh, is that it?”

3. Ventilation. This isn’t a post about proper ventilation, but I thought I’d include a bit anyway, because to me this was the biggest hurdle, and I know I’m not alone. I don’t have the skills or the tools to pull off a ventilation hood, and neither does my husband. I ended up hiring a handyman to build a barley box, and to install my fan and duct work. I paid a lot. Hopefully you can do it more cheaply. My best approach to the Aurelius primer I link below**** is to just pick a size of your workspace (like 2 feet by three feet), and go from there. You have to start somewhere. I picked a barley box because that made CFM calculations much more understandable for me. A concrete number of 2 feet by 3 feet makes it easy to tell what fan CFM you need. From there, you select duct options, and all that other math involved with ducts and turns is just used to make sure that your fan is still effective enough after the ducts are attached. Start with a hood size, and then it will get easier. Use rigid ducts. The fire chief barely looked at ventilation, although I did quickly demonstrate that the fan turns on. I feel so much more at ease knowing the ventilation is in place.

The fire department walk-through went fine. They had a couple of general fire safety suggestions and told me “Congratulations.” I’ll pick up my letter for the insurance agent next Tuesday.

*I had read a lot of advice online saying to tell insurers that glasswork is a hobby only. I didn’t want to lie about this, though. A cursory internet search shows I obviously sell.



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