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Home Maintenance

The Need-to-Know Chimney Maintenance You Might Be Missing

The Need-to-Know Chimney Maintenance You Might Be Missing

Having a wood-burning fireplace in your home is a luxury these days. There are few things as pleasurable as enjoying its warm glow and crackling fire when the winter weather hits. It can be a focal point to your room, a gathering place for your family and a source of warmth in the cold. However, a wood-burning fireplace can also be dangerous if proper care isn’t given. When it comes to your fireplace, your chimney requires maintenance to keep it clean and safe.

What Causes Chimney Fires

Every time you use your wood-burning fireplace, your chimney accumulates creosote. Creosote is a residue created by the burning of wood and is highly combustible. If the creosote in a chimney catches fire, these flames burn much hotter than the wood in the fireplace below and can damage the chimney or burst from the fireplace causing a house fire.

Inspect for Past Fires

At the beginning of the season or when you’ve just moved into a new home, you should inspect your chimney for signs of a creosote fire. It is possible that you’ve had a chimney fire and did not even realize it. If so, the mortar in your chimney could be weakened or the lining of the chimney may be cracked or collapsed. If this damage exists, your house is not sufficiently protected against future house fires as this could expose more combustible parts of the house to the heat of the fire, such as the wooden framing.

To inspect for a possible past chimney fire, look for warped metal on the smoke chamber or damper. Check for missing or cracked flue tiles. Get on the roof and look for cracks in the masonry as well as for chunks or flakes of creosote on the roof.

Hire a Professional

If you are using your fireplace, have the chimney regularly cleaned and inspected. Chimney cleaning should be done by a professional. It’s dangerous work and a professional will have the specialized equipment needed to do that job. Even if there are no particular concerns with the chimney, an annual inspection and sweep should still be done. At this time the inspector will also examine the exterior and interior of the chimney and ensure there are no obstructions or reasons for concern. If you see signs of a past chimney fire or other worries, you should have an inspection done.

Keep it Clean

While chimney cleaning should be done by a professional, you can do your part to cut down on creosote build-up in your chimney.

  • Clean out ashes in your fireplace before they pile up. Be sure to remove them safely using a metal container and keep them away from anything that might catch fire until you are able to dispose of them.
  • New, or green, wood will create more smoke as it has higher moisture content and thus creates more creosote. Burn only aged wood that has been drying for at least six months, though a year or more is better.
  • Burn only untreated wood and not anything that has ever been painted or chemically treated.
  • Use slow-burning hardwoods in your fire. Softwoods burn more quickly and with larger flames, which will build up creosote residue faster.
  • Keep your fires small.

Follow Safe Practices

It’s not just the risk of a fire in the chimney that makes wood-burning in your home a potential hazard. If you’re heating the home with a fireplace this winter, you should make it a priority to follow important and useful fireplace safety.

  • Do not decorate your fireplace over the holidays. You’ll have to hang those stockings somewhere else if your fireplace will be in use, and all debris should be kept at a safe distance.
  • Use a mesh screen on your fireplace when burning wood. Close the glass doors when the fireplace is not in use or when the fire is dying down.
  • Make sure you have a chimney cap to keep out weather and critters.
  • Make sure there are no trees or branches hanging near your chimney. Trees should be trimmed back by at least 15 feet.

Be mindful this season while you enjoy your fireside nights, and keep an eye on these chimney maintenance items to ensure your family stays both warm and safe. Of course, the most important item for staying safe against the potential hazards of a fireplace is by properly installing and maintaining fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.



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