Keep the Home Fires Burning — In the Fireplace, That Is…
Getting your chimney and fireplace inspected at the first sign of cold weather probably isn't on your radar, but it's the only way you'll know if you can safely begin using it. Here are a few recent statistics:
- In November 2013, a home in Mobile, Alabama, caught fire when hot embers fell into cracks in the walls of the fireplace.
- On Thanksgiving night 2013, a fire started in the walls around a fireplace flue in a home in Somerville, Massachusetts, causing $30,000 in damage.
- During the second weekend in December 2013, various fireplace issues caused five house fires in the Kansas City area.
There’s a good chance these fires could have been avoided if the homeowners had their chimneys inspected or cleaned before lighting the first fire of the season.
Preventing Fireplace Dangers
When you are ready to have your chimney and fireplace inspected, hire a professional who is certified to inspect and correct any problems. A good place to start your search is the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Here's what a good chimney sweep will look for:
- A chimney cap with a screen. The cap will keep rain and snow out, and the screen will keep birds and other animals from building a nest in your chimney, which would block smoke's escape route.
- The condition of the chimney's bricks or stone and mortar. Over time, weather can cause cracks in the mortar that need to be fixed. In addition, they will check for any bricks that may need to be replaced.
- Creosote buildup. Creosote buildup is a leading cause of chimney fires, and the reason your chimney should be swept.
- Cracks in the tiles that line the flue or the firebox. If flue tiles are cracked, embers can get through the cracks and cause a house fire.
- An airtight seal on glass doors. Excess air can make the fire too big and difficult to control.
- The condition of the blower. If your fireplace has a blower, have it cleaned periodically. Most fireplace blowers do not have filters, so dust and dirt can accumulate and cause it not to work as well or cause a fire. A simple cleaning will fix this problem.
Other things to keep in mind:
- Only burn seasoned hardwood in a wood burning fireplace, and never use cardboard or flammable liquids to ignite the fire.
- Keep flammable items away from the area in front of the fireplace.
- Store firewood at least 30 feet away from your house. If a fire does start, the wood won't catch fire and make it worse.
- Store ashes in a metal bucket so that any ashes that may still be hot do not start a fire.
- Make sure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working order.
Fireplaces are a great addition to a home. A little maintenance can help ensure that your fireplace will be a source of warmth and beauty for many winters to come.