As that chill in the morning air turns your thoughts to cranking up the fireplace, it’s important to focus on chimney safety before you start stacking firewood.
Fall chimney maintenance and proper cleaning are key steps to keeping your family safe and warm as the temperatures drop. Neglected chimneys accumulate creosote, a combustible by-product of charred wood, along their walls. Add to that a high internal flue temperature and you’ve got a potentially dangerous chimney fire on your hands.
The best way to avoid a house fire caused by the fireplace or chimney is to hire a professional chimney sweep to inspect for cracks and loose bricks. He’ll also clean your chimney.
Once your chimney has been inspected and/or cleaned and gets the all-clear, you should follow some basic safety tactics when it comes to your chimney and the vicinity of the fireplace or wood stove:
- Keep the area in front of the fireplace clear of paper and debris. It can be tempting during the holidays to place decorations close to the fireplace, but keep them at a safe distance.
- If your fireplace doesn’t have a glass door, use a wire mesh screen.
- Use seasoned hardwoods that have been split for six months to a year. “Green” wood creates more creosote. Don’t burn your Christmas tree (pine creates more creosote) or be tempted to throw wrapping paper, boxes, or trash into the fireplace.
- Keep the area near the chimney clear. If you have trees that hang over the house near the chimney, make sure branches and leaves are at least 15 feet away.
- Cap your chimney. A top that has wire mesh along the sides will keep out rain and snow, birds, and other critters that might be running around on the roof.
- Think small. If you try to burn too much wood, the chimney can crack and you run the risk of creosote build-up. Burn wood on a grate placed near the back of the fireplace.
Like fire, carbon monoxide can be a deadly threat. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled.
While carbon monoxide poisoning can result from poorly functioning home appliances and heating systems, it can also come from poorly maintained chimneys. The chimney and chimney connector serve as a furnace’s exhaust system. If debris is blocking the chimney, carbon monoxide can accumulate inside the house.
Perhaps the most important rule of all when it comes to fall chimney maintenance is to install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors inside and outside of bedrooms. Replace the batteries each season and test the detectors regularly. If the detector is more than 10 years old, replace it.
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