Your home’s chimney is easy to forget. Whether it’s a chimney to a fireplace that’s only used during the cold months, or you have a gas-fired water heater that may be vented into the chimney and used all year, most chimneys just quietly do their job of venting smoke out of a building.
Sometimes, a bird flies down the flue and reminds you it’s part of the house, but often homeowner’s in Central Indiana forget that their chimneys need regular inspection.
Chimneys have been around for centuries, and the early ones were pretty primitive. Modern chimneys for decades have been made of brick, but more recently builders have been opting for factory-built metal ones. Not only do the vast majority of homes in Indiana have a chimney, but Indiana also happens to be the home of the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA.)
“Fires in chimneys can start for a variety of reasons. They can be poorly built, without proper clearance to combustibles, incorrectly designed, or the chimney flue sees a buildup of creosote over time,” says Ashley Eldridge, director of education for CSIA, based in Plainfield, IN.
WHAT THE HECK IS CREOSOTE ANYWAY?
Creosote is a by-product of combustion. So, while that beautiful fire is burning, it’s also producing a combination of smoke, gases, water vapor, minerals, tar — and when all of that hits the relatively cooler chimney, condensation occurs. It sticks, and builds up over time.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the 3-year average (2009-2011) in the US for the number of residential fires in either the chimney, fireplace or chimney connector was 24,300. Here are some tips that will lessen the chances of your home becoming part of that statistic.
BEST PRACTICES TO KEEP YOUR CHIMNEY HAPPY
1.) The National Fire Protection Association and CSIA recommend annual chimney inspections; your approach should be based on usage. Some homeowners even get a second inspection during the burning season if they are new to the operation of their fireplace or stove. How do you find a professional chimney sweep? The CSIA, a non-profit that was formed in 1983, has a great resource right on their homepage — just put in your zip code to find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep near you.
2.) As far chimneys of gas-burning fireplaces, yes, Virginia, they do need to be cleaned too. Natural gas or propane logs do not produce creosote as wood logs do, but they are depositing a fair amount of corrosive substances into your chimney. If you want to read the details on the how and why, read What You Need to Know About Your Gas Fireplace.
3.) When buying a new home, insist on a thorough inspection of the chimney, “The threshold for a home inspector to inspect the chimney is very low,” says Eldridge. “The normal language in the contract states that all heating and cooling systems must be in good working order. That language is very vague and does not specifically address the condition of the chimney.”
In the spirit of better-safe-than-sorry, (as in getting your potential new home tested for meth contamination,) ask specifically for a chimney inspection.
4.) If an inspection shows that you’ve had a chimney fire in the past, think of it like a motorcycle or bicycle helmet that has been in a crash: It may look pretty good, and you’re tempted to use it again — but don’t. Get a new helmet, and get your chimney cleaned. Your chances of having a house fire increase if you’ve already had one. Chimney fires are not always blazing infernos on the side of your house. They can be slow-burning, and you may not even know you’ve had one.
5.) Dry and clean are the rule of thumb when it comes to building your fire.
Tinder is the starting point, and newspapers make great tinder. Dry kindling, which can be twigs or small branches, are then placed on top of the tinder to keep the blaze going long enough to put the big logs on. Never use gas or kerosene.
Only burn seasoned, dried-out wood. How do you know if it’s seasoned? It will sound solid when hit against another piece of wood, will have cracks in the ends, and will be dark in color. The type of wood isn’t nearly as important as the fact it needs to be dry.
6.) Gas fireplaces should have their ceramic logs checked as they can deteriorate and clog the burner. This helps prevent explosions which can occur when the pilot light and other connections are not functioning correctly.
FUN FIREPLACE FACT
In 1966, Fred Thrower, the president of WPIX in New York City, created the Yule Log. This televised program featured a burning fire, filmed in Gracie Mansion, the residence of the New York City mayor. The Yule Log broadcast has a storied past, but even in a time where the flashier and sometimes shocking televisions shows are the ratings winners, this simple one-camera looping shot of a burning fire is just as popular as ever. Check out the original WPIX broadcast!
Take care of your chimney. One of the most relaxing things on a cold winter night is to sit by a blazing fireplace. Make sure you’re doing all of that relaxing with healthy piece of mind.