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A clean chimney can save your home and your family!

Posted by Scott Stueber, CPCU, CISR, AAI on Oct 1, 2012 7:00:00 AM

Fireplace Safety TipsAs the temperatures drop and colder seasons approach, many enjoy sitting by a cozy fire with their family and friends. There’s nothing like a toasty fire on a snowy winter night.

Before the snow flies, however, ensuring your chimney is clean and ready for those fall and winter fires is vital.

If your fireplace is wood-burning, you should be careful of creosote buildup. Creosote is a residue that travels up your chimney and builds up on your flue over time. In fact, some creosote builds up every time a wood-burning fireplace is lit. If that residue isn’t properly cleaned out, the chance of a fire igniting in your chimney increases. Many consider a creosote fire in the chimney one of the most dangerous fires a homeowner can experience; it can spread quickly and severely damage or destroy your entire home within minutes.

Here is some information you need to know about wood-burning fires.

1. Wood type. You can burn hard or softwood as long as it’s seasoned. Seasoned wood is wood that’s cut, especially oak (hardwood), and sits idle in a dry environment for an entire year. Damp wood not seasoned for over a year creates cooler, smoldering fires and isn’t worth burning. Properly-seasoned wood makes hot fires that produce less creosote, so there’s less buildup on your flue and in your chimney.

Do you know what seasoned wood looks like? Seasoned wood is dark or grey on the outside and white on the inside. The bark on the wood will also have a flaky appearance. The best seasoned wood is two-three years old.

If you’re not experienced at building fires in your home’s fireplace or only burn a few fires a year, a seasoned softwood like fir may be the way to go. It seasons quickly and makes nice large flames when it burns. The downside to fir – or any other softwood -- is that it doesn’t burn as long as hardwoods like oak and walnut.
2. Frequency. Do you light fires regularly but for shorter periods? If you do, you’re more at risk for a chimney fire! Why? Because the colder your flue is, the greater the chance that creosote will stick to it and your chimney. Hotter fires that burn longer keep the flue hotter, meaning less creosote builds up there.
3. Carbon monoxide build-up. Cracks in your chimney can lead to a dangerous carbon monoxide build-up in your home. A cracked chimney can allow carbon monoxide to circulate back into your home. Installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home AND having your chimney cleaned and inspected each year will help prevent you and your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.
4. Chimney inspections are critical. While some products can cut down on the creosote buildup, proper inspections and cleaning are the best ways to protect your family and home.
5. Chimney inspection frequency. Experts recommend that you have your chimney inspected each year. How much you use your fireplace determines whether you need a chimney sweep.
6. Use common sense. Please look over the area around your fireplace to make sure it is clutter-free. Household items should be kept two or more feet away from the fireplace. Also, consider buying a fire extinguisher to have on hand in case an emergency develops.
Do you have any chimney safety tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them; please share them in the box below.

Topics: Home Safety, Fire Safety

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