Give your chimney a clean sweep

Homeowners with a wood-burning fireplace or solid fuel stove or insert can protect your property and your family by having a qualified professional inspect and clean your chimney at least annually. Maintaining a chimney through an annual inspection and cleaning is critical, especially as winter approaches and temperatures drop.

According to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, fireplaces, chimneys and flues account for a significant number of home heating fires each year. The buildup of chimney deposits is a major factor in chimney fires.

Creosote, a tarry residue caused by incomplete combustion of wood, can build up in chimneys and ignite a chimney fire when the internal temperature of a chimney flue becomes very high, especially during times of extended use during persistently cold temperatures.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys be inspected at least once a year and cleaned as necessary. However, the inspection and cleaning of a chimney is a specialized job and should not be performed by a general maintenance company or handyman. A chimney and flue system is a complicated mechanical system that requires regular inspections, just as HVAC systems, plumbing systems and electrical systems do. The Chimney Safety Institute of America provides access to a nationwide network of certified chimney sweeps.

Follow these tips for a safe winter fire season:

  • Burn only seasoned wood. It burns cleaner and can help avoid creosote buildup within the flue.
  • Do not overload the firebox. Stack logs only up to half the height of the opening. Flames should never reach up into the chimney.
  • Do not burn wrapping paper or boxes in the chimney. These materials can contribute to flue creosote buildup.
  • Build smaller fires using hotter burning woods like hickory or ash. These woods burn more completely and leave fewer deposits.
  • Keep an inch of ash on the bottom of the firebox. This allows the coals to nestle down and cool off at the end of the burn.
  • Watch the duration of your fire. Factory built fireplaces are designed with thinner sheet metal and may not be able to withstand an all-day fire. On very cold days, consider building a fire intermittently throughout the day.
  • Keep valuable items away from the fire. Avoid putting expensive artwork, precious family photos, or other collectibles on the mantel, hanging above or on adjacent bookshelves.

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Contact Landmark Risk Management & Insurance for coverage advice and policy service.