Whether we’re ready for it or not, winter weather is upon us. And with colder temps comes an obvious increase in the use of fireplaces.
For many of us, our fireplaces/chimneys haven’t been touched in months. However, chimneys account for 75 percent of home heating fires, meaning homeowners should actively maintain and follow the necessary upkeep.
What causes chimney fires?
Creosote builds up in the flue that lines the chimney. Creosote is a highly flammable black or dark brown residue that is a by-product of combustion. This substance can be crusty, tar-like, sticky or hardened. If there’s enough of it—and the internal flue temperature is high enough or sparks or flames reach it—a chimney fire can start.
How to prevent chimney fires
At the beginning of the heating season, hire a certified chimney inspector to examine your chimney—specifically, the chimney liner and ventilation. The chimney inspector will check for creosote build-up, cracks, and leaks, and make sure the vent is in good working order. A good chimney sweep thoroughly cleans the chimney, flue, and vents. A chimney cleaning runs between $125 and $250, depending on the type and condition of chimney.
Burn “clean” fires
That means fires with more flame, and less smoke. To get a clean fire, burn seasoned wood that has been drying for a year or more. Keep it under cover until use so it is dry when added to the firebox.
Avoid burning evergreens as they tend to pop and spark more than hardwood, which creates a fire hazard. Not all types of woods burn the same though.
Seasoned hardwood, like ash, oak, maple, hickory, and beech, is best. It has been fully dried out, and the ends should appear cracked, showing the wood is dry. When wood is still green, it creates more smoke as the moisture is dried. This additional condensation can lead to creosote build-up.
Keep the damper fully open
Restricted air supply from a partially closed damper adds to creosote buildup, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
Be smart about what you’re burning. Some people start their fires with rolled up newspaper logs. Avoid burning glossy pages, wrapping paper or cardboard, which may release nasty chemicals. Never put paper on top of a fire; feed it under the grate so that burning fragments don’t rise up the flue and cause a chimney fire.
Clean the interior of your fireplace regularly, including the floor. Sweep or vacuum up cold ashes.
I have a gas fireplace. Do I still need an inspection?
Even though a gas fireplace puts off less smoke, it still uses the chimney to dispel the heat and smoke from the fire. If you use gas logs in your fireplace, do not skip getting your chimney inspected!
All chimneys work best and remain safer with regular maintenance from a service professional. <
Carrie Colby is a Broker with Allied Real Estate, 909 Roosevelt Trail in Windham. She can be reached at 207-232-5497.