Having a fireplace in the home is no longer a necessity, but it is great luxury. Fireplaces add a cozy ambiance to a room that is tough to match. However, they do pose the greatest fire risk in a home. According to the CSPC1, over half of house fires each year are a result of a fireplace or chimney. Fires are usually the result of poor maintenance and lack of attention to safety.
Smoke from fires builds up a chemical called creosote on the inner walls of the chimney. Creosote is highly flammable and can fuel a chimney fire with the right spark. It is vitally important to have the clean the flue of creosote and soot each year. If a top-down chimney sweep is used, inspect the top of the flue and flashing. The flue should be free from any blockage (e.g. bird’s nest). Smoke marks around the hearth sometimes indicate blockage. Use a vinegar and water solution to clean up these marks.
The flashing is the metal in between the chimney and the roof. Make sure the flashing is flush with the shingles and brick. The nails securing the flashing should be sealed to prevent rust.
While cleaning the flue, look for cracks in the masonry. These cracks can indicate a larger structural problem in the chimney or fireplace. Have a professional take a closer look. Fix smaller cracks to prevent them from turning into a larger problem.
Fireplace and Chimney Maintenance
At least once a year the fireplace and chimney should be cleaned and inspected. Inspections help to identify problems before they grow and a good sweep will help prevent chimney fires. A chimney sweep is an absolute must for wood-burning units but there are also preventive steps you can take to reduce creosote buildup.
Tips to Keep the Chimney Flue Clean
Wood-burning fireplaces are much most hazardous and messy. If you have on in your home, use these tips to reduce the buildup of creosote in the flue.
- Dry Wood Only – Only burn seasoned wood that has completely dried out. Moisture in the wood will create a lot of extra smoke.
- Avoid Smoldering – Extinguish fires when there is more smoke than fire. Letting the fire smolder will only create more creosote.
- Roaring Fire – Keep the fire burning at a high level when in use. A good fire will completely burn up the wood and only leave dust.
Chimney Sweep Techniques
A chimney sweep is best left to professionals. It is an involved process that is very messy. If you do decide to tackle it yourself, be sure to wear a surgical mask, gloves and safety glasses. There are four different methods to perform a sweep: bottom-up, top-down, weighted line and dual line method.
- Bottom-up Method – The brush is attached to the end of a rod and run up the chimney from the firebox. Additional rods are connected to keep running the brush up the flue. The brush is swept up and down for each section of rod to remove the creosote. Make sure to cover all furniture and floors with plastic to protect against the dust.
- Top-Down Method – This is the same as the previous method but instead performed from the roof. The advantage of this method is the firebox can be sealed off to prevent dust and debris from entering the room.
- Weighted Line Method – A weighted brush is dropped down the chimney on a line. The line is pulled up and down to clean the flue. Again, make sure to seal off the firebox.
- Dual Line Method – This method is similar to the weighted line method but involves two people. One person is on the roof while the other is at the firebox. The line is pulled back and forth to clean.
References: 1 – http://www.cpsc.gov/library/fire08.pdf