As a home inspector in Fairfield County, I often talk to people about their chimney and fireplace as part of my inspection (fire safety). It is something that many of us give little thought to during the year. Before long many of us will be stoking up the fire and enjoying the warmth and appeal that a fireplace affords. Is your fireplace ready and safe to use? Do you know what you should be looking for to ensure that your chimney is in the proper condition to safely enjoy its warmth? Let us look at some of the common issues that can become a problem to chimneys and fireplaces.
1. Creosote- Creosote is one of the most common problems with chimneys. Creosote is the residue/by product of burning wood and coal. This residue can build up on the sides of the chimney flue and firebox. Overtime this build up can result in blockage, poor draft or potentially lead to chimney fires. Having the chimney and fireplace cleaned and swept regularly can reduce the excessive build up of soot and creosote. I commonly recommend that the chimney be evaluated and cleaned annually with use.
2. Rain/water- moisture can cause a great many problems for your home and it is no different for the chimney/fireplace. Moisture can lead to leaks, odors, rust and deterioration of the chimney and fireplace equipment. In our area the freeze-thaw cycles of fall and winter can be associated with cracking of brick and mortar overtime. Chimney caps and crowns help to direct water off and away from the chimney. As cracks form in the chimney crown water is allowed to absorb into brick and mortar. In cold temperature water can freeze and expand causing cracks in mortar and bricks that will continue to deteriorate over time. In some cases the moisture that is absorbed into the brick leads to spalling. This is when the moisture in the brick freezes and will explode the brick surfaces. The result is costly repairs. Having the crown and cap evaluated by a certified chimney sweep at the time of an annual cleaning can prevent unwanted repairs in the future.
3. Wildlife- Ok, the day comes when the outside temperatures have dropped and curling up by the warmth of a fire motivates you to open the fireplace doors. Will there be something in there waiting for you? Nothing will kill the mood like finding a dead animal in your fireplace or worse a live one. Squirrels and birds commonly find their way into chimneys. If you don’t want this to happen to you the solution is simple, add a chimney cap with a spark arrestor. A chimney cap is just what it sounds like. It is a cap that is attached to the top of your chimney flue to keep rain and unwanted wildlife out of your chimney. The chimney cap should have a spark arrestor which is a screen or grate that blocks animal entry but will also reduce the potential of flying embers from escaping the chimney and igniting somewhere else.
4. Blockage- Blockage is a real concern for chimneys and fireplace use. If you are planning on using your fireplace for the first time this season be sure to look up your flue. Blockage can be caused by several things such as creosote, leaves, birds nest, animals (i.e. raccoons, bats) or debris from deteriorated masonry. In most chimneys day light should be visible. If there is any blockage do not use the fireplace. Call a certified chimney technician and have it evaluated.
“The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be swept at 1/8″ of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. This is considered to be enough fuel buildup to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or spreading to the home. Factory-built fireplaces should be swept when any appreciable buildup occurs. The logic is that the deposit is quite acidic and can shorten the life of the fireplace. – See more at: http://www.csia.org/about-csia/faq.aspx#sthash.XAzfi5Kd.dpuf
Having your chimney/fireplace evaluated annually by a certified chimney technician can determine if your fireplace is ready to safely provide you with the warmth and comfort you desire on those chilly days of Autumn and Winter. Take the time and effort to protect your home and family. Keep the home fires burning…safely.
When looking for a certified chimney technician you can start at your local Chamber of Commerce or search for Chimney Sweeps in your area at:
Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) : http://www.csia.org/