November 19, 2010

Home Maintenance of Chimneys, Fireplaces, and Wood Stoves

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 10:01 am

If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace or wood stove in your home then you know how much fun they can be – and how well they can enhance the ambiance of your home while also keeping you unbelievably warm and comfortable on those damp and frigid winter days and nights. But many homeowners find themselves with a chimney, a fireplace, or a wood stove without any actual training about how to properly and safely use those potentially hazardous amenities.
Here are some tips to help you keep your systems running efficiently and safely all winter long:
• Begin the season with a professional inspection performed on any systems that use a chimney. These can be done by a licensed and certified chimney sweep or by a qualified home inspector, and if you do them once a year your maintenance will be carefully monitored and that will not only keep you safer but it will minimize future repairs.

• Keep in mind that chimneys not only vent smoke but they also vent carbon monoxide gases which are invisible and odorless. So you might think your chimney is working fine because it is not leaking any whiffs of smoke – but meanwhile it could be creating a potentially lethal situation for you and your entire family. You should ask your inspector to do carbon monoxide checks, and if they are not trained to conduct those then you can hire a qualified professional like, for example, a home inspector who specializes in checkups for environmental hazards.

• Chimneys and components such as stove pipes need to be cleaned by a chimney sweep every season. Otherwise the inside walls of these structures have a tendency to collect flammable substances like creosote which are the natural byproducts of burning wood and similar fuels. Once the build-up occurs then the lining of your stove pipe or chimney becomes potentially flammable, and can spontaneously burst into flames. Every year chimney fires destroy lots of homes and threaten the lives of residents, but an inexpensive cleaning of your chimney is the best way to prevent that sort of catastrophe.

• To help keep your chimney clean be careful what you burn inside your fireplace or wood stove. Burning lots of paper or cardboard – or colored paper that has been printed with chemicals from inks and printing varnishes – contributes to creosote buildup and should be avoided.

• Woods with high resin content do the same thing, and pine is one of the biggest culprits. Many people use pine for kindling, for example, because it is so easy to start a fire with this highly combustible wood. But pine tar gets carried by the smoke up into the chimney where it then coats the inside of the chimney and creates a fire hazard. So you should only burn very dry hardwoods or recommended fuels like the pellets sold with pellet stoves – and never use anything like lighter fluid inside your home.

• Of course the firebox and brick chimney are also structural components of your home, and those need to be in strong condition free of any gaps, cracks, or voids. The mortar used by masons to build chimneys and fireplaces is also not ordinary mortar or cement. The ordinary kind can actually explode if exposed to high heat – and so can bricks or cinder blocks that are not the right kind for fireplaces. If mortar joints get weak that can also cause a chimney to leak smoke, carbon monoxide, heat, or even flames. A weak chimney structure can also collapse and cause extensive damage or injury. To check for all of these kinds of potential problems you should hire a licensed inspector who specializes in chimneys and fireplaces. They can use tools such as video cameras that snake up into the chimney to take a close look at your chimney and identify any needed repairs or other issues.
Maybe you just bought a new house or condo, for example, and one of the big selling features that influenced your decision was the fireplace. Perhaps you invested in a vacation home in the mountains that has an old fashioned wood stove, or maybe you recently invested in a new natural gas fire insert, a pellet stove, or some other heating system that will provide warmth from an affordable alternative heating source. Or you might have been around chimneys and fireplaces your whole life – but even those who are really familiar with this kind of system still need to keep their maintenance skills up to date and follow a regular regimen of cleaning and safety procedures. Whatever the case may be, follow these tips and you’ll get a lot more enjoyment out of your fires – while avoiding those unwanted kinds of fires that result from poor practices and a neglect of safety.

1 Comment

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