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THE SEVEN SECRETS OF SAFE CHIMNEYS
Secret Number One: Your Home Has Lots Of Chimneys – They All Pose Risks
A chimney is more than just the pile of bricks venting the fireplace in your living room. In
fact, it’s fair to label any vent in your home that exhausts unwanted smoke, fumes, or heat
by-products as a “chimney.”
Sure, that flue heading upwards from your fireplace is a chimney, but the piping that vents
your furnace flue is also a chimney. In fact, the vent from your clothes dryer to the
outdoors is even a chimney.
And the main dangers with any of these chimneys all lurk on the inside – where they’re
You can walk around the outside of your home and inspect your gutters because, if you
have leaks, they’re visible. But the problems with chimneys are they almost always look
good on the outside – even if they have deterioration, structural weakness, or blockages
on the inside. You know the phrase, “don’t judge a book by its cover” – this definitely
applies to chimneys.
Another thing to understand is that any fuel source that vents through your chimney can
For example, we all probably know that wood fires put off smoke and creosote which can
build up on the insides of your chimney and lead to dangerous chimney fires. (If you didn’t
know that before, you do now.)
But even “clean-burning” fuels such as natural gas can cause their own problems inside
chimneys. For instance, gas flues are often corroded and deteriorated from the water that
is created as a by-product of the gas flame in a closed environment. (I bet you didn’t know
that, did you?)
Even a dryer vent is dangerous. If it gets clogged with lint and debris, the heat buildup
can be so severe that it can start a fire. And the trouble with fire is, well, it tends to
spread. So the only solution is to avoid it in the first place. Seriously.
In conclusion, you now know you have lots of chimneys throughout your home. And you
now know every one of them needs to be cleaned and inspected on the inside. And that’s
the job of the professional, which brings us to the next point of our Seven Secrets of Safe
Secret Number Two: Chimneys Should Have An Annual Check-up – Just Like Teeth
Not having your car’s oil changed won’t kill you, but you do it anyway. Not going to the
dentist every year won’t kill you either, but you do it anyway.
Why? Safety and habit.
So with all that we just learned in Secret Number One about the hidden dangers of
chimneys, at the very least it makes sense to have your chimney(s) checked every year.
I mean it’s one thing if your gutter or roof springs a leak – you’ll notice the water dripping
somewhere – and get it fixed. But if your furnace flue becomes blocked because of
interior deterioration, you could literally get sick or even die without warning. Same with
your fireplace, same with your dryer. That’s why yearly chimney maintenance definitely
belongs on your list of things that must be done.
This isn’t just Sooty Bob talking either. The respected National Fire Protection Association
(NFPA) has codes covering every aspect of fire safety imaginable. The code for chimneys
is number 211 and it reads as follows:
13.2 Annual Inspection. Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once
a year in accordance with the requirements of Section 14.3.
Exception: Type B and Type BW gas venting systems.
13.2.1 Connectors, spark arrestors, cleanouts, and tee fittings connected to chimneys
and to oil and pellet venting systems shall be inspected at least once a year in
accordance with the requirements of Section 14.3.
13.2.2 Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.
13.3 Inspection-Connections. Connectors, spark arresters, cleanouts, and tee fittings for
chimneys and for oil and pellet venting systems shall be inspected at least once a year for
soundness and deposits
Exception : Connectors for Type B gas venting systems.
In the last 30 years, the chimney professional industry in America has become strong
Upon your invitation, a chimney professional will come to your home, inspect all of your
chimneys, and then only clean the ones that need it. If further repairs are recommended,
you’ll be free to get a second opinion and competitive bids. The top chimney professional
will even offer you a video inspection of the interiors of your chimneys that you can watch
right on a TV screen while he performs the inspection.
Then, just like any good dentist, before leaving your home, your chimney professional will
set a tentative appointment for returning next year so you maintain the yearly habit.
Secret Number Three: Burn Only Seasoned Hardwoods
Granted, this secret only applies to wood burning stoves and fireplaces. And, as we
already learned, your house also has chimneys for your furnace, dryer, etc. – and they all
need to be checked yearly.
Still, wood burning is such a big (and potentially dangerous) part of the world of chimneys
I feel compelled to give proper wood fuel its own entire secret.
First, choose the right wood to burn – hardwoods like oak, ash, and maple. These woods
burn the longest, and put off the most heat with the least creosote.
Second, be sure your wood sits outside in a covered place for six to nine months before
you burn it. That lets it season – or dry out. The dryer the wood, the more heat it will
create and the less creosote it will produce.
What’s all this about creosote?
Think of creosote as the stuff that gives wood smoke its color. When we burn wood, the
smoke has color, right? That stuff is creosote.
And the trouble with creosote is that it will stick to, or build up along, the inside walls of
your chimney flue. This is bad news because creosote buildup can ignite.
And if that happens you have a real mess – a chimney fire. And though chimneys are
designed to vent smoke from your home, they are not designed to withstand the heat of a
bad chimney fire.
A chimney fire can send globs of molten creosote and mortar onto your roof. It can
penetrate your chimney and ignite your walls and rafters. And at the very least, it will howl
like a freight train and scare you to death.
If you have a chimney fire, don’t even try to put it out. Call the fire department, scoop up
the kids, and go outside.
See why you want to avoid creosote? Hard, seasoned wood minimizes its buildup – thus
lessening chimney fire risk.
Secret Number Four: Burn Small, Hot Fires - Not Long, Cool, Smokey Ones
It boils down to the creosote factor again.
When the fires are small and hot the creosote tends to get whisked up your chimney and
into the open air. When fires are cool and smokey the creosote tends to take an early exit
onto the inner walls of your chimney where it can catch fire later – not a good thing as we
So that idea of making a big, slow burning fire in your stove or fireplace so it will “last a
really long time” is not good. It’s dangerous.
Instead, stoke your fires more frequently, keep them on the small and hot side, and you
will minimize creosote buildup and maximize heat output.
Secret Number Five: It’s Not Just The Stuff That Goes UP Your Chimney That Can
The job of a chimney is to vent and protect. “Vent” means taking smoke, heat, and gasses
of combustion – whether it be from wood combustion (like from a fireplace or woodstove),
gas or oil (like from your furnace), or electrical (like from your clothes dryer) – up the
“Protect” means to meet a minimum structural strength in case there is a fire inside the
chimney. Of course, no chimney can withstand the heat of a major fire, but your chimney
should at least have the soundness it came with when it was new – to give you at least
Back to “venting.”
No chimney can take anything up if other stuff like debris has come down it. Debris in your
fireplace chimney can trigger a chimney fire or send you gagging for the door when you
light a fire.
Debris in your gas or oil furnace flue can send odorless, colorless carbon monoxide into
your home, and, if you are lucky you, will just get sick before figuring out something is
wrong. If you are unlucky . . . well, let’s not go there.
Rain in your chimney can also cause problems – whether you have a masonry or metal
flue. Rain seems innocent when you take a walk outside for a few minutes. But think of the
effect of rain going into your chimney year after year after year. Not good. Think rust for
metal chimneys, dangerous erosion of mortar and bricks for masonry chimneys.
When these things happen, the insides of your chimney are prone to inner collapse and
blockage, not to mention the loss of the protection value we discussed a few paragraphs
Shall I move on to animal nests? Pretty obvious problem, right? Blockage, flue fire ignition,
not to mention odors and possible germ and disease invasion.
Fortunately there is a solution to all these problems.
A high-quality chimney cap has a lid that protects your chimney from rain, and a screen
that keeps animals out. The best ones are made of stainless steel or copper and have
lifetime warranties. We suggest you not buy models made of galvanized steel unless you
like the prospect of rust stains running down your chimney in a few years.
Your chimney professional will make a recommendation, but we favor the Gelco and
HomeSaver brands – probably because we make them and we have a lot of pride in our
Secret Number Six: Beware Of Warm Winters
How can a warm winter possibly be bad?
Granted, an unseasonably warm winter can be a big relief now and then. But warm winters
can be trouble for chimneys. That’s because during warm winters people tend to build
slow burning, smokey fires (see secret number four) and thus really get their chimney
loaded with creosote.
It’s one thing for homeowners who have the yearly habit of having their chimneys
inspected like the NFPA code recommends. Because the chimney professional cleans out
all that creosote buildup.
The trouble comes when folks say to themselves, “Hey, last winter was a warm one. We
can probably skip the chimney inspection this year.” You can see how someone would be
tempted to think that – who would imagine a warm winter created more danger, not less.
As a result of all this, some of the worst “chimney fire years” come after warm winters.
Don’t fall victim to this thinking. Get a chimney professional to your home and make him a
yearly visitor. Meaning every year, regardless of the intensity of the previous winter.
Secret Number Seven: Fireplace Screens, Toolsets and Hods Aren’t Just For Show
Taking the following preventative steps just make sense.
1. Always use a spark screen in front of your fireplace.
2. Always remove fireplace ashes in a metal container.
3. Always have working smoke alarms on every level of your home.
4. Always have a working carbon monoxide detector in your home.
5. Replace batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors once a year.
6. Always make sure you have proper floor and wall protection with your gas or wood
7. Always have several multi-purpose fire extinguishers in your home.
8. Always have a family fire escape plan.
9. Always have regular family fire drills.
Remember the cute chimney sweep pictures from the movie Mary Poppins?
Ever stop to wonder how come European countries seem to have culturally embraced
chimney sweeps centuries ago?
The reason is simple. Europe learned the hard way.
After generations of destruction to tightly packed homes and villages, the need for yearly
chimney maintenance became law over much of Europe, out of necessity.
Here in North America we can learn from both our European friends and our own firsthand
experience: chimneys need regular inspection and maintenance when it is called for.
Call Absolute Chimney to set up your safety inspection!!!!
Absolute Chimney Service
5 Baker St
Mohegan Lake, NY 10547
Monday-Friday: 8am - 8pm
Saturday: 9am - 5pm