Keeping Your Chimney Safe and Functional

by Carmen Corbin on December 28, 2011

Wood burning fireplaces are usually a welcome feature in the home, and when used properly, they can create a welcoming, relaxing and comforting environment.  But every year, numerous house fires occur that originate in the chimney.  Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent or reduce the likelihood of chimney problems, and keep your family safe.

Important Chimney Safety Tips

Here are few recommendations from the Chimney Safety Institute of America (

  1. Get an Annual Chimney Inspection: A chimney inspector will perform a complete visual inspection of your firebox, damper and chimney to identify any potential problems like cracks or blockages.  After inspection, they may recommend a fireplace and chimney sweep, which cleans out debris, creosote build-up and any bird or animal nests.
  2. Use a Chimney Cap: Screened chimney caps fit on top of the chimney, and will prevent most birds or animals from entering your chimney.  Caps also reduce the amount of water that gets down inside, where it may weaken mortar joints.
  3. Build Fires Correctly: Arrange firewood on the grate toward the back of the fireplace.
  4. Keep Combustibles Away From Hearth: Don’t place furniture too close to the fireplace, or anything else that may easily catch fire (like newspapers or kindling).  Metal fireplace screens can help catch any sparks that pop out from the fire.
  5. Monitor Your Fire: They say not to turn your back on the ocean, and it’s wise advice for fires too.  Always put out your fire before going to bed, and closely monitor kids and pets around it.
  6. Use Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detectors: Carbon monoxide can build up due to poor ventilation.  Detectors are inexpensive and can be found in most home improvement stores.
  7. Use Seasoned Wood: Wood must be dried out for at least 6-12 months to ignite and burn properly.  Even if it doesn’t appear wet, wood contains a lot of water inside, and when unseasoned wood is burned, it adds more creosote build-up in your chimney, increasing your risk of a chimney fire.  Seasoned wood stored outside should be kept off the ground, and covered with tarp (remove occasionally for air flow).

Water leakage around your chimney can cause settling, which can weaken and damage the interior.  If you suspect any leaking, have licensed roofers check the flashing around the base of the chimney, and replace any roofing material if needed.

For more information on maintaining your chimney and fireplace, call or visit your local chimney sweep company or home improvement contractor.

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