Easy Steps to Make Sure Your Fireplace Is Safe
Now that fall is upon us; it won’t be long before chilly weather arrives. Since winter is just around the corner, it’s time for homeowners throughout the Greater Richmond region to ensure their fireplaces are safe to operate. Every year fire departments in the RVA and around the country respond to thousands of residential structure fires involving home heating equipment. Failure to properly clean solid-fuel heating appliances and chimneys was cited as the primary cause, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Scheduling your annual chimney inspection and professional cleaning is the most important step you can take to ensure your fireplace is safe before you light the first fire of the season. Hiring a Certified Chimney Sweep® is your assurance that your chimney, vents, and attached heating appliances will be inspected and cleaned per NFPA industry-standard guidelines.
In the meantime, here are some easy steps you can take between professional chimney sweep visits to ensure your fireplace remains safe to operate.
Check Exterior for Masonry Cracks
Winter precipitation and below-freezing temperatures can be brutal for masonry chimneys. When the absorbed moisture in the bricks and mortar freezes, the hardened ice crystals expand, causing bricks to crack, chip, crumble, and eventually fall from the chimney. As temperatures rise and the masonry thaws, additional moisture fills the ever-expanding gaps. This freeze-thaw process continues repeatedly every winter season. Since masonry damage increases the risk of fire and exposure to carbon monoxide fumes, it is essential to periodically check the exterior masonry for any cracks or missing bricks, or gaps in the mortar joints.
Make Sure Chimney Cap is Secure
The chimney cap is installed on top of a masonry chimney to protect the flue from external elements while venting smoke and fumes. If the chimney cap is damaged or missing, rainwater can leak down the chimney and damage the flue liner, firebox, and other components. It can also allow wildlife and debris to enter the chimney and cause a flue obstruction that can push smoke, soot, and carbon monoxide gas out of the fireplace and into the living area.
Check for Creosote Buildup
Creosote is a byproduct of combustion and begins as a white powdery substance that eventually hardens into a dark, tarry, and flammable material. It is the leading cause of chimney fires. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), an accumulation of 1/8” or more of creosote is hazardous and should be removed to ensure your fireplace is safe to use.
Examine the Firebox
Use a flashlight to peek inside the fireplace and carefully examine the firebox for any cracks, scorching, or stains on the firebrick. In addition, look for any moisture, pieces of clay, or masonry material on the firebox floor. Then, with the damper open, point your flashlight upwards to observe the flue liner to check for any cracks, gaps, or condensation. If you spot any moisture, cracks, stains, a white powdery substance or dark tarry material (creosote), or strong odor in the firebox or on the flue liner, get a professional chimney inspection before using the fireplace.
Look for Water Stains
Water stains on the ceiling or walls around the fireplace often indicate that the flashing needs repair or replacement. The flashing is the sheet metal that seals the seam where the chimney meets the roof. When it is damaged or warping, water can leak inside the chimney and damage the interior masonry walls and flue liner.
Test the Damper
A fully operational damper is essential for a safe fireplace. When opened, it allows the smoke and harmful gases to vent up the chimney and exit your home. After the fire is extinguished entirely, closing the damper prevents the cooler outside air from mixing with the warmer indoor air. The damper should open and close with ease. If the damper doesn’t work smoothly, makes noises, or if there is any warping, cracks, or gaps in the airtight seal, schedule an appointment with a professional chimney technician for repairs.