THE SEVEN SECRETS OF SAFE CHIMNEYS
Secret Number One: Your Home Has Lots Of Chimneys – They All Pose
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
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 be dangerous.
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 Chimneys.
Secret Number Two: Chimneys Should Have An Annual Check-up – Just
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
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
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 learned above.
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 Cause Problems
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 chimney.
“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 minimum protection.
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 ago.
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 work.
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
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
Secret Number Seven: Fireplace Screens, Toolsets and Hods Aren’t Just
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
6. Always make sure you have proper floor and wall protection with your gas or
wood burning appliance.
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
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!!!!