In all the flurry of the holiday season, you may not be thinking about your chimney, but it’s important not to neglect this area of your home. Here’s why:
The latest U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report on residential structure fires shows that more than 21,000 unwanted blazes were attributed to fireplaces, chimneys, or chimney systems in 2012. The report, issued in 2015, also said that fires involving fireplaces, chimneys, or chimney connections resulted in 20 deaths in 2012, 60 injuries, and an estimated $93.6 million in residential property loss. Confined fires—those confined to chimneys, flues or fuel burners—accounted for 84 percent of home heating fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, an entity of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, which recommends having your chimney or fireplace professionally inspected—and cleaned if necessary—every year to prevent these catastrophes.
Major causes of chimney fires include overloading the fire, damage to the fireplace such as missing bricks, obstructed flues, ignition of nearby combustibles, and flying sparks.
Prevention of chimney fires is only one—although critical—reason to keep up fireplace maintenance. You also want to ensure that it continues to vent properly to the outside and blockages (including bird nests) are removed that could cause carbon monoxide to enter your home rather than going up and out through the flue. Almost all heating appliances, whether they burn gas, oil, wood or coal, rely on the chimney to safely carry toxic gases produced by the heating system out of the house.
Prolonged water exposure can also be an issue, resulting in cracks or gaps in chimneys where creosote can collect and increase the risk of fire or where noxious gases can escape into your home.
When hiring a professional chimney sweep to maintain your chimney, ask neighbors, friends, and family for referrals and check the company’s status with the Better Business Bureau. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends using a certified chimney sweep, because these professionals have passed an intensive examination based on fire codes, clearances and standards for the construction and maintenance of chimneys and venting systems. CSIA maintains a database—searchable by zip code—to help you find local qualified chimney sweeps (www.csia.org/search). CSIA is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to chimney and venting system safety and certifies industry professionals.
Remember that a chimney sweep who performs only cleaning and inspection does not need to be licensed by the Contractors State License Board. However, if an inspection reveals that your chimney needs bricks replaced or any other repair, the person who does the repair work does need to be licensed. Check the contractor’s license before you hire at www.cslb.ca.gov.