Cooler fall weather and a relaxing evening in front of a toasty fire often go hand-in-hand. But before you light that first fire of the season, have your fireplace and chimney inspected for safety. Both wood-burning and gas-burning fireplaces need periodic maintenance to make sure a friendly fire doesn't turn into a hostile blaze.
More than 39,000 residential fires in the U.S. originated from chimneys, fireplaces, and solid fuel appliances (including wood burning stoves and coal furnaces) as of October 2006, according to the United States Fire Administration. These fires resulted in hundreds of personal injuries and deaths, along with millions of dollars in property damage. Most, if not all, of these fires could have been prevented with proper safety measures.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys, fireplaces, and vents be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Before each heating season, have your chimney inspected by a professional and cleaned if necessary.
Also check the chimney if you heat with gas or use a gas-burning fireplace. Most homeowners are aware of the need for chimney cleaning and inspection if they own a wood burning stove or regularly use their fireplace. What they may not realize is that a gas-burning appliance, whether it is a furnace, boiler, or fireplace, relies on the chimney for proper venting of the exhaust. Appliances fueled by natural gas or propane may not produce the visible soot that appliances burning other fuels do, but they can deposit corrosive substances in your chimney. In many cases, these acids may wreak havoc on your chimney without producing any external symptoms until the problem has become dangerous or expensive to repair. Even if you don't use the chimney very often, animals may build nests in the flue, or there may be other types of deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use.
Fireplaces, like anything else, wear over a period of years and need to be maintained to extend their life. Keep your fireplace in good condition by repairing cracks in the flue lining, bricks, and mortar. And keep the fire in the fireplace by following these tips:
Taking care to follow these steps may ultimately save you from having to deal with an immediate crisis or serious damage later on.
A smoke detector is the best early fire detection device available to the average homeowner. And a carbon monoxide detector can alert you to a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide, a completely odorless gas. Since both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can save lives, it's important to make sure both are in good working order and that batteries are fresh.
First, make sure the detectors you choose have been tested by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Next, test detectors monthly by pushing test buttons. Battery-operated detectors should have the battery replaced each year or when the low battery warning sounds. This is a good reminder to vacuum the dust from alarm air vents, too.