Chimney Safety Tips
There's nothing better than relaxing in front of the fireplace during the winter holidays. But before you leave the cookies and milk out on the fireplace for Santa, make sure your chimney is clean and undamaged. Dirty, neglected chimneys can cause dangerous fires. In addition, dirty or clogged chimneys can negatively impact the air quality in your home.
Check for Previous Fire Damage
Before you light the yuletide logs, evaluate if your chimney has experienced a past fire. Previous homeowners are not always forthcoming with this info (or even aware of signs of damage). Check for the following faulty fireplace symptoms reported by the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
"Puffy" or "honeycombed" creosote (a black, tar-like buildup)
Warped metal on the damper, connector pipe, or factory-built metal chimney
Cracked or broken flue tiles or tiles with large chunks missing
Discolored and/or distorted rain cap
Heat-damaged TV antennas attached to the chimney
Creosote flakes on the roof, ground, or yard
Roofing material damaged from hot creosote
Cracks in exterior masonry
Monitor Existing Fires
Sometimes, the standard crackling and popping of fire makes it hard to detect if a dangerous, "slow-burning" fire is forming. To detect the early stages of a slow-burning chimney fire, pay attention to the following:
Loud cracking and popping noises
Intense, hot smell
If the chimney fire has grown, flames may be visible from the rooftop chimney spout. This is known as a free-burning fire. The noise will sound like a roar in your fireplace.
If you suspect a chimney fire, you should ensure everyone in the home is out of harm's way and call the fire department.
Chimney & Fireplace Maintenance
If your chimney is operating in top shape, there are still a few measures you can take to keep your fireplace operating safely for the rest of the winter.
Only use your fireplace for a short-duration fire — no longer than five hours.
Keep the fireplace glass open to allow air to be drawn up to cool the chimney, but keep the screen closed to prevent sparks from jumping onto the carpeting.
Never leave a fire unattended, especially when children are in the house.
Open a window when using the fireplace to prevent the room from becoming smoky
Keep a non-flammable rug in front of the fireplace so that sparks won't damage your floor.
Never use your hands to handle burning logs. Use fireplace tools instead.
Use a chimney cap to prevent water damage and to prevent animals from nesting, which can cause debris to block the chimney and cause carbon monoxide to flow into the house.
Never use a vacuum to clean up ashes, as live coals could remain in the ashes.
Have a certified professional inspect and clean the chimney once a year.
Make sure your home is equipped with working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.