Chimney Safety Info
General Chimney Safety
CHIMNEY FIRES do not occur in a clean, intact, properly installed/constructed chimney.
A well built or correctly installed chimney is the first step to a chimney that performs its function of removing fumes from your home and containing flammable deposits so they don't penetrate into your home. But even the most efficient stoves and the best built chimneys need annual inspection and periodic cleaning. Older, more inefficient stoves produce more flammable creosote than newer models. Other factors can contribute to chimney fire dangers as well, including poor quality wood, bad burning habits and improper wood storage. A badly designed chimney or one that's been poorly maintained is a growing danger to your home and family.
DETECTING A CHIMNEY FIRE
Chimney fires are characterized by a loud, roaring noise that grows louder as the fire grows in strength. This is due to the increasing amounts of air being pulled in to feed the fire. Clouds of dark smoke exit the chimney, often accompanied by sparks or flames. If you're home when the fire occurs, you'll likely hear it. The sight of a chimney on fire is frightening.
WHAT TO DO
If you can safely do so, close the doors on the fireplace or the draft controls on the wood stove. Warn others to leave the house at once. Call the fire department from a neighbor's house or from your cell phone. If possible, wet down the roof surrounding the chimney, but don't get water on the hot chimney as this can cause greater damage.
THE NEXT DAY
After the fire has been put out and the surrounding surfaces have cooled down, call a certified chimney sweep to inspect the chimney. A chimney fire nearly always causes damage, so be prepared that repairs will likely be needed. Report the fire to your homeowners insurance company along with a copy of the inspection report and repair estimates. Do not use the chimney until a full inspection and, if necessary, completion of the repairs. Failure to complete the repairs leaves the chimney more susceptible to subsequent chimney fires with increasingly greater chance of the fire spreading to the rest of the home.
WEATHER RELATED DAMAGES
As frightening as a chimney fire can be, the more gradual weather effects of wind, rain and snow on a chimney are actually more threatening. As mortar starts to age, it becomes more porous and is more easily penetrated by water. Freeze/thaw cycles break apart the mortar and the chimney structure becomes weakened. While a chimney is built from the ground up, it deteriorates from the top downwards. If you notice problems with your chimney such as crumbling mortar, it's time to do something about it now before the damage accelerates into a costly repair. Most chimney sweep companies offer masonry repair to fix the existing problem and many also offer water proofing systems that can help prevent further damage.
CONSTRUCTION / INSTALLATION DEFECTS
Unfortunately, all too many chimneys fail due to improper construction or improper installation. Poor construction can make a brand new chimney unsuitable for use. Prefabricated metal chimneys are too often installed with improper connection, improper clearances to combustibles - or even the wrong type of job for the appliance that it's venting. Your best protection is an annual inspection to help assure the chimney has been installed properly and is being regularly maintained.
All chimneys should have a chimney cap. Chimney caps help keep out rain and snow, protecting the chimney top and interior from the ravages of weather related deterioration.
The chimney above could have probably been saved from the original weather damage by a proper chimney cap. Notice that water related damage tends to happen from the top down.
Chimney caps also keep birds and animals from moving into your chimney. While we all love nature and wildlife, a critter that can enter the top of the chimney can often exit through the bottom, right into your house, with messy and dangerous results.
The less fortunate birds and animals don't make it out at all; babies often die in the chimney, leaving horrible odors, lice and maggots behind.
Many chimney sweep companies offer bird and animal removal; just be aware that protected species and their nest cannot be disturbed by law.
It's best to avoid the costs and headaches of animal removal by installing a chimney cap to avoid the issue altogether. Your chimney sweep can help you choose the cap that's right for your needs, and can install it for you as well.