By Jamie Wallace
Chimneys are like septic systems. No one thinks about them until there’s a problem.
They are especially ignored in second homes and rental properties. A chimney can be a dangerous thing to forget, one that can cost you the loss of property and/or life. There are some simple steps you can take to drastically reduce your chances of ever becoming a statistic.
Step 1: Have your chimney inspected every year, even if you hardly use it. Chimneys change like children grow. Water, settling, and time will continue to alter the flue system.
Having your chimney inspected annually, and swept when needed, is the requirement given by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 211, Standards Codes for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents, and Solid Fuel-Burning Appliances.
Step 2: Hire a qualified company with certified employees from the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). There is no regulation for the chimney trade in New York state. Anyone can go and buy some brushes from a hardware store and call themselves a chimney sweep.
It is very important that the company you hire is up to date with the latest safety standards and codes, uses technology for a detailed inspection, and is held to a high standard through a reputable certified chimney safety organization.
Step 3: Have your chimney scoped with a chimney camera. We often joke with our customers asking if they have ever had a chimneyoscopy. To our surprise, very little have ever had a chimney camera inspect the inside of their flue.
Only with a camera can you find certain damages or incorrect installations that increase your chances of putting your home and family at risk. Make sure you are present for the inspection so the sweep can explain the process. Pictures are not helpful if you don’t understand what you see.
Step 4: Stop the water, or pay the price. Chimneys are the most exposed piece of your house to the elements. In the northeast, water will penetrate deep into cracks and freeze, enlarging the cracks, which in turn allow more water, more freezing, more cracking.
It’s a simple cycle that should be stopped early on before those small cracks turn into large multi-thousand-dollar repairs. Water will not only destroy the outside of your chimney, but also the inside, forming blockages and causing odorless carbon monoxide poisoning to back up into your home. For water protection every masonry chimney should be waterproofed with a vapor permeable solution, proper flashing, and have an outside mounted cap installed which covers the entire top of the chimney.
Step 5: Don’t forget about the chimney used for your heating system.
There are many boilers and furnaces that still use the chimney to vent poisonous gases from your home. It’s easy to forget about them. The HVAC company will not service or inspect the chimney properly.
Chimneys serving oil appliances will have a very corrosive chemical compound called sulphur dioxide which will damage and weaken flue tiles and metal. A chimney serving a natural gas or LP furnace will have one gallon of water pumped through it per hour during the heating season.
Water is the enemy and will speed up deterioration. Checking these chimneys on an annual basis will increase your chance of catching anything before it becomes a problem. The best remedy for this would be to ensure the chimney is structurally sound and then install a lifetime stainless steel liner which is resistant to corrosion and water damage.
Step 6: Be careful what you burn. The sage advice of burning dry, seasoned wood is paramount. This will keep your creosote levels down while giving you a much more enjoyable fire. Remember that certain woods, especially oak, take a few years to fully season after split. Always avoid paper or cardboard with gloss or glue in it and do not burn wood with paint or varnish on it.
These products have chemicals that can accelerate corrosion in your chimney liner. Many of our chimney fire calls are from customers right around Christmas.
They had just finished opening their presents and figured it would be fun to burn the wrapping paper in the fireplace. Unfortunately, this can lead to many sparks and even ignited paper getting sucked up the flue, potentially causing a chimney fire.
While no one can guarantee a safe chimney, by following these simple steps you can drastically reduce chimney fires and other problems.
By Jamie Wallace