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Clean Chimneys Don’t Catch Fire

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November 14, 2014
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December 30, 2014
home maintenance

chimney fire

The nights are beginning to cool off here in the desert, and many homeowners are thinking about using their fireplaces and wood burning stoves soon.  Before the first fire of the season, however, it’s important to make sure your chimney is clean and in good condition.  According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), there were over 24,000 chimney fires in the US in 2010, resulting in 10 deaths and over $30 million in property damage.  The good news is that virtually all chimney fires can be prevented.

Inspections

It’s a important to have your fireplace and chimney inspected annually.  Research and find a reputable chimney sweep who is CSIA certified.  This is not just suggested for wood-burning fireplaces, but for any heat source that requires proper ventilation of toxic gases, including gas, coal, wood, or oil-burning appliances.

Having your chimney cleaned not only helps prevent fires from creosote buildup, but also prevents potentially fatal carbon monoxide from backing up into your home.

This is a good time to check the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector; and if you don’t have a detector, consider installing one in your home for your safety.  This device can monitor and alert you to the presence of carbon monoxide in your home, which could be due to improper ventilation of your heating unit (fireplace, wood-burning stove, etc.).

Creosote

Creosote is the residue that accumulates on the interior of your chimney as a byproduct of burning wood.  It can be brown or black in color, and it can be found in multiple states, including sticky, flaky, tar-like, drippy, sticky, shiny, or hard.  The ignition temperature of creosote is 451° F, which is the same as paper.  Just 1/8″ to 1/4″ of creosote buildup can ignite, and the resulting fire can burn as hot as 2,000° F!

Chimney Fire

Homeowners who have experienced a chimney fire report some distinct clues that indicated something was drastically wrong.  Some reported hearing a loud, rumbling sound similar to a freight train, loud cracking and popping noises, lots of dense smoke, and a unique, hot smell.  Flames may shoot out of the chimney as well.

Slow-burning chimney fires, however, may not be drastic and noticeable.  Fires such as these may be getting limited air or fuel, so they slowly damage the chimney and more, often without any dramatic clues like a combustion fire.

Damages

Depending on the individual fire, various types of damage will occur.  A masonry chimney may experienced cracked mortar,  damages to the inner liner of the chimney, and cracked tiles; this can lead to the fire accessing wood and other combustible areas of your home.

Metal chimneys will no longer have structural integrity and need to be completely replaced after a fire.

The pipes leading away from wood burning stoves can warp, buckle, and even separate after exposure to a chimney fire.  These will need to be replaced after a fire as well.

Remnants

According to the CSIA, there are signs to look for if you suspect your home experienced a chimney fire:

  • “Puffy” or “honey combed” creosote
  • Warped metal of the damper, metal smoke chamber connector pipe or factory-built metal chimney
  • Cracked or collapsed flue tiles, or tiles with large chunks missing
  • Discolored and/or distorted rain cap
  • Heat-damaged TV antenna attached to the chimney
  • Creosote flakes and pieces found on the roof or ground
  • Roofing material damaged from hot creosote
  • Cracks in exterior masonry
  • Evidence of smoke escaping through mortar joints of masonry or tile liners

So before you cuddle up by a cozy fire this holiday season, be sure to make sure your family and home will be safe by hiring a professional to inspect and clean your fireplace and chimney.  Also check your carbon monoxide detector’s functionality or install one in your home.

In the Phoenix metro area, be sure to check for days that are designated as “no burn days” to avoid contributing to poor air conditions and receiving a fine from authorities: http://www.maricopa.gov/aq/Default.aspx.

As always, if an unfortunate event does occur in your home or office, Summit Restoration and Construction is available 24/7 to assist you.  Just call 602-595-5977 and we’ll help you get your property back to normal as soon as possible.

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