Preventive Maintenance: Chimneys

Since your chimney is one of the major barriers to fire danger in your home  (and consequently one of the primary sources of fire outbreaks), when a problem  occurs chimney repair is of utmost importance. Here’s a short list of quick  checks you can perform on your own or hire a professional to undertake in order  to evaluate when chimney repairs are in order.

Easy-to-Identify Reasons for Chimney Repairs Reducing the severity  and frequency of chimney repair is about three things: inspection, inspection,  inspection. The easiest place to begin an evaluation of whether your chimney  needs any attention is from your living room. These simple inspections can be  made by just about any homeowner, and could lead to spotting a necessary chimney  repair before it becomes a much larger problem.

Check the Firebox.  Cracks and loose joints in the masonry are an  issue, but one that is easy to repair. Chimney experts can generally fix small  cracks by applying refractory cement to seal up the offending areas.

Examine the DamperIt should open and close easily, and you don’t  want to see any evidence of extensive rust, cracks or pitting. If you do, it’s  time to have your damper replaced.

Look Up The FlueUse a high powered flashlight and inspect the flue  liner for cracks or other defects. All the joints should be smooth and tight to  prevent fire or heat from reaching the materials behind it.

Identifying Areas in Need of Chimney Repair from the Outside Just  about every homeowner can examine components that are visible from indoors, but  it is often necessary to climb up to the roof to spot areas in need of repair.  Chimney service companies are often better able to identify and handle problems  in these harder to reach areas; if you have a steep roof, or aren’t comfortable  with heights, contact a certified chimney sweep or repairman to look things over  for you.

Remove Any Blockages.  The tops of chimneys are favorite places for  birds and squirrels to build nests, especially in the spring and summer months  when the fireplace isn’t used. If you’ve got unwanted guests, be sure to remove  all the debris to eliminate the consequent fire danger.

Check the Flashing and Brick and Mortar Joints.  Just as with the  inside of your fireplace, the exterior of your chimney needs to be tight and  without defect. Reseal your flashing if it needs it, and be sure to reseal all  cracks, loose bricks, and mortar joints with a cement compound to prevent  further deterioration.

Is There Evidence of Water DamageIf so, apply a waterproof sealant  to your chimney to prevent further damage and more expensive repair. Chimneys  might look sturdy and tough, but water has been known to cause damage to  hardware, and even to mortar that was improperly mixed or set.

Inspect the Interior.  Use a high-powered flashlight to inspect the  interior of your chimney from above. Again, check the flue liner for defects,  and also keep an eye out for creosote or soot deposits. These deposits are a  leading cause of damaging fires if they’re not dealt with. If you’re chimney  needs a cleaning, contact a chimney sweep to remove these dangerous deposits.

Keep in mind that unsafe chimneys account for over $200 million dollars in  damage and a number of deaths each year. To lower these statistics, The Chimney  Safety Institute of America recommends that every home with a chimney have an  annual inspection to ensure optimal safety. Whether you suspect you may be in  need of a repair job or are just due for a regular checkup, contacting a  certified chimney repair specialist to inspect your chimney, identify existing  problems, and perform necessary cleaning or repairs can be very beneficial. Not  only do the pros know what they are looking for and understand how to fix it,  they can also offer good advice to prevent future problems; when a chimney  repair service finds and fixes a problem early, hiring that service is actually  saving you money (and quite possibly a lot of hassle) in the long run!

by Matt Goering for HomeAdvisor formerly ServiceMagic Newsletter

 

 

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14 tips for furnace and fireplace safety

Q: Our house was built around 1940; the fireplace is original; and we installed forced-air gas heating about 10 years ago. We haven’t had the fireplace or furnace inspected. What do you guys recommend to get the fireplace and the furnace ready for winter?

A: Regular inspection and servicing of fireplaces and furnaces adds to comfort, makes them more economical, and most important, keeps them safe. Regular inspections can prevent a deadly house fire or the introduction of a silent killer: carbon monoxide.

Here’s our checklist to keep you cozy and safe during the winter months:

Wood-burning fireplaces

1. Inspection by a certified chimney sweep is a must. For heavy use, the chimney should be inspected and cleaned annually. Go up to five years if the fireplace is used only occasionally. The sweep should inspect for proper operation of the damper and for cracks in the flue liner, as well as sweeping the flue to remove creosote and other combustion byproducts.

2. Close the damper when the fireplace isn’t in use.

3. Install a chimney cap if you don’t already have one. You don’t want creatures building their nest in your flue.

4. When starting a fire, “prime” the flue by holding lighted newspaper at the back wall of the firebox to start the warm air rising.

5. Burn aged, dry hardwood if possible. Fir or pine burns hot and deposits creosote in the chimney. Don’t burn construction debris. It may contain toxic chemicals that will vaporize in the fire and could enter the living space.

6. Do not clean out the fireplace when the ashes are still hot. And dispose of the ashes in a place where wayward embers won’t start a fire.

Fireplace with gas starter

1. If the flame goes out, wait at least five minutes before attempting to relight the fireplace. This allows time to clear the fireplace of gas.

2. Be alert for unusual odors or odd-colored flames, which are often a sign that the fireplace is not operating properly. In such cases, contact your dealer or licensed technician for servicing. Contact the gas company if you smell gas when the unit is off.

Q: Our house was built around 1940; the fireplace is original; and we installed forced-air gas heating about 10 years ago. We haven’t had the fireplace or furnace inspected. What do you guys recommend to get the fireplace and the furnace ready for winter?

A: Regular inspection and servicing of fireplaces and furnaces adds to comfort, makes them more economical, and most important, keeps them safe. Regular inspections can prevent a deadly house fire or the introduction of a silent killer: carbon monoxide.

Here’s our checklist to keep you cozy and safe during the winter months:

Wood-burning fireplaces

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1. Inspection by a certified chimney sweep is a must. For heavy use, the chimney should be inspected and cleaned annually. Go up to five years if the fireplace is used only occasionally. The sweep should inspect for proper operation of the damper and for cracks in the flue liner, as well as sweeping the flue to remove creosote and other combustion byproducts.

2. Close the damper when the fireplace isn’t in use.

3. Install a chimney cap if you don’t already have one. You don’t want creatures building their nest in your flue.

4. When starting a fire, “prime” the flue by holding lighted newspaper at the back wall of the firebox to start the warm air rising.

5. Burn aged, dry hardwood if possible. Fir or pine burns hot and deposits creosote in the chimney. Don’t burn construction debris. It may contain toxic chemicals that will vaporize in the fire and could enter the living space.

6. Do not clean out the fireplace when the ashes are still hot. And dispose of the ashes in a place where wayward embers won’t start a fire.

Fireplace with gas starter

1. If the flame goes out, wait at least five minutes before attempting to relight the fireplace. This allows time to clear the fireplace of gas.

2. Be alert for unusual odors or odd-colored flames, which are often a sign that the fireplace is not operating properly. In such cases, contact your dealer or licensed technician for servicing. Contact the gas company if you smell gas when the unit is off.

Gas furnace maintenance

1. An annual maintenance check of a gas furnace extends the life of the appliance and ferrets out any hidden problems. A qualified heating contractor should vacuum out the unit, inspect the blower motor, inspect the heat exchanger for cracks, check the electronics and perform a multipoint checklist to make sure the furnace is operating properly.

2. Clean or replace the furnace filter frequently during the heating season. This ensures that air returning from the inside of the house is unobstructed and clean when entering the combustion chamber.

3. Keep vents, space heaters and baseboards clear of furniture, rugs and drapes to allow free air movement.

4. Ensure there is free airflow around your furnace and make sure there are no storage items obstructing airflow.

5. Do not store or use combustible materials, such as chemicals, paint, rags, clothing, draperies, paper, cleaning products, gasoline, or flammable vapors and liquids in the vicinity of the furnace.

6. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and lethal gas that can occur any time there is incomplete combustion or poor venting. Any home that contains fuel-burning appliances, such as a fireplace or furnace, should have a carbon monoxide alarm installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

By Bill and Kevin Burnett, Wednesday, December 7, 2011.

Inman News™

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