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Creosote and Carbon Monoxide the Silent Killers: Chimney Safety Tips that Could Save Your Life!

December 21, 2018


As we head into another bitterly cold New England winter, I’ll bet that one of your main concerns is keeping your home and family warm!   As the snow piles up and the temperature drops, no doubt there are a lot of maintenance items on your mind, from tuning up your heating system to installing storm windows, in all this bustle don’t forget one of the most important parts of your heating system- your chimney.  Although chimneys and their maintenance are often overlooked this is not wise, as chimney fires account for over 25,000 fires a year, yet are 100% preventable!                                    

Why is Chimney maintenance so important?

I grew up living in one of those picturesque old New England farm houses, full of charm, but also drafty and heated only by a wood stove and a few fireplaces.  It was always cozy in the house when the wood stove was running, but the chimney was very old and not well maintained. I remember at the age of eight being awaken in the middle of the night and ushered out into the snow by my parents.  Our chimney was on fire, the sparks flying from its opening on the roof. It is a frightening memory that is still very vivid. Luckily, the fire department was able to stop the blaze with minimal damage, but we still lost many items in the attic and there was significant water damage to many precious things.  I will never forget that night and it all could have been prevented if the chimney had been properly maintained. A chimney that isn’t well maintained creates many issues and can even lead to death! (Thousands of people die yearly in house fires that start in their chimney). The dangers of not taking care of your chimney are:

Chimney Safety
Chimney Safety

Safety Issues

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning

What is Carbon Monoxide poisoning? 

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when there is too much carbon monoxide in the air which can be caused by fuel that isn’t fully burned (which causes creosote in your chimney), open fires, and smoke inhalation.  When there is too much carbon monoxide in the air your body replaces the oxygen in your blood with carbon monoxide. This can cause headaches, dizziness, fainting, damage to tissue and even death!

-What is creosote?

Creosote is a black or brown deposit that clings to the inside of your chimney or stove pipes. It can appear crusty or flaky, drippy and sticky like tar, or shiny and hardened to the surface. The problem is that creosote is highly combustible and creates a serious fire risk.  Cleaning your chimney can prevent the build of creosote and save you from having a chimney fire!

  • Chimney fires that spread to the rest of the house
  • Dangerous air quality in your home- dangerous for you, your children, and your pets!

Expensive repairs

  • Cracks to masonry can be costly and can let the inside elements like rain, snow and ice into your home
  • Cracks in the flue can allow flames and embers to reach your home outside of the chimney, including your roof
  • Chimney fires can cause minor to major damage to your home and belongings
  • Water damage can lead to expensive repairs to your home’s structure
  • Animal nests in your chimney can lead to fire and partial or complete loss of your property!

What should you do to maintain your chimney?

  1. Get your chimney inspected once a year by a professional
  2. Have your chimney cleaned professionally once a year
  3. Burn only dry wood, newspaper, and other dry kindling
  4. Don’t burn regular trash, wrapping paper, or cardboard boxes

What can you do daily to protect your home?

This may all seem scary.  Maybe you are thinking, “Ok, I just won’t use my fireplace this year and that will solve the problem”.  Don’t be so hasty! There is nothing more cozy than sitting by a crackling fireplace on a cold night and no better place to warm your hands than on cast iron wooden stove.  You don’t need to give this up, you just need to follow some simple tips to keep your home and chimney safe for the whole family!

Tips for chimney safety:

  • If your fireplace doesn’t have a glass door, use a wire mesh screen.
  • Keep the area in front of your fireplace clean, you do not want decorations or debris that could ignite there
  • Do not build too much wood or paper
  • Use seasoned wood, unseasoned or “green” wood will cause creosote build up
  • Keep the area outside near the chimney clear of tree branches
  • Put a cap on the top of your chimney, this can keep out animals and the elements.

Follow these simple tips and enjoy your fireplace without fear this winter!

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