Fire up those Fireplaces!

Building a fire in your wood burning fireplace is one of the advantages of living here in Iowa. The temperatures go down and we light up the fireplace. However, before we start lighting that fireplace for the first time this year, there is maintenance to be done now.

If annual maintenance is not done, you may be just blowing dollars and heated air right up your chimney, or spewing dangerous smoke inside or even causing a chimney fire.

Between 2003 and 2005, there were 25,100 US house fires caused by a fireplace, chimney, and chimney connectors for a cost of $126.1 million in damage according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Roughly, that’s $5,024 per house in damage. Many could have been avoided with annual Fireplace and chimney maintenance.

On the average, a two-hour service call for chimney cleaning and service is approximately $205. But, it is messy.

What do they look for during this inspection?

Creosote is a natural byproduct of burning wood. The more wood burnt, the wetter or greener the wood is, or the more air flow that is restricted the more creosote is produced.

So, what are the danger signs you are close to or experiencing a chimney fire?

Loud popping

Dense smoke

Flames shooting from your chimney

Fire will spread quickly from your chimney to the rest of your house.

The best way to prevent chimney fires? Get it inspected.

There are several levels of inspections you can choose from:

Level one. This includes a fireplace and chimney check without any special equipment or going up on the roof. The inspector uses a flashlight looking for any damage, obstructions, creosote build-up and soot. They will let you know at that time if you need to go to the next step of sweeping. Many times, they will have the brushes handy and will do so right on the spot.

According to the CSIA, level one costs approximately $125, the additional sweep add $80 – approximately $205 for both services.

Level two. This includes level one with the addition of inspecting the attic, roof and crawl space searching for any damage or anything needing repair. The cost of this varies widely, so you’ll have to inquire before getting it done.

Level three. This consists of tearing down and usually after a chimney fire. This cost is a lot hire than if you’d have maintained it in the first place.

It doesn’t take much to burn a fire safely and cleanly. You can:

Burn only dry, cured wood – logs which have been split, stacked and dried for eight to twelve months. Make sure your log pile is covered at the top, leaving the sides to allow air flow. Hard woods burn longest.

Burn wood and only wood! Any lumber from construction like scraps, painted wood or other treated wood will not only be a health hazard by releasing chemicals into the air, but could burn out of control.

Close the damper when the fireplace is not being used. This prevents any warm indoor air escaping to the wild blue yonder.

On a factory-built, prefab wood-burning fireplace, keep bifold glass doors open when burning a fire to allow heat to get into the room.

Have a chimney cap installed to prevent objects, rain, and snow from falling into your chimney and to reduce downdrafts. The caps have side vents so smoke escapes. A chimney sweep usually provides and can install a stainless steel cap, which is better than a galvanized metal one available at most home improvement retailers because it won’t rust, says Anthony Drago, manager of Ashleigh’s Hearth and Home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Replace a poorly sealing damper to prevent heat loss. “You can get a top-mounted damper that functions as a rain cap, too, an improvement over the traditional damper because it provides a tighter closure,” says CSIA’s Eldridge.

Install carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors in your house—near the fireplace as well as in bedroom areas.

If you burn more than three cords of wood annually, get your chimney cleaned twice a year. A cord is 4-feet high, by 4-feet wide, by 8-feet long, or the amount that would fill two full-size pick-up trucks.

Remember, maintenance now and you’ll enjoy your fireplace all winter long.