Friday, January 31, 2014

Chimney Safety FAQs

How often should chimneys be serviced?

According to the National Fire Protection Association, “Chimneys, fireplaces and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.”
This standard takes into account fireplaces or flues that are not used, which can attract animal intrusion as well as accumulating water damage and deterioration. Yearly inspections are the best way of diagnosing a problem with the system. The CSIA recommends that open masonry fire places should be swept when there's 1/4 inch sooty buildup. Factory built fire places should be swept when any appreciable build upoccurs.
Any presence of glazed creosote requires immediate evaluation and servicing in order to prevent chimney fires, which are capable of damaging the chimney, spreading to the home. 

Should I call a chimney sweep or can I just use one of those logs?

There isn’t a product in the market that can compare to an actual mechanical sweeping, and no cleaning log is able to conduct a thorough inspection for deterioration or defects within the dark confines of a chimney flue. Even if these products perform as claimed and loosen deposits, that debris must be removed from smoke shelves, offsets, baffles, or catalytic combustors in order to ensure not only the efficiency of your system, but also its safety. The CSIA believes that the optimum method for cleaning a chimney is by a mechanical brushing of the chimney in conjunction with a complete evaluation of the system by a qualified chimney professional.

How do I choose firewood?

Here’s the key: the dryer the better.
Fresh cut wood can be up to 45% water. The logs are heavier and no cracks are apparent. This means that a fire will first dry the log, which only produces gallons of acidic water that slows the combustion process and aids the formation of creosote.
Seasoned wood will be light and cracks will be present. They burn hotter and cleaner, producing more heat.
Stay away from evergreen wood. Harder woods make better and cleaner fires. These include maple, oak, and hickory, just to name a few.
According to the CSIA, wood you buy in the spring will be ready to burn so long as you store it properly so sun and wind can remove water from the wood.

How do I use my fireplace safely?

Use common sense above all. 
The damper must be fully open before starting the fire and left open until the fire is completely out. Do not overload a fireplace. The last thing you want is for a flaming log to roll out into flammable areas of the floor.
If your fireplace has glass doors, burn your fireplace with the doors open but make sure you close spark screen. Most fireplace glass doors have a spark screen built in. Close the glass doors to avoid heat loss from your home only when your fire is dying down.
Do not burn Christmas trees, cardboard or a lot of paper. These fires will get very hot quickly and may break the glass and warp door frames.
Stay on top of the maintenance with annual inspections.
Consult with a competent chimney service about protecting the structure of your fireplace with chimney caps, masonry repairs, and even water repellent treatments if needed.

What exactly does a chimney inspection consist of?

Chimney service technicians are versed in three types of inspection: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3.

Level 1: Generally, this is the level of inspection performed in most homes when the chimney and venting systems are accessible without the need for specialty tools, and when a homeowner plans to maintain its current use.
Certified chimney technicians verify that the overall structure is sound, flues are clear of obstructions and creosote in particular.

Level 2: Inspections are required when:
Installing new heating appliance
A change is made on the type of fuel used to heat the home
Sale or transfer of a property
After an operating malfunction or external event likely damaged the chimney.
Apart from assessing the condition of accessible areas of the system in attics and basements, smoke or pressure tests may be conducted as well as video inspections.

Level 3: Inspections are conducted when a Level 1 or Level 2 inspection suggests hidden hazards and the evaluation of concealed areas of a venting system (chimney) cannot be performed.
Level 3 inspections are generally necessary when investigating causes of damage to a chimney or building or where a hazard is suspected.

The new Chimney Safety Institute of America standards have allowed technicians to better communicate to their customers the responsibilities of owning and using a fireplace, a wood stove, and home heating systems. Certified chimney sweeps adhere to these standards in order not only to raise the level of their service to their customers, but also to protect your home, and your families.

contribution by Javier Robayo 

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