– Lots of people believe their fireplace and chimney are permanent parts of their home that require little or no annual maintenance. While this area of the home is basically as maintenance-free as you can get, fireplaces and chimneys do require attention as they are part of the heating system which must effectively vent toxic fumes from your fireplace, furnace and/or water heater.
Regular maintenance efforts can help your chimney operate safely for a long time. Many people are inadequately informed about the importance of basic chimney maintenance and this lack of understanding causes a substantial number of deaths and injuries each year along with property damage. And, beyond the basic safety issue, neglect of your chimney could lead to very expensive repairs that would not be necessary if the chimney were properly maintained.
The most serious problems that result from inadequately maintained chimneys are:
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Chimney fires
- Chimney failure
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning claims approximately 4,000 lives per year in the United States and a large number of these deaths are the result of poorly maintained chimneys. Also, about 10,000 people are made ill by lower levels of exposure to carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is a natural result of combustion. The less complete the burning (combustion), the more carbon monoxide is that is generated. Gas water heaters, wood stoves, gas and oil furnaces and fireplaces all generate various levels of carbon monoxide.
One of the reasons carbon monoxide is so deadly is that you generally cannot see or smell it. Small levels of poisoning tend to have flu-like symptoms so people think they are just catching a cold. Advanced poisoning can cause vomiting and headaches and even death. Carbon monoxide is deadly because it makes the body think it is oxygen. The body actually likes carbon monoxide preferring it over oxygen when both are present.
Another major threat posed by poor annual maintenance is a chimney fire. As smoke from a fire rises up, it comes into contact with the relatively cooler flue and some of the smoke condenses. The resulting condensed smoke is called creosote. Creosote is a gummy material that builds up on the flue and, once a sufficient amount of creosote builds up, it can catch fire. This can be a very high heat which can spread quickly. Annual cleaning of the flue is important.
A third major danger from poorly maintained chimneys is failure of the basic structure itself. Chimney fires can weaken and damage mortar joints and cause cracks that crumble further with continued smaller chimney fires. Carbon monoxide can escape the chimney and leak into the living quarters of the home. Illness can occur before anyone has even noticed a problem.
As bad as any potential fireplace and chimney hazards may be, they are almost entirely preventable. It is recommended that homeowners who light fires in their fireplaces three or more times a week during the winter have their chimneys inspected and cleaned once a year. And, if green/wet wood is burned in the fireplace, then twice-a-year cleaning and inspection may be necessary as this condition of wood tends to burn at a lower temperature than drier wood and produces more smoke.
FSBOwe buy houses, Take Care Of Your Chimney