Cincinnati weather can be unpredictable and winter seems to be the most unpredictable season. The best place to be when it’s too cold to go outside is in front of your fireplace. However, just like cars and appliances, your fireplace and chimney need regular inspections and maintenance. An improperly maintained fireplaces poses serious risks to you and your family.
BobVila.com notes that there are more than 25,000 chimney fires in America each year. The main cause of chimney fires is a buildup of creosote, a highly flammable byproduct of wood fires, which coats the inside of fireplaces and chimneys.
How Often Should You Clean Your Chimney?
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends that you inspect and clean your chimney and fireplace at least once a year. Check that your chimney is structurally sound and that there isn’t any creosote build-up. Take this action even if you don’t use your fireplace often since birds can build nests in your chimney, creating a different fire hazard. CSIA says that if you find more than one-eighth inch buildup of soot, a cleaning is necessary to prevent fires. If you discover your chimney is damaged in any way, you’ll need to contact a chimney repair shop. If you use a damaged chimney, you’re also at risk for a chimney fire.
How to Find a Trustworthy Cleaner
First, it’s possible to clean your chimney on your own, but make sure you know what you’re doing and that you have the proper materials on hand if you decide to take this route.
Sometimes, it seems like everywhere you look a scam artist is trying to swindle you out of your money. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people pretending to be chimney sweeps who will take your money while not doing the work necessary to keep your household safe. CSIA offers safety certification for chimney sweeps across the country. When a chimney sweep company is certified by CSIA, the company gets a seal that allows them to post the certification on their website.
There are other ways to find out if the chimney sweep is legitimate beyond the CSIA certification.
When you’re meeting with different chimney sweep companies, some may offer a list of references. Call the contacts on the reference sheets and check to make sure they truly are certified. You can also make sure they did the job they were hired for in a timely manner.
Talk With Your Neighbors
People in your neighborhood can offer helpful information on the services and work they’ve had done on their homes. Talk with them to find out if they’ve had a positive or negative experience with a company. This could especially come in handy if you’re torn between two different companies to hire for the job.
Safety Risks of Fireplaces and Chimneys
Neglecting to clean your chimney and fireplace risks your health and safety. If your chimney is dirty and you continue to use your fireplace, you can unknowingly start a chimney fire. Chimney fires can lead to injury and even death.
While a chimney fire is very dangerous, there are other things that can negatively affect your health and safety if you don’t clean and inspect your chimney. Fires produce carbon monoxide, a dangerous gas that has serious health hazards. Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. According to the Mayo Clinic, this means carbon monoxide builds up in your bloodstream, replacing the oxygen in your red blood cells over time. Eventually, the lack of oxygen to your cells can lead to tissue damage and death. A damaged chimney can cause carbon monoxide to filter back into your home, instead of exiting.
How a Chimney Fire Affects Homeowners Insurance
Home insurance policies are designed to cover unusual damage to your home and property. A chimney fire is usually covered by your insurance, but normal wear and tear isn’t likely to be covered in the policy.
If your insurance company finds out the fire was caused by neglect, they’ll be more likely to deny the claim. A way to prove to your insurance company that the chimney fire wasn’t due to neglect is to provide documentation of yearly inspections and cleanings. Accurate documentation will help you get your insurance payment.
As you can see, regular inspections and staying on top of necessary maintenance can prevent the devastating effects of a chimney fire. Next time you’re cozying up to a crackling fire, think about the last time your fireplace and chimney were cleaned. If you can’t remember when it was, schedule an inspection as soon as possible.