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Chimney maintenance ensures you'll stay warm - and safe - this winter

A fireplace adds so much warmth and ambiance to a home. As the cold winter months approach, you’re looking forward to stoking the fire and listening to the sound of crackling wood in the glow of the flames.

Keep in mind that your hearth and chimney can also become a serious fire threat to your home if not properly used and maintained.

When was the last time you had your chimney swept or inspected by a professional?

A chimney is a household exhaust pipe. It funnels away soot, smoke, gases, hot ashes and sparks. It also serves as your furnace’s exhaust system. But if there is a build-up of creosote (charred wood), blockage in the flue, debris that has fallen into the chimney, or deterioration of any kind your chimney can become deadly.

Chimney maintenance is key to avoiding disaster

Whether you have a gas fireplace, wood-burning fireplace or a combination of the two, you should have your chimney swept once a year. If you use your fireplace on a daily basis, it should be swept twice a year.

A chimney sweep or cleaning involves using a brush and vacuum system to remove things like bird nests, soot build-ups and other combustible debris.

At the same time, your chimney should be inspected to ensure its integrity. A certified chimney inspector will examine the interior and exterior as well as the chimney connection. The inspector will look for things such as deteriorating chimney lining, cracked tiles around your chimney and exposed mortar joints and brickwork, which can lead to corrosion of your chimney, and the presence of a proper chimney cap. A chimney cap keeps moisture and debris out of the chimney, and also prevents downdrafts or backdrafts, which can cause your home to fill with smoke.

If your property has been in a high wind situation, it’s possible that your chimney has become dislodged preventing fire and smoke from having a clear exit from your home. This is a serious issue that can lead to a devastating fire and needs to be corrected as soon as possible. If you suspect this to be the case, do not use your furnace or fireplace until you can have it examined.

If you have a gas fireplace, the inspector will check and clean the burners as well as heat exchangers and all connections.

Safe use of your fireplace

Once you have confirmation that all systems are go, keep these tips in mind for safe operation:

  • Keep the area in front of your fireplace clear. Don’t leave paper and debris, or holiday decorations close to the flames.
  • Use a wire mesh screen if your fireplace doesn’t have glass doors to keep sparks from flying out.
  • Use only seasoned wood in your fireplace. Fresh wood creates a build-up of creosote. Also, don’t use your fireplace to burn things like your Christmas tree, wrapping paper, boxes or trash.
  • Check periodically to make sure your fireplace cap is in place, and hasn’t blown away in a windstorm. Without it, you could get rain, snow, birds and other critters inside. Also, the cap helps to prevent backdrafts, which can keep your fire from burning properly or cause your home to fill with smoke.
  • Don’t try to burn too much wood at once. If your fire is too big, it will become unmanageable. A larger burning fire also increases creosote build-up.
  • Burn wood on a grate placed at the back of your fireplace.

Install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Most of us know that carbon monoxide poisoning can come from poorly functioning furnaces and heating systems, but it can also come from poorly maintained chimneys. The chimney serves as your furnace exhaust system. If debris is blocking it, carbon monoxide can build up in your home.

Carbon monoxide has no odour and therefore it is not easily detected. It’s important to ensure you have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors inside and outside of all bedrooms. Replace the batteries annually and test them regularly.

Regular maintenance of your chimney and fireplace and proper use will keep your hearth and your home happy and safe.