Category Archives: Fireplace and Chimney Safety

Those who have a fireplace or woodstove know that fire is a beautiful but potentially dangerous thing. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a very dangerous threat, and there were 27,000 chimney fires in 2008. Top chimney and home fire safety tips include:
• Always have working smoke detectors installed
• Always have a working carbon monoxide detector installed
• Do not use an unlined chimney
• Get your chimney cleaned and inspected regularly
• Always keep a working fire extinguisher nearby in a known location
• Make sure there is proper clearance between your fire appliance and flammables
• Never leave a fire burning unattended

Read the articles below for more information pertaining to chimney and fireplace safety.

National Fire Prevention Week – Washington, DC

This October 5th-11th marks the 93rd year the National Fire Prevention Association holds their Fire Prevention Campaign. The campaign was first launched in 1922 after President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire (October 8th, 1871).

This year the theme is “Working smoke alarms save lives, test yours every month!” As part of the theme the NFPA has released some tips for installing, checking, and maintaining smoke alarms. Continue reading

Is Chimney Repair Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

Is Chimney Repair Covered by Homeowner’s Insurance?

Short Answer: It Depends. Here are some answers to questions we regularly encounter, and hopefully, a lot of insight into the whole subject of “insurance coverage and chimney repair.” Continue reading

Your Source for Fireplace and Chimney Information

The following library of information is broken up in a way that will educate you on your chimney so you know how your chimney should be properly cleaned, maintained, and/or repaired. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, leave us a note in the comments and we will try to find you an answer!

The Basics

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Gas vs Wood Fireplaces: Price, Aesthetics, and Maintenance

Gas vs Wood Fireplaces: Price, Aesthetics, and Maintenance

Are you looking to install a fireplace in your home?  Better late than never! But the question isn’t if you should invest in one, it’s what kind is right for you?  Well, many fireplaces are powered by one of two types of energy: gas or wood.  These heating units vary slightly in features and benefits, so let’s get the inside scoop and figure out which is best for you. Continue reading

Tools of the Trade: Chimney Cleaning Equipment

Everyone loves a good fire burning in the fireplace. Every once in a while, though (generally between burn seasons), your chimney needs to be cleaned to remove buildup and keep you safe for many fires to come. A qualified chimney sweep should be able to tell you during your annual chimney inspection if a cleaning is necessary (which should be done when soot buildup reaches 1/8” in thickness), and the procedure can be completed by the sweep or by yourself with the help of a few essential chimney cleaning tools. Here’s what you (or your sweep) will need… Continue reading

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

carbon monoxide symptoms

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Source: gassaferegister.co.uk/learn/carbon_monoxide_kills.aspx

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, immediately move the affected person away from the suspected source of carbon monoxide into a ventilated source of fresh air and call 911.

A Preventable Tragedy

When most people think of fireplaces, they instinctively think of feelings of warmth, coziness, or the calming and romantic ambiance that accompanies a fire’s glow and crackle. Nobody thinks of carbon monoxide poisoning.

But blocked chimneys or flues are actually responsible for many of the ailments and fatalities linked to carbon monoxide exposure.

We cannot see or smell carbon monoxide, but high levels of exposure can kill us in a matter of minutes. Carbon monoxide poisoning claims roughly 500 deaths each year in the U.S. alone. Many more people are sickened every year by low-level exposure. Although they don’t feel well, they commonly write off their symptoms as the flu or the start of a cold.

How Carbon Monoxide Kills

how CO poisoning works

©2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Carbon monoxide tricks the body into thinking it is oxygen. All the while actually prohibiting it from carrying oxygen to vital organs like the brain, heart and lungs.

This is because the protein hemoglobin, used by red blood cells to move oxygen through the body, actually prefers CO to oxygen. Whenever carbon monoxide is inhaled, the CO rapidly bonds with the hemoglobin in our red blood cells. This squeezes oxygen out of available space and prevents it from being transported throughout the body. This lack of oxygen quite literally sucks the life out of its victims.

Damage depends on the severity of the leak and level of overall exposure. Victims of higher-level exposure may suddenly collapse or fall into a deep sleep that they never awake from. Victims of low-level exposure may complain for days or weeks of ailments like a headache and some fatigue before the sudden onset of more serious symptoms like shortness of breath, disorientation, vomiting and loss of consciousness.

Particularly vulnerable are the elderly and children.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Is Preventable

Most carbon monoxide deaths are completely preventable, usually the result of homeowner oversight or negligence. Sadly, many people fail to take the necessary precautions to ensure their chimney is properly working prior to using their fireplace.

A number of seemingly harmless things can prevent proper chimney or flue ventilation. Here are a few common suspects:

  • Autumn leaves
  • Bird nests
  • Spider webs
  • Construction debris from home renovations or repairs
  • Accumulated debris from previous fireplace use

To prevent the above, regular chimney maintenance efforts like the following are suggested:

  • Use a wire screen to prevent debris like leaves and bird nests, or even animals like raccoons, from getting into the chimney
  • Make sure the mortar between each brick is in good condition and isn’t cracking or flaking
  • Get into the routine of having your chimney periodically inspected and swept at least once a year
  • Regularly clean out ashes, soot and other debris from the fireplace

This relatively minor chimney maintenance, coupled with at least one carbon monoxide detector for every bedroom in your home, can go a long way to ensure the safety and health of you and your loved ones.

3 Strange and Unfortunate Chimney Accidents

It’s not news that roofs and chimneys can become hazardous places. What is news are the strange things that actually happen around chimneys. In the past few years, the world has seen some bizarre chimney accidents, from falls to car damage.

2011, Lorraine, France

In early November of 2011, an enthusiastic astronomer named Yoan climbed the roof of the unused factory, Crevéchamps in Meurthe et Moselle, and onto the chimney to see an asteroid pass by Earth. Bearing the additional weight of both his backpack and computer, a few rungs of Yoan’s ladder collapsed, trapping him on the chimney.

In his struggle high in the sky, Yoan made the top of the chimney crumble, the noise of the falling bricks luckily awakening a nearby neighbor. Though firemen arrived to assist in good time, Yoan stayed perched on the chimney into the wee hours of the morning, not wanting to come down until 6:30AM that day!

2012, Chicago, Illinois

Hotel Intercontinental, Credit: thecount.com

In mid-December just last year, a young Minnesota native found his way up to the roof of the Hotel Intercontinental in Chicago to take scenic photos of the city at night. Nicholas Wiem, standing atop the 40+ story building, unfortunately lost his footing during the endeavor and fell into the hotel’s chimney. At first he simply suffered a few burns, seeming, for the most part, to be alright as Wiem texted and called his girlfriend during the ordeal. Given the fall, burns, and toxins that resided within the chimney, however, Weim passed away prior to being rescued from the shaft, an endeavor which took 4 hours, police and fire crews and a Michigan Avenue road closure to complete.

2013, UK

Perhaps the oddest chimney incident in recent history happened only a few weeks ago at the end of January and combined the forces of a chimney, strong wind and a parked car. As crazy as it may seem, chimney debris actually blew off of a house in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent, England. Though no one was hurt and the whole chimney itself certainly did not break off and plummet onto the Fiat parked below, a great deal of bricks did, damaging 23-year old Julius Benjamin’s car enough to require his landlord to pay for the damage.

Accidents can happen no matter what you do. However, a good lesson we can take away from these examples is to exercise caution around both roofs and chimneys. Roofs in public spaces are certainly not playgrounds and are generally off-limits to visitors—so respect that. One could hardly give advice on rogue chimney bricks hitting cars, as it is relatively unheard of, however if a structure looks unsound it’s best to stay clear of it (both you and your car). And if you absolutely must access the exterior of a chimney, leave the work to the pros.

Chimney Health Hazards: Things You Should Know

Our chimneys, in conjunction with the fireplaces they support, help to provide us with much warmth during the colder months.  They can, however, have various adverse effects on our health.  Of course, one shouldn’t live in fear of this, though it is wise to have a working knowledge of chimney and fireplace health hazards.  Let’s look at some ways in which your chimney may be more foe than friend.

creosoteCreosote Exposure

Creosote is an oily black substance that can potentially build up inside your chimney flue because of incomplete wood combustion.  Not only does this stuff sound nasty, but it can also produce some undesirable health effects, such as:

  • Skin Irritation. Physical contact with creosote buildup can cause rashes and other major skin issues.
  • Eye Irritation. Creosote debris that gets on/in the eyes will irritate them, sometimes to the point of feeling burning sensations or actual chemical burns.  Sensitivity to light is also possible.
  • Respiratory Problems. Breathing in creosote particles for a length of time often catches up with the person exposed, as lung and other respiratory issues may develop.
  • Abdominal Issues. Creosote carries with it the potential to irritate both one’s kidneys and liver.
  • Mental Problems. Serious exposure to creosote will cause seizures and confusion in some people.
  • Cancer. Though this greatest health effect has not occurred often from chimney use, creosote exposure does have the potential to cause skin cancer.

"Soot" covered youngster

No children were harmed in this photo. (Source: www.amberdusick.com)

Chimney Soot Inhalation

Chimney soot is another contaminant resulting from incomplete combustion, and it forms when wood does not burn hot enough (less than 284 degrees).  This powdery brown or black dust sticks to the inside of chimneys (sometimes escaping into the air) and carries a few risks similar to creosote, such as:

  • Lung Hazard. Like creosote, if chimney soot is inhaled in great enough amounts, it has the potential to either irritate the lungs or cause lung diseases.
  • Respiratory Risks. In conjunction with lung problems, general respiratory infections may crop up due to soot inhalation.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a hazardous gas that is odorless, colorless and tasteless, making it notoriously hard to detect.  The gas is a result of incomplete combustion due to insufficient oxygen to finish oxidation.  In this case, it doesn’t make it to the carbon dioxide form.  When Carbon monoxide makes it into the air, several health problems may emerge:

  • Flu-like Symptoms. Carbon monoxide taken into the body in small amounts may mirror flu characteristics, including fatigue, nausea, confusion or headache.
  • Organ Troubles. The more carbon monoxide you inhale, the worse the impacts on your health.  Breathing in large quantities (At once or over time) of this gas may result in brain damage or heart problems, and at its worst even death.

chimney swift nestChimney Swifts and Histoplasmosis

Chimney swifts are small, brownish black birds with an affinity for taking up residence inside residential chimneys.  The birds themselves are little more than annoying, though what they leave behind may cause problems.  Their droppings may cause histoplasmosis, a respiratory infection caused by histplasma capsulatum, a fungus.  Symptoms generally look like a mild illness or flu, and include:

  • Chronic Cough. Coughing a lot?  It might be a sign of a larger problem from your chimney.
  • Chest Pain. Chest pain is never something to ignore, and if you knowingly have chimney swifts, it may be worth it to mention to the doctor.
  • Fever, Chills or Sweats. Though usually associated with the flu, these symptoms may be the result of extreme buildup of histplasma capsulatum in your chimney.
  • Lack of Appetite and Weight Loss. While you may simply be under the weather when this happens, if this or any of the above symptoms have joined forces, those chimney swifts may be to blame.

None of these things are particularly enjoyable to cope with.  So, the underlying message is simple: take precautions and clean your chimney.  Chimney sweeps can determine if any internal structures of your chimney are damaged, contributing to buildup problems.  Additionally, chimney sweeps will remove creosote, soot and chimney swift deposits, resulting in decreased health risks.  You may also consider having your home checked for carbon monoxide and also install a carbon monoxide detector.  With a better knowledge of chimney risks, you can now enjoy wintertime fires more responsibly!

The Three Levels of Chimney Inspections

Chimney Inspection

source: CSIA

Article contributed by Ashbusters Chimney Service, fellow chimney experts whose knowledge in this topic comes from several years of chimney inspections performed in Charleston, SC.

When we think of a fire in the fireplace, it brings to mind images of comfort, warmth and safety. There is little that compares to the relaxing feeling of sitting by a warm fire in the comfort of your home on a cold night. But, as responsible homeowners, we must never take fire safety for granted. Before you use your fireplace, it is critical that you have a chimney inspection so that you can be sure that your chimney is not a fire hazard.

These inspection levels have been classified by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and they are the standard upon which certified chimney sweeps base their work.

Level 1
A level 1 chimney inspection is the most common type of chimney inspection. If you have used your fireplace regularly in the past without experiencing any problems, a level 1 inspection is appropriate. With a level 1 inspection, the chimney technician will examine the readily accessible portions of your chimney. This means the technician will perform a visual inspection with a flashlight, examining all areas of your chimney and flue that can be viewed without any special tools. Your technician may use common tools such as a screwdriver or pliers to examine any openings, but there should be no damage to any structures or finishes.

Parts of your chimney that should be examined in a level 1 inspection include:

  • Portions of the chimney exterior
  • Portions of the chimney interior
  • Accessible portions of the appliance and chimney connection

In short, your chimney technician will be examining the chimney to make sure that the basic structure is intact and there are no visible signs of damage. In this inspection, your technician should also verify that there are no obstructions or combustible materials in your chimney.

Level 2
If you are making any changes in the way you use your chimney, such as changing the type of fuel used, relining the flue, or if you’ve had any accidents or external events that may have caused damage, a level 2 chimney inspection is needed. If you’ve had a building fire, chimney fire or an earthquake, you will need to have a level 2 inspection preformed. Also, a level 2 inspection of the chimney is required before you sell your property.

As you probably assumed, a level 2 inspection is more detailed than level 1. A level 2 chimney inspection includes all of the visual examination included in a level 1 inspection, plus some additional work including examination of the attic, crawlspace and other accessible areas. In a level 2 inspection, a video camera or other device may be used to examine the flue and check for cracks or damage to the joints in the chimney’s structure. There should be no removal of the structure or permanent damaged caused to your chimney in a level 2 inspection.

Level 3
The level 3 chimney inspection is the most comprehensive type of chimney inspection. In addition to all of the checks preformed in level 1 and level 2 inspections, a level 3 will also examine the concealed areas of the chimney. This inspection may also include the removal of certain parts of the building or chimney structure if necessary. For example, the chimney crown or parts of the interior chimney wall may have to be removed in order to perform the in-depth inspection required for a level 3. This type of inspection is performed when serious damage to the chimney is suspected.

For more information about chimney inspections and safety standards, visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Get additional information at ashbusterscharleston.com.

Top 3 Reasons to Sweep your Chimney

–Article contributed by Owens Chimney Systems

Many people enjoy the rustic feel and relaxing ambiance of a wood-burning fire. However, when it comes to fire in your home, Owens Chimney Systems in Charlotte, NC is there to help keep your family safe. If you need to cut corners on your home maintenance, your chimney and fireplace are definitely NOT the place to do it. Before using your fireplace, you must make sure that it is clean and safe to operate.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that you have your chimney cleaned and professionally inspected at least once a year. There are many good reasons to clean and inspect your chimney, but here are the top three:

1. To Prevent a Chimney Fire

Chimney FireTrust us—you DO NOT want a fire in your chimney. A chimney fire can be quite spectacular—with loud popping and cracking sounds, lots of dense smoke and a strong, hot odor. But chimney fires aren’t always dramatic enough to alert the neighbors. Sometimes, they burn slow and aren’t even visible, but they still reach high temperatures and can seep into the walls of your house and ignite anything flammable. Flames from a chimney fire can quickly spread into the walls or onto the roof of your home and cause massive devastation, if not the total destruction of your home. It is a nightmare scenario, but one that can most likely be avoided with proper care and maintenance of your chimney.The most common cause of chimney fire is, simply, a dirty chimney. Over time, chimneys will become clogged with creosote, a natural, tar-like substance that is a by-product of burning wood. Creosote is black or brown in appearance and, over time, it builds up and leaves a glazing inside your chimney. This glazing is highly combustible and it can take only a small amount to start a fire. Restricted air supply is one of the factors that contribute to the build up of creosote, another reason it is important to clean your chimney regularly.

2. To Protect Your Health

danger carbon monoxideMusical comedian Weird Al Yankovic is known for his humorous songs about pop culture icons, but there’s nothing funny about the way his parents died. In 2004, the Yankovics were found dead in their California home, victims of an accidental carbon monoxide poisoning from burning wood in their fireplace. Breathing the fumes from gas or solid fuel fires can be dangerous or, as was the case with the Yankovics, fatal.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever fuel is burned. Even at low levels, CO can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion and fainting. A blocked chimney or a chimney with an improperly functioning flue can cause a buildup of this dangerous gas. CO is responsible for thousands of deaths in America each year, and many of these poisonings are caused by blocked chimneys. This is why it is critical to have your chimney examined and swept to make sure your flue is clear before using the chimney.

3. To Avoid Smoke Damage

fireplace smoke stains

When a chimney is not regularly cleaned, soot will accumulate around the flue. This makes it difficult for the flue to draw the smoke upwards and can cause the smoke to enter your room. This soot will leave a black film around your hearth and soil any furniture, carpeting or decorations nearby. Sometimes, smoke can even cause black staining around your chimney, which can be difficult or impossible to remove.

When you cut corners with chimney and fireplace maintenance, you are literally playing with fire. The good news is that the risks described above are completely preventable. Be sure to have your chimney cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney professional at least once a year so you can enjoy safe use of your fireplace for years to come.