Temperatures are dropping, leaves are changing and starting to fall, and many parts of the country have experienced the first snowfalls of the season. Fall is in full swing, and winter is just around the corner! With the change in the weather comes a change in how we use our heating appliances; fall and winter are known as burning seasons because of how often fireplaces, inserts, stoves, and other fuel-burning heating appliances are used.
The Farmer’s Almanac has predicted that this winter will have big chills and strong storms; a fireplace can help create a warm, welcoming environment in your home no matter the weather. While chimney systems are built to burn fires year after year, they do need regular care, maintenance, and upkeep in order to operate safely and efficiently. The following tips and tricks can help ensure your fireplace and chimney are ready for the arrival of burning season.
1. Schedule a sweeping and inspection as soon as possible
Burning season may be underway, but it’s still not too late to schedule a chimney sweeping and inspection! A chimney sweeping should be done at least once per year to remove soot, ash, and flammable creosote from the flue; likewise, inspections should be done annually to check for signs of damage or deterioration to the fireplace or chimney.
A chimney sweeping by a CSIA-certified chimney sweep can help ensure your fireplace is burning efficiently, extend the life of your chimney system, and significantly reduce the risk of a chimney fire. Fall and winter are the busiest seasons for chimney sweeps; because of this, it may take several weeks before your appointment can be scheduled. Want to beat the rush next year? Plan ahead and schedule your chimney maintenance in the offseason!
Have a gas fireplace? You still need to schedule a chimney inspection! Annual inspections of gas fireplaces are important to ensure that no components have shifted, no gas leaks are occurring, and the venting system is undamaged and has no blockages.
2. Choose the right firewood
Whether you have an insert, open-hearth fireplace, stove, or even an outdoor fire pit, the best fuel for your wood-burning fire is seasoned firewood. According to the CSIA, seasoned firewood is “wood that has a moisture content between 20-25%.” This low moisture content is achieved by cutting, stacking, and exposing wood to the elements for 6-12 months.
Seasoned wood produces less smoke, burns at a higher temperature, and produces less creosote than freshly cut or “green” firewood. Burning green wood should be avoided whenever possible; in addition to being difficult to ignite because of the high moisture content in the wood, green wood burns dirtier and produces excessive smoke – and creosote. Burning large amounts of greenwood often result in a mid-season call to the chimney sweep!
While it can be tempting to burn paper, packaging materials, or leftover scrap wood in the fireplace – particularly when unwrapping presents during the holidays – only firewood should be used in indoor fireplaces. Styrofoam, stained or painted wood, or even printed paper can release dangerous chemicals when burned; this can impact the air quality in your home or cause respiratory issues for friends and family. Likewise, burning plastics can melt onto fireplace components and cause long term damage to the chimney system.
3. Maintain smoke detectors and safety equipment
In the United States, three out of five fire-related deaths were in homes without working smoke alarms. Regularly testing and replacing smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers are an important part of keeping friends and family safe when the fireplace is in use. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should be on every level of a home, as well as outside sleeping areas. Test alarms every six months and replace batteries as needed; replace safety equipment every 7-10 years to ensure they meet modern safety standards and technology.
A fire extinguisher should be purchased and placed in an easily-accessible area near the fireplace. Available at almost every big box or home improvement store, a working fire extinguisher can be used to prevent an unsafe situation from turning dangerous. A log rolling out of the fireplace, a fire burning out of control, or a stray ember landing on nearby furnishings are all situations where a fire extinguisher can help prevent devastating damage to a home.
4. Keep décor away from the fireplace
The stockings may have been hung by the chimney with care – but they need to be moved before the fireplace is used! During the holidays – and year-round – our mantles can hold décor such as garland, bunting, mementos, and more. Moving any hanging mantle décor out of the way before the fireplace is used can prevent stray sparks or embers from accidentally igniting a stocking; likewise, all carpets and other furnishings should be at least three feet away from the fireplace when in use.
Contact Jack Pixley Sweeps for your chimney needs this burning season
Following a few simple tips can keep your home safe and stress-free this burning season. Since 1977 staff has been providing the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area with quality, trustworthy fireplace and chimney services. For more information on fireplace safety or to schedule your next chimney sweeping or inspection, contact Jack Pixley Sweeps today!
Temperatures are finally starting to cool down and fall finally feels like it’s here! With the busy burning season just around the corner, many homeowners are preparing to light their fireplaces for the first time. Before you use your fireplace for the first time this year, however, make sure to have it inspected first!
The importance of chimney inspections
Chimney inspections are an important diagnostic tool that chimney sweeps use to evaluate the condition of your fireplace system.
“A chimney inspection is like an annual dental check-up,” says Ashley Eldridge, Director of Education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America. “It’s preventative maintenance that helps minimize potential hazards.”
Inspections often allow chimney sweeps to identify small areas of damage or deterioration – long before they turn into major chimney problems. This allows small, less expensive repairs to be made as needed instead of needing major masonry or structural repairs all at once.
Three levels of chimney inspections
The National Fire Protection Association created three standardized levels of chimney inspection. Your chimney sweep can help determine what kind of inspection your chimney needs based on age, use, and other factors.
- Level 1 chimney inspections are the most basic; during this type of inspection, the chimney sweep will evaluate all accessible portions of both the interior fireplace and exterior chimney. Level 1 inspections are used in homes where the chimney is regularly maintained, has not been changed since the last inspection, and is not experiencing performance issues.
- Level 2 chimney inspections are more in depth and often involve the use of technology – such as closed circuit cameras – in order to check difficult to reach areas of the chimney such as the flue. Level 2 inspections are common when a new insert has been installed, a new fuel source is being used, or a home is preparing to be bought or sold.
- Level 3 chimney inspections are the most intense and often involve removing part of the masonry or surrounding building material in order to access the chimney; because of this, they are only used in the event of natural disasters, fires, or if the structural stability of the chimney is in question.
What if I don’t use my fireplace?
Regular fireplace maintenance – including chimney sweepings and inspections – are important no matter how often you use your fireplace. In fact, having an inspection done before lighting a fireplace that is seldom used may be even more important. Infrequently used fireplaces are more likely to suffer from problems such as animal entry or debris blockages; because these and other similar issues often present themselves in the form of performance problems, they may not be immediately noticed in a fireplace that is not regularly used.
The National Fire Protection Association and the Chimney Safety Institute of America both recommend that homes have their fireplaces and chimneys inspected at least once per year. Doing this ensures your fireplace is safe to use – no matter how often you use it.
If you are getting ready to start your fireplace for the first time, make sure to have your chimney inspected first. Contact Jack Pixley Sweeps today to schedule your next chimney inspection before you start using your fireplace!
Older homes are often filled with original architectural details that give them a unique and charming appeal. One feature that is especially sought after in older homes in fireplaces; with sturdy construction and materials that have already lasted for years – as well as beautiful original details – an older fireplace can serve as a beautiful focal point in a home. Unfortunately, these fireplaces may be hiding underlying chimney problems. In the past few decades, building and safety standards have continued to change as fireplace technology has evolved. Because of this, many older homes have fireplaces that are no longer up to code or comply with current building standards. Older fireplaces may also have their own maintenance concerns. Because they were built using different materials and in different styles, they often face problems that modern fireplace units simply do not have.
None of this is meant to scare homeowners with older properties. In fact, when properly maintained, older fireplaces can work just as well – if not better – than their more recently built counterparts. However, homeowners should still be aware of the special maintenance considerations that come with owning an older fireplace system.
How can I tell if my fireplace is up to code?
When it comes to dealing with fireplaces, old is a relative term. Because chimneys are made to last, a well-built fireplace system can last for 80, 90, or 100 years – or longer! – when properly maintained. However, if your fireplace system is more than 60 years old, it may no longer be up to code.
Most fireplaces built and installed after the 1950s use either prefabricated or block chimneys. Because these are still in use today, there is little risk of it being out of date. Older homes, especially historic homes built before the turn of the century, have a much higher chance of having fireplaces and chimneys that no longer meet current standards.
Maintaining an older chimney
If you own a historic home, fireplace and chimney maintenance is an important part of keeping your home safe and in good condition. In addition to an annual chimney sweeping and inspection, below are some common maintenance concerns that come with older fireplace systems.
– Unlined chimney: Because chimney liners were not used with any regularity before the mid-20th century, many older chimneys are unlined. While your unlined chimney may be working well, it comes with safety risks; unlined chimneys have greater risks of chimney fires, operate less efficiently, and can expose the building materials surrounding the chimney to heat, smoke, and gas. Relining the chimney can help the fireplace burn more safely and efficiently.
– Masonry damage: Long term exposure to the elements may damage the exterior masonry of an older chimney. This can lead to spalling, cracked, or missing bricks. Likewise, because the mortar joints tend to deteriorate before the rest of the chimney, they may need to be reinforced. The tuckpointing process can be used to replace the damaged masonry; this process can also help improve the structural stability of the chimney.
If you have an older fireplace, have the chimney inspected is an important part of your home’s fireplace safety and maintenance. To schedule your fireplace inspection, contact Jack Pixley Sweeps today!