Fireplace maintenance prevents safety risks

Before lighting up your fireplace this winter, experts recommend having it inspected for potential safety hazards.

“We’re trying to prevent chimney fires that can cause a house to catch on fire,” said Merideth Judd, owner of Judd and Son Chimney Service in Schererville. “Get them cleaned and inspected on a regular basis.”

The Chimney Safety Institute of America, a nonprofit institution dedicated to public and chimney professional education, recommends annual inspections to ensure that a system is safe to sustain a fire. Problems like small cracks and bird nests can be fixed. Almost any chimney out there can repaired, Judd said.

“Sometimes we catch small repairs before they become expensive repairs,” he said of his crew, which inspects, cleans, installs and build fireplaces and wood stoves.

A press release from the institute said that almost all heating appliances whether they burn gas, oil, wood or coal rely on the chimney to safely carry toxic gases. Unfortunately, many homeowners think chimneys only need to be cleaned and inspected if they burn wood in their fireplaces or wood stoves.

A blocked chimney can cause problems like chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the press release.

Judd also recommends installing chimney caps to keep rain and animals out of chimneys. Rain is the main source of chimney damage, he said.

In the past five to six years, Judd has seen more homeowners putting fireplaces back in service that have not been used for awhile. This is another time to call a professional.

Problems with safe burning practices are also on the rise, Judd said.

“People are burning pretty much anything. You don’t want to burn painted wood, green wood, varnished wood. That’s bad for the chimney system.”

When buying or selling a home, Judd recommends having fireplaces checked by a certified chimney sweep. The home inspector isn’t qualified to check the chimney system.

Chimney sweeps can use cameras to check chimneys from top to bottom and 360 degrees around to make sure they are safe.

“You don’t want to spend all the money for a new home and get stuck with a bad fireplace,” Judd said.

If building a new home or considering adding a fireplace to an existing home, there are many options.

Judd said choosing between a gas and wood fireplace is a personal preference and that each choice has pluses and minuses.

“Some people have access to free wood or they like the sound or feel of a real fire. People who go for gas may have nowhere to store wood or buy wood. With gas they can turn it on and off in a moment’s notice. If you get a fire going and you want to go to bed, you can just turn it off.”

Something found in new fireplaces across the board is that they are more efficient and environmentally friendly, Judd said.

Newer wood stoves now make more heat out of the wood. Gas choices have also come a long way, Judd said. They have remote controls and more realistic looking fire and logs.

More Safety Info:

  1. Fireplace industry launches gas fireplace safety initiative
  2. Five safety tips for DIY home maintenance
  3. Home Safety: Hidden Risks to Children
  4. Follow these safety tips to avoid winter fires
  5. Home safety checklist: Safety supplies to have around the house


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