Wednesday, September 2, 2015

National Chimney Safety Week brings needed awareness to the public

By Marge Padgitt

For National Chimney Safety Week September 9 to 18, 2015 the Midwest Chimney Safety Council reminds homeowners and restaurant owners to be diligent about maintaining their chimneys serving fireplaces, furnaces, boilers, wood stoves, and restaurant ovens.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission released the latest statistics for residential structural fires which indicates that 21,200 hostile fires were attributed to fireplaces, chimneys or chimney systems in 2012, with an average of 22,700 occurring annually from 2010 to 2012.
 According to the National Fire Protection Association in 2011 heating equipment was involved in an estimated 53,600 reported U.S. home structure fires, with associated losses of 400 civilian deaths, 1,520 civilian injuries, and $893 million in direct property damage. 

While these numbers continue to decline due to public-awareness efforts by the Midwest Chimney Safety Council, the Chimney Safety Institute of America, chimney sweep companies and firefighters, the message is still not getting to everyone. 

Mr. Charles Stanley of Lee's Summit, Missouri experienced a chimney fire in early 2015. "I didn't know that a chimney flue needed to be swept at all, much less annually. I burned wood in the fireplace for eleven years without having it swept out, but after an experience like this I won't forget to have the chimney cleaned," said Stanley. The fire was contained to the chimney structure, which sustained over $20,000 in damages. A local chimney company removed the damaged flue liner and installed a replacement liner, then repaired damaged bricks on the interior and exterior chimney. Charles said that had he known that chimneys needed regular service he could have avoided the chimney fire. 

The National Fire Protection Association recommends annual inspection of flues of all types that serve gas or wood-burning appliances, and sweeping as necessary to remove flammable creosote. Creosote should be removed when ¼” has accumulated on the flue walls. Depending on the amount of wood burned restaurant ovens usually need monthly or bi-monthly sweeping, open fireplaces typically need annual sweeping, and wood stove flues and chimneys may need sweeping two or three times during the burning season.

Creosote accumulates when any type of wood is burned including hardwoods. Gas appliances don’t produce creosote, however, the flue needs to be in good condition or it could be a carbon monoxide hazard. Common issues with gas flues are gaps or cracks in flue liners, clogs in liners, and missing flue liners. Correct flue sizing is critical to proper operation. This is something a professional chimney sweep can check when doing an inspection.

The MCSC recommends that a professional chimney sweep who is certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America do the inspection and sweeping. CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps are trained in sweeping methods, inspections, codes, and clearances. The proper equipment is needed to do a thorough inspection and remove creosote, which involves a chimney camera system and other tools of the trade.

There are now over 1,500 CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps across the United States with more added annually. To find a professional chimney sweep visit the Midwest Chimney Safety Council website at or the Chimney Safety Institute of America website at

Monday, June 15, 2015

Spring preparation tips for wood burners

As difficult as it is to think about cold weather during the nice spring and summer months when the trees are green and the flowers are in full bloom, wood burners need to start prepping for fall now.
Since wood needs to be cut, split and stacked months in advance so that it dries out properly, now is the time to get that project completed, and get some exercise to boot. There are several types of log-splitters available that can make the job much easier. Prices range from $150 for a hand-operated splitter, to $3,000 for a professional gas splitter. 
Wood should be stacked off the ground, away from the house, with a covering over the top but not on the sides-- so wind can blow through and dry the wood out. For the serious wood-burner, a wood shed with a permanent roof will offer years of protection from the elements. Wood should be kept away from the house because creepy crawlies like brown recluses like to hide in between the logs. Check wood with an inexpensive moisture meter to be sure it contains less than 20% moisture content before burning.

Any dry wood will do- but hardwood will burn for a longer time since it is denser than softwood. By using hardwood less time is involved in loading up the wood stove or fireplace insert, but softwoods will burn nicely. Stay away from dry pine and hedge, however, because they burn so hot and fast there is a greater risk of a chimney fire or damaging a wood stove or fireplace.

Another maintenance task that should be completed in the spring is chimney sweeping. The Midwest Chimney Safety Council suggests that a professional CSIA Certified chimney sweep do the job. Professional sweeps are trained to check things that the layperson may not be aware of such as proper chimney and connecting pipe installation, clearances to combustibles, wall and floor protection. If used for primary heating purposes, wood-burning stoves and insert flues or chimneys should be swept at least twice during the wood-burning season and once after to be sure that flammable creosote is removed.

Chimney sweep at work. HearthMasters, Inc. 
All wood creates creosote- even dry hardwood, and removal is critical to avoid chimney fires. Chimney fires can not only damage chimneys and connecting pipes, but may escape into the home and cause a house fire.

Check exterior masonry chimneys in the spring for damaged, missing, or spalling bricks (brick faces popping off due to moisture penetration), missing or deteriorated mortar joints, bad flashing or gaps in the flashing, cracked or deteriorated cement crown, and missing or improper chimney covers. Apply masonry water repellant sealer on a dry, calm day to help slow down the deterioration process.
For a prefabricated chimney check the wood chase for wood rot, holes from woodpeckers or squirrels, rusted metal chase tops, and damaged chimney covers.

All of these chimney maintenance items are best addressed in the spring and summer before cold weather sets in and makes work more difficult and expensive.