As the weather turns cool in autumn, you may have thought about your cozy fireplace and the warmth it brings to your home in the winter particularly if you live in areas with harsh winters such as Baltimore, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle. However, did you know that chimneys are the No. 1 cause of residential fires? Many homeowners today are unfamiliar with the risks associated with traditional, wood-burning fireplaces, and with the popularity of gas fireplaces that ignite with the flip of a switch, homeowners who still have a wood-burning fireplace might take its required maintenance for granted. An unexpected or uncontrolled fire in your fireplace is a very real danger that you can easily prevent through regular, thorough maintenance of your chimney.
Before the cold weather really takes hold, have chimney maintenance performed so that you may safely enjoy your fireplace’s comforting heat when the desire strikes you. According to a study of residential fires performed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and cited by the Evansville Courier & Press, chimney fires are largely caused by creosote, which is an oily remnant of wood fires in the chimney. Whenever the fireplace is used, creosote is deposited inside the chimney, particularly in the flue. A buildup over time can easily ignite and/or cause a flare up that can spread to other parts of the home.
What’s particularly frightening is the fact that homeowners enjoying their fireplace may not even realize that there is an unintended fire in the chimney. According to a recent story on NJ.com, it is often those outside the house who see flames shooting out of the top of a chimney who end up reporting the problem to the residents inside.
The best way to avoid such fires is to have the chimney and flue inspected annually and properly cleaned. When selecting a chimney sweep to perform this maintenance, you can turn to a few organizations that certify professionals, such as the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG) or the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). The NCSG’s focus is more along the lines of working with chimney sweeps, whereas the CSIA discusses the basic safety of using your chimney and fireplace. It might be a good idea to start with exploring the CSIA website to understand the fire risks and exposures and then navigate to the NCSG website to seek out a qualified chimney sweep. Finding a qualified professional will help you avoid putting something this serious in the hands of an unskilled workman.
Whenever you perform maintenance or conduct safety inspections on your home, it’s a good idea to give your home insurance policy a quick review. Just as you should not be complacent about the maintenance of your home and its components, you should not allow your policy to be renewed year after year without a thorough review. In a worst-case scenario, if your home was damaged or destroyed by a fire in spite of all your efforts, you want the comfort of knowing that your policy will adequately reimburse your for your losses.