Preventing Chimney Fires – Stay Warm AND Safe This Winter

Smoking Chimney in Winter, snow on rooftop

Many people know that keeping their chimney clean is what they’re “supposed” to do, but often times don’t exactly know why. And, sadly, sometimes people learn the true importance of chimney upkeep a little too late…after they’ve been run out of their home by a house full of smoke or, worse yet, after a chimney fire.

Chimney fires account for approximately three out of every 4 home-heating-related fires. With that said, it’s estimated that nearly all residential fires that start in a chimney are preventable – BUT, homeowners MUST do their due diligence when it comes to chimney cleaning and maintenance and make sure that they’re actively (and consistently) monitoring their chimneys. The Chimney Safety Institute of America suggests that homeowners be on the lookout for pending chimney fires, which are oftentimes precluded by loud cracking and popping noises, lots of very dense smoke, or an extremely intense, hot smell.

Keeping all of the above in mind, here are 10 tips to help prevent chimney fires (courtesy of American Heritage Insurance Group):

  1. Have your chimney inspected and cleaned at least once a year by a professional, and more than that if creosote builds up on your chimney walls more rapidly.
  2. Consider installing a stainless steel liner that will withstand even the highest temperatures and will keep the embers contained.
  3. Watch out for soot buildup. Soot is softer than creosote, but is also flammable and should be cleaned up regularly.
  4. Between the professional inspections and cleanings, be sure to check and monitor your wood-burning fireplace for signs of buildup or other problems.
  5. Clean the interior of your fireplace, including the fireplace floor, regularly. Sweep or vacuum up cold ashes.
  6. Your chimney has a cap on the top of it with open sides (usually covered in mesh to keep rain, birds, squirrels, and debris out). Make sure this cap is regularly inspected and replaced when necessary.
  7. Check the interior of your fireplace for creosote buildup. It is flammable, meaning too much buildup is a fire hazard and should be cleaned away with a creosote remover as soon as possible.
  8. Any time there is smoke indoors from your fireplace, troubleshoot and immediately correct any problems you find. Possible causes are a dirty chimney, soot or creosote buildup, other debris, a flue that isn’t open or fully opened, or wood not burning completely.
  9. To improve the efficiency of your fireplace, you should also consider installing heat-proof glass doors to protect against heat loss, and a fan or blower to direct heat into the room.
  10. If possible, burn hardwoods like oak, maple, ash, and birch. These woods burn hot and long, are cleaner to handle, and have less sap. They also tend to leave less creosote buildup – the only downside is that these particular woods can be more expensive.