The fall season is an excellent time to do this proactive work as even nominal use of dirty or clogged fireplaces, chimney or venting systems can lead to serious personal injury and property damage.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) believes most all were preventable if assessment and repairs are done annually.
From a risk management position, incorporating this work to a dwelling’s yearly maintenance schedule results in time and money well spent.
The CSIA strongly encourages annual chimney inspections for all wood and gas systems the US.
This could be a Level One inspection – more of a simple and inexpensive visual inspection of the easy to access portions of the fireplace and chimney.
If however a fireplace professional has not performed an inspection in several years or in the case of a real estate transaction or move out of a tenant, a Level Two inspection is indicated. During this type of inspection a trained fireplace technician will also assess the chimney via the roof and use a video camera to fully check on the integrity of the inner flue and fixtures.
Both inspections should provide the home or apartment owner with a written report of the system’s status, any risks to continued use and remediation steps to make its performance safe and functional.
In either care, a chimney sweeping may be recommended before or after the inspection, depending on existing issues discovered by the technician during the diagnosis phase.
Finally, all fireplace and chimney inspections, cleanings and maintenance should be performed by a certified professional technician employed by a company that is highly insured, licensed and bonded and with years of experience in the field.
How often does a wood burning fireplace need to be cleaned?
According to the National Fire Protection Association Document 211, “Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.”
Wood systems even with limited use are best cleaned yearly and masonry and factory built fireplaces should be cleaned when there is 1/8” of soot inside.
And even if you only use your fireplace a few times a year, other things such as a damaged damper and loose or missing mortar can cause issues.
Gas fireplaces should also have an annual inspection
The common assumption is that since gas burns clean and these fireplaces are easy to use, it means it doesn’t need inspection and possible cleaning.
Gas units can and do accumulate residues that will eventually harm the integrity of their flues.
Even if a gas system is rarely used, a simple inspection of the electrical and gas connections is regularly needed for safety.
Remember that disregarding regulations and recommendations can void manufacturer warranties.
The inspection report may address certain common issues beyond sweeping.
Debris such as animal nests can accumulate in vents, flues and inside the chimney and block ventilation. These need to be removed, as they will restrict airflow and might lead to bad smells in the dwelling.
In gas fireplaces, ceramic or faux log inserts can eventually deteriorate with use. Dirty, chipped or scratched glass doors or frames can become a hazard over time. Residue inside and outside of a gas fireplace also needs to be cleaned.
Similarly if the exterior chimney has a cracked crown or the mortar joints are in poor condition, moisture can enter the chimney system and cause the flue tiles to break off and fall into the hearth or simply deteriorate. Over time, valves and connections could develop leaks. Thermopile and thermocouple could be worn and/or need cleaning.
Remember: Gas fireplaces are susceptible to explosions and sudden fires, if there are any leaks or malfunctions.
Again, a fireplace technician will be able to address appropriate action steps to either rectify issues or determine if the best course is to stop use of the fireplace and chimney altogether.
Even on a balmy day, fireplaces provide a sense of warmth, cheer and romance to our lives. And with simple, routine presumptive maintenance, they can do so safe and effectively. For little time and money spent in the fall, your upcoming holidays can focus on what smells good in the kitchen versus being surprised with inconvenient or possibly dangerous events in your fireplace or chimney.
Get on a pre-scheduled maintenance plan so you won’t find yourself stuck during the busy season, or Contact our CSIA certified experts right away if you realize it’s been a few years since the last inspection!
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