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Ensuring Fireplace Chimney Safety and Efficacy

There are a few important components that play a role in the operations of your fireplace, and one of these is the chimney. The chimney serves as the primary ventilation area for most fireplaces, and ensuring that your chimney remains clean and safe on a regular basis is important as you operate your fireplace through the winter.

At Uintah Fireplace and Design, we’re happy to provide a wide range of fireplace service and repairs to our clients throughout Utah, including assistance with your chimney and other associated components or areas. What are some basic signs that your fireplace chimney is safe and in good working order (plus signs that it’s not), and which basic tips can our team offer you on how to keep the chimney area as safe as possible throughout the winter? Here’s a primer.

Indicators of a Safe (Or Unsafe) Fireplace Chimney

There are several areas you’ll want to inspect periodically to ensure your chimney is operating safety and optimally. These include:

  • Chimney cap: One of the most important items within the chimney setup is your chimney cap, which helps keep rain, debris, and critters from entering the chimney and causing a blockage. If you don’t have a cap or it’s damaged, replace it as soon as possible. In addition, you should ensure that there’s no buildup of debris or other items within your cap, as this can also create a fire hazard. Finally, if you can visually inspect the cap from the roof, ensure there are no bird’s nests or other problems near the cap.
  • Smoke chamber: One of the most important components of your fireplace is the smoke chamber – it’s where the heat and gases from the fire pass through and out into the chimney. When inspecting this area, look for buildup on any glass doors or chambers that may be part of the setup. If you find any buildup, it’s important to clean it as soon as possible.
  • Tree limbs: From the ground level of your property, perform a visual inspection to confirm that there are no tree limbs or other items hanging over or close to your chimney. If there are, trim them back as soon as possible.
  • Flue: The flue is the main passageway for smoke and gases from the fire, and it should be free of obstructions at all times. You can inspect this area by looking up into the chimney – if you see obstructions, it’s time to have the chimney serviced by a professional fireplace company.
  • Distances: Confirm that your chimney rises at least three feet above your roofline, and at least two feet above any wall, roof or other building close by.

Other Chimney Safety Tips

In addition to all the checks above, here are some other tips on how to keep your fireplace chimney safe and operational throughout the winter:

  • Firewood seasoning: If your fireplace uses firewood as its burning format, you should be prioritizing well-seasoned firewood that’s had at least six months to dry. Seasoned firewood is less dense and produces less creosote than freshly-cut or unseasoned wood, which means it’s safer to burn and easier on your chimney setup.
  • Replace chimney cap: If your chimney cap is more than 10 years old or shows any signs of damage, it’s time to replace it immediately. We generally recommend stainless steel caps because they’ll last the longest and survive even the harshest weather.
  • Insulate: If you don’t have any insulation within your chimney and smoke chamber, now’s a great time to add it. Insulating those areas will help ensure that heat remains there where it belongs, as opposed to being lost into the surrounding area or outside heating up your home unnecessarily.
  • Smoke detectors: In addition to all of the above, you should always have working smoke detectors installed on every level of your home. Smoke from a chimney fire can quickly fill up a house and lead to disaster if there’s no warning system in place.
  • Don’t use chemical or fluid fire-starters: For proper chimney safety, you should never be using chemical or fluid fire-starters within your fireplace. These products burn at a much hotter temperature than wood and can quickly cause a chimney fire if they ignite debris already present in the chamber. They also leave a residue that can be difficult to clean and can damage your chimney over time.
  • Keep fireplace area clear: Chimney and fireplace safety go hand in hand, and one of the simplest ways to ensure good safety is to keep the surrounding area clean and clear of any combustible materials. This helps minimize the chances of a fire starting somewhere else in your home and spreading to the fireplace.
  • Consider electric options: If you’re installing a new fireplace and want the simplest chimney maintenance out there, you should start with the electric fireplace. Electric fireplaces operate with a simple on/off switch and no additional wood, gas or chimney maintenance required at all. Plus you can use them year-round!
  • Schedule annual chimney inspections: Especially for wood and gas fireplaces where the chimney is an essential part of the setup, it’s important to schedule an annual inspection with a professional. This will help ensure that your fireplace and chimney are in good condition and ready for use during the winter. Many fireplace owners schedule these inspections just before the major winter season starts, for both convenience and the ability to make any repairs or tweaks necessary before heating season gets going in earnest.

For more on your fireplace chimney and how to keep it safe at all times, or to learn about any of our electric, wood and gas fireplace options, speak to the pros at Uintah Fireplace and Design today.

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