9 Chimney maintenance tips to reduce the risk of chimney fires

A chimney fire can be an incredibly distressing experience for a homeowner or, in some cases, a complete surprise. Chimney fires are caused by a variety of reasons.  Most are the result of creosote build-up, insufficient airflow, or problems with your flue. However, some can be caused by animals nesting in the chimney, corrosion on metal components of the fireplace, and debris coming off a bird’s nest located within the exhaust vent of your home. In other words, most chimney fires are caused by the lack of professional chimney maintenance and not following chimney safety guidelines.  

Regardless of the cause, a chimney fire is an event that can destroy or severely damage a chimney and its surrounding property. Many fires cause structural damage or loss of lives every year. This is why it is essential to understand what causes them and learn these 9 practical tips to reduce the risk of chimney fires.  

1.Inspect and clean your chimney annually.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) advise having your chimney professionally cleaned and inspected once a year to prevent chimney fires. This is something that all homeowners should do before every heating season.  

Professional chimney sweeps know how to inspect your chimney and flue for the signs of creosote build-up, corrosion, and other signs of potential fire hazards. 

A professional chimney clean and inspection service should include: 

  • Post job cleaning.

     

  • Remove all the loose soot and creosote, animal nesting materials, and other waste from the flue
    interior, smoke chamber, smoke shelf, and firebox with a sweeping brush.
     
  • A written Condition Report detailing what was found.

  • Provide pictures of any issues, including (if possible) an inside video inspection of the flue.

     

  • List of recommendations on preventing and repairing further use or weather damage.

     

  • List of suggestions on proper chimney use, maintenance and safety tips.

     

2. Only burn seasoned dry firewood.

Avoid burning wet wood or other materials that give off a lot of soot or smoke. This will reduce the amount of creosote in your chimney and lower the risk of a fire.  

Pro-tip: Each log should be small enough to fit on the fire and allow for good air circulation.  

The following list will help you get the right wood to burn in your fireplace: 

  • Be sure only to burn wood that has been cut and left to dry for at least 6 months. 

  • Ensure that the wood you use has around 20% moisture content. *this can be achieved by using a moisture meter*  

  • Split wood that has been cured will have cracks on the ends caused by shrinkage and moisture loss. 

3.Use your wood-burning stove or fireplace properly.

Chimney fires can be caused by improper use of your fireplace or wood-burning stove. It is essential that you understand how your equipment works before using it.  

Avoid chimney fires by following these simple tips:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing and operating your chimney or stove. 

  • Understand how to regulate the air intake for your stove or fireplace. 

  • Make sure your appliance has enough ventilation to keep it burning. Keep an eye on the glass surface of your fireplace (if your model has it). If the glass is smeared with smoke stains, it usually indicates that you aren’t burning hot enough. 

  • Don’t rely on the product’s stated maximum burn duration as a set-in-stone fact. Maximum burn durations are estimated in ideal laboratory conditions. 

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4.Regulate your burning temperature

The most effective approach to avoid creosote accumulation is maintaining the fire burning at optimum temperature. Burning too hot will cause rapid wood consumption. Burning at low temperatures will cause incomplete combustion, therefore, producing an excess of smoke and increasing the creosote build-up. The latter is one of the most common causes of chimney fires. 

Here are some tips on regulating your burning temperature:

  • Put a magnetic thermometer on your stove or connector pipe if possible. 

  • To measure the temperature of the outside of the furnace or pipe, use a surface thermometer. 300-500 degrees is ideal. 
  • A probe thermometer is the most reliable method to measure the temperature you are burning. This method will allow you to measure the core temperature of the flue gases going up the pipe.  

5.Controlling the size of your fire is a must.

Fire is a force of nature as it is a reliable heat source.  Improperly controlling this force can lead to disaster and enormous damage. It is vital that you understand how much wood you will need to burn at a time.   

 

Keep your fire under control by:

  • Burning smaller loads of wood during the spring and fall seasons. 
  • Feed small batch of firewood to the fire more frequently rather than big loads. 

6.Stay away from liquid accelerants.

You can never be too safe when handling fire. Having a fire extinguisher close to your chimney is always a good idea. This will help you handle small fires that start to get out of control. However, the best you can do if your fire gets out of control is to call the fire department and evacuate your family from the house until they arrive.  

Consider purchasing a heat and smoke detector to install in your home. These will help alert you if there is a fire close to your chimney. 

Want to learn more about the type of fire extinguisher you should get for your home? We recommend reading the US Fire Administration guide on choosing and using fire extinguishers. 

7.Have a fire extinguisher close to your chimney

Not utilizing liquid accelerants is another precaution for preventing chimney fires. When gasoline, kerosene, or other combustible liquids are used to start a fire, the resulting flames may be out of control.  The liquid can also pool under the firewood. If the logs are not arranged properly, they may collapse into this soot-covered fluid and catch fire, creating a potentially dangerous situation. All the more reason to never use liquid accelerants in a fireplace or woodstove. Consider using other methods like a fire-starter log or kindling. 

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8.Never leave your chimney alone while burning firewood.

Another essential thing to keep in mind is not leaving your chimney alone. Just like you need someone to watch over your house while you go out, someone needs to be there to burn wood. If an accident occurs, having someone around will allow them to handle it safely.   

If you are unable to have someone there while you burn wood in your chimney, then the best you can do is not start your chimney at all.  

9.Hire a CSIA-certified chimney service company

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) has developed a series of tests to certify companies dealing with chimneys. A company that meets the requirements and passes the CSIA chimney inspection is a 100% safe option, and you can be sure they know exactly what to do when it comes down to preventing chimney fires. Hiring a company that is CSIA-certified will also guarantee you the highest quality of work and materials used.  

A CSIA-certified company will know how to handle minor problems before they become more significant. They will also provide you with advice and guidelines to follow when maintaining your chimney. 

After reading this article, we hope you now understand the importance of chimney maintenance and be more vigilant about it. The tips that have been provided should help reduce your risk for a devastating chimney fire.  

Be sure to share this article with your friends and family, as chimney safety is a responsibility we all need to take seriously. 

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