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Winter and Your Chimney

It doesn't matter whether your fireplace is used for aesthetics or heating the house, every fall is a great time to have a chimney inspection and cleaning if it needs it. If you're changing the amount of use, the kind of fuel you burn, or your home heating venting, be sure to include a chimney inspection. A chimney fire, no matter the time of year, can be terrifying and catastrophic.

Put your chimney inspection high on your list of winter must-dos. Even if a chimney fire is short-lived, the heat can damage your mortar, wall materials, tiles, and outer masonry. That's lasting damage.

Have you put a wood stove back into operation for the winter? Have a professional come in to inspect venting and creosote buildup. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) warns that you only use seasoned heating wood in your home this winter.

When You Need Chimney Service

The CSIA recommends that you consider three levels of service depending on your existing conditions:

  • When an inspector or contractor takes a walk-around your home, ensuring the chimney and flue are in optimal operating condition and free of obstructions.
  • When you change the fuel, the lining, flue, or if your home has lived through a heavy storm, fire, or seismic event.
  • Chimney components that require taking the system apart are damaged and need inspection and repair.
If your home matches any of these potentially risky conditions-or if you recently acquired the property-you should seek an inspection from a professional.

How to Evaluate a Chimney Contractor

The National Chimney Sweep Guild recommends annual or semi-annual inspections to prevent carbon monoxide poisonings or chimney fires. Ask potential chimney contractors for references and check out their history in your community.

Ask for free bids on the contractor's letterhead. If your potential contractors are licensed, they should not be skittish about showing a license as well as proof of insurance against worker injury or property damage.

Talk to neighbors about references and find out if the work was done on time and to their complete satisfaction. Local and state better business bureaus and consumer protection agencies usually have a black list of contractors who have been sued or have ongoing complaints.

Last, the U.S. Fire Administration reminds all homeowners and renters to keep items that are not considered fuel out of your fireplace. That includes cardboard boxes and flammable liquids. And use a fire screen at all times. If you do have a fire, get everyone out of the house safely and call emergency.