With chillier nights starting to descend on our area of Connecticut, it won’t be long until home heating is top of mind. With so many homeowners kicking off autumn with a warming fire in the house, now is the perfect time to get your chimney and hearth prepped to roar.
First, don’t leave ash and residue hanging around for another season. Fireplaces and chimneys are involved in 42 percent of all home-heating fires, so a preventative annual clean-out should definitely be on your list. If you have a regular wood-burning fireplace, remove all the old ashes with a shovel and bucket and get rid of any residual materials with an industrial vacuum or heavy-duty hand broom and dustpan.
It’s important to note that during winter you never want ashes to accumulate to more than two inches in depth. Also, remember that ashes are just disintegrated wood, so feel free to discard them into your compost pile. Once the ashes are cleared, you can remove any soot and fire stains with a spray bottle of soapy water and a tough, wire scrub brush. If stains are really tough to remove a muriatic acid solution will do the job. It’s available at most hardware stores.
Once your fireplace is squeaky clean, it’s time to inspect the flue. Look up the fireplace and search for any cracks or damage. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for creosote build-up, which can be highly flammable and result in chimney fires if not removed properly. If you see any blockage, cracks or deposits during a visual inspection, you’ll want to get the flue looked at by a professional.
Now comes the hardest part – the chimney. Firstly, make sure that you are comfortable on a roof and using a ladder. If you aren’t, leave this part of the job to an expert. Look around your chimney and remove any leaves or debris that may have piled up over the winter. If your chimney is open and you don’t use it often, it can be a great nesting place for birds and small animals. Don’t let this happen; invest in a wire screen cover to ensure nothing from the outside can get in. Also, take a look at the mortar between the bricks to make sure it is in good condition and nothing is cracking or crumbling. If mortar needs to be replaced, remove the damaged segments and re-pack them with weather-resistant ready-mixed mortar from the hardware store.
Finally, you’ll want to inspect your flashing which is where the chimney meets the roof. This should create a watertight seal, so make sure nothing looks loose or like it’s coming undone, otherwise you could be at risk for a leak. If the seal is at all damaged or worn away, you’ll want to get it repaired immediately.
I can’t reinforce enough that chimney maintenance is a must and something that shouldn’t be brushed off. If you don’t know what to look for or aren’t comfortable taking on the job, get a certified chimney sweep to give you a thorough inspection or call me for a recommendation. The peace of mind in knowing that your home is safe from preventable fire hazard is worth the price of a simple assessment.
Bob O’Donnell is the owner of O’Donnell Bros. Inc., a Bristol-based home improvement company established in 1975. Email your questions for Bob to email@example.com with the subject line “Ask the Pro.” All questions may be considered for publication. To contact Bob for your remodeling needs, call O’Donnell Bros. Inc. at (860) 589-5155 or visit http://www.odonnellbros.com. Advice is for guidance only.