How to Avoid Chimney Fires and Protect Your Home

fireplace safety

There’s nothing like a warm fire on a chilly winter night. But did you know that your fireplace ambiance comes with a maintenance requirement? The effort of maintaining your fireplace chimney is a small price to pay to avoid chimney fires.

You love your home and take good care of it. But sometimes problems happen anyway. Part of caring for your home is being ready to handle damages when they occur. Contact Lake Region Insurance Agency today for a free insurance review and policy quote.

How Can a Chimney Catch Fire? 

Your chimney removes smoke from your home while providing fresh air to feed the fire in the fireplace. Hot, smoky air rises through the center of the chimney, the flue, and out of your house. 

The hot air rising through the chimney flue creates a draft, which is like a vacuum that draws the smoke up the chimney. 

A strong draft will carry the airborne debris to the outside. A weaker one will deposit soot and creosote on your chimney’s walls. This happens when the fire isn’t hot enough, or your chimney is too short, 

Creosote is a thick, flaky residue that can coat the walls of the chimney. It’s highly combustible, so if the temperature inside your chimney gets high enough, the creosote will catch fire. 

Preventing Chimney Fires

chimney safety

A chimney fire occurs about 22,000 times a year in the United States, so homeowners need to monitor this. To avoid a disaster in your house, keep the following tips in mind.

Keep It Clean

Your chimney won’t catch fire if it’s clean. Creosote is fuel for chimney fires, and if it ignites, the heat may be much higher than your chimney can withstand.

Have your chimney serviced by a certified chimney sweep once a year. They’ll check the flue walls and identify and address any potential problems. 

Chimney maintenance is always less expensive than repair. It is much more straightforward to repair cracks in mortar joints or masonry than to replace a warped flue. So stay on top of your chimney’s servicing needs to keep your home safe and avoid costly repairs.

Put a Damper on It

The damper is a metal plate in the chimney that controls the air supply to your fireplace. It closes off the fireplace when you don’t have a fire going, and swings up to open the flue when needed.

Make sure to open the damper when you light a fire. You want the maximum draft to pull airborne particles up and out of your house. 

When you aren’t using the fireplace, keep the damper closed. This habit will help to insulate your home from outside temperatures. It can even deter the occasional bird or bat that might find a way into your chimney. 

Pay Attention to What You Burn

chimney safety

The wood you choose can affect the amount of creosote buildup on your chimney walls. Hardwoods like oak, ash, and elm are excellent firewood choices because they burn hotter and longer than softwoods.

Avoid softwoods like fir, pine, and cypress. These wood species are fine for a bonfire outdoors, but they burn up quickly and leave excess creosote on your chimney walls. 

Your wood needs to be dry throughout before you add it to your fire. Wet wood equals more smoke and less heat. The high water content also makes for a thicker, stickier smoke compound. This substance can coat the glass on your fireplace and stick to your chimney flue’s walls.

Freshly-cut trees or branches contain sap, and it takes 6-12 months for logs to dry out completely. Season your firewood by stacking it outside and letting it sit for at least six months. 

Split the wood to speed the drying process, and stack it off the ground in a single row to increase airflow. Keep your wood stack in a sheltered area or cover it in wet weather. 

If you’re just starting, look for wood that is already seasoned. Get enough seasoned wood to last through this winter. 

At the same time, get unseasoned wood for the following winter. By the time you need it next year, your wood will be ready. Keep stocking your lumber a year ahead to continue the cycle.

If you aren’t sure whether your wood is dry enough to use, measure it with a moisture meter. You can find this simple tool for around $20 at your hardware store or online. 

Don’t Go Overboard

It’s so tempting to poke, prod, and add more wood to your crackling fire. But adding too much wood at one time can create a blanket over the flames. This situation creates a cooler, dirtier fire. 

Overfilling your firebox, known as over-firing, can create a more massive fire than your structure can contain. The heat can transfer through the fireplace to the surrounding, non-fireproof parts of your home.

What Should I Do If I Have a Chimney Fire?

chimney fires

A fast-burning fire will be apparent.

  • You’ll hear a sound like a large bonfire coming from the chimney. Some people have described a sound like a plane taking off.
  • Thick, dense smoke may push down the chimney and into the house. 
  • You will see flames and burning pieces of creosote erupting from the top of the chimney. 

Slow-burning chimney fires are common. They occur when the creosote is hot enough to burn, but there isn’t enough to cause a big blaze. Sometimes these fires burn themselves out, but they still can damage the chimney. 

Consider keeping a chimney fire extinguishing product on hand. Chimfex and Fire-Ex are products that work by quickly reducing the available oxygen in the flue to starve the fire. 

If you think you had or have a chimney fire, even a small one, always call 911. A firefighter can make sure your home is safe. And then be sure to have a certified professional do a chimney inspection to check for damage.

Let’s Make Sure You’re Covered

Accidents happen even with chimney safety protocols in place. So it’s essential to be sure you have adequate coverage. Contact Lake Region Insurance Agency for a free review of your homeowners or other policies. 

As independent agents, we access plans from many providers so that you can choose from the best options out there. Visit us in Cokato, Willmar, or New London, MN, to get a quote today.

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