It is nearly that time of year when Livonia residents are thinking about relaxing to the sights and sounds of a fire in the fireplace. But before nestling in on a cold evening with your family and a nice fire, you should have your chimney checked out.
Every year, chimney fires cause millions of dollars in direct property damages across the United States. Fireplaces, chimneys and chimney connectors were responsible for 36 percent of home heating fires in the years 2003 to 2007, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 2007 alone, fire departments in the United States responded to 66,400 home structure fires that involved heating equipment. The best way to keep from becoming part of this statistic is to have your chimney inspected and cleaned each year.
Cleaning your chimney reduces the amount of creosote within the walls of the chimney. Creosote is a black oily residue produced from burning wood that happens when a fire is lit in the fireplace. Left unchecked, creosote can build up to a thickness of several inches and can ignite and cause the lining of your chimney to catch fire. Compare that to grease that can build up around your stove. It makes it easier to ignite and start a fire, a condition you certainly want to avoid.
A fire in a chimney can burn for long periods of time before being detected. This high heat buildup may radiate to the attic in your home and start a fire there. Since most homes do not have smoke alarms in the attic, the fire can get a head start before being noticed by occupants or neighbors. This can be dangerous as time is your enemy when a fire breaks out.
The type of wood you burn in the fireplace plays a role in the buildup of creosote in the chimney as well. It is recommended that you burn hard woods, not woods that have high levels of sap in them, such as fruit trees. The wood should also be dry before placing it in your fireplace.
When lighting your fireplace fire, make sure you have an area around the fireplace that is clear of combustibles for three feet. This includes newspapers, seasonal decorations and anything else that can burn. Keep the wire mesh screen closed when burning, which will keep in any flying embers and sparks. In addition to this, keep the glass doors open if you have them. Always have adult supervision nearby when using the fireplace, and completely extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the home.
Do not use flammable liquids or accelerants of any kind when starting your fire, and avoid burning any trash in the fireplace. This can also lead to premature buildup of creosote inside the chimney walls.
Home heating fires peak between the hours of 6 and 8 p.m., but associated deaths do not peak until 2 to 4 a.m. This brings out the importance of having working smoke alarms and a fire escape plan that was prepared and practiced by everyone in the home.
Winters in Livonia can be beautiful. A relaxing evening at home with a fire in the fireplace is a treat. Take a few minutes now to avoid a possible chimney fire later.
Tom Kiurski is training coordinator for the Livonia