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All About Your Chimney

Posted by on Thursday, January 2nd, 2014 at 2:44pm.

The Department of Energy estimates that homeowners can save up to 30 percent on their monthly energy bills simply through properly weatherizing their home. There's never a better time to tackle the season's must do maintenance – especially on your fireplace and chimney. Because your fireplace is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to letting the cold air inside, it's arguably the most important item to get checked off your list.

Whether it's on a do it yourself or professional level, it might be time for your fireplace and chimney to undergo a little TLC. If you live in an older home, it can be wise to consult a professional chimney sweep. They'll take inventory of any structural damage, and will also clean the inside of your chimney from any built up gunk, soot, debris, creosote or living (and maybe dead) creatures – all of which go a long way towards preventing a house fire. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says that each year 27,000 homes succumb to fires that originate in a poorly maintained chimney or fireplace. If you know it's been awhile since your fireplace had any kind of maintenance or winterizing done – it can be well worth your time to contact a professional.

Fire Place and ScreenBecause professionals offer a wide variety of services that range from just your basic sweep to something more thorough, you can call upon them to detect any sources of heat loss due to your chimney and/or fireplace. Chimneys can certainly wreak havoc on your energy bill as easily as doors or windows, often due to a damaged, or possibly missing, damper or louver – the metal flap that opens and closes when you use your fireplace. When the damper is broken, it is unable to function properly, and in essence, is an open invitation for the air outside to come inside. Professionals can repair or replace a broken damper, and one common solution is called a chimney balloon. A chimney balloon is a deflatable, pillow like device that inflates to fit beneath the damper and prevent air from escaping and deflates automatically if it comes into contact with heat (they are for use when you're not using the fireplace). If you're at all hesitant, chimney work is best left for the pros – chimney work is wrought with tricky codes and fire hazards.

Ready to hire a chimney sweep? The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends that homeowners take a few steps when you're thinking about hiring a professional. Because your chimney sweep can help protect your home against unnecessary fires and carbon monoxide poisonings, it's not a decision to be made hastily. When you're looking at your options, consider a company that is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep.

Now that your chimney and fireplace is cleaned up and ready for use, there are several things you can do to ensure your fireplace stays healthy and strong all season long. One thing you can do is switch to burning a synthetic log versus a real one. There's a lot of sources out there that claim burning an artificial log is bad for your fireplace, but that simply does not seem to be true. In fact, artificial logs are likely cleaner, safer, cheaper and easier than real logs. Artificial logs also go by the names of fake fire logs, artificial wax fire logs and wax fire logs. In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency published a study that compared emissions from real logs and five brand-name synthetic logs. The results showed that the carbon monoxide emission rate from the synthetic logs were roughly 75 percent less than real wood, and in addition to that, the synthetic ones also created roughly 80 percent less particulate matter.

As far as synthetic logs being safer, that holds true as long as you use them correctly. Use only one log at a time, and do not break them apart. It's true that they don't produce nearly as much heat as your typical roaring fire full of kindling, real logs and paper – but when you use a synthetic log properly, you're drastically minimizing the chance of a chimney fire. In addition to this, you'll love how easy synthetic logs are to deal with. All you need to do is put it in the fireplace and light the package.

If you're still hesitant about using a synthetic log, then it's recommended that you burn seasoned hardwoods. Select dense wood, like oak, that's been split and stored in a high up and dry place for at least six months. Green wood and resinous softwoods, such as pine, produce more creosote – the stuff that's a highly flammable byproduct of combustion that tends to build up in your chimney. And when you do light up, keep it nice and small. Smaller fires produce less smoke and thus less creosote buildup. You don't want your cozy fire to get too large or too hot.

Next, we'd like to touch upon the chimney cap. The question is, does your chimney need one? Chimney caps are designed to do several things, but it all comes down to this: if you have an active chimney, you should be using a cap. At its most basic level, a chimney cap's job is to promote fire safety. When you use your fireplace, you create a lot of sparks. These sparks generally stay within the fire chamber or the base of the chimney, but some persistent ones can reach the top and if you aren't protected with a cap or screen, they can ignite your roof or nearby flammable materials. A single spark is all it takes. They also keep out small animals, help prevent weather damage, and can even help enhance your chimney's performance. Wind can affect your chimney's draft, and by installing a cap, it can help block some of that wind and help your chimney's draft stay constant.

Finally, to prevent errant embers from launching into the house, implement a mesh metal screen or glass fireplace doors, especially if no one is occupying the room.  Chimneys are a part of a home that can be so nice, but can easily be forgotten creating a dangerous situation--if you are lucky enough to have a chimney, treat it kindly.   

Hughes Real Estate Group is available 24/7 at (208) 571-7145. Get your search for the perfect Idaho home started today.

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