Angie’s List: Fireplace Faux Pas

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With fall giving way to winter, more and more of us will be using our fireplaces to warm our homes and create a cozy environment. But if your fireplace and chimney haven’t been inspected recently, it can be an accident waiting to happen – even if yours burns gas instead of wood.

Ashley Eldridge has been sweeping chimneys for decades, so poorly maintained fireplaces don’t surprise him.

“I’ve seen dampers installed backwards. I’ve seen fireplaces that were incapable of functioning properly,” says Ashley Eldridge of the Chimney Safety Institute of America. “Most of the fireplaces are not actually built the way that they should be built. The smoke chamber should be very smooth as it leads the smoke into the flue, and it’s a rarity to find that done properly.”

That’s just one reason to have your fireplace inspected and swept, regardless if it burns wood or gas.

“No matter what kind of fireplace you have, you should have it cleaned and inspected every year. This includes gas fireplaces,” Angie Hicks says. “Even though they don’t get soot and creosote build-up, they do have other issues that need to be attended to.”

Ceramic logs, for example, can deteriorate and the debris can clog vents, which could spark a chimney fire. Then there’s the issue of keeping moisture out.

“Water entry is the single biggest problem, whether you have a masonry chimney or a factory-built chimney, so we want to be sure that water isn’t entering into the chase of a factory-built chimney or into a masonry chimney for that matter,” Eldridge says.

Moisture could lead to cracks that affect the ventilation system. If that fails, carbon monoxide could enter your home. Finally, where’s your gas shut-off valve? It should be on the outside of your fireplace, but many are not.

“If you have a gas fireplace, inspect where the shut-off valve is because it should not be inside the fireplace because if something goes wrong, you don’t want to reach inside,” Hicks says. “If you do have yours in that location, hire a plumber and have it rerouted to a safer spot.”

The Chimney Safety Institute of America and the National Fire Protection Association recommend annual inspections. Angie says to look for a CSIA-certified chimney sweep when hiring. An inspection and sweeping should take between 60 and 90 minutes and cost between 100 and 300 dollars.