A short article about what a chimney does and how to maintain safety and other essentials.
Understanding how a chimney works will help in safety. Chimneys are vertical shafts that draw smoke and gasses from a fireplace or wood stove to the outside. Air is drawn in at the same for combustion. Inside the chimney is a flue. Each fireplace or appliance should have its own flue inside the chimney. Flues are lined with some type of material that allows cleaning, safety and better performance. Materials used include baked clay liners or terra cotta, volcanic pumice, stainless steel and cast-in-place. The top of the chimney is called the crown. It should slowly slope towards the edge, which will cause rainwater to run off. Finally, some chimneys have a cleanout door at the base of the flue for removing the soot and debris from the chimney.
There is certain information that a homeowner needs to know about the chimney. Was it constructed properly and structurally sound? What kind of lining is in the chimney and is it in good shape if the house? Does it need cleaning and if there are appliances attached, are they working properly? Is there a chimney cap on the top? A cap keeps water from entering the chimney and causing damage. If there is a mesh screen inside the cap, make sure it does not have any holes that would allow small animals and birds inside. To get some of this information, it may be necessary to find a chimney professional. Ask them about what training and certifications they have and what services they offer. References should be available as well.
There are several things the homeowner can keep an eye on and regular checks to perform before using the chimney each time. Look at the outside of the chimney. Can you see cracks on the chimney? Are there missing or loose bricks, holes or even leaning? If there is damage on the outside, it could be even worse on the inside. Look around inside the house around the chimney for evidence of leaks. Maybe the wallpaper is peeling or stained indicating water is coming in. The leaks could be coming from the area where the chimney and roof meet or it could be inside the chimney.
When looking up a chimney be sure to wear eye protection and gloves. Open and close the damper a few times to make sure it works, sometimes they get rusty and need to be oiled. In addition, see if there seems to be a lot of soot built up in the smoke chamber.
If there is a chimney fire, call the fire department and get everyone, including pets, out of the house. You will hear a sound like a roar of a freight train or rocket taking off. Chimney fires cannot only badly damage the chimney, the house can burn down too since temperatures can reach 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. There are fire extinguishers made for chimneys and if you have one, use it. A professional should carefully inspect the chimney before being used again.
Use seasoned firewood in the fireplace or wood stove. This is wood has been stored covered for almost a year. Unseasoned wood has a high moisture content and will not burn well. Fireplaces tend to be able to burn a lower quality wood more easily than a wood stove. Super-dry wood is almost as bad to burn. It will burn fast and hot with the potential to throw a lot of sparks. Be sure the damper is open before lighting the fire!
Every year after the cold weather has past, have the chimney cleaned. That will leave your chimney clean for the summer and ready for use at the first sign of cool air.