One of the more attractive features of any home is its fireplace. Warm and inviting, fireplaces can add ambience, light, as well as heat. But what keeps your fireplace blazing away smoothly is one aspect of home care that often gets neglected – the cleaning and maintenance of the chimney.
Spring may seem like an odd time to talk about fireplaces and chimney care however after the harsh winter months have battered the chimney, with wind, ice, snow and extreme temperature changes, this is an ideal time to inspect and ensure that everything is in good working order for those cold winter nights which will be around the corner all too soon.
Simply put, a chimney is a structure which surrounds and supports an internal flue. Its purpose is to vent all the smoke, ash, and harmful gases away from your home that are produced when a fire is burning in your wood stove or fireplace.
A chimney and the flue within it is a structure built to protect you. The products of combustion contain hazardous gases, including carbon monoxide – a colourless, odorless, tasteless gas that can cause serious illness or death if present in sufficient amounts. It’s responsible for hundreds of deaths and countless illnesses every year in homes across North America . Due to this fact, it is important to ensure that your home’s chimney is working properly. A quick and simple starting point would be to install a carbon monoxide detector, so you have an early warning to monitor your chimney’s functioning if something goes wrong.
As of April 15, 2015 the Hawking Gignac Act came into force which requireds that all residences in Ontario with a fuel-burning appliance (such as a fireplace) have carbon monoxide alarms installed
The main source of chimney problems in homes today is inadequate venting. What causes venting problems? Usually, it’s a blockage of the flue. This may be caused by a buildup of ash (creosote), or from debris falling into the chimney due to deterioration of the masonry on top (mortar crown).
Blockages are also often caused by animals such as squirrels or raccoons, or by birds building a nest. Always open the flue and look up your chimney before lighting a fire. It’s a good idea to keep a flashlight handy in your wood box to assist you in this purpose.
The telltale sign that a stone or brick chimney is venting inadequately are indications of efflorescence on the exterior. Efflorescence occurs when hot water vapour (believe it or not – a byproduct of combustion) from your furnace, hot water heater, and fireplace that should vent out your chimney gets trapped inside by a blockage. The vapour then begins to vent out through the flue liner into the bricks and mortar of the chimney’s exterior. Efflorescence will deposit a whitish residue infused in your chimney’s brickwork, obvious to anyone who may be viewing the home that repairs are immediately necessary. If you’re a prospective homebuyer, it’s an easy thing to watch out for. If you’re a seller, or just a homeowner, it’s something you should fix immediately for safety reasons.
Avoiding blockages is simple. Creosote will build up with use, so have your chimney professionally cleaned regularly. The frequency will depend on how much you use it. Also, when any work is being done on your home’s roof, have the mortar crown on the top of your chimney, as well as the chimney’s liner, inspected for leaks, and ensure that the chimney cap is firmly in place.