This article was crafted with the help of The Mad Hatter Air Duct Cleaning & Chimney Sweep.

A fireplace can be a wonderful addition to any room in the house where the family might gather, providing warmth, light, and a cozy ambiance. However, a fireplace system has to be carefully maintained to make sure that the common problems that affect chimneys don’t impact the safety and beauty of your family’s favorite gathering spot.

Common Chimney Concerns

While the firebox of the fireplace system can be easily seen and therefore monitored by the homeowner, the chimney itself commonly faces a number of troubles that are often caught only by a chimney professional. 

This is one of the reasons that Kevin Sparks, owner of The Mad Hatter Air Duct Cleaning & Chimney Sweep in Atlanta, suggests that homeowners with fireplaces should find a chimney sweep company they like and stick with them.

“Regular maintenance on your fireplace can prevent a lot of problems,” says Kevin. “A chimney company that does well for you can track the structure’s progress as they’re looking at the fireplace and chimney every year.”

The following four chimney problems account for the majority of house calls in the chimney industry:

Chimney Problem Definition Solution
Creosote Creosote, the byproduct of burning wood, builds up on the sides of the flue system and the firebox area. Over time, this buildup can cause blockages that result in flue fires or potentially a whole-house fire. Regular cleaning eliminates the chance for creosote to develop on chimney surfaces.
Animals Birds, squirrels, or raccoons, among other animals, get in the chimney and cause issues inside that include smells, noises, blockages, and even fires. Chimney caps with spark arrestors prevent animals from entering the space and nesting.
Rain Moisture will cause rust, odors, and leaks, and during freeze-thaw cycles it can cause cracking in the chimney’s mortar over time. Chimney caps keep rainwater from collecting in the chimney.
Settlement Settlement can cause your chimney to develop a crack or a gap in the flue system; this poses a danger, as it can allow carbon monoxide or smoke to escape into the home and cause health issues. Refurbishment or restoration can be performed on a chimney and firebox with settlement damage.

Only You Can Prevent Chimney Abuse

According to Kevin, many common chimney problems can be avoided if homeowners observe a few basic rules in using the fireplace.

Do not use the fireplace as a disposal unit. Kevin warns against burning items like boxes, trash, or even Christmas paper in the fireplace. Items like these can cause heavier-than-normal creosote buildup in the chimney and often contain glues that produce toxins when burned. Fumes from the fire can cause health problems for people in the home.

Do not use the open fireplace as a kitchen. The open flame in the hearth can be a temptation to the home cook who wants to experience the primal feeling of preparing meals over a crackling fire. However, interior fireplaces are not geared to that sort of thing. Kevin said that he actually had to “replace a prefabricated fireplace in an apartment complex because a guy had been using a hibachi grill and cooking in the firebox over a period of a couple of years.” 

Over time, grease from grilling and cooking over the flame will build up inside the chimney, making a dangerous grease fire imminent. After a longer period, the hazard will be unable to be cleaned and can lead to costly chimney repairs, as were needed with the hibachi owner’s fireplace.

So, while occasionally letting the kids sit in front of the hearth with a few skewered marshmallows won’t do much harm, regular open-hearth cooking should be relegated to outdoor fireplaces, which are designed for the job.

Do not use the fireplace to re-enact the Great Chicago Fire. Many fireplace owners will build huge, roaring fires in the firebox. Whether they think they are saving time by not having to tend the fire or just like to see the dancing flames, Kevin says that “tons of wood in the firebox” is not the way to go

A large fire is going to take longer to start and to burn, and it will burn hotter, which can overheat the firebox and cause long-term damage, like warping and loose brickwork. “Throwing a lot of wood in,” says Kevin, “or once you get it going, putting ten pieces of wood on top and having a huge fire, is going to cause more creosote, more emissions, and more structural issues down the line.”

A Sweeping Array of Services

Most chimney sweep companies also perform a wide variety of other chimney-related services that can prevent future problems and improve the safety of your fireplace and chimney, including:

  • Minor tuck-pointing
  • Mortar or brick repair
  • Chimney cap installation or replacement
  • Chimney relining
  • Video camera inspections

As Kevin notes, maintenance and proper use are the keys to heading off trouble and being able to enjoy your fireplace for a long time. “Fireplaces are great. They provide ambience and heat,” says Kevin. “But, they’re the only place in your home where you build a fire openly. Use them with caution and respect.”

This article was crafted with the help of The Mad Hatter Air Duct Cleaning & Chimney Sweep, an Atlanta expert in Chimney & Fireplace Work. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.

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