When was the last time you had your fireplace inspected and cleaned? Do you have an annual appointment with a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America? No? The National Fire Protection Association will have you know that creosote (the substance that builds up on chimney walls) was implicated in 22 percent of annually reported home heating fires -- and, in addition to the loss of life, these fires were responsible for $35 million in direct property damage each year. Whether you have a wood- or gas-burning fireplace, properly maintain it to help protect you, your loved ones, and your property from a fire.
- Annual inspection. Michigan State University experts warn that a fireplace must be inspected at least once each year. This is the time to have it cleaned, if needed, to prevent creosote buildup in a wood-burning model.
- Chimney cap installation. Keep squirrels, bats, and birds out of the chimney by installing a cap. This cap allows smoke to escape but prevents local wildlife from taking up residence in the chimney. The caps also keep out detritus, which is particularly important if you have deciduous trees nearby.
- Gas fireplace safety. While it is true that creosote is primarily a product of incomplete wood burning, the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association notes that gas fireplaces need to have an annual inspection as well. An expert in gas-burning fireplace technology must adjust the millivolt output (if needed) and "clean the fan and related air circulation passages."
- Factory-built fireplace safety. There is a difference between a factory-built unit and a masonry fireplace. The Chimney Safety Institute of America explains that factory-built appliances are decorative heating appliances. While they may not have the same workhorse power as a traditional fireplace, they nevertheless require an annual inspection.
- Vent-free fireplace maintenance. The Vent-Free Gas Products Alliance identifies vent-free fireplaces as a clean heating source that does not require "chimneys, flues, or vents that can get clogged, need repair, or cleaning." Nevertheless, even this type of fireplace calls for an annual inspection by a service agent who is familiar with this particular technology. The professional will check and adjust the burner, verify that the ignition system is in good working order, and clean the appliance.
The tenor of this maintenance list is clear: A professional inspection by an expert in the field is required. Please also note that this checklist will assist with fire prevention; however, it does not guarantee it. Install a smoke detector near the fireplace. Increase your safety by also installing a carbon monoxide detector and keeping a fire extinguisher close by.