Chimney Sweep

Annual chimney inspection a should

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by RBC Mortgages

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Mike Holmes and Sherry discuss a homeowner's wood-burning fireplace from Holmes and Holmes, Season 2. Mike Holmes and Sherry discuss a homeowner’s wood-burning fireplace from Holmes and Holmes, Season 2. Photo by The Holmes Group photograph

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A fireplace warms up a room very quickly and provides a cozy feel on a cold fall or winter’s day, but ensure your fireplace is ready for the season ahead. No matter what kind of fireplace you have, you must ensure it’s working correctly. If not, you’re looking at a potential chimney fire or carbon monoxide leaking into your home with a wood-burning fireplace.

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There are some basic fireplace maintenance tasks you should tackle every season.

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According to The National Fire Protection Association, the leading cause of fireplace fires was a failure to clean, mainly creosote from solid-fuelled heating equipment, primarily chimneys. Creosote buildup is a major cause of chimney fires, as it can release toxic gases and is highly flammable.

Remove the buildup, which is soot and creosote, from your fireplace. That’s the dark residue that coats the inside of the firebox and interior walls and reaches up into the lining of the chimney. Removing this buildup every season or whenever the residue appears thick is essential.

If you have a wood-burning fireplace, you must keep the firebox (the area where you build a fire) clean. After each use, dispose of the remaining ash. Make sure the fire has died and that the ash is cold.

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I always recommend an annual inspection by a professional. A certified chimney sweep can inspect your fireplace and has the right tools to ensure optimal performance. They will pick up on significant issues such as cracks in the chimney lining or a damaged chimney cap. Inspecting your fireplace can also tell you if the damper is sealing correctly.

A cracked flue is very dangerous for a couple of reasons. First, it allows heat and smoke to travel to other areas in the home. That’s not safe and it can also cause soot to build up quicker.

Your fireplace’s ash pit needs to be checked. You might have a leak if the ashes seem soggy and hard to remove. If that’s the case, fix it sooner rather than later. I recommend doing this once every other year.

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Your chimney gets exposed to rain, snow, freezing, and thawing. Bricks from your chimney can fall and injure people or create holes in your roof if neglected and not properly maintained. Animals love building nests in chimneys, which can block the flue, create improper venting, and lead to dangerous fumes being forced back inside your home. Ensure a working smoke and carbon monoxide detector is installed in the same room as the wood-burning or gas appliance. Remember to test your detectors every month.

It’s essential to inspect your chimney from the ground visually. Look for crumbling, loose or missing mortar. Is your chimney leaning? If you spot signs of damage on the outside of your chimney, I can guarantee that the inside is even worse.

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An ordinary masonry chimney is built of bricks and mortar with a liner made of metal or terra cotta. Unfortunately, over time water can penetrate the brick and cause it to break down and wick to the inside of the chimney. The freezing and thawing cycles can cause damage to the brick, compromising the structure of the chimney and making it unsafe.

Your chimney’s windward side (the one getting the most exposure to Mother Nature), may look worse than the other sides. Look for chipping mortar. If it’s a few holes here and there, repointing or tuck-pointing is a good way to get your chimney looking good again. This involves chipping out the loose mortar and refilling the spaces between the bricks with new mortar. However, if your chimney is in terrible shape, it may need to be rebuilt entirely and this should be done by a licensed brick and stone mason.

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Every year I hear about tragic house fires caused by fireplaces and chimneys. Chimney fires can reach over 1,000 degrees Celsius. That is hot enough to destroy the chimney liner and burn your house. So I will say it again, it’s essential to get your chimney professionally inspected annually, primarily if you use your fireplace frequently. Failure to regularly inspect, repair, and clean a chimney can cause it to malfunction and puts your family at risk.

Your annual home maintenance checklist should include your wood-burning fireplace. Have your chimney inspected by a certified specialist to ensure your wood-burning system is in good operating order, the installation complies with building requirements, and it is safe to use.

Residents of the GTA can apply for season 2 of Holmes Family Rescue

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