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One Inspection Will Solve Three Major Problems

Don’t Neglect This Important Maintenance – Annual Chimney Inspection

by Dave Lamb – dave@mychimneys.com
It’s that time of year to enjoy s’mores and hot chocolate by a cozy fire on a cold winter night, but first some important maintenance must be taken care of. To avoid chimney problems and health risks ruining the holiday season, make sure to get a chimney inspection before you start to use your chimney during the winter months. When it comes to chimneys, most homeowners believe that they need very little attention. But, after months of not being used during the summertime, each chimney really should be inspected. There are three main problems that can occur with chimneys that that have not been inspected that can lead not only to the demise of the chimney itself, but can also be harmful to the homeowner’s family as well. These problems are Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, Chimney Fires, and the premature Chimney Structure Deterioration.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide is the leading cause of poisoning deaths in the United States and it is entirely preventable and avoidable. Carbon Monoxide is odorless, colorless, tasteless and does not cause an immediate reaction. The gas is difficult to detect without a carbon monoxide detector. A house could be filled with dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and you may never know it – until it is too late. For this reason, it is important to know what carbon monoxide is, what it does and how to prevent it from filling your home.

Carbon monoxide forms as a result of incomplete combustion caused by not enough oxygen present to complete the oxidation to carbon dioxide. It can come from older cars and motor vehicles or from gasoline or wood burning fireplaces and household equipment.

People often have a hard time pinpointing carbon monoxide as the culprit for their illness because the symptoms mirror those of the common flu. Other symptoms from mild carbon monoxide exposure include fatigue, nausea, headaches and confusion. For cases where longer exposures to the poisonous gas exist, the exposure may lead to heart or brain damage or even death.

To the untrained eye, especially from the ground a chimney may look fine. But when a Chimney Sweep performs a Chimney Inspection they may find things like the cracked mortar evident on this chimney.

When carbon monoxide is present in the atmosphere along with oxygen our body prefers carbon monoxide over oxygen. This mistaken identity by our bodies can result in serious medical problems. This is why having the poisonous gas in the environment is harmful. Even low levels of carbon monoxide will cause damage, while higher levels can result in serious long lasting problems. Children are especially susceptible to brain and heart damage from carbon monoxide.

The problem in chimneys occurs because combustion gases accumulate when carbon monoxide is prevented from leaving the home. This build up of gas can start as a result of various chimney problems. These can include rusted heat exchanger, blocked chimney, or a broken chimney connector pipe. Each of these problems can be spotted by a professional chimney sweep in the yearly routine inspection and hopefully before any health problems occur.  When a chimney is left unchecked, the problems will go unnoticed and the poisonous gases may be present. Another way homeowners can monitor the levels of carbon monoxide in their homes is to install a carbon monoxide detector.  Annual chimney inspections will help to prevent this harmful gas from entering the home and building up in the first place.

Chimney Fires
Small fires within the chimney walls can also cause severe problems. Every time someone builds a fire in the fireplace, creosote and soot builds up within the chimney walls. Eventually, the buildup accumulates enough creosote that it can catch on fire. While at first these fires may seem minor and go out on their own, they are far from harmless.

The small fires that start inside of the chimney contain extremely high temperatures. It is often the case that one small fire along the inside of the chimney walls will cause damage to the mortar of the chimney walls. This damage will then enable a later fire to cause more severe damage. The hot fires in the damaged walls may not only catch fire to nearby flammable materials, but may also cause further structural damage to the chimney itself. With the first fire causing a crack in the mortar, the next fire may give the flames access to the flammable roofing materials and the wood in the attic or walls. The high temperatures allow the fires to move quickly and rapidly destroy whatever is in its path without giving the homeowner any time to react or even evacuate the home. Chimney fires can cause devastating results on an uncared for chimney. An annual inspection by a trained chimney professional can prevent the creosote buildup from happening in the first place and therefore prevent fires in the chimney walls from taking place. If a significant build up of material is found within the chimney, a professional chimney sweep will be able conduct the chimney cleaning and get rid of the fire hazard.

Chimney Structure Deterioration

When mortar becomes cracked and falls out, openings can give sparks and embers a place to escape onto the roof and possible start a house fire.

Chimney deterioration itself can cause both an outlet for carbon monoxide to escape into a home or provide an opening for a chimney fire to rapidly spread beyond the chimney walls. Any cracks in the mortar or any deterioration of the exterior walls of the chimney must be addressed as soon as they are noticed. These structural problems can quickly turn into health and safety issues for the homeowner. During a regular annual inspection any defects of this type can be brought to the homeowner’s attention.

Chimney liners that have begun to crack and deteriorate can allow extremely hot material to escape into walls, attics or roof areas.

Other than resulting in more severe problems, structural problems can be costly to fix if left unnoticed for a long time. It is better to fix small structural issues along the way than to realize the problem after the chimney has reached a point where it needs to be replaced or major repairs are necessary. The routine inspection by a chimney professional will check the structure and look for missing pieces and cracks. This way problems can be fixed preemptively before they turn into a major worry.

These 3 problems can all be solved by one professional. The annual chimney inspection is too important to miss. Count on your Chimney Sweep to help you have a safer burning season, and enjoy that cocoa around the fire with no worries!

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