Most folks consider their fireplaces and chimneys to be indestructible parts of their home that require little or no maintenance. While masonry work is generally as close to maintenance-free as you can get, fireplaces and chimneys are more than just works of masonry: they are a part of your home’s heating system, which must effectively exhaust fumes from your fireplace, furnace and water heater.
Relatively minor but regular maintenance efforts can help your chimney operate safely for an indefinite period of time. In the U.S., many people are poorly informed about the importance of basic chimney maintenance. This lack of understanding causes a substantial number of preventable deaths and injuries each year.
Beyond the safety issue, neglect of chimneys leads to very expensive major repairs that would not be necessary if the chimney were properly maintained.
The three most serious problems that result from poorly maintained chimneys are:
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Premature failure of the fireplace and chimney
Carbon monoxide poisoning claims about 4,000 lives a year in the U.S., and a significant number of these deaths are the result of poorly maintained chimneys. In addition, about 10,000 people are made ill by lower levels of exposure to carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion. The less complete the burning (combustion), the more carbon monoxide is generated. Gas hot water heaters, gas and oil furnaces, fireplaces, and wood stoves all generate carbon monoxide.
One of the reasons carbon monoxide is so deadly is that you generally can’t see or smell it: rarely do its victims have any warning. Low levels of poisoning tend to cause flu-like symptoms, so that people think they are just catching a cold. More advanced poisoning can cause vomiting and headaches and even death. Carbon monoxide is deadly because it tricks the body into thinking it is oxygen. The body actually prefers carbon monoxide, choosing it over oxygen when both are present in the atmosphere.
Once in the body, carbon monoxide goes everywhere in the body, including the brain. Children, in particular, are quite susceptible to brain damage after relatively low levels of exposure.
With chimneys, fireplaces and furnaces, most carbon monoxide problems occur because of improper exhausting of fumes. Such problems are almost entirely avoidable through regular professional fireplace & chimney inspection.
The venting system of your furnace or heating system needs annual cleaning and maintenance, too. Although the particulate build-up is not as great as a fireplace or stove, the connections that vent your unit need to be removed and cleaned out. The process is very similar to chimney cleaning and it is just as important!
We clean all types of furnace and heating appliance venting systems, not just wood burning fireplace flues. Many people don’t realize that the same type of dangerous buildup & blockages can occur with furnace flues and gas appliances as well.
Every vented heating element in your home should be inspected and cleaned on a regular basis to ensure continued safe and efficient operation. Vented appliance can become blocked, posing a potential fire or carbon monoxide hazard which can spell danger for your home and your family. Not to mention, a clean venting system actually performs better and gets better heating efficiency when it is properly maintained.
One of the most important times to inspect and clean the furnace flues is when you move into a new home or install a new furnace in your existing home. Be aware that today’s high capacity energy efficient units call for different venting specifications than your old unit that you are replacing. This is an important consideration that you may be unaware of.
Hot water furnaces and forced hot air furnaces should also be inspected annually. Gas systems can get a build-up that is referred to as “scale” which forms when moisture and gas byproducts combine. Too much of this coating can result in poor performance and possible carbon monoxide backing up into the home. Many times, homeowners mistakenly assume that their heating contractor or oil provider will take care of cleaning the flues. This is not the case, and if left unattended, this system may become so clogged that homeowners begin to have problems with soot blowing through the house or sickness from CO2 poisoning.
Remember, if you see white residue on your masonry, this is a tell-tale sign that your chimney system needs to be looked at. The white residue, known as efflorescence, indicates that mineral salts are coming through the brick due to too moisture inside the chimney. This moisture can also ruin walls and ceilings that are adjacent to the chimney as it passes through the house. With regular maintenance, most major problems associated with chimneys and furnace venting systems can be avoided completely.