Although we just celebrated the first day of summer, if you let your mind wander just a few months back, I know you can remember those cold nights we had last winter. With just a little imagination, you can recall how it felt to come home after a long day, slogging through a late day snowstorm, clearing out the new snow that the plows left in your driveway, and finally kicking off your boots when you came inside.
Dinner is done, and it’s time to relax. You stack the wood in the fireplace, light it up, and sink back in your favorite chair ready to enjoy a beverage and just watch the flames; but instead of that pleasant scenario playing out, picture the room filling up with smoke and the ear-splitting screech of the smoke alarm that just goes on and on.
If that doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, there is an easy way to avoid it. Contact a chimney professional and get your fireplace cleaned and/or serviced. The good thing is that fireplace professionals are not super busy right now. Rather than waiting until the Fall, get a professional out to your home now, on your schedule, and beat the rush. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), as well as other fire safety organizations (such as the NFPA), recommend annual inspections. While the professionals are there doing the inspection, have them do a cleaning as well, and any repairs that may be needed.
Chimneys get pretty rough treatment. With a wood-burning fireplace, about 20% of the heat generated will be radiant (i.e., the heat you will feel coming off the fire), while 80% is hot gases. Combine this with the fact that only about 10% of that radiant heat actually makes it into your room, this results in 90% of the heat going up the chimney. The amount of heat from a fireplace varies depending on the type of fuel used, intensity, and size of fire and burning temperatures of the fire, which can range from as low as 500 F to well above 1100 F.
Not only is the interior of your chimney exposed to these extreme temperatures, it is also susceptible to acidic creosote deposits. If your chimney is not equipped with a proper cap, deterioration (especially of the flue) can be accelerated due to the mix of moisture and creosote.
Inspection (and repair when needed) of the exterior of the chimney is also important. The combination of extreme cold in the winter, paired with extreme heat in the summer (your roof gets hot), can really play havoc with the mortar and masonry of your chimney. This damage, in turn, can allow more moisture to creep in and add to the injury being incurred on the interior.
Once you have had your chimney inspected, the next step is to have it professionally cleaned. Creosote build up is inevitable. The more moisture in your wood, the quicker creosote will accumulate. Properly seasoned (dried) firewood should have a moisture content less than 20%.
If you don’t have that chimney cap we mentioned above, get one installed when you are having it cleaned. Chimney caps are necessary to restrict rain, snow, sleet, as well as debris, (think leaves and whatever else is blowing around) from getting inside your chimney. Of course, the main benefit is avoiding moisture getting into your chimney, but a good cap, with a mesh, will also deter the occasional animal as well.
If you have a steep roof (a slope of 3:12 or greater), this greatly increases the chance of rain getting into your chimney. As an added safeguard, some have a “cricket” installed. A cricket is an added ridge in the roofline that will divert rainwater away from your chimney.
There is one more thing you can do as far as moisture is concerned. Have your chimney waterproofed.
Chimneys are usually masonry and brick. These materials are porous and will absorb large amounts of water. Common brick is like a sponge, absorbing water and wicking moisture to the chimney interior. Defective mortar joints or the use of improper mortar or brick can greatly increase the tendency to absorb and convey water to the interior of the masonry chimney.
Several products have been developed specifically for use as waterproofing agents on masonry chimneys. These formulas are 100% vapor permeable, which means that they allow the chimney to breathe. Therefore, water that has penetrated and the vapors produced when the chimney dries out or the water vapors produced during use are allowed to escape, while the waterproofing agent prevents water from entering from the outside.
While you are having all this done, you may want to think about upgrading your fireplace at the same time. Glass doors and fireplace liners are two simple and relatively inexpensive ways to get more out of your fireplace in terms of looks and efficiency. Installing a new mantel or even simply adding new fireplace accessories can change the entire look and feel of the space.
The professionals at Fine Home Details can advise you on fireplace inspection, cleaning and repair, as well as give you many options on how you might upgrade the look and feel of your fireplace. We would love to help you enjoy your fireplace more, and keep you safe at the same time.