Chimney and fireplace safety is many times overlooked. Many home owners believe that because a fireplace may only be used a handful of times per year, having a chimney inspected and cleaned regularly is not a priority. Making this assumption has greatly contributed to the loss of property and lives.
A sizeable percentage of chimney service companies will actually admit that a routine inspection or cleaning is necessary only every couple of years. Generally this is a true statement, but it largely depends on how frequently the fireplace and chimney has been used and the specific type of fuel or material being burned. A fireplace utilized more often, such as in northern climates, must be inspected more frequently than a fireplace used sporadically.
Wood is the most commonly used fuel source to burn. A natural byproduct of burning wood is creosote which will be deposited through the chimney stack and flue. It is this creosote that proves to be a fire hazard. Traditional chimney construction of yesteryear was essentially similar to a basic brick oven. The general insulating properties of brick were relied upon to protect the rest of the home. Unfortunately a brick chimney can help to quickly elevate the temperature as it radiates heat into the chimney thereby increasing the chances of igniting the deposited creosote.
Present day materials and efficient burning fireplaces can help minimize the hazards of airborne soot and the amount of byproducts being deposited along the walls of the chimney which allow for improved chimney safety and ease of cleaning. Chimney liners and flue liners of different materials, such as stainless steel simplifies the cleaning and can decrease the risks of extra high temperatures. Having an exterior cleanout door will also aid in the cleanliness during chimney sweeping.
Take note that a fireplace or chimney that is inspected does not necessarily mean that it needs to be cleaned. Many chimney sweep companies offer inspections as a separate service from cleaning. Bundling a chimney inspection with a chimney cleaning package, however, may yield savings and discounts. Surprising both services are exceptionally inexpensive compared to the alternative of having a home go up in flames. Before every winter season the home owner should do their share and perform a visual inspection of the exterior stack and the interior of the fireplace, but this is not necessarily a substitute for a professional inspection. Should any worn mortar, cracking or peeling of the exterior of the chimney stack be visible, the chimney should absolutely be inspected by a professional before first use of the season.