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Proper chimney care starts well before the first snow falls. Image Via: Peace Design

Proper chimney care starts well before the first snow falls. Image Via: Peace Design

Regular readers of Freshome probably have autumn home maintenance down to a science, but winter is officially here. We don’t know about you but, to us, freezing temperatures and snow storms are synonymous with cozy nights in spent bundled up in front of a fire. But, before you get those logs burning, listen up. Proper chimney care should take place well before lighting the first match.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America estimates that there are nearly 25,000 house fires due to improper chimney care annually and that high of a number is not unique to the United States alone.

Why risk letting your family become part of that statistic? Instead, let us guide you on how to prep your chimney for winter. We’ve got the best tips and tricks to keep you safe – and warm – all season long.

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Take the time to make sure that your chimney will keep you warm all winter long. Image Via: Lohss Construction

Take the time to make sure that your chimney will keep you warm all winter long. Image Via: Lohss Construction

Schedule A Yearly Chimney Inspection:

For most of us, our fireplace and chimney is only something that we think about a few times a year when we would like to make a fire. It’s easy to let chimney cleaning and inspections fall by the wayside for a few years since our fireplaces get relatively little use when compared to other features in our homes. However, the scary thing about chimneys is that once you can see problems, they are usually dire. Instead, stay on top of small issues by having your chimney inspected once a year.

As with any home maintenance project, you want to be sure that your home inspection is done by an experienced and qualified professional. Have him or her check both the interior and exterior of your unit. The interior portion should include the firebox, smoke chamber and damper, while the exterior portion will cover the cap and crown of your chimney.

In addition to inspecting the structural components of your chimney, have your inspector clean the chimney to remove any soot since buildup can eventually become a fire hazard. If you are a new homeowner, it may be a good idea to have your inspector walk you through how to use your fireplace properly. Don’t hesitate to get any questions answered. 

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Get all your fireplaces inspected annually. Image Via: Crisp Architects

Get all your fireplaces inspected annually. Image Via: Crisp Architects

Watch Out For Imperfections:

Unfortunately, chimney safety is not something that you can think about just once a year and then stick in the back of your mind. You should always be on the lookout for chimney imperfections that could cause an issue. However, once you know what to look for, the process will become second nature.

The biggest tipoff that something could be wrong with your chimney is a leak. After heavy rainstorms, make it a habit to inspect your chimney, fireplace, and surrounding areas for moisture. If you see darkened wet spots on the walls, ceiling, or floors, call a professional out to your home as soon as possible.

Whenever you get around to checking roof maintenance off of your to-do list, take a look at the chimney as well. Carefully inspect your chimney for any obvious sighs of wear or for nests that animals may have built in there since the last time you cleaned the gutters.

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nvest in the proper tools to make stoking fires a snap. Image Via: Terrat Elm

nvest in the proper tools to make stoking fires a snap. Image Via: Terrat Elm

Use The Proper Equipment:

In addition to ensuring that your chimney is in tip-top shape, you’ll also want to shift your focus to the hearth itself. The most important tool for your hearth is a fireplace shield. The shield keeps errant sparks from spitting out of the fireplace and on to your living room rug or another flammable surface.

You’ll also need a fireplace tool set, which allows you to maintain a safe distance while reaching into the flame. Complete tool sets often come outfitted with a poker, broom, shovel, and tongs. Most also come with a stand to keep those heavy metal tools out of harms way when not in use.

A note on using the correct type wood: Fire wood should be seasoned, or given time to dry out before burning. Fresh wood is comprised of nearly 45% water, which can create am overly-smoky fire, so it’s recommended that you let the wood rest for 3-6 months before using it for a fire. Properly dry wood is often lighter with darkened, cracked ends compared to newer wood, which has a greener tint.

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Invest in the proper tools to make stoking fires a snap. Image Via: Dan Waibel Designer Builder

Invest in the proper tools to make stoking fires a snap. Image Via: Dan Waibel Designer Builder

Stay Aware Of Fire Safety

Our final tip is the most obvious, but perhaps the most important. Take the proper steps toward fire safety. No matter how much roof maintenance you do, accidents can still happen. Give yourself the chance to rest easy in the knowledge that you are prepared for the worst case scenario – despite hoping it never happens.

Fire safety starts, of course, with smoke detectors. Install a smoke detector in every room in your home and do your best to test them every six months and replace any burned out batteries. In addition to the smoke detectors, each home should have at least one working fire extinguisher.

The National Fire Protection Association also recommends creating a fire escape plan, especially for families with young children or members with mobility limitations. Remind your family of basic safety precautions in the event of a fire such as staying low to the floor to minimize smoke inhalation and testing the heat of doorknobs with the back of your hand before opening doors to determine fire placement. You should also pick a predetermined meeting place for everyone to gather after exiting your home.

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Teach the whole family fire safety procedures. Image Via: Cornerstone Architects

Teach the whole family fire safety procedures. Image Via: Cornerstone Architects

With just a bit of planning and forethought, you can easily prep your chimney for winter. On the reverse, neglecting your fireplace could have costly or even deadly consequences. Is it really worth putting your loved ones at risk? Instead, we suggest taking a look at these chimney care tips. We’re sure you’ll want to reference them year after year, once the temperatures start to drop.

Does your household do any sort of chimney prep? Do you have any must-know chimney care tips to share? Tell us all about it in them comments.