Having a fireplace in the home is no longer a necessity, but it is great luxury. Fireplaces add a cozy ambiance to a room that is tough to match. However, they do pose the greatest fire risk in a home. According to the CSPC1, over half of house fires each year are a result of a fireplace or chimney. Fires are usually the result of poor maintenance and lack of attention to safety.
Smoke from fires builds up a chemical called creosote on the inner walls of the chimney. Creosote is highly flammable and can fuel a chimney fire with the right spark. It is vitally important to have the clean the flue of creosote and soot each year. If a top-down chimney sweep is used, inspect the top of the flue and flashing. The flue should be free from any blockage (e.g. bird’s nest). Smoke marks around the hearth sometimes indicate blockage. Use a vinegar and water solution to clean up these marks.
The flashing is the metal in between the chimney and the roof. Make sure the flashing is flush with the shingles and brick. The nails securing the flashing should be sealed to prevent rust.
While cleaning the flue, look for cracks in the masonry. These cracks can indicate a larger structural problem in the chimney or fireplace. Have a professional take a closer look. Fix smaller cracks to prevent them from turning into a larger problem.
At least once a year the fireplace and chimney should be cleaned and inspected. Inspections help to identify problems before they grow and a good sweep will help prevent chimney fires. A chimney sweep is an absolute must for wood-burning units but there are also preventive steps you can take to reduce creosote buildup.
Wood-burning fireplaces are much most hazardous and messy. If you have on in your home, use these tips to reduce the buildup of creosote in the flue.
A chimney sweep is best left to professionals. It is an involved process that is very messy. If you do decide to tackle it yourself, be sure to wear a surgical mask, gloves and safety glasses. There are four different methods to perform a sweep: bottom-up, top-down, weighted line and dual line method.
References: 1 - http://www.cpsc.gov/library/fire08.pdf