We are in the glorious days of fall, but with winter fast approaching it is time to make sure that your chimney and fireplace are ready. This is the time of year when chimney safety becomes priory one. The first step in ensuring that your chimney and fireplace are in good condition is to call in a professional chimney sweep to do a thorough maintenance check.

Getting once yearly maintenance checks of your chimney is the norm. According to home improvement expert, Bob Villa, if you use the chimney often consider a professional check after every 80 fires. This seems somewhat on par with what the CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) recommends as well. They don’t use precise numbers, but they do recommend a cleaning at least once per year with occasional use, twice per year with more frequent use, and three or four times per year with daily use.

Steps in Winterizing Your Chimney and Fireplace

Some of the must-do steps for getting your chimney and fireplace ready for the cold months are discussed below.

  • Cleaning: Just before winter begins hire a certified chimney sweep to clean your chimney and fireplace. The sweep will remove any soot and the dangerous and flammable creosote build-up as well as making repairs if needed.
  • Check for signs of dampness: Now is a good time to make sure that there is no water damage or leakage into the chimney and fireplace. The area around the chimney on the roof level should be checked to ensure that the chimney is still properly attached.
  • Check for cracks: Any cracks or falling masonry should be repaired. A chimney sweep will also check to find out what is causing the damage.
  • Make note of strange smells: This could be the result of creosote build-up, or a dead animal in the chimney.
  • Check for nests: When you are not using your chimney it can make a home for birds and other small creatures. Before winter arrives, make sure that there is nothing living in your chimney.
  • Caps: It is a good idea to cover your chimney. If it needs to be replaced or repaired, you should get this done as it will keep birds, small animals and rain from getting in.
  • Remove overhanging tree limbs: Tree limbs can affect the way the chimney works as they block the draft. Dried limbs can be a fire hazard.

In addition to the above, if you are using a wood burning stove, you need to use the right type of wood. To reduce the build-up of creosote use wood that has been dried for at least six months. Also get advice as to the best type of wood to use in your fireplace. Some denser woods such as oak do not produce a lot of smoke. Use a spark guard, as one errant spark on carpeting or newspaper can cause a lot of damage.

Winterizing your chimney and fireplace is important, but especially so if you live in an older home. There are more than 27,000 chimney related house fires every year according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Fall is a good time to start preparing your chimney for the winter. It will be easier to find a chimney sweep as well, as we do tend to get really busy during the winter months. You may also be able to get a discount for the services you need if you schedule services earlier in the year.