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Hot Tips on Keeping Chimneys Safe

October 31, 1998|From Associated Press

A crackling fire in a fireplace is a cheerful sight on a chilly evening, although most fireplaces are not an efficient source of supplemental heat.

Modern fireplaces are usually safe installations. New chimneys are built with ceramic flue liners. If your chimney is old, it may not have a flue lining and may be unsafe. Hire a mason to either add a liner or lower a prefabricated metal chimney inside your unlined chimney.

Here are some tips for keeping your fireplace in good condition:

* Before winter arrives, make a thorough inspection. Use a flashlight to inspect the inside of your fireplace for loose bricks or gaps in the mortar. If it passes through your house, look for loose bricks or mortar where it's visible in the attic. Make repairs as needed.

* Check the damper. If it doesn't work easily, spray its hinge or pivot points with silicone lubricant and work the handle until it moves easily. If it doesn't fit snugly, remove any deposits around its edges with a putty knife. You should be able to see daylight when you open the damper and look up the chimney. If you can't, there's some type of obstruction, such as a bird's nest, that must be removed.

* Call in a professional chimney sweep to have the chimney cleaned at least once a year--or more often if you burn softwood. Creosote, a sticky residue that's created by burning wood, is deposited by smoke and reduces the ability of the flue to draw off smoke properly. Because creosote is flammable, it also can cause a chimney fire.

* Use a screen or install glass doors to contain sparks.

* You can raise the efficiency of your fireplace by propping a cast-iron fire back against the rear wall of the firebox. The panel protects the brick and also reflects heat into the room. Fire backs were frequently used in earlier days and are now produced in many old-fashioned designs.

* Before you start the first fire of the season, clean the walls of the firebox with an equal solution of bleach and water. Spray the solution onto the bricks, scrub them with a soft brush, then rinse thoroughly with a sponge and clear water.

After you begin using your fireplace, here are some tips that may be useful:

* Remove ashes as soon as they're cold to prevent them from spreading dust through the rest of the house. To make the job easier, spread aluminum foil beneath the grate; when the ashes are cold, gather up the foil and discard it. If you have a trapdoor for ashes, use it regularly. To keep dust from rising, sprinkle moist tea leaves over the ashes.

For safety:

* Keep an approved fire extinguisher within easy reach of the fireplace and install smoke detectors.

* Never use gasoline or charcoal lighter fluid to start a fire; it could cause an explosion.

* Burn only hardwood, such as oak, maple or birch; hardwoods burn longer and cleaner than soft woods. Never burn treated lumber; the fumes may be toxic.

Use artificial logs one at a time. If they are stacked on each other or if they are mixed with natural wood logs, they can cause an explosion.

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