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10 Chimney Basics Every Homeowner Needs To Know

Front of house with chimney

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Whether you just moved in last week or you’ve lived on your home for years on end, the chimney can be an intimidating. After all, it’s not something we think about that often, aside from a few holiday fires, and it’s not exactly the easiest to-do on your home maintenance list.

However, ignoring your fireplace is not the answer. In fact, a forgotten hearth could have dire consequences when it comes to your family’s safety. Though it’s not pleasant to think about, house fires do happen.

Instead of taking chances, why not arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible? We have insider knowledge on the chimney basics that everyone should know. Read them and bookmark them for later. We promise you won’t regret it.

Woman building fire

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 1. Learn Your Chimney Type

Whether you’ve realized it or not, not all chimneys are alike. Knowing which type you have is essential to providing proper home maintenance  There are three main types:

Single-Walled Metal: Single-walled metal chimneys look take the shape of a thin metal pipe sticking up from the roof with a circular top. This type is commonly found in older homes since newer building codes have have favored masonry.

Masonry: These are your standard brick chimneys and are currently viewed as the safest. Masonry chimneys often come with a liner pre-installed to ensure proper venting.

Pre-Fabricated Metal: This type is also commonly referred to as “factory-built” and is mostly used for commercial structures.

Man building chimney

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2. Keep An Eye On Your Bricks

Did you know that the bricking used to build your chimney is not the same as the kind that is used to build the rest of your home? Specifically dedicated firebricks are engineered to withstand much higher temperatures than standard issue versions, often up to 3000 degrees F.

In addition to the bricks, the type of mortar used is also critical. High-temperature cement is the safest choice when it comes to holding your chimney together.

But, it isn’t always a guarantee that firebrick was used in your chimney’s construction. Homeowners should watch out for crumbling in their bricks and mortar, as they will likely need to be chiseled out and replaced by more appropriate materials.

Brick chimney in kitchen

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3. Check Your Flue

The flue is a venting system. Its a pipe found on the interior of your chimney liner that allows smoke and the other gasses that build up during the course of the fire to safely exit your home.

Just like when you feel your nose stuffing up and can tell that a cold is on the way, an improperly working flue has warning signs. If you feel your living room getting unusually smoky during a fire or find droplets of water in your fireplace, it may be time to wipe your flue clean of debris.

A note on fire safety: Always make sure that your flue is open before lighting a fire. Doing so will ensure that the smoke from the flames is able to properly exit your home and that you and your family can safely enjoy its warmth.

Modern house with fireplace

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4. Consider Getting A Chimney Liner

Chimney liners protect your home from the heat and flammable materials produced by a fire. In unlined chimneys, the heat of a fire can rise too quickly and cause nearby belongings to catch flame. Liners provide an extra barrier.

There are three types of chimney liners to choose from. Clay tile liners work best in open fireplaces. Metal liners, which are usually used when extensive repairs in existing structures. Finally, cast-in-pace liners are the most customizable and are a cement unit designed to fit your fireplace’s unique shape.

When it comes time to purchase a liner, size is often the most important factor. A properly-sized liner will effectively allow combustable materials to safely exit your home. However if it is too large or small, there is a greater chance for a buildup of carbon monoxide.

Stone fireplace

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5. Invest In A Chimney Cap

You know those little luxuries that seem unnecessary at first, but once you start using them quickly become totally essential? Usually, that distinction is reserved for television remotes or riding lawn mowers, but we’d like to summit that a chimney cap is in the same category.

Essentially, a chimney cap is exactly how it sounds. It’s a vented, metal piece that sits inside the top of your chimney and prevents unwanted materials from coming inside your fireplace, while still letting the smoke escape.

It keeps heavy rains from seeping down inside your chimney and potentially causing leaks and it keeps animals from nesting inside your fireplace during the colder months.

Man adding chimney cap

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6. Learn To Build A Fire

How hard can a fire be? All you need is some wood and a lighter, right? As it turns out, tehere are a few key components of a proper fire that will keep your household both safe and warm.

First, there is the wood. You always want to use dry wood when burning fires. You’ll also want to build the fire with smaller pieces of wood, also known as kindling, before moving up to larger, thicker logs.

Then, there’s the accelerant. You never want to put flammable liquids like gasoline into a home fireplace. Instead, you can use prepackaged fire starters or small pieces of newspaper to stoke the flames.

Patio with fireplace

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7. Inspect Your Chimney Annually

Most people think that they only need to worry about preforming home inspections when they’re getting ready to put their home on the market. But, for some of your home components, including chimneys, a yearly inspection makes much more sense.

Here’s the deal: Most chimney issues start out small – a small tear in the liner that lets trace amount of harmful gasses into your home or a hairline fracture in your stack that grows at a minuscule rate.

While these things may not seem like a huge deal right away, if you wait decades to deal with them, you may find yourself with a big problem and even bigger repair bill. Scheduling a yearly inspection can help you catch issues early.


Outdoor fireplace

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8. Hire A Qualified Chimney Sweep

In addition to being inspected, your chimney also needs to be cleaned about once a year. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you look at it – the height and fragility of your chimney makes it hard to add to your to-do list. Instead, hire a professional.

As always when hiring for a job, you want to make sure that your chimney sweep comes with glowing references. However, you’ll also want to check that he or she carries the proper insurance. Doing so could save you from financial responsibility in the event of a fall or other work-related accident.

If you’re unsure of where to start, the National Chimney Sweep Guide is a good place to start. It will help you determine how to search out a qualified professional.

Outdoor fireplace modern home

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9. Always Clear Your Hearth

For many, the fireplace marks the focal point of the living area. As such, it’s a the mantle and hearth are obvious choices when it comes to placing your decor items. But, while Christmas stockings and family photos may look great, they turn into a hazard once there’s a fire in the gate.

Think about it: It goes without saying that fires reach impressively high temperatures. In fact, the average household fire clocks in at about 1,100 degrees F. Even with the aid of a fireplace shield, there’s no way to truly guarantee that one of those random scorching  sparks won’t break loose from the rest. If that happens, you don’t want your decor items to catch flame.

So, the best thing to do is just move them. Before lighting a fire in the hearth, just take all those knick-knacks and move them out of harm’s reach. Trust us, you’ll rest easier knowing that you’ve done everything possible to avoid a potential tragedy.

Indoor fireplace

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10. Purchase Proper Detectors

By now, everyone should have at least one smoke detector in their home. In the event of a fire, a working smoke detector will sense the smoke in the air and sound an alarm to warn the home’s residents. If you’re in the market for a new one, look for a version that will automatically call your local fire department and, if you live in an apartment complex, see if your detector is programmed to set off the building’s sprinkler system.

Carbon monoxide detectors may be even more critical to your safety. Unlike smoke, which can be seen and smelled in the air, carbon monoxide is odorless. Yet, it can be deadly if allowed to build in your home over time.

Of course, once you own the proper detectors, it’s critical to routinely ensure that they are functioning properly. You should test and replace the batteries in your detectors at least once every six months. If your location adheres to daylight savings time, changing the clocks as a reminder.

Cabin house

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When it comes to roof maintenance, the chimney is often viewed as an afterthought. Though we may only use our fireplaces during the winter month, a healthy hearth is essential to keeping our families safe all year round. In light of that goal, we’ve got some chimney basics that every homeowner should know. Whether you’re new to owning or have been in the game for years, give these a once over. Safety is a great equalizer.

Do you have any chimney tips to share? Are there any questions that you need to get answered? Let us know in the comments below.

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