Part of the reason to clean your chimney is because of the potential hazards that may occur when you don't have it cleaned. Without proper maintenance, heating systems can be dangerous because they often either cause fires or release toxic gases into your living areas that can cause serious damage, illness, or even death. A regular cleaning of your chimney can help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, and can help to prevent chimney and house fires.
When tar and soot from wood and fuel burning build up in your chimney, they must be removed by a chimney professional. Many new homes have a problem with chimney deterioration because modern heating appliances are more efficient than they have ever been, but the excess condensation they create cause more blocked chimneys than ever before. It's important that every household have a regular checkup from a certified sweep.
When creosote in your chimney ignites, the chimney fire might not be noticed at first. Some fires that occur have enough ventilation that they will cause smoke and noise enough to be noticed; others burn so slowly and reach such high temperatures that they quietly damage chimney and surrounding structures or may suddenly start other areas of the house on fire. These fires are usually preventable through regular, professional cleanings.
CARBON MONOXIDE: THE SILENT KILLER
Carbon monoxide is especially dangerous because it is not easily detected. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are often mistaken for common illnesses such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, depression, or worse. Carbon monoxide detectors are now readily available and no home should be without at least two of them: one near the furnace and another near the sleeping area of the home. Carbon monoxide problems are always caused by poor ventilation, and blocked chimneys are one of the largest single causes of carbon monoxide in the home. Detectors are not a substitute for routine maintenance, but can be a lifesaver should problems occur.
DANGERS OF CREOSOTE, SOOT BUILDUP
As wood burns, the by-products of combustion flow away from the fire and up the chimney. Because the chimney is cooler than the fire, condensation occurs. This means that soot and tar form a residue commonly called creosote that sticks to the interior of your chimney. Creosote is a highly flammable substance, and if it is not regularly removed, creosote can ignite and cause dangerous chimney fires.
THOSE LINGERING ODORS
The spring thaw and summer heat often bring odors from the fireplace or woodstove. You don't have to live with them all year long; cleaning your chimney in the spring can prevent soot smells in the house.
HEATING SYSTEM RELATED FACTS: FATALITIES, INJURIES, AND PROPERTY DAMAGE
Recent figures prove that disasters occur when chimneys are not cleaned. The U.S. consumer product safety commission, reports that in 1996, some 23,600 residential fires in the 50 states were related to solid fuel appliances and equipment. 5,500 chimney and chimney vent fires resulted from heating systems burning liquid and other fuels. The cost of these fires is tragic: 130 people died, 230 people were injured, and over losses totaling over $184 million dollars in total property damage.
A minimum of 119 deaths from carbon monoxide and at least 4,700 "injuries" were reported for the same time frame, though most estimates range much higher. For example, according to the u.s. consumer product safety commission, over 200 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by problems with the their home's external venting systems.
The journal of the American medical association estimates that 1,600 people die each year from toxic fumes. Another 10,000 cases of carbon monoxide-related injuries are diagnosed each year. The difficulty of diagnosis also means the numbers of people affected is probably even higher. And though no new government study has been published since then, because of the new more highly efficient heating systems, we believe these figures are much, much higher today.
While these are tragic statistics, they can be avoided. The service from a skilled chimney sweep can go a long way in preventing these from ever occurring.