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Fire Safety for Fireplace Owners

A fireplace is a valuable addition to any east coast home, especially during the winter. Gray skies, bare trees, and a sharp wind can make the chilly season feel longer than it is, but cozying up to a toasty fire helps hurry things along. The comforting crackle and the soothing dance of flames puts us at ease and can even make us temporarily forget the long wait ahead until spring. Having the luxury of a fireplace is not all warmth and comfort, though. A fireplace actually comes with a lot of responsibility to keep the home and family safe.

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The most immediate danger in a fireplace is the fire itself. Burning at several hundred degrees Fahrenheit, sometimes more depending on the fuel, the flames and embers can cause severe injury instantly upon contact. Thus, to avoid these potentially life-threatening burns, you can take a few safety measures every time you light up the fire. First, maintain a distance of at least three feet from the fireplace for any combustible materials, like furniture and decorations. You should always supervise the fire while it is lit, especially with small children and pets in the vicinity.

To keep children and pets safe, another option is to have heat resistant glass doors installed in front of the fireplace. These prevent any accidental direct contact with the fire, and many models do not even become hot to the touch, making contact with the doors themselves relatively safe. For older children, be sure to teach them about fire safety as well. Explain the risk of injury from burns, how to be safe when a fire is lit, and the danger of throwing foreign objects into the flames.

Once everyone knows how to respect the fire, there are a few more steps you need to take. To start with, always open the damper prior to lighting the fire. Most fireplaces have a ventilation system, aside from gas vent-free fireplaces, so burning a fire with the damper open is imperative. Failing to open the damper could extinguish the fire, at the very least, or fill your home with poisonous carbon monoxide, at the worst. In addition, have the chimney swept and inspected at least once every year. This practice clears out creosote deposits, which can cause devastating chimney fires if allowed to build up, and checks for any damage or obstructions in the chimney that could make it unsafe to use.

This final safety tip goes for every home, not just those with fireplaces: install and regularly update smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house. Depending on the manufacturer, they must be completely replaced every five to ten years, and they should be tested for proper function every month. There should be one of each on every level of the house, with one outside the sleeping area. In addition, a smoke detector must be installed in each room.

By taking these basic safety tips into consideration when using your fireplace this winter, you can help ensure a happy, safe season for everyone. To receive more information on fireplace safety or to schedule a chimney sweep or inspection in the Boston area, contact Above and Beyond Chimney Service.

Schedule a Chimney Sweep for the New Year

The New Year has finally arrived, bringing some chilly air along with it. Staying warm is a top priority this time of year, and for some, that means putting the fireplace to good use. Homeowners in the Boston area have likely been using their fireplaces and wood stoves for a couple months already, but that does not mean it is too late to have a sweep of the chimney done. In fact, if it has been over a year since the chimney was last swept, now is the perfect time to call up a chimney sweep.

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Experts recommend having the chimney swept at least once every year – more often if the fireplace or wood stove receives heavy, regular use. Chimney sweeps serve very important functions, which is why experts encourage them so fervently. The first major purpose of a chimney sweep is to remove any creosote from the interior lining. Creosote forms as a result of burning any type of wood but particularly burning wet or sappy wood. This black, tarry material floats up the chimney along with the smoke, and as it cools, it clings to the lining of the chimney. With every fire, it continuously builds up, leaving behind a thick layer over time. If left to build up, the creosote can actually close off the air flow through the chimney, which can cause back draft of smoke into the house. However, the bigger hazard of creosote is its high flammability. If a stray ember lands on a layer of creosote, a chimney fire could ensue. Additionally, creosote burns at a temperature many times higher than wood fires, making these fires nearly impossible to extinguish in a reasonable amount of time. Fortunately, routine chimney sweeps can greatly reduce, if not eliminate, these risks.

The other main function of a chimney sweep is to identify and remove any obstructions in the chimney. As mentioned, built up creosote can obstruct the flow of air in the chimney, but other objects can cause this as well. Especially around this time of year, animals are on the lookout for a safe place to stay, and a warm chimney can seem like the perfect spot to get out of the elements. Regrettably, this can cause some problems for everyone. A bird, squirrel, or even raccoon and its nest at the top of the flue inhibit the flow of smoke out of the chimney. If the smoke cannot exit through the chimney, it ends up filling the house. Smoke contains toxic chemicals like creosote and carbon monoxide, which can cause serious health problems when inhaled. A regular chimney sweep can easily locate such a risk and remove it in order to keep your home and family safe.

While it is wise to have the chimney checked and swept prior to each burning season, now is still a great time to have a chimney sweep out. With several cold months left, the fireplace will receive its fair share of use, so have a sweep out to make sure everything is safe and functional. If you live in the Boston area, contact Above and Beyond Chimney Service to schedule an appointment.

Furnace Flue Maintenance

Although this winter has proven relatively mild so far, most homes have had some type of heat running for the past couple months. Whether the home utilizes a boiler, a furnace, a fireplace, or a wood stove, an appliance has been working diligently to keep the house warm and comfortable. To keep these trusty units functioning year after year – and to avoid those devastating emergency calls – it is important to schedule regular maintenance.

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Furnaces, in particular, often seem to go without proper care. Perhaps this occurs because homeowners assume the modern features of a gas powered furnace need less servicing. While new furnaces do run more efficiently than more historic forms of heat, like boilers or oil furnaces, they are prone to their own set of issues if they do not have regular care.

A common issue with gas furnaces is damage inside the flue. These furnaces run cooler than other, earlier appliances, making them more efficient but also more vulnerable to condensation. Especially if the furnace was installed in an older home and utilized an existing chimney, the size of the chimney is likely too large to create a proper draft. In a larger chimney, the cooler air spreads out and cools down too quickly, resulting in condensation on the walls of the chimney. This condensation has acidic properties, meaning it degrades the flue lining upon contact. A lining damaged like this can lead to serious problems like carbon monoxide leaking into the home.

Many homes in the Boston were built many decades or even centuries ago, so they may still rely on older heating appliances like oil furnaces. These units experience regular soot buildup as a result of burning oil, so they require regular cleaning and inspection. The soot can buildup to the point of blocking the chimney completely, which can be dangerous if the furnace does continue to function. In addition, the soot may flake off the wall of the flue and fall onto the furnace vent. This blocks the waste air from flowing out of the furnace, heavily reducing its efficiency and even stopping the furnace from functioning at all.

A potential problem with all types of flues is an obstruction from an external source, like an animal living inside the flue. This is a common occurrence as the weather turns colder because the animals start looking for a warm place to wait out the winter. When the flue is blocked by an animal or its nest, the toxic gases cannot flow out of the house properly. The only option then is for them to flow back into the home, but sometimes homeowners are lucky enough to have the furnace quit working instead.

Fortunately, all of these issues can be avoided with regular care of the furnace and its flue. There is rarely a need for an emergency service call in the middle of winter if the furnace has been cleaned and inspected on a regular basis. If you live in the Boston, South Shore or Cape Cod area and need a furnace inspected, contact Above and Beyond Chimney Service to speak with an expert.

Your Chimney and Winter

As the official start of winter approaches, the last thing on anyone’s mind is the chimney. Last minute holiday shopping, having winter tires put on the car, and shoveling snow are more common winter concerns. However, the chimney should be high on the priority list because winter can have cause serious damage to the structure.

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First, masonry chimneys have a special vulnerability to winter weather. The materials used to build masonry chimneys include brick, mortar, concrete and stone. Of all these materials, only stone is water resistant. All the others have a very porous texture, meaning they quickly absorb any water that comes into contact with them. Having water in the bricks or mortar does not cause much damage itself, but around winter time, the problems become more evident. When temperatures fall below freezing, all water begins a freeze and thaw cycle. This process involves the cyclic expansion of the water into ice and the consecutive contraction back into the liquid form. The water inside the masonry materials undergoes this process as well, so the materials experience a rhythmic swelling and shrinking motion too. Constant motion like this degrades the strength of the materials over time, and it can result in cracked bricks, missing mortar and even a caving chimney. While cracks and missing mortar can be repaired with tuckpointing, the damage will continue until the inevitable collapse if the root of the problem is not addressed. To prevent this costly problem, a chimney specialist can apply a special permeable sealant to the exterior of the chimney.

Another common winter issue involves water leaking into the chimney. The warmth of a burning fire can melt any snow or ice on the chimney top, creating water that seeps easily into the chimney. The first problem this can cause is a rusted flue liner. If the liner is made of metal, the water can rust cracks and holes into it, and this renders the liner useless. The purpose of the liner is to protect the chimney and the home from the heat of the fire. It prevents the smoke and other fumes from entering the house and stops the adjacent woodwork from catching on fire. When water damages the flue, it no longer functions this way. Water can also leak down to rust the damper, which controls the flow of air and smoke through the chimney. Other evidence of water damage includes a degrading hearth and water stains on the walls and ceiling around the fireplace. A cheap alternative to repairing these damages is having a chimney specialist install a chimney cap.

If you live in the area of Norfolk, Suffolk, Barnstable or Plymouth Counties in Massachusetts, you can contact Above and Beyond Chimney Service to speak with an expert about protecting your chimney this winter.

Protect Your Home and Chimney with HeatShield

Around this time of year, many homeowners have already started to use their fireplaces and wood stoves, especially around the chilly Boston area. Using the fireplace again means updating the regular maintenance required to keep the chimney clean and safe. A chimney sweep is always in order to make sure the chimney has no obstructions or creosote buildup. A chimney inspection should also be performed to check for any functional issues in and around the chimney. Unfortunately, most basic inspections involve looking into the chimney from inside the house and from on top of the roof. With these inspections, it can be easy to miss damage in the middle of the chimney, especially if the chimney is tall. This overlooked damage can include issues like cracked, broken, or missing flue tiles, which can cause dangerous and expensive problems.

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Flue tiles line the interior of the chimney to guard the chimney against the damages caused by smoke, heat and water that leaks into the chimney. The flue tiles also provide a barrier between the fire and the combustible materials used to build the home, which helps prevent house fires. The National Bureau of Standards conducted a study involving a fire burned under an unlined chimney. In only 3 ½ hours, the adjacent woodwork in the home caught fire, which means a fire can start after just one evening of fireplace use.

To protect your home and chimney against the dangers of missing or damaged flue tiles, the homeowners must have a professional out to assess the current condition of the flue. Based on this assessment, the professional can utilize HeatShield products to address the problem properly. The problem may only involve missing mortar between the flue tiles. Here, the chimney specialist simply applies the HeatShield flue sealant to the interior of the chimney with the aid of a custom made application blade.

When the flue tiles have suffered more damage, like cracks and small holes, the specialist may opt to use the Resurfacing System. First, a special primer is applied to the surface to prepare it for the HeatShield product. Then, a thin coating of HeatShield flue sealant seals up the cracks and small holes. This final application means the flue lining can now fully protect the home.

Lastly, the chimney may be missing large areas of flue tiles or may not be lined at all. This situation requires immediate professional attention to prevent the inevitable house fire. Fortunately, the fix is easy thanks to HeatShield. A custom fitting steel fabric is laid against the interior of the chimney after the first layer of flue sealant has been laid. With a second layer of HeatShield flue sealant to cover the steel mesh, the chimney is safe to use again.

To guarantee the highest quality installation and function, only experts should apply HeatShield products. If you live in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Plymouth or Barnstable, you can reach a HeatShield specialist by contacting Above and Beyond Chimney Service.

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