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Check Your Chimney, Save Lives

I used my masonry fireplace often during the winter. The draft seemed to be getting weaker. What chimney problems should I look for when I inspect it, and how can I reduce creosote?—Gus H.

Tens of thousands of chimney fires occur yearly due to creosote buildup and other problems. In the United States, chimney fires result in an average of 10 deaths and as much as $117.4 million in property losses annually.

Since you have noticed a reduced draft up the chimney, schedule an appointment with a professional chimney cleaner. If you are lucky, a simple fix or cleaning may solve the problem.

If you are not so lucky, there may have already been a creosote fire inside your chimney. Heat from the fire can cause the tile liner to crack and fall from the masonry wall. When this happens, the broken tile may restrict airflow up the chimney, reducing the draft. You should be able to see a broken tile when looking down the chimney with a bright light.

Combating creosote
A chimney fire can also cause the creosote to puff up. It feels somewhat like plastic cooler foam. If you can run a brush down the chimney, some of this puffed creosote may fall down into the firebox. If you find a broken tile or puffed creosote, your chimney will need a professional cleaning and inspection with a camera.

If repairs are needed, get estimates from several chimney maintenance companies. In my own case, one company found puffed creosote, claimed the tiles were loose, and gave me a quote of $7,000 to repair my chimney. Another company cleaned and inspected the chimney with a camera, but found no broken tiles; I was charged $200.

There are some things you can do to reduce creosote buildup. Use well-seasoned wood and don’t choke off the combustion air to extend the burn time.

Special fireplace logs are available that contain chemicals to help loosen creosote. Using these periodically can help make cleaning your chimney easier. SaverSystems, (800) 860-6327,
, offers a spray to use on your logs and inside your fireplace, and other cleaners to break down creosote, making it easier to clean up.

Mail requests and questions to James Dulley, Kentucky Living, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit

Fireplaces can raise utility bills
Though it may seem contradictory, an open masonry fireplace can cool your house and increase overall heating costs. The fireplace draws heated indoor air up the chimney and out of the house. A resulting vacuum draws in cold outdoor air through windows, doors, and any gaps. You may feel comfortable in front of the fireplace, but your furnace runs like crazy trying to keep the rest of the house warm.

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