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Charlie Glahe WIN Broomfield

Fireplace functionality: Safety tips

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A fireplace makes a lovely addition to a home, as it can provide warmth and ambiance, increase the value of a house and upgrade the look of a room. When neglected, though, fireplaces and chimneys can become unnecessarily dangerous.

A home inspection can help determine where any problems exist, but homeowners should know upkeep is something they need to do as well. While maintaining a fireplace and chimney throughout the year, keep in mind several potential hazardous conditions. Stopping a small issue from becoming a serious problem is important for every homeowner. 

Build it properly the first time
There are typically two types of fireplaces: masonry ones comprised of brick, blocks or stone and mortar, and the factory pre-made versions that are made up of lightweight metals. Potential buyers and sellers should figure out which one is in the home, and a property inspection can likely help to answer any questions about the type included in a residence.

When adding or inspecting brick fireplaces, a potential area of concern is the foundation due to the immense weight of the masonry, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America. If its base isn't strong enough, the whole fireplace could shift and crack, compromising the structural integrity and the safety of the home. Therefore, homeowners should watch for any settling or shifting. For chimneys, it helps to add a cover on the roof. That part is heavily exposed, and each season can layer on new damage and weaknesses.

Pre-made fireplaces are designed as one unit, intended to function safely. This makes proper installation critical, and if a step here isn't followed correctly, the entire system might not work well. The CSIA stated that when inspected, over half of these fireplaces weren't installed right.  

Costly repairs and dangerous situations can be avoided if the fireplace and chimney are built correctly the first time around. For a home builder or new property buyer, make sure the fireplace has all of the right components before ever lighting that first log. Expert property inspection services can help figure out if a fireplace is designed for functionality, or just for looks.

Locations to check on
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends a check for protective linings and working smoke ducts. If the base components of a fireplace fail, the flames could potentially ignite a house fire. The chimney should remain in good condition, as well, and there can't be any cracks, fissures, or degrading materials. Further, a fireplace needs to be installed in a safe location, away from any dangerous items in the home. Additionally, install the safest flame and heat barriers. The smoke should always be directed up and out of a chimney, and any weaknesses can become hazardous. 

House fires can be easily triggered with improper care and maintenance. When using a fireplace, make sure to follow general fire safety tips. Moreover, extinguishing a fire can be tricky, and place all embers in a metal box or coal hob and soak them with water. Then place the box outside, away from any structures, according to Boston's NPR affiliate. 

Robert Ross, Connecticut State Fire Marshall, recommends to never assume a fire is fully out when dealing with ash and embers. Even small, burning remnants could ignite. 

Annual fireplace and chimney inspections, and home inspections prior to buying or selling, can benefit everyone. The more a fireplace is used, the more residue builds on the inside, restricting airflow. Improper venting can lead to dangerous conditions, according to HouseLogic.

"If the chimney is properly maintained, you'll never have a chimney fire," said Ashley Eldridge, the education director of the CSIA.