After playing host to roaring fires all winter long, most homeowners view the summer as the off season for their fireplace. After removing the ashes and wiping down the doors, the fireplace fades from the focal point of a room to another unused furnishing, lying dormant in the background.
These months of disuse can leave fireplaces unprepared for the first fires of the fall and winter. Instead of ignoring their fireplaces until the weather cools off, homeowners should view the summer months as an opportunity to complete necessary maintenance and repairs.
What maintenance should be done in the summer?
The most important thing a homeowner can do for their fireplace system is to have an annual inspection and cleaning done by a certified technician. According to the National Fire Protection Association, “Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.”
Because of this standard, the Chimney Safety Institute of America, or CSIA, recommends that chimneys, flues, and fireplaces be cleaned at least once per year. It is important to follow this recommendation, as an excess amount of soot or other buildup can damage the masonry, thereby shortening the life of your fireplace.
Summer is the ideal time to hire a chimney sweep because it ensures that any emergent issues can be easily fixed before the fall. Likewise, a summer appointment beats the rush that occurs each fall as homeowners desperately try to get their chimneys swept before the truly cold weather hits. Finally, a summer inspection makes sure that the chimney cap has not been damaged and is still in working order, preventing any animals or birds from taking up residence in your chimney during its vacation.
Why is an annual inspection important?
As with other types of home maintenance, an annual chimney sweep guarantees that developing problems can be fixed before they turn into major issues. “A chimney inspection is like an annual dental check-up,” says Ashley Eldridge, Director of Education for the CSIA. “It’s preventative maintenance that helps minimize potential hazards.”
Each year, unsafe or hazardous chimneys and fireplaces cause a significant number of injuries, the most serious of which result in death. Likewise, ill-maintained fireplaces are a leading cause of unintentional house fires, and account for more than $200 million in damages and losses to personal property each year.
While it is possible for homeowners to do some minimal fireplace maintenance, it is vitally important that a professional chimney sweep perform an annual inspection. These expert professionals are trained to identify potential risks and hazards that a layperson would overlook. Even something as small as a crack in the chimney flashing can quickly escalate into a major issue; having problems like these fixed immediately prevents the need for large-scale, expensive repairs in the future.
What to expect with a chimney inspection
If you have not had any problems with your chimney or fireplace over the course of the year, the technician will most likely perform a Level I inspection. At this level, they will inspect the accessible portions of the interior and exterior of the chimney, including the existing chimney structure, appliance, and connections. The chimney and flue will also be checked for any blockages or debris. Finally, they will check the amount of creosote and other materials in the chimney, and customize a cleaning plan to address any problem areas.
If any issues are found during the Level I inspection, a more thorough Level II or Level III inspection can be performed.
Don’t wait until the first cold front moves in to get your chimney and fireplace inspected — act now while time is on your side!