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Be Careful! Your Fireplace Can Kill You

Our safety tips: Inspect your fireplace yearly. Clean it and remove debris and deposits that can lead to house fires.

Fall is the time of year that I turn on my furnace. It's also the time of year I remember to have my filter changed to keep out poisonous silent killers such as carbon monoxide. But it's also the time of year I recommend you check your fireplace.

Get it professionally inspected. Don't postpone this chore just because your fireplace "looks good". It could be a costly, even deadly, mistake. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, fireplaces, heaters and such rival smoking as the leading cause of home fire deaths, particularly in January, February and March, when most people are using their heating the longest and the most often.

Before you even do that, replace your smoke detector's batteries. Then move on to chimney care. Fortunately it is an easier task than you might think. And it's better left to the professionals.

A professional will check your chimney for cracks in the lining, leaks, blockages, dead animals and the like. They will also remove creosote, a combustible deposit. If your chimney has at least 1/4" of creosote, you need to have it removed. A fire could get started elsewhere, and then if it spreads near your fireplace, the flames could fill your firebox and burst into your chimney, igniting the creosote.

If this should happen, the fire could crack the chimney walls and damage the liner. If that happens and is not repaired, a future fire could spread beyond the flue and into the house.

If you home is more than 20 years old, an inspection is especially critical because age and deterioration can wreak havoc.

Inspections generally run $50-100, and up to $150 for a cleaning and inspection. Doing routine maintenance now could save you thousands of dollars if you want to sell your home in the future. Don't wait until then to find you have big problems that require repairs. Keep your chimney inspected, clean and repaired, and it should last you a lifetime, or least for a very, very long time.

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