A wood-burning fireplace can bring lots of warmth and comfort to your home, but if it is not in great shape, it can also present the risk of fire or carbon monoxide accumulation. Each year, before you start using your fireplace, you should look it over for signs that it is unsafe. Here are four such signs:
1. Extensive chimney cracks
Take a look at any exposed portions of the chimney. A couple of tiny cracks are not a huge deal yet, but if the cracks are extensive and reach more than about 6 inches down the chimney, they could put the chimney at risk of collapse. If the chimney collapses while a fire is burning, you could have a fire in your home. Hire a chimney repair company to come replace the damaged bricks before you light another fire.
2. Soot buildup
Look inside the flue and the visible portion of the chimney. Do you see a lot of black material that looks like soot? This could be creosote, a flammable substance that accumulates when your fires do not burn hot enough. A chimney care company will need to come remove the creosote before you use the fireplace again. You may also want to have a few modifications made to the flue to ensure your fires burn hot enough to prevent creosote formation. Widening the flue, for example, can allow the fire to get more air, which will raise its temperature.
3. Damaged cap
Does the top of your chimney have a cap? If the cap has fallen off or become damaged, animals like birds could find their way into your chimney. This is more than a minor annoyance -- the animals could build nests, which could start on fire. A chimney cleaning company can remove the nests and restore your chimney cap for safer operations in the future.
4. Damaged damper
The damper sits above the fireplace flue. You should be able to open and close it to regulate the amount of air that the fire gets. If the damper gets stuck in either the open or closed position, you'll want to have a fireplace restoration company come repair it. You may need to upgrade to a new damper for safer use of your fireplace.
If you have any doubts as to the safety of your fireplace, don't use it. Contact an inspector or a repair company to take a look and make the needed repairs.