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Sweeping for safety

Proper chimney cleaning can reduce risk of dangerous fires

February 5, 2012
By RODNEY MINOR , The Leader Herald

With fires blazing and smoke traveling up chimneys all across the region at this time of year, it is important people make sure their chimneys are clean.

Scot Hall, the chief of the Broadalbin-Kennyetto Fire Company, said that's the reason the sign in front of their garage on Pine Street in the village offers the advice: "Clean your chimney please."

"It's important. That's why we have it on the sign out front," Hall said.

Article Photos

Carrying his chimney sweep brushes and other chimney sweep equipment in a golf bag, John Lucas Jr. demonstrates how he climbs a ladder to inspect and clean the chimney at his home on West Street Extension in Gloversville on Friday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill?Trojan

According to the website for the Chimney Safety Institute of America - while a chimney and the flue that lines it may make a home look more interesting, it serves an important purpose: carrying fireplace, wood stove or furnace gases and smoke safely out of a house.

Chimneys that serve fireplaces and wood stoves carry the substances produced when wood burns, the website said. The substances produced include smoke, water vapor, gases, tar fog, minerals and unburned wood particles.

As the substances leave the fireplace or wood stove and flow up into the cooler chimney, condensation occurs. The residue that sticks to the inner walls of the chimney is called creosote.

Hall said the importance of having clean chimneys was highlighted by two fires the company responded to in January. The chimneys were both "jam packed with creosote."

While everyone was OK, having the chimneys packed with creosote could have made the fires much worse, Hall said.

According to the CSIA website, creosote is highly combustible.

"If [creosote] builds up in sufficient quantities - and catches fire inside the chimney flue instead of the firebox of the fireplace or wood stove - the result will be a chimney fire," the website said.

Matt Moisio, a chimney sweep with Top Hat Chimney Sweeps in Palatine Bridge, said because creosote can burn so hot, the fire can become especially devastating if it spreads from the flue.

Moisio - who has been a full-time chimney sweep since 2004 and whose father-in-law started the business in 1979 - said creosote also contains carcinogens. Therefore, chimney sweeps wear protective gear to keep the substance off their skin and out of their lungs.

Chimney sweeps also employ mechanical cleaners or use chemicals on some particularly difficult jobs, Moisio said.

However, Moisio said, the majority of their work is still roughly similar to what the job involved more than 100 years ago: using a plastic or metal brush to physically dislodge the creosote.

The majority of the business' customers who have a chimney connected to a wood-burning appliance have it cleaned once a year, he said.

"Most of our customers have [cleaning] done like clockwork," he said.

John M. Lucas Jr., a certified chimney sweep in Gloversville, said most of his customers with wood-burning appliances get their chimneys cleaned regularly. It takes him about 1 to 2 hours to clean an average chimney.

Lucas noted problems can occur when people have chimneys that don't get used regularly.?A chimney that has not been used for years, he said as an example, may be dirtier than the homeowner would imagine.

"It's incredible what I've seen in the 23 years I've been doing this," he said.

A surprising problem can be dead animals - ducks, squirrels, songbirds - in the chimney. Lucas said a dead animal can essentially clog a chimney, even causing the smoke to head in the wrong direction.

As a result, Lucas said it is a good idea to have a carbon monoxide detector near the appliance - especially gas or oil-burning appliances.

According to the CSIA website, among their top woodburning tips are:

Have chimneys inspected annually, and cleaned as necessary, by a qualified professional chimney service technician.

Keep tree branches and leaves at least 15 feet away from the top of the chimney.

Install a chimney cap to keep debris and animals out of the chimney.



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