Protecting Your Home and Family from Chimney Fires

January 2017

Protecting Your Home and Family from Chimney Fires

A PURE member recently suffered a significant chimney fire in their home. Fortunately, all family members are okay, but the house was destroyed. The cause of the fire was heavy creosote buildup—residue left behind when things like smoke, water vapor or unburned wood particles travel up through the fireplace chimney. The creosote acted like an accelerant, which made the fire quickly burn out of control. Experts investigating the claim determined that the buildup was the result of improper chimney maintenance throughout the years.

 

A chimney fire can be a significant event, in both monetary damages and trauma. At PURE, the costs of these claims average over $500K. The risk is heightened by the fact that chimney fires often begin out of sight, meaning they may not be noticed in time to prevent the flames from spreading to the home or causing serious structural damage. Consider one PURE family, whose chimney professional discovered evidence of a previous fire in their flue. In this case, the homeowners were fortunate that damage was limited to the chimney’s liner; such a fire could have caused catastrophe.

Luckily, a few simple measures can help to reduce the damage from chimney fires—or prevent one altogether. 

 

Reducing Chimney Risk

Both the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommend that homeowners have their chimney inspected (and swept, if necessary) annually by a CSIA-certified chimney sweep. Regular inspections will give your chimney sweep the opportunity to notice cracks, creosote buildup or other obstructions that could diminish the system’s functionality and create an environment ripe for chimney fires or carbon monoxide intrusion.

Below are some additional considerations that, when combined with an annual inspection, can help prevent chimney issues from occurring:

  • Use seasoned woods only. Green or wet wood can cause smoke, odor problems and rapid creosote buildup. Well-seasoned firewood, on the other hand, will help your wood stove or fireplace burn cleaner and more efficiently.
  • Build smaller, hotter fires that burn more completely and produce less smoke.
  • Never burn cardboard boxes, wrapping paper, trash or Christmas trees. These materials can easily spark a chimney fire.
  • Install stovepipe thermometers to help you monitor flue temperatures so you can adjust your burning practices as needed.
  • Have catalytic combustors inspected and cleaned on a regular basis.
  • Ensure your damper is completely open in order to allow any and all smoke to escape.

When one PURE member lit a fire in his brand new fireplace, he mistakenly left the damper partially closed. There was no fire damage, but the home’s HVAC system carried soot and smoke throughout the entire first and second floors. Cleanup and repairs amounted to nearly $50K.

 

Working with a Chimney Professional

The skill and reliability of your chimney professional is pivotal to your home’s protection. The CSIA recommends that you investigate the following questions when considering any prospective chimney vendor:

  • How long has the company been in business?
  • Do they offer current references?
  • Are there any unresolved complaints filed within the city or state consumer protection agency or Better Business Bureau?
  • Does the company or individual carry a valid business liability insurance policy to protect your home and furnishings against accidents?
  • Does the company ensure that a CSIA-certified chimney sweep will be on the job site? (Search for a CSIA-certified chimney sweep here.)

A storm left one PURE member’s home without power for several days, during which time he used his wood-burning fireplace for heat. Unfortunately and unbeknownst to him, sheetrock had been improperly installed too close to the heat source during a recent renovation. A fire started inside the walls of the chimney, causing $400K in damage to the member’s home and belongings.

 

PURE Member Advocates® exist to help reduce your hassles, such as finding high-quality vendors in your area. Call 888-813-7873 or email memberadvocate@pureinsurance.com and we can coordinate with one of our pre-vetted professionals on your behalf.