If you have recently purchased an older home, you might also be the proud new owner of a fireplace. But what if that fireplace hasn't been used for years? A neglected fireplace and chimney are potentially lethal. Before risking your home and your family's safety, hire a professional chimney service to restore your fireplace safely.
Checking for Physical Obstructions
First, you must ensure that your fireplace is both connected to the outside world and free from blockages. There are two common culprits behind an obstructed chimney: animals and bricks. Certain creatures like birds and squirrels see an unused chimney as prime real estate. After they move in, they leave their nests behind. In other cases, a partial chimney collapse sends bricks tumbling down the shaft.
Whatever the cause, your chimney must be clear before it can vent smoke properly. Until then, it is a hazard that will likely fill your home with choking smoke and other unpleasant smells, if not start a fire. Working within a chimney, especially from above, is risky without proper training, particularly when animals are involved, so stay on the ground if you aren't a professional.
Testing Structural Integrity
Even if your chimney is still in one piece, it may not be in the best of shape. Bricks deteriorate over time, especially when stressed by excess heat. You may not catch a chimney collapse before it starts a fire or a gas leak, so your best bet is to ensure the chimney is stable from the start. A fireplace system expert can walk you through any vulnerable areas and necessary repairs.
Cleaning Out the Chimney
All chimneys accumulate residue left behind by smoke. The most dangerous of the debris is creosote, a kind of natural tar released by burning wood. This clings to the walls of a chimney, waiting for a stray spark to ignite. Chimney fires claim lives and homes every year, and you shouldn't underestimate their potential for destruction.
If your chimney hasn't been fired up in a long time, there's no telling what kind of buildup you may be dealing with. The only way to know is to hire a chimney service to perform a routine checkup and cleaning. While it is possible for homeowners to do this themselves, the risk and mess involved are more than most people want to take on alone.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Leaks
Chimney fires are the most common fireplace hazard, but carbon monoxide is no less deadly. Carbon monoxide occurs during wood combustion. Under normal circumstances, the hot gas floats up and out of your home. If, however, you have a cracked flue or another damaged component, that gas may be able to seep back into the house.
Carbon monoxide is highly dangerous because it is impossible to detect without a sensor. A crack that lets harmful gases into the house may not be noticeable to an untrained eye. This is why it's so important to schedule regular maintenance even after you restore your fireplace. Installing a carbon dioxide sensor in your home is a good idea, in general, to protect your family from other sources of the gas.
Restoring Your Fireplace's Exterior
Finally, once your fireplace is safe to use, you may want to consider sprucing up its exterior as well. Whether you want to keep that antique charm or renovate with modern trends in mind, new stonework and tiling or a fresh mantle can transform an old fireplace from eyesore to centerpiece. In many cases, the options are nearly limitless.
Don't gamble with the welfare of your property and the people inside it. Your old fireplace may still have decades of usefulness to offer, but only with the proper care and maintenance. To get started bringing your fireplace back to life and usefulness, contact us at R & R Fireplace and Chimney for an expert's assistance.