It's Cold! Here's What You Need to Know if You Have a Fireplace in Your Home

Dated: February 24 2021

Views: 112

There is almost nothing in a home that provides the feeling of closeness to others than a warm fire on a cold winter's night. With the sound of the wood crackling, children playing at your wool sock covered feet and the dogs snoring next to the hearth is a hard image to beat. Yet, most of us give absolutely no thought to the inner workings of a fireplace and its chimney. 

What is a Fireplace?

I know most of you reading this can immediately come up with an image of a fireplace when asked "what is a fireplace?"  Yet, there's more to it than a mental picture. A fireplace consists of a firebox where you will see the wood burning or the gas igniting in a beautiful flame. Above the firebox, a flue opens up to an interior shaft through which the gasses and smoke escape upward and outside, which is usually made of metal or a clay composite. A chimney is an exterior shell surrounding the flue, which is usually the brick exterior one might imagine while mentally processing the image of a chimney. Perched at the top of the chimney is usually a metal cap with the sole purpose of keeping out the elements and riffraff. However, they are useless against Santa Clause. At the very top of the firebox is a damper, or trap door which is intended to be opened prior and during use, and closed when not in use. There you have it...the whole fireplace package. 

Lets Talk About Draft!

Draft is a blessing and a curse. Draft can be a curse when you're sitting in your living room in mid-January wondering why your feet are frozen and your wife is wrapped in seven blankets and complaining. Think of your house as its own atmosphere. You likely already know that heat rises, which means in your house, any warm air below, from the basement, main level and even the top floor also rises to the top levels and, in poorly insulated homes, straight out into the actual atmosphere Mother Earth provides. What you may not know is the rising warm air inside your home creates a draft on the lower levels of the home, sucking in cold air from outside into those lower levels, a process known as the "Stack Effect." This is a curse. 

The blessing is that your fireplace system also creates draft. The chimney acts as a conduit for air, pulling gasses and smoke from the main level where the firebox is located and out through top of the flue and chimney and out into the open air outside. Without this draft, your cozy evening snuggling up with your family would be a miserable experience of breathing in smoke fumes, stinking up the entirety of your home and possibly even risking your lives with toxic carbon monoxide gases. This is why chimney sweeps have a career, because a blocked chimney is incredibly dangerous. You want this kind of draft in your home if you have a fireplace.

A Chimney is Not an Afterthought

Now you know about draft and its importance. Your chimney MUST be built to encourage appropriate draft for your fireplace package to work properly and safely. Designing this portion of the house is critical. For example, a flue and chimney must be built within the structure of the house itself, with additional bricking on the outside to encase. If this were built on the outside of the home, the exterior elements would cool the flue, which would reduce the amount of heat within the flue necessary to create adequate draft, which equals BAD. I know! I didn't know that either, until now. 

To help mitigate the hazardous threats that come from igniting a ball of fire in your house, the National Fire Protection Association has created some standard regulations for chimneys, which I suppose you don't really need to know if you already have a chimney. However, it might be worth your time to review them as some homes are surprisingly built with chimneys and flues outside of code. To spare you the chaos of trying to search the regulations, according to the NFPA, your chimney should rise a least 15 feet upward and through the roof from the firebox, and the chimney and flue must extend upward at least three feet from the point it exits through the roof. Additionally, the chimney must also extend at least two feet above the highest point of the roof if that highest point is within 10 feet of the chimney. Check your chimney out and see if it meets these standards. 


Proper and Regular Maintenance Can Save Your Lives!

It is vital you maintain your chimney for your own safety. I know you're probably thinking it's really not important. Well,  there are over 17,000 chimney fires in the United States each year. "But so's in my chimney." Is it? Here's a chimney fire...

Maintenance and regularly cleaning your chimney flue is even more critical for wood burning fireplaces. Wood burning fireplaces create a icky, sticky tar-like residue on the interior of your flue called creosote which will just ruin your day if not taken seriously. You see, creosote is extremely flammable and can ignite like jet fuel without any notice. Creosote can burn up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which can easily penetrate the flue and the chimney, creating the situation you see in the above photo.

So, don't be a statistic. Have your chimney serviced annually before jumping into fireplace season. In fact, it might make sense for you to have it inspected in late summer or early fall so you can get on your chimney inspector and/or chimney sweep's schedule before everyone else what waits till the last minute, such as your's truly, who is freezing since he waited till the last minute and now cannot have his chimney inspected until February.

I'm looking forward to having a fire soon!

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Andy Piedra

I believe those who serve the people of our country deserve to own their own piece of our country. . . My team and I make that happen, daily. I am a Military Veteran and the founder of the Veterans Re....

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