Written by Richard Thompson
Chimneys are a common component of homeowner associations. The chimney vents hot exhaust gasses from fireplaces or from central heating. While most chimneys used to be made of brick, many are now made of metal. Both present problems if not properly maintained including fires, collapses and even carbon monoxide poisoning.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, having chimneys inspected annually and cleaned as needed is the best defense against a fire. But while cleaning and inspecting are not do it yourself projects, there are a few things a homeowner association can do to keep an eye on safety between those annual evaluations.
Safe Structure. Inspect chimneys from the outside to see if any lean or is separating from the building. Chimneys that are separating from the structure can be especially dangerous. Sometimes, the steel straps used to hold the chimney to the structure rust away and leave the chimney vulnerable to a collapse.
Next, use binoculars to look for loose bricks or cracks, especially near the top. Freezing weather can cause bricks to deteriorate or loosen up. Any deteriorated sections should be replaced. Check that the metal flashing between the roof and chimney is tight. Loose flashing can cause leaks.
Look at the chimney’s crown as well. The crown is the area between the outside edge of a masonry chimney and the liner. Crowns often develop cracks that can lead to leaks and need to be caulked.
Finally, look for vegetation at the top of the chimney. Ivy, for example, can grow across the top of the chimney and obstruct the flow of exhaust gases out the chimney.
Metal vent pipes can rust or become dislodged from high winds. Look for vents that may have separated at the seams. These may need to be rejoined, and then reinforced so it doesn’t happen again.
A Clean Sweep. Dirty flues, the metal or clay liner inside a chimney, are the leading cause of chimney fires. The surest way to check this is from the top of the chimney. That job, however, is best left to a professional. For chimneys that serve the heating system, inspection is equally important. These chimneys can become blocked by bird nests or other obstructions and cause combustion gas to back up into the home leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. Before turning on your furnace or boiler for the season, be sure to have the equipment serviced and the chimney or vent pipe checked for obstructions.
In general, all chimneys should be professionally inspected at least once a year and cleaned as determined by that inspection. As a rule of thumb though, a chimney should be swept by a pro once for every “cord” of wood burned. A cord is a unit of measurement for a pile of firewood that measures 4 feet high, 4 feet wide and 8 feet long.
Hiring a Chimney Sweep. Because proper care and attention to service can help protect people from unnecessary fires and carbon monoxide poisonings, it is important to choose the professional wisely. Questions to ask should include:
- How long has the chimney sweeping company been in business?
- Does the company offer current references?
- Does the company carry a valid business liability insurance policy to protect your home and furnishings against accidents?
The fall is the best time to do HOA chimney safety and cleaning. Make the arrangements early to avoid the pre-winter rush.