Home is where the hearth is

Stay safe and warm this season with these fireplace and chimney tips

The fireplace is one of the home’s most central places, gathering us for warmth, connection, and celebration amid colder months. But if untended, fireplaces and chimneys can also pose great risk to a property and its inhabitants, with an estimated 25,000 U.S. home fires annually due to improper chimney maintenance.1 Here, Amanda McComas, Berkley One’s VP of Risk Management, sheds light on what to expect with chimney cleaning and inspection, why regular upkeep is so important, and best practices for building fires at home—helping ensure your residence is safe and warm in brisk weather.


Schedule routine cleaning and inspection

If you plan to use your chimney frequently, it’s best to schedule annual maintenance (and to do so early in the season). “You can get a lot of soot and creosote buildup in your chimney, which can enter interior cracks, cause buildup, and ignite a fire,” says McComas.

Routine maintenance is important for cleaning purposes, and for inspection of the chimney and its components—including spark arrestors and chimney caps (which can help to prevent any fire sparks from landing on nearby leaves, debris, or, as McComas notes, a wood shingle roof. “It’s particularly important to take extra precautions with your chimney when you have a wood roof—since they are more flammable than other roof types, like asphalt or tile.”

When you don’t have a fire going, keeping the chimney damper closed helps to stave off wildlife, such as birds and squirrels—and also helps prevent home heat loss and higher utility bills. These chimney parts also help to prevent the outside from coming in. The cap can help to keep out snow and rain—both of which can lead to water damage within the chimney structure and have an impact on the home’s overall condition. McComas notes:


“The potential for water damage is another reason to monitor for chimney cracks, as this is one of the first places water can seep.”



Safety first

Though gas fireplaces do not contribute as significantly to chimney fire hazards, they do carry their own home safety concerns—namely that of carbon monoxide. “People like gas fireplaces because they’re not dealing with some of the hassles or troubles of a wood-burning fireplace, such as dragging wood into the house or dealing with the smoke—but you still have to be sure that your pilot light is regularly maintained, inspected, and in good working condition,” says McComas.

Ensuring that you have the right safety detection set-up throughout your home is highly recommended as well. She explained:


“A wise option for both smoke and carbon monoxide detection is a central station fire alarm. These can be tied to a monitoring company 24/7, so the fire department is notified the moment an issue arises.”


Once you have a fire going, be it wood-burning or gas, be sure to keep a close eye on it (and any children or pets who are in the same room). “We’ve all seen fires, and we know that they can sometimes die down, but as soon as you add some wood, they can suddenly get very large or give off unexpected sparks,” says McComas. “It’s important to check on a fire the entire time it’s burning and never go to bed with a fire that is still burning!”

It’s also important to use a fireplace screen, which can help catch sparks and embers that could potentially result in injuries or home fires.


Some helpful tips

When it comes to best practices for your wood-burning fireplace, finding the right firewood is key. “It is not a good idea to chop down any tree in your backyard to put in your fireplace. There are certain types of wood that are better to use than others.” McComas points to seasoned wood (wood that has had time to dry for an entire season) and hardwoods. These produce less smoke and burn more cleanly, which means less creosote build-up in your chimney, and less of a health risk from smoke. It’s good to consider where and how you will store your wood, as well—do so a safe distance from your home, ideally in an outbuilding or shed, where it poses less of a fire risk.


Proper installation

If you are planning to update, retrofit, or need suggestions on maintaining your chimney or fireplace, it can help to do your research to find vendors who can do the work properly to help avoid any issues that could lead to potential fires or home damages. Berkley One’s PlusOneSM Service Network is a team of vetted and insured contractors and service providers who can help with proactive installations or repairs.

And if you need guidance along the way, Berkley One’s risk management experts are here to help with proactive advice and risk consulting—with chimney and fireplace safety and care, and beyond.


To learn more, contact us here.


Berkley One is a Berkley Company.