Dear Jim: I used my masonry fireplace as often as possible during winter to cut my utility bills. What should I do to minimize the amount of creosote buildup and what chimney problems should I look for now? - Gus H.
Dear Gus: Tens of thousands of chimney fires occur every year due to creosote buildup and other problems with chimneys. In many cases, the entire house ends up burning down and many lives are lost. These thousands of chimney fires result in as much as $200 million in property losses.
The first step in reducing creosote buildup in a chimney is to have it inspected and cleaned by a professional chimney sweep. They not only clean out the creosote buildup, but they also identify needed chimney repairs. A well-maintained chimney often can contain a small chimney fire that starts so it does not spread to the rest of the house.
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This patch system repairs and seals the flashing around the base of the chimney. A piece of mesh is covered with tough a polymer material which adheres well.
Special fireplace logs are available which contain chemicals to reduce creosote formation in the chimney. Using these periodically can help keep the chimney clean. SaverSystems, (800) 860-6327, www.saversystems.com, offers a spray to use on regular logs and other cleaners to minimize creosote. They also now offer their professional chimney sweep products directly to homeowners under their Defy brand.
You can clean the chimney yourself on occasion if you do not mind getting a little dirty. This does not, however, eliminate the need for a professional inspection. A local chimney supply store should carry a chimney brush to fit your chimney.
Always wear a high-quality breathing mask so you do not inhale the fine dust. Seal the fireplace opening into the room with plastic film and tape.
Go up on the roof and run the chimney brush up and down many times.
Wear a safety harness and tie yourself to the chimney when on the roof and always have someone nearby to call for help if needed. It might be overkill, but I always wear my bicycle helmet and a mountain climbing harness so I can lower myself down slowly if I lose my footing.
Much of the hazardous damage to roofs is often caused by moisture entering from outside the chimney. Moisture can migrate through the brick and the mortar joints into the chimney.
This is bad everywhere, but particularly so in cold climates with a repeated freeze/thaw cycles during winter. Use a water- or solvent-based sealer on the bricks and mortar.
The crown of the chimney is another location for moisture to enter the chimney. Tap on it lightly with a hammer to locate any loose areas and brush them away. If the crown is still in pretty good condition, coat it with a special elastomer crown repair compound.
Check the condition of the mortar joints. Where you find loose mortar, fill in the gaps with a elastomer concrete-colored sealer. Also, inspect the flashing where the chimney meets the roof. Deteriorated areas can be sealed with a flexible flashing repair compound.
Dear Jim: My furnace was installed five years ago and they also installed a light-type UV air cleaner with it. Now the UV bulb has burned out. It is expensive to replace so I am wondering if it is worthwhile for clean air? - Bill M.
Dear Bill: UV (ultraviolet) purifiers are becoming more common in residential systems. It actually is not a particulate air cleaner though. The UV rays kill microbes in the air, but they do not remove particles from the air as an air cleaner does.
It is pretty much a personal preference as to whether or not it is worthwhile to replace the UV bulb.
Check with your physician to see what health issues your family has to determine if microbes in the air are a problem.
Send inquiries to James Dulley, Newspaper Name, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.