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Letter Re: More About the Chimney Fire Hazard

We just just learned that the beautiful house we had built on our 20 acre Michigan property burned to the ground. I want to urge all readers to have their chimneys checked yearly. The house had a wood furnace in the basement and a well-built 3-flue chimney yet in a state with deep frost, foundations can settle. The new owners never spent the money to have the chimney cleaned/inspected yearly as we had advised them to. Yet they just spent over $40,000 on granite countertops and all that fancy stuff. “Penny wise and Pound foolish!” My brother-in-law lives next door on property he bought from us so he got the full picture. Apparently they hadn’t upgraded their insurance either after renovating.

When we moved to the Ozarks and bought this old farmhouse we didn’t trust the wiring or chimney…and inspection showed the chimney had been struck by lightening and was dangerously damaged. So we put in a stainless steel liner which makes all insurance companies smile! Wiring was original cloth-covered well chewed by rodents! If we’d have light a fire or turned the power on we could have been looking at a smoldering pile of rubble, too. Which is why we opted to put in a wood-fired outdoor boiler and only rarely use the back-up stove in the kitchen on zero degree days. Since we’ve lived here five different houses in this area have burned down–all due to chimney fires. Don’t think fire can’t happen to you. – Diana S.

JWR Replies: I recommend that readers practice cleaning their own chimneys, and buy their own set of brushes and rods. Even if you eventually get lazy and pay someone else to clean your chimney, you need to know how to do it, and you’ll have the means to do so.

Unless you already live at your retreat year-round, WTSHTF [1], you will likely be burning far more wood than usual. This necessitates inspecting your chimney at least twice a year. My philosophy is, as long as you are pulling things apart to inspect, you might as well a go ahead and de-gunk the spark arrestor and brush the chimney. If you have a proper removable bottom clean-out for your chimney, then the whole job should take less than an hour. Be sure to wear gloves, goggles, and and a dust mask.

OBTW, be particularly vigilant if you switch to burning soft woods, such as pine. The creosote build-up can be very rapid!