Maintaining Your Chimney

With the cold weather and the holidays upon us nothing beats the warm crackle and glow of a wood fire in a fireplace inside your home. Before you light your fireplace make sure you take a few moments to maintain it, ensuring that is operates in the safest manner possible.

                Before lighting a fire, this year make sure you take the time to check that the fireplace and surrounding areas are safe. Start by making sure that you have a screen to place in front of an open fireplace to keep embers from popping out and causing fires. Next, be sure to move highly flammable and loose items that may fall in or catch on fire (blankets, dried plants, or rugs). Next, before starting a fire check the inside of the fireplace for any left-over ash, remove any that are in the fireplace. After you have cleaned out the ash have a professional come and evaluate your fireplace for any damage and to clean your chimney.

                Sweeping the chimney and performing an annual inspection is the most important part of maintaining your fireplace and chimney. Over time, the chimney can become coated with soot and creosote, which are byproducts of fires that aren’t burning efficiently. Once the coating builds up enough, it can potentially catch fire in what is known as a dangerous “chimney fire.”  Ashley Eldridge, a veteran chimney sweep and director of education at the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA)explains why a chimney fire can be so destructive: “While the firebox is builtwith firebrick and intended for direct contact with fire, everything above the damper is designed to withstand only hot smoke and gases from the fire, not fire itself, so a chimney fire can cause serious damage.” The chimney should be swept when creosote build-up is 1/8-inch or more and at the end of the season.The sweeping should be done before summer, because humidity in the air can combine with creosote to form acids which can damage masonry and result in strong odors. 

After having your chimney cleaned make sure to install carbon monoxide and smoke detectors or replace the batteries in any throughout your home. Wood burning fireplaces can also negatively affect indoor air quality. According to Burn Wise, a program of the US Environmental Protection Agency, “Smoke may smell good, but it’s not good for you.” Any smoke escaping from the firebox into the room means the fireplace isn’t operating properly.Also, since fires consume a large volume of air as they burn, it’s possible to create negative pressure in the home as air from outside is drawn indoors to replace the air consumed by the fire. If that “make-up” air is drawn back in through the flues of gas- or oil-burning furnaces and water heaters, it can also draw deadly flue gases, like carbon monoxide, back into the home. This is called “backdrafting” and is one reason all homes should be outfitted with working, well-maintained smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

                Once you have taken the steps listed above it is now time to light that fire and cozy up on the couch!

Animals in Your Home

With the cold wintery weather upon us you may suddenly find yourself fighting to keep common winter pests like mice, rats, racoons,cockroaches, and spiders out of your home. “Pests adapt to the changing environment and seek refuge indoors during the colder months,” says Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for National Pest Management Association. “During the winter rodents such as house mice become one of the most common invaders and can cause serious property damage in and around the home.” So, what can you do to keep them out? Below you will find a break down of common pests and some tips on how to keep them out of your home.

The house mouse is one of the most commonly encountered rodents here in the United States, they typically like dark secluded areas like attics and basement. Mice can chew through drywall, insulation, wires, and even your ductwork causing huge problems and potentially thousands of dollars in repairs.  A mouse can fit through an opening as small as a dime, keep them out by sealing any cracks or holes on the outside of your home with caulk and steel wool. You can also help discourage mice from moving in by clearing away clutter, mice love to hide in clutter.

Rats are often found in basements and piles of debris, they have been known to gnaw through almost anything (including plastic and leadpipes) to get access to food and water. Rats also bring with them the threat of disease like jaundice, rat-bite fever, and cowpox. To keep rats out of your home fill any opening with silicone caulk, rats can fit through a crack as small as ½ inch, also make sure to eliminate any sources of moisture in basements and crawlspaces.

 The German cockroach is the most common species of cockroach found throughout the world, they prefer to live in small areas close to food and moisture. This typeof cockroach often hitchhikes into your home via grocery bags, boxes and secondhand appliances. German cockroaches can contaminate food sources and spread bacteria and allergens that are known to trigger allergies and exacerbate asthma symptoms, especially in children. To help keep your home free of cockroaches make sure to keep your counter and floors clean and regularly dispose of garbage.

   Racoons are commonly found in wooded areas,they typically enter homes through attics and chimneys in search of a denningsite. Keep them away from your home by ensuring all trash is picked up and all trash cans are either locked away or locked with animal proof lids. Also sealoff chimneys and other exposed opening with mesh caps to prevent entry and trim branches back from house so they don’t over hang your roof.

 Following these tips won’t keep pest out of your house entirely however, it will help reduce the risk of you having to go to war. Keeping these pests out of your home will save your budget, time, health, and the headache of battling them once they have moved into your home.