(ARA) – As Americans find peace of mind at home “cocooning” with family this fall and winter, many will be enjoying the comfort of a warm fire. However, homeowners planning to make good use of their fireplaces this season should consider some simple maintenance procedures, including a chimney inspection.”

A chimney inspection is like an annual dental check-up,” states Ashley Eldridge, director of education at the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). “It’s preventative maintenance that helps minimize potential hazards. Sometimes, maintenance requires extra diligence. That’s the case this year.”

To reduce the risk of chimney fires, the CSIA cautions people that might be increasing their fireplace use in the fall and winter to put a chimney inspection at the top of their home improvement list. This caution is primarily directed at people who might increase their wood-burning fireplace usage from an occasional fire to a weekly activity.

According to Eldridge, people who use fireplaces infrequently tend to be less informed about the important role that the chimney plays in exhausting the hot gases and smoke from a fire. When a chimney has creosote build-up, or is obstructed by a bird’s nest or debris, it has the potential to catch fire and cause damage.This impact is demonstrated by recent statistics from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

According to the CPSC there were 18,300 residential fires in the United States in 1998 originating in chimneys, fireplaces and solid fuel appliances. These fires resulted in 160 personal injuries, 40 deaths and $158.2 million in property damage.In addition to an annual inspection, the CSIA recommends these tips for reducing the threat of a chimney fire:

W Add a chimney cap to the top of your chimney. A cap can keep out damaging moisture, which wears away masonry and other metal components within a chimney.

W Ensure that your chimney has an appropriate liner. Chimney liners are required in new construction to separate system emissions from the structure of your home.

W Have chimney flashing (the seal between the chimney and the roof) inspected and maintained. Flashing prevents rain water and snow melt from entering a house and causing costly damage to walls and ceilings.The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) also recommends that all chimneys be inspected on an annual basis to prevent chimney fires. The CSIA adds that the best choice for a professional is a sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

Each fall, CSIA-certified chimney sweeps work together to raise awareness of chimney safety during National Chimney Safety Week, which begins this year on Sept. 29 and runs through Oct. 5.For more information about preventing chimney hazards or for a free copy of the brochure “Chimney Inspections Explained for the Homeowner” call (800) 536-0118 or visit the CSIA Web site at www.csia.org. The CSIA also provides a list of CSIA certified chimney sweeps online and by mail. Courtesy of ARA Content

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