As Winter is upon us here in Maryland and people are ‘firing’ up their wood stoves and fireplaces, it is extremely important to note that fireplaces and chimneys require regular maintenance. The ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality can lead to disastrous results.

Last year over 25,000 chimney fires in the U.S. were responsible for more than $125 million in property damage.

Often, people may ask, “Why did this happen to me?” The answer is usually quite simple, a lack of maintenance. It is important to have a yearly chimney inspection and have it swept clean of debris. Creosote which is a tar-like substance, sticks to your chimney liner when gases are released from burning wood and can build up over time. When a large build-up occurs, the heat or embers below can ignite the substance causing the debris to ignite. The two most common causes of chimney fires are:

  1. Burning wet or unseasoned wood which can increase the production of creosote.
  2. Blockages in your chimney that can restrict airflow.

Knowledge is key to reducing the potential of a chimney fire happening in your home.

Have your chimney properly cleaned. CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) certified chimney sweeps have the right tools and training to remove creosote and debris by scraping the walls of your chimney liner.

Creating less smoke with your fires also helps reduce build-up. Use only dry, seasoned wood. Damp wood creates more smoke and, thus, build- up. Burning mostly hardwoods such as oak, hickory, and maple are excellent wood types to burn. Soft woods such as pine, poplar, and spruce are not recommended. Never burn materials such as finished wood (varnished or lacquered), plastics, magazines, metals, trash, or anything that can create excess smoke and send toxic gases into your home.

A fire requires three things to work properly. Fire, oxygen, and fuel. As we tend to close up/seal up the house in the winter, proper airflow can be restricted. When this happens, the wood may burn slowly or create a lot of smoke. If this happens, crack open a window near the woodstove or fireplace to allow airflow through the house, to the fire, and up the chimney.

Chimney liners may not prevent a chimney fire but can prevent greater damage. Liners are typically made of terra cotta tile or stainless steel. An unlined or cracked, broken tile liner can give an opportunity for smoke, heat, and fire to enter the house through an opening, coming in contact with the home’s interior walls, roof trusses, or roof.

As mentioned before, regular, yearly inspections and cleanings by a professional chimney inspector are highly recommended to determine the condition of the woodstove, firebox, damper, and chimney. They will also run a scope up the flue. There they will be able to see the condition of the liner as well as look for bird’s nests and small dead animals. An inspector will also check the outside of the chimney for leaf and tree branch build-up and examine the chimney crown and cap.

Some have asked, “What if I don’t use my fireplace or haven’t for years?” An unused or ignored fireplace and chimney should also be inspected prior to use for all of the reasons just mentioned. You may not know the condition of the liner, and when put into use without assuring that it is in good condition, can create a disastrous problem.

The bottom line is – Get your fireplace and chimney inspected.

If you have any questions about home inspections, please call to schedule an appointment. One of our ten fully licensed and ASHI certified inspectors (two Spanish speaking and one Portuguese speaking) would be glad to come out to look at your property and provide a report for you.

Call 410-772-9332 or reserve an appointment by going to

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Highland Home Inspections is a Veteran Owned local business with offices in Ellicott City and Prince Frederick, Maryland, and serves Central and Southern Maryland the Eastern Shore, Ocean City, and Fenwick Island, DE. Now also in Northern Virginia.