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Chimney Safety

Many homes in Los Angeles built in the 1920’s through the 50’s were built with wood burning fireplaces. I find that homeowners rarely use their wood burning fireplaces these days. However, a real wood fire is great for a cool winter evening, or special occasions and holidays.

Even if your home’s fireplace is decorative- it adds style to living room or bedroom, and extra storage on mantels and can really increase the curb appeal from the outside.

Builders in Los Angeles are prohibited from installing wood-burning fireplaces in new construction homes. Gas fireplaces are still allowed. Los Angeles has smog- the city instituted the restriction on wood burning fireplaces in new construction homes to improve air quality.

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) says 36% of residential home fires are caused by clogged chimneys. I am not sure how often this happens in LA but if you have a wood burning fireplace that you use regularly , have your chimney cleaned from time to time. Another good practice is to make sure that you don’t have any flammable materials close to the fire place that may catch on fire from the hot ashes/coals that can remain in the fireplace for many hours after a fire has gone out or spark while it is burning. Allow air to circulate when burning wood in the fireplace by opening the flue (Air circulation will prevent Carbon Monoxide poising). Install smoke alarms/CO detectors throughout your home. Utilize a fireplace screen to keep hands and feet away from the flames.

Cover chimney with a mesh screen spark arresters, this prevents sparks from getting out and prevents objects from falling in. Remove tree branches that are too close to the chimney.

An aside- A Chimney can be quite dangerous in the event of an earthquake, because traditionally, they are not attached very well to the side of the house, and the violent shaking of a earthquake can cause the Chimney to collapse, causing serious property damage and bodily injury. When purchasing a home with a Chimney make sure you find out about its structural soundness.

Nothing will beat the romance of a wood burning fireplace. Watching the logs on the fire turn incandescent, as the flames char the wood, then turn it into ember and charcoals. And that particular crackling that you get, when the moisture in the wood’s temperature is suddenly brought up creating that hallmark crack of an open fire…

On the flip side, Burning wood can create a smokey smell in the home- especially if you don’t open the flue properly! This smell can take days to air out, and burning wood is much more messy, and hey- it requires wood.

For those reasons, I prefer gas burning fire places- they are cleaner, easier to operate, easier to maintain, and safer.


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