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Be Safe: Chimney & Fireplace Cleaning

It’s hard to imagine a fireplace cleaning without an image of a sooty Dick Van Dyke popping into your mind, doing a little soft shoe and over-pronouncing his vowels. It seems like a profession from another time, but chimney sweeps are very much still around. And while modern chimney sweeps are not known for their tendency to burst into song while on the job, they still are “as lucky as lucky can be.”

More accurately, someone who doesn’t use a chimney sweep can be very unlucky indeed. Without proper cleaning, a fireplace and chimney can be extremely dangerous. Every year, approximately one thousand Ontario homes fall victim to chimney fires, which can start suddenly and spread quickly, engulfing the whole house in a matter of minutes. For this reason, we recommend getting your furnace and chimney inspected annually, and scheduling regular fireplace cleaning.

Creosote: The Fire Starter

The culprit is creosote, a chemical created whenever wood is burned. Creosote clings to the sides of the fireplace and chimney, obstructing proper airflow and posing major risks to the homeowner. It is extremely combustible: the smallest spark can cause it to burn.

Check Your Fireplace and Chimney

To check your fireplace and chimney you’ll need a small flashlight and a particle filtering face mask.

Step 1: Ensure that there is no backdraft coming down your chimney. If there is a draft, open a door to increase the pressure in your house.

Step 2: Check the hearth of your fireplace. Look for buildups of black, grey or brown soot. If you see any, don’t touch it.

Step 3: Check your chimney. Use the flashlight to look for any buildups .

If you find a small amount of creosote, there may be no reason for concern, but as little as one eighth of an inch of the stuff coating your fireplace and chimney can start a fire. If you notice anything, have your fireplace and chimney inspected by a professional.

Proper Fireplace Cleaning

There is a lot of conflicting information on the internet about how to best go about this. We recommend calling a licensed fireplace cleaner, like AirTech!

The reason we suggest this is that creosote, along with being extremely combustible, is also a known carcinogen. So, if you do attempt to clean your fireplace, please use a particle respirator face mask and protective gloves.

Do not use chimney and fireplace cleaning logs. These logs do not work nearly as well as advertised, and may make matters worse rather than better.

Step 1: gather the following supplies:

  • A wire brush or heavy nylon brush

  • Rubber gloves

  • A breathing mask

  • Baking soda

  • Vinegar

  • Newspaper

Step 2: Mix the baking soda and vinegar in a large bowl

Step 3: Place the newspaper around the fireplace to keep the soot off the floor

Step 4: Scrub the inside of the fireplace with a brush wet with the baking soda and vinegar mix. Make sure you’re wearing your breathing mask so none of the soot gets in your lungs.

Step 5: Clean up. Use paper towel or a sponge and rinse the fireplace with cold water

This will take care of much of the creosote in your fireplace. However, it’s very difficult to get all of it. A professional cleaner will use industrial strength cleaners and cleaning techniques and tools to ensure that your fireplace is completely clean. Consider getting your fireplace professionally cleaned at least once a year.

Chimney Sweeps & Fireplace Cleaning To The Rescue!

Cleaning your chimney by yourself is not advisable. To do a proper job and eliminate the creosote buildup requires expensive tools and years of training and experience.

A good modern chimney sweep will be able to clean your chimney without heading to your roof, with extendable vacuums and other tools to get the job done quickly and effectively. When you pick a chimney sweep, make sure that they are WETT (Wood Energy Technology Transfer) certified.

Every year, approximately one thousand Ontario homes fall victim to chimney fires, which can start suddenly and spread quickly, engulfing the whole house in a matter of minutes. Don’t be a statistic. Get professional chimney and fireplace cleaning and inspections on an annual basis. At AirTech, we work with a company whose chimney sweeps are licensed and professional. We can clean your fireplace and chimney in one visit. Contact us to arrange your inspection or cleaning today, get rid of that nasty creosote, and sleep easier.

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Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer

You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. You can’t taste it. You could be breathing it right now, being poisoned to death without even knowing it. It’s carbon monoxide (CO), and it’s deadly. It’s known as “the silent killer” because we can’t sense it, and it can kill slowly or in minutes.

The problem is very real. In 2002, over 12,000 calls related to CO in Ontario were received by the Canada Safety Council.* In the winter of 2013, several families in the Toronto area were killed in their sleep by carbon monoxide**. In Canada, 380 deaths were caused by accidental CO poisoning from 2000 – 2009, according to Stats Canada.***

According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 400 Americans are killed every year from carbon monoxide poisoning, which makes it responsible for more poison-related deaths than any other form of poisoning.

Common Sources

Carbon monoxide is naturally produced as a combustion by-product. So anything that consumes fuel will produce carbon monoxide. That’s why leaving a car idling in an enclosed space like a garage is so dangerous.

But many common household items are also potentially lethal sources of CO. Gas or oil powered water heaters and furnaces are common sources of accidental CO poisoning. Kerosene and propane space heaters claim lives every winter as a result of CO poisoning. And fireplaces that don’t draw properly also pose a risk. Any device or appliance that burns fuel and is not ventilated properly represents a potential risk.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning does produce recognizable symptoms, including:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion or irritability

But quite often the symptoms of CO poisoning are mistaken for those of other illnesses, such as the flu. And since CO poisoning can strike quickly, it’s not uncommon for victims to fall asleep perfectly healthy, and never awaken if exposed to carbon monoxide as they sleep.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

You can ensure you stay safe with a simple CO alarm. They’re not expensive – most are less than $50 – and they’re available at most hardware stores. Just make sure you get one that’s certified by the CSA (Canadian Standards Association).

Install one or more alarms near the furnace and living/sleeping areas. Test the alarm regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you hear the alarm sound, leave your home immediately. Dial 911, and do not go back inside your home until the problem has been professionally fixed.

Also, it’s important to make sure your furnace and any other fuel-burning appliances are installed correctly and serviced regularly by a professional.

CO Detectors are Now Mandatory By Law

As of October 15, 2014, homeowners in Ontario must install a carbon monoxide detector or face a fine. Just like the laws for smoke detectors and seat belts in cars, the law will no doubt save many lives. You can learn more about the law here.

Everyone is at Risk

Who’s at risk of becoming a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning? Everyone. But certain groups are more susceptible to the dangers of carbon monoxide, such as the very young and the elderly. People with underlying health concerns such as respiratory illnesses and heart disease are also more likely to succumb to CO poisoning.

But everyone is a potential victim. That’s because the effects of carbon monoxide are cumulative. When you breathe CO, it accumulates in your blood. As blood levels of CO increase, your body’s ability to distribute oxygen throughout the body degrades. If CO poisoning is allowed to progress unchecked, brain damage and death can eventually result from a lack of oxygen at the cellular level. In essence, your body suffocates to death.

Avoid Becoming a Statistic

The insidious nature of carbon monoxide poisoning makes it seem somewhat of an innocuous threat. As the old saying warns, a threat that’s out of sight also tends to be out of mind.

But the tragic annual death toll racked up by carbon monoxide poisoning each year disproves another old saying: “What you can’t see won’t hurt you.”

Carbon monoxide poisoning kills many poor souls every year that neither see nor smell the danger. They just slip away without ever knowing they were in danger. That’s why it’s so important to stay very alert to the potential perils of carbon monoxide poisoning, and to protect yourself with an alarm.

If you’re unsure about anything to do with carbon monoxide in your home contact Novel Care today: 905-737-5016

References and Additional Reading