Midwest chimney sweeps and fireplace experts offer advice

The smoke from a wood fire leaves creosote on the interior of the chimney which must be cleaned regularly to reduce the risk of fire.

The smoke from a wood fire leaves creosote on the interior of the chimney which must be cleaned regularly to reduce the risk of fire.

Nothing soothes the midwest winter chill like a crackling fire. But before you strike a match, make sure to hire a professional chimney sweep to ensure your fireplace or wood stove is in tiptop condition.

On average, about 27,000 house fires are blamed on the fireplace, chimney or chimney connector each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In 2008, the most recent year available from the Commission, fireplace or chimney fires caused $147.6 million in residential damages and 10 deaths. For the most part, you can prevent these fires by making sure your fireplace stays in proper working order.

Besides a thorough cleaning every year, a certified chimney sweep should check its condition, says Glenn Whitlock, manager of highly rated English Sweep in Ballwin, Mo. A cleaning and inspection typically cost about $200. A gas log burning fireplace may not need to be cleaned annually, but a once-a-year inspection is recommended, Whitlock says.

Like many chimney sweeps, Whitlock’s crew snakes a camera down the chimney and watches the images on a monitor. They’re able to see a deteriorated flue, leaks, buildup of creosote or other problems. Creosote buildup can cause a chimney fire.

One way to reduce creosote buildup is to burn dry wood, says Paul Parker, owner of highly rated Parker’s Firewood in Blacklick, Ohio. In central Ohio, ash, cherry, oak and maple are recommended hardwoods that are readily available. Hardwoods burn longer and put off more heat. “Ash and cherry are what people really love,” says Parker. A cord of wood costs about $190 stacked. Stacking usually costs extra. Most customers get a mix of hardwoods, but some request just one species, such as all cherry or all oak, he says. Logs should be split and seasoned for anywhere from six months to a year.

In Minnesota, firewood contains a blend of red oak, white oak and birch, says Mat Salzprun of highly rated Stubby’s Firewood in Kimball, Minn. He charges about $200 for a cord 
of stacked wood.

Salzprun allows his wood to season one-and-a-half to two years on his 4-acre property. “At one-and-a-half years, I know the wood is good and we won’t have any issues with it burning,” he says. Seasoning could be done within a year’s time if the conditions are ideal: full sun, wind, rain and open to the elements. “But 
it has to be just right,” he says.

These Midwest fireplace experts say wood packed too tightly in the fireplace will be hard to light. “The wood needs ventilation, fresh air to get going,” Salzprun says. Dry kindling and loosely stacked logs are a sure-fire way to start the blaze. Once the fire is going, add more
logs then sit back and enjoy.

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, the Hoosier Gardener, lives in Indianapolis. A freelance writer, her work appears in many publications. Sharp, a director of the Garden Writers Association, also speaks about gardening throughout the Midwest.

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Indianapolis chimney sweeps and fireplace experts offer advice

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