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A Fire's Best Friend by Barbara Jennings

If you burn wood or pressed logs in your fireplace, chances are you are building up soot in the chimney as unburned fuels and deposits collect and build up in the firebox. Over time a concentrated residue will form from successive layers of soot. This nasty stuff is called creosote and is the major cause of fireplace fires. Creosote causes chimney fires - these types of fires are very volatile because they burn anywhere from 1500 to 2000 degrees.

Those nice prefab and prepackaged pressed logs (which I love and use often in the winter) are put together with sawdust, wax and a petroleum distillate to cause them to burn easily, but they also produce a slick, greasy soot.

If you don't remove the soot on a regular basis, the residue from this can be absorbed into the porosity of the fireplace brick. This will leave a lasting "tail pipe" odor. So you need to have a professional chimney sweep come and inspect your chimney and clean it every year.

The chimney sweep will inspect the chimney and firebox for earthquake damage, rusted dampeners, deteriorating back firewalls and cracks in the chimney and crown. The crown is the top mortar portion of the chimney.

Even though the building code in California (and maybe your state) require a spark arrestor/safety cap, most chimneys don't have one. A cap prevents animals from entering the chimney and keeps rain from rusting out the dampener. A good sweep will alert you to any safety problems you might have.

Today's chimney sweep companies use modern equipment, vacuums and exhaust fans. They will seal off your chimney during the process. It takes an average chimney about 45 minutes to an hour to be properly cleaned. They will repair most issues at the same time.

Costs will range but you should be able to get your cleaned for about $70 (single story home) or $80 (2-story). Ask for a discount when having more than one done at the same time. A safety cap can be installed for around $80. However, if you need a creosote treatment you can expect to pay $250-350, depending on the amount of buildup and the time it takes to clean. You'll also have to refrain from using your fireplace for 7 days.

Make sure your chimney sweep company is licensed and insured and has plenty of experience and references.

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One Important Decorating Color
How to Mix Patterns
Make House Plants Your Friends
A Fire's Best Friend
Cautions About Your Pillows
Using Quilts to Warm Up Your Home
The "Must-Have" Ugly Accessory
List of Free Decorating Tips

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(2004-05 Copyright Barbara Jennings)

Barbara Jennings
is the West Coast Pioneer in Redesign, author of 7 decorating books, a published artist, corporate art consultant, and furniture arrangement consultant. For training in professional furniture and accessory arrangement, or to start your own redesign or art consulting business, please visit: