Chimney doctors fix ailing flues
Randy Fournier (left) with R & R Chimney out of Eagle and East Troy and Bob Zimny carry a stainless steel chimney liner across the roof of a home owned by Bill Henningfeld near Elkhorn. Photo by: Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Bill Henningfeld of Elkhorn stood near a stack of cut firewood Feb. 13, burning a pile of brush as he watched Randy Fournier and Bob Zimney push a stainless-steel liner down the chimney of his house. The stack of firewood stretched nearly half the length of his yard, a supply that he figures will last him three years, with wood-burning supplying about 95 percent of the heat for his house.
But since a damaged clay flue backed smoke into his house on Jan. 30, his firewood supply has gone untouched.
"I'm afraid to look at the gas bill this month," Henningfeld joked.
The clay flue in Henningfeld's chimney shifted, and smoke started leaking from ceiling light sockets and fixtures. A fire engine from Troy Center responded to the emergency call and "the one guy that showed up said, I don't know who's coming," Henningfeld recalled, since many fire crews were in Burlington at the time fighting the fire at Echo Lake Foods. Luckily, there was no fire, but the temperature in the chimney climbed to about 400 degrees, Zimney explained, and the house suffered smoke damage.
Henningfeld has seen plenty of chimney fires in his time. As a boy, cutting firewood was his job, since his family burned wood as a main source of heat. They had a number of chimney fires, he said. They would throw salt on the fire or drop a chain down the chimney to knock creosote off the chimney walls.
If you burn wood, you have to know what you're doing, Henningfeld explained. The wood he burns has dried for at least two years.
"Green wood is the worst," Henningfeld said. "The sap builds up. That's the way you get chimney fires."
Every spring Henningfeld takes apart his wood-burning furnace and cleans his chimney.
Fournier and Zimney of R&R Fireplace and Chimney out of East Troy and Eagle said people with woodstoves or wood furnaces should clean their chimneys every year. Homeowners with fireplaces should clean their chimneys every two years. R&R gets the most calls for chimney cleaning in the fall, with more calls for repairs during the winter when something goes wrong, Fournier said. However, they have been busier than usual in the past month, Fournier added. He thinks the number of chimney fires in the surrounding area recently might be causing people to take extra precautions.
In Henningfeld's case, they bypassed the area with the damaged clay flue and busted open a spot in the basement for the stainless steel chimney joint to sit once joined to the liner, giving Henningfeld a safe setup for burning wood to heat his home.
"For people who burn wood, you have to do it right or they will have problems," Fournier said.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, more than one-third of Americans use fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes. Heating fires account for 36 percent of residential home fires in rural areas every year, often due to creosote buildup in chimneys and stovepipes.
The U.S. Fire Administration recommends having equipment inspected annually and cleaned by a certified chimney specialist.
Tips for keeping home fires burning safely include:
Clear the area around the hearth of flammable material.
Leave the glass doors to a fireplace open while burning a fire to provide enough air for complete combustion.
Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures.
Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup.
Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended.
For more tips, visit www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/heating/fireplace.shtm.
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