Tending to flowers, cleaning the eaves and storing the patio furniture are all part of the seasonal prelude to the winter months. There are, however, a few household tasks that are easily overlooked. Not because of importance, but because people don’t think of them or realize how vital they are to safety and efficiency.
When was the last time you cleaned the chimney of your wood-burning fireplace? According to Dale Stockinger, owner of The Chimney Sweep, “if you burn more than three times a week during the burning season, you should have your chimney cleaned to remove the build-up of creosote—a flammable and corrosive substance that can accumulate in the chimney and potentially cause a fire. If you’re ever in doubt about whether or not the chimney needs cleaning, have it checked.”
Stockinger recommends burning hard woods like oak, elm, hickory, cherry and birch. “Stay away from soft pine and maple because they produce pitch, a syrupy substance that sticks to the inside of the flue liner. It’s also best that the wood is cut, split and sitting for a year so it’s good and dry. Oak is best because it burns hotter, and the hotter and longer a fire burns, the cleaner it keeps the flue,” Stockinger advises.
When it comes to building a fire, begin with kindling and the small starter logs made of condensed sawdust, Stockinger suggests. “Duraflame and other types of starter logs are convenient but some are full of petroleum products and wax that gum up a flue,” he says.
Never leave a fire unattended, especially with children in the house. Keep fireplace screens or doors closed as embers can pop as far as five feet and ignite.
Furnace and duct upkeep
There are many reasons to schedule a furnace tune-up: “primarily to maintain operational safety and efficiency,” says Brian Lubbert, project manager for Superior Mechanical. “Any repair found necessary during a prescheduled weekly appointment will be less expensive than an overtime or weekend visit.”
If the furnace is gas, a tune-up will also ensure proper function to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, making it a good idea to have any gas appliances or water heater checked at the same time for the same reason.
“Cleaning the duct system of your home promotes better air quality and may reduce respiratory health issues,” Lubbert adds. How frequently ducts need cleaning depends on where you live (country vs. city), whether you have pets, the age of your home and severity of allergies or other respiratory concerns.
Lubbert also recommends cleaning clothes dryer vents every three to five years, depending on use, to reduce the risk of fire and maintain dryer efficiency.
Setting your clocks to “spring ahead” or “fall behind” is a good reminder to put fresh batteries in your carbon monoxide and fire detectors.
“Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed within five feet of each bedroom and replaced after five years,” says Vance Swisher, deputy chief, Rochester Fire Department. “After that time, they tend to sound inappropriately or not at all. Fire detectors should be replaced every ten years.”
Swisher also recommends fire extinguishers be located on each level of the home and near exits and be fully charged and accessible. “Outside of the house, be sure to remove combustible materials, piles of leaves and assure that air intakes and exhausts are open and can breathe,” Swisher advises.
Families should practice a fire escape plan, using a second exit out of sleeping rooms and confirming that young ones can open windows and remove screens if necessary.
“People who have a plan respond more effectively,” Swisher says.