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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Midwest Chimney Safety Council Warns about CO Poisoning and Chimney Fires

Carbon Monoxide is the natural by-product of combustion of fuels. CO is produced when gas, propane, kerosene, or wood is burned. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is sometimes called “The Silent Killer.” Symptoms of CO poisoning include nausea, dizziness, disorientation, fainting, and death. Long-term exposure to even low levels of CO can cause irreversible brain damage, motor function impairment, and cognitive impairment.
“The most often overlooked maintenance item in the home is the furnace flue,” says Marge Padgitt, Educational Director for the MCSC. Furnace flues clogged with debris, bird nests, fallen mortar and bricks, etc. can cause CO backup, and cracked flue tiles or missing mortar joints can cause CO leakage into the living space, which may go unnoticed by the homeowner. It is critical that flues are in good working order and are sized correctly for the appliance in order for proper draft to occur. It is worth mentioning that most HVAC contractors do not inspect or maintain furnace flues, and that this is normally done by a chimney sweep.
“The second most overlooked flue is the one serving a wood-burning appliance such as a wood stove or fireplace,” says Padgitt. Many people don’t realize that creosote is flammable and needs to be removed periodically, usually once per year for a fireplace and twice per season for a wood stove. Build up of creosote can result in a chimney fire that can spread to the rest of the house. A little-known fact is that most chimney fires go unnoticed by the homeowner and are only identified when a chimney sweep sees the flue. Damaged flues are a fire hazard and must be relined before they are used again.

  • All flues should be inspected annually and cleaned as necessary by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, who is certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
  • Wood burning stove and fireplace stove insert flues may need to be swept twice per season to remove flammable creosote.
  • ALL wood produces creosote—even dry hardwoods.
  • Only burn seasoned hard or soft wood (except soft pine) in a fireplace, wood stove, or wood-burning furnace.
  • Never burn trash, railroad ties, or treated wood in a fireplace or stove. Toxic fumes can result.
  • Never burn Christmas trees—they burn so fast and hot that a chimney fire will likely result.
  • Furnace/hot water heater flues should be inspected annually for clogs by debris or nests, or breaks or gaps in the flue liner that could pose a Carbon Monoxide hazard.
Visit the MCSC website at for more free consumer information.
Contact Marge Padgitt, Vice-President and Educational Director, Midwest Chimney Safety Council at 816-461-3665 or e-mail for more information.

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