Fireplace safety: 4 signs your home needs a chimney inspection

Posted in Home

Your fireplace probably functions like a decorative part of your home rather than a heat source for most of the year. You may even go years without using it. Wood-burning and gas fireplaces need routine chimney inspections to ensure the area is clear, clean and safe for use. But how can you tell when to schedule a chimney inspection?

Take the guesswork out of fireplace safety with these four indicators it’s time to call a professional chimney sweep. Then review general fireplace safety guidelines to reduce your risk of a house fire that starts from chimney use.

1. You’ve never had a chimney inspection

There are lots of reasons you may not have ever had a chimney inspection in your home. Maybe you recently purchased your house or you’re taking an interest in using your fireplace for the first time. 

To ensure it’s safe for use, schedule a chimney inspection with a certified chimney sweep to:

  • Learn about the current condition of your chimney
  • Get chimney cleaning services
  • Set up routine maintenance to use your chimney safely all year

According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CISA), your chimney should be inspected every year “regardless of whether the chimney is used.” Consider calling a licensed chimney sweep for an inspection today to stay on top of wood-burning or gas fireplace maintenance.

2. There’s a blockage in your chimney

It’s usually easy to tell there’s something in your chimney that doesn’t belong there. You may hear the flapping wings of a trapped bird. A storm may push leaves down your chimney and you can smell them when you use the fireplace. Creosote can build up inside wood-burning fireplaces and create an odor.

As soon as you suspect you have a clogged chimney, stop fireplace use immediately and call a certified chimney cleaner for assistance. Fireplace safety tip: do not try to remove any blockage yourself. 

3. A severe storm recently came through your area

Anything that can wind up in your yard after a big storm can also end up in your chimney. Damaged flashing (the piece of metal that connects the chimney to the roof) can allow water to drip down into your home. Strong winds or fallen trees may create cracks in your chimney or knock it over entirely.

A chimney sweep can pinpoint damage caused by a severe storm. They will look for:

  • Damaged or missing flashing, chimney cap or chase cover
  • Discoloration of bricks that indicate water damage
  • Pests who may have used your chimney to take cover during the storm

Don’t wait to schedule a chimney inspection after a bad storm. Call a certified chimney sweep as soon as possible to keep your chimney clean and intact.

4. The area around your fireplace is drafty

Have you ever walked around someone’s home and noticed a draft by the fireplace? In homes with gas fireplaces, that can be an indicator the chimney liner and gas insert are not accurately sized. Book a chimney inspection to make sure the components are a good fit or get a gas fireplace service if necessary. 

If your home feels drafty while your wood-burning fireplace is in use, you did not successfully prime the flue. The flue is the space where the air passes through the chimney, like a vent. A cold flue will not heat your home properly. To prime the flue, roll a piece of newspaper into a cone or use a piece of kindling and light the end of it like a torch. Slowly raise the newspaper or kindling up into the chimney and hold it there. It should take about one minute to create an upward draft that will prime the flue.

Call a professional chimney sweep to inspect your drafty fireplace and give you peace of mind it is safe to use. 

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How to safely start a fire in your chimney

Let’s say you scheduled a chimney inspection and received the proper fireplace maintenance to begin use. 

Follow these steps to properly prime a flue and start a wood-burning fire in your chimney:

  1. Gather newspaper, small kindling and larger pieces of hard wood for the fire.2. 

  2. Clean the fireplace and remove any ashes.

  3. Open the chimney vent.

  4. Build a foundation for the fire starting with a few sheets of newspaper on the bottom, a cross pattern of kindling over the newspaper and one or two logs on top of the kindling. Watch this video to see it in action.

  5. Prime the flue with a piece of newspaper or kindling. Add it to the fire foundation.

  6. Use matches to light the newspaper on either side of the wood foundation.

  7. Wait for the kindling and log to catch fire.

  8. Add more wood as needed and enjoy!


For gas fireplaces with a key, follow these instructions:

  1. Locate the fireplace key—also known as a hex key.

  2. Open the chimney vent.

  3. Light a long match or ignite a long lighter and place it next to the burner.

  4. Turn the key to open the gas valve and light the fire.

  5. Use the key to turn the flame height up or down and enjoy!


For gas fireplaces with an electrical control panel, simply open the chimney vent and push the “on” button to start the fire.

Wood-burning and gas fireplace safety tips

  • Purchase a fire extinguisher for your chimney type and keep it nearby while a fire burns. Class A fire extinguishers are used for paper, wood, plastic and cloth fires. Class B fire extinguishers are designed for gasoline, ethanol or propane fires. 
  • Keep your distance from an open flame.Make sure that no people or flammable objects are close to the fire. The best practice is to keep everything at least three feet away from the fire.
  • Use dry, local wood in your wood-burning chimney. Dry wood will burn the best and reduce the risk of a smoky fire. Choose local firewood to help prevent parasites and insects from invading and destroying nearby forests. 
  • Clean your fireplace before and after each use. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), “clean chimneys don’t catch fire.”

Coverages described herein may not be available in all states. Please contact one of our local independent agents for complete details on coverages and discounts. If the policy coverage descriptions herein conflict with the language in the policy, the language in the policy applies. The material provided above is for informational, educational and/or suggestion purposes only, and does not imply coverage. WE RESERVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE TO QUOTE ANY INDIVIDUAL PREMIUM RATE FOR THE INSURANCE HEREIN ADVERTISED. Applicable policies may be underwritten by Grange Insurance Company, Trustgard Insurance Company, Grange Indemnity Insurance Company, Grange Insurance Company of Michigan* and Grange Property & Casualty Insurance Company*, Integrity Insurance Company*, Integrity Property & Casualty Insurance Company*, Integrity Select Insurance Company*. *Not licensed in Pennsylvania

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