Snow and ice can block chimneys and vents as well as clothes dryer exhausts

The Buffalo News captured this dramatic image this week, which shows one chimney that has sufficient clearance but one that appears to not have sufficient clearance.
The Buffalo News captured this dramatic image in November 2014, which shows one chimney that has sufficient clearance but one that appears to not have sufficient clearance.

We’ve all seen on the news and on social media about the incredible snowfall totals produced in different parts of the United States this winter.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America reminds homeowners in the impacted areas that chimneys and vents for solid fuel and gas appliances must be cleared of snow and ice to enable proper venting and to prevent any carbon monoxide accumulation. Both are very real dangers. Don’t assume that the hot air from a fire will cause sufficient melting.

MORE FROM CSIA: The dangers of carbon monoxide and home heating hazards

“Under no circumstances should you light a fire if the chimney is buried in the snow, period,” said Ashley Eldridge, education director for the CSIA, based in Plainfield, Indiana. “If it’s blocked, air isn’t going to come in, nor is it going to come out. You are running the real risk of exposing your household to lethal carbon monoxide.”

Another warning applies to clothes dryer exhaust vents. A dryer’s job is to remove moisture from freshly washed clothes and drive the heat from the dryer through the duct. Snow or ice blocking the termination is no different than a clog of lint or a bird’s nest. That heat can lead to a dryer fire.

In addition, make sure that snow does not block exhaust from a sidewall vent, which are common in recent heating and water heating high efficiency models.  Vents act as breathing devices for these systems – they take in fresh air, mix it with fuel to produce heat and discharge exhaust fumes that contain harmful carbon monoxide, according to PSEG, a New Jersey-based energy company and one of the top 10 electricity providers in the United States.

“It’s so rare to see snow accumulate to the depths where it interferes with the normal operation of chimney and venting, but from the photos we’ve seen, it appears to be happening,” Eldridge said.

CSIA recommends that all chimneys and vents should be protected using an approved rain cap, or cover. [See video.] You also want a chimney that is built to the correct height, 3 feet from the roof to the top of the chimney flue tile. [See video]

If snow is covering the chimney, you want to clear it before operation. Beware that it requires a lot of physical labor, and it can be dangerous if you do not have any experience.

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has these tops for how to remove snow from your roof:

  • Use a snow rake for pitched roofs.
  • Start from the edge to the peak of the roof.
  • Shave the snow down to 2-3 inches instead of scraping the roof clean; don’t damage the shingles.
  • Plastic shovels are better than metal ones (metal tools conduct electricity and damage roofs).
  • Remove large icicles carefully.
  • Wear headgear and goggles.
  • Consider hiring a professional.
  • Have someone outside to protect you.
  • Don’t add your weight or the weight of equipment to the roof.
  • Don’t use a ladder since ice tends to build up on both the rungs and your shoes.
  • Don’t use electric heating devices like heat guns to remove snow and ice.
  • Don’t use open-flame devices to remove snow and ice.

Also, we urge homeowners to not use their fireplace or wood stove until they have it inspected first; the chimney might have creosote or other products of combustion that have built up that would create an unnecessary fire risk.

About 1,500 chimney sweeps are certified through the Chimney Safety Institute of America, including the Buffalo area. Search by zip code at csia.org/search.


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