Be cautious of snow-blocked vents, overuse of wood stoves, fireplaces in outages

The Chimney Safety Institute of America reminds homeowners in the northeastern U.S. impacted by the #blizzardof2015 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, you are running the real risk of exposing your household to lethal carbon monoxide. A chimney top covered in snow and ice represents a danger and should not be used until it has been cleared.”

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.

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 CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps at Island Chimney Services in Rhode Island also advise that if you have a top damper for your fireplace, there are times when ice can form around the seal, freeze, and prevent the damper from opening. If either of these conditions appear, do not use your appliance until the condition has been corrected.

Also, CSIA recommends that homeowners be practical when using their fireplace or wood stove. We agree with the comments of Massachusetts Fire Marshall Stephen D. Coan, who urged people to take a number of precautions against power outages and to use great care.

“It can be difficult and frustrating to be without light, heat or the ability to cook for an extended period of time, but it is critical to stay safe and not make a bad situation worse,” Coan told MassLive.com. “After storms, we often see many fires from wood stoves being overloaded, improper disposal of ashes, candles, and improper re-fueling of generators.”

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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