Even cavemen knew that fire was dangerous. But, ironically, we have 21st-century people blithely building fires right in the middle of their furnished, wood-filled, carpeted, upholstered and bookcase-jammed condominiums. And they want someone to tell them it’s safe. The observation comes from Ashley Eldridge, director of education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).
The issue of safety and maintenanceis particularly important in condominiums, primarily because of how the fireplaces and flues are built and because of the relatively dense population of homeowners. In a condo complex, a fire can spread quickly, especially in older conversions that do not have firewalls.
It’s a bit shocking, then, that regular fireplace maintenance is handled in various informal ways by homeowners associations and their managers; there is no universal standard, though membersof the chimney sweeps industry are unanimous in their message.
The fireplace and flue should have a “level 1” visual inspection yearly, even if the fireplace has not been used – ever. “It’s inappropriate to assume that if it wasn’t used it doesn’t need to be inspected,” Eldridge says. It’s not just creosote build-up that is dangerous, but debris from surrounding trees andanimals who try to hole up for the winter, or birds that find the perfect springtime nest at the top of the chimney. A lightning strike can also cause damage that cannot be determined without an inspection.
Anyone buying a previously-occupiedcondo should request an immediate inspection, even if the previous owner never used the fireplace.