Visual Inspection of Fireplace – Inside and Out

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 30,570
    Rob Neale, Deputy Superintendent of the United States Fire Administration, talks about visual inspection of the fireplace.

    Rob Neale: Hi! I am Rob Neale, Deputy Superintendent of the United States Fire Administration, in Emmitsburg, Maryland. We are talking about fireplace safety; how to enjoy a comfy, cozy fire in your home or in your cabin, in a way that's safe, that you can enjoy it, and not have a fire problem.

    In this particular part, we are going to talk about how to inspect the fireplace to make sure that its safe. Now, the first thing you are going to want to do is take a look at the fireplace itself and make sure that there aren't any obvious cracks, fractures, or problems with it.

    Now, this particular fireplace was built about 60 or 65 years ago, so its probably had a lot of fires in it and probably have some potential problems. So we are going to want to look very closely around the firebox and make sure that there is no problems that we can see that are really obvious.

    The reason for that is, we don't want any heat that would escape the firebox to get out into the wooden part of the building, where it might cause a problem. Now, another thing that's very, very important that we want to make sure we have is a nice metal grate or a screen like this.

    Now, a lot of fireplaces today come with a glass front, and that's a fine thing to have, but the good old grate screen like this is really handy, because what it does is it catches any sparks that might fly out of the fireplace and prevents them from landing on nearby combustibles, such as the carpet or other things that might be around.

    And speaking of combustibles, let's take a look at this right here. Here is a pile of newspaper that we have left by the fireplace. Now, it's handy to have, obviously to start the fire, but in case of a fire, we don't want to have a pile of newspapers laying right here that could catch fire.

    So we are just going to pick these up and get them out of the way, and we will come back to those when we get ready to build the fire later on. Now, while we are right here, let's take a look at this thing. Now, this handle that you see here, that actually controls the damper on this fireplace. Now, the purpose of the damper is to regulate the amount of air that flows through the chimney, so you can lessen it or allow more to go through. One of the problems that a lot of people have is they forget to open the damper when they are going to start a fire, and what happens is you get a buildup of smoke in there and it rolls out and you have a very stinky, smelly mess in your house. So we want to make sure that this damper is in the open position, by pushing that handle in. Again, remember that on some modern fireplaces, that damper control is typically inside the firebox, just above the fire itself or where the fire will be itself. So you want to make sure that it is open to allow the smoke to get out. Now, let's take a quick look up that chimney, just to make sure that there is nothing there. So I will move my screen here, take a flashlight and get up there and take a look, and see as far as I can see to make sure it is clear.

    So after you check in there, you want to make sure that it is clear and you can see all the way to the sky. Oftentimes, with the first fire of the season, you might find that there is a problem in the chimney. It's not uncommon for birds or squirrels to build nest in there and cause an obstruction in the fireplace flue stack. So make sure that it's clear and you can see all the way to the sky. Alright. We have talked about what to look for in the firebox. We have talked about the screen, making sure that we don't have combustibles anywhere near the firebox when we are burning. Importantly, making sure that, that damper is all welded. Up next, we are going to talk to you a little bit about selecting a different type of fireplace for your home.