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Fireplace Safety and Maintenance A Valuable Amenity Shouldn’t Be a Liability

Some lucky Chicagoland residents can come home from work on a bitter winter’s night and warm their feet by a roaring fire while drinking a hot toddy. A working fireplace is a coveted amenity for many, adding a dash of vintage charm to prewar apartments or a touch of luxury in sleek newer buildings. But hot toddies aside, maintaining a fireplace in your apartment is no small task. From regular cleaning to proper venting, taking care of a working fireplace is a serious responsibility—and crucial for the safety of both people and property. 

Maintaining a Relic

While fireplaces may be considered a nice touch today, at one time they were necessary components in every home, warming the house and providing a place to cook. But that was a century-and-a-half ago. Today, wood-burning fireplaces are most commonly found in converted row houses built in the second half of the 19th century and in upper-floor and penthouse apartments in prewar luxury buildings, while newer construction generally features gas-powered or electric hearths. They are also very common in townhouses, reports David Levy of Sterling Management Services located in Holliston, Massachusetts. There may even be multiple fireplaces in one unit.

John White is the sales manager of Billy Sweet Chimney Sweeps, located in Boston and serving Boston, the North Shore, and Portland, Maine. “Maintenance requirements for a fireplace in an apartment building are no different than for a single-family home,” he says. “Solid fuel fireplaces should be swept and inspected once a year. That recommendation is made by CSIA, Chimneysweep Safety Institute of America. They are the most accepted certification in the industry.”

“If you use it, it needs to be swept,” adds White. “Additionally, throughout the entire year, between heat and snow, freezing and thaw, a chimney’s masonry can become damaged. It can deteriorate over time. Annual inspections are not only to make sure the fireplace system is clean, but also to make sure it’s in good working condition.”

Tony Fikejs is a technician with Jiminy Chimney, located in Huntley, Illinois, and servicing the greater Chicago area. “We recommend annual inspections,” says Fikejs, “but depending on use and fireplace type, more than one inspection and cleaning a year might be warranted. It depends on the user’s burning habits.” While all types of fireplaces, wood or gas burning, can be found in multifamily buildings in the Chicago area, Fikejs explains, they are more commonly found in townhouse type developments in Chicago’s suburbs.

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