Even cavemen knew that fire was dangerous—and they lived in flame-proof caves. But here in the 21st century, people blithely build roaring 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.
According to Ashley Eldridge, director of education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), the issue of safety and maintenance is particularly important in multifamily buildings, not only because of how those fireplaces and flues are built, but because of the close proximity of families and individuals to their neighbors. A fire can spread quickly in a condo, co-op or townhouse so proper maintenance and safety are vital.
It’s a bit shocking, then, that regular fireplace maintenance is handled in various informal ways by buildings and their managers.There really is no universal standard, though members of the chimney sweeping industry are unanimous in their message: fireplaces are wonderful amenities in any home, but fireplace and chimney maintenance is crucial for the safety and health of building residents and the preservation of their property.
Fireplaces and chimneys may seem like fairly simple mechanisms, but there there are plenty of ailments and problems that can afflict them. And unlike other amenities or equipment that are just rendered less effective by poor maintenance, fireplaces can be made deadly if they are not properly maintained.
According to Thomas Swan, owner of Black Swan Fireside Home, Hearth and Gift in Newtown, Connecticut, poor construction is the foremost problem afflicting the fireplace/chimney structures he sees on a daily basis. “The second most common one is that unfortunately, the average person doesn't have a ton of experience with fires anymore. They'll buy a house and have a fireplace for the first time, and everybody thinks you just pile up wood, light it, and away you go. Same thing with woodburning stoves. There actually is a science to it, and a little bit of finesse to it that people need to learn.”