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Cleaning chimneys can reduce fire risk
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As cold weather continues to grip North Georgia, homeowners forced inside may begin to notice more how their homes could use a good sweep or vacuuming.

But the cleanliness of some appliances may not be readily noticed, but proper maintenance could save a life.

“First and foremost, especially this time of the year in the winter, would be having a professional clean your chimney,” said Scott Cagle, Hall County Fire Services spokesman. “We do have a lot of chimney fires, and a lot of times that is due to people not having those cleaned properly.”

Soot and creosote, produced as a byproduct of burning wood, can build up inside a fireplace or wood-burning stove over time. If not properly attended to, both compounds can combust, creating fires that burn as hot as 2,000 degrees, threatening a house and everyone in it.

Cagle recommends having a chimney professionally cleaned to make sure the threat is reduced.

“You can buy the rods and brushes (to clean your chimney) at Home Depot, but there’s a lot involved in it,” said Shawn Lee, the owner of Southern Chimney Sweep, a business that cleans chimneys and dryer vents, among other services.

Lee and his employees are trained and certified to look for the type of hazards that could result in a chimney fire.

“Some soot is dry and powdery, but with others it’s hard and glazed, and you can run a brush up and down a chimney all day long and it won’t get it out,” Lee said. “Some handymen that may not be familiar with that would just run a brush through the chimney and think that it’s swept and cleaned, and there would still be flammable deposits in there.”

Experts recommend cleaning a chimney at least once a year.

In addition to chimneys or wood-burning stoves, a quick cleaning of a home’s dryer vents should be inspected and cleaned at least once a year to prevent fires and increase a dryer’s efficiency.

“A lot of times people know they need to clean out the little screen vent,” Cagle said. “You should actually do that after every single load of clothes, especially towels. But the piping that goes from the dryer to the outside of the house needs to be cleaned out as well.”

In 2010, a reported 16,800 house fires in the United States involved clothes dryers or washing machines.

Cagle recommends going to a local home improvement store and buying the specific tools to clean out your dryer vents. Professional handymen can also be hired for that task.

And while everyone knows it’s important to change the batteries in a home’s smoke detectors, they may be unaware of just how much dirt and grime can affect detectors’ performance as well.

“Of course smoke alarms hang up really high on the ceiling and they will start to have cobwebs and dust accumulate on that smoke alarm and on those vents, and that can delay that smoke alarm from going off,” Cagle said.

For the safety of a house and its occupants, he recommends frequent cleanings.

“If you can get into the habit of doing it once a month, that would be great,” Cagle said.

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