During three home inspections in Aurora Colorado, Castle Rock Colorado, and Parker Colorado, these photos were taken which illustrate important points regarding wood burning stoves and fireplaces.
The first image is of the fire box in a wood burning fireplace. You will note that there is a large crack running through the fire brick which lines the fire box in the prefabricated fireplace insert. It is a good idea to check the condition of a wood burning fireplace to make sure the fire box is intact, and not damaged in anyway. Should a condition like this occur, a professional fireplace technician should be consulted to make sure that the unit is safe. The brick is intended to deflect heat and flame away from the metal fire box. If the firebox is an older, all masonry design, cracks like this could allow sparks or fire to penetrate any wood support members causing a fire. In addition, cracks in the firebox may contribute to a condition known as pyrolysis. Pyrolysis occurs when prolonged heat adjacent to wooden material causes it to dry out, making it susceptible to combustion from the heat without a spark or flame coming in contact with it.
The second photo shows what happens when the damper and flue are not cleaned and maintained. A build up of soot like this can become combustible and ignite when the fireplace is used, causing a chimney fire. The more of this material that is present, and the older it is, the better chance of it igniting into a chimney fire. A chimney sweep, or professional should be used regularly to keep your fireplace and flue free from of this type of hazard.
The last photo is of an improperly installed wood burning stove chimney and flue. This unit allows the smoke and sparks from the stove to exit to the side of the house, rather than from chimney above the roof line. As you can see, soot is building up on the wood. In addition, sparks and heat from the unit may ignite the siding causing a serious fire. It is recommend that all fireplaces and stoves vent through a chimney that exits at least three feet from the roof decking within ten feet of the roofline. Any concerns with the installation of a chimney and flue liner should be referred to a licensed contractor or professional for evaluation.
The issues discovered during these three home inspections in Colorado exemplify why it is important to regularly check your fireplace, stove and chimney and report any concerns immediately to a qualified expert.