There’s nothing quite like getting cozy in front of the fireplace on a cold winters night. Your fireplace provides a warm and inviting gathering place for family and friends. These creature comforts add an extra touch of architectural vitality to a house, inside and out. As wonderful as fireplaces are, they can also be fire hazards.

Chimneys, chimney connectors or fireplaces cause an estimated 22,000 residential structural fires every year, resulting in approximately 20 deaths, 90 injuries and hundreds of millions of dollars in property losses, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The main culprit is creosote, a flammable wood residue that builds up in the flue over time. If it ignites, the blaze might escape to the rest of the house through holes in the chimney.

Forget the image of chimney sweeps dancing with Mary Poppins across the rooftops. Modern chimney safety is a serious business.

According to The National Fire Protection Association, chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs should be done if necessary.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends that people take a few steps when considering which chimney sweep will perform an annual inspection or related service on their chimney or vent. Because proper care and attention to service can help protect people from unnecessary fires and carbon monoxide poisonings, it is important to choose the professional wisely. While the CSIA recommends that people consider a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®, there are additional questions that should be asked to ensure that the person hired is a credible service technician:

  1. How long has the chimney sweeping company been in business?
  2. Does the company offer current references?
  3. Does the company have unresolved complaints filed within the city or state consumer protection agency or Better Business Bureau?
  4. Does the company or individual carry a valid business liability insurance policy to protect your home and furnishings against accidents?

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