Problems: Fire, carbon monoxide poisoning, high energy costs; water inside the fireplace.
Trouble signs: Smoking fireplace; odor when not used; sooty glass fronts; white, yellow or brown powder inside fireplace; missing or crumbling masonry (indoors or outdoors); cold feeling in room when fireplace isn't used.
What you can do: Smoke, odors or soot suggest build-up of "creosote" fire byproducts, or problems with venting or flue. Crumbling masonry and powder indicates moisture problems (often caused by chimney flashing); a closed or faulty damper causes cold rooms. Install carbon monoxide detectors near fireplaces and put in a chimney cap ($50-$150) to prevent water problems; repair cracks or missing mortar joints in masonry with a silicone sealant.
What it may cost: A professional chimney sweep and inspection costs $150 to $200 and is recommended annually for homeowners using a fireplace at least weekly. Masonry repairs or repointing start at about $200. A carbon monoxide detector costs $25 to $50. An energy-saving fireplace balloon (for when the fireplace is not in use) costs $50; fireplace glass doors or heat exchangers that push warm air into the room cost about $200.
What you could save: Your life; thousands of dollars to repair structural damage. Fireplace balloons, glass doors and heat exchangers reduce energy costs by at least 10 percent per year.
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