When it comes to the safety of your home, one of the most important preventive measures you can take is keeping your chimney properly maintained and repaired. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 43 percent of all home heating fires are related to fireplaces and chimneys. Most of these fires were caused by creosote build-up, an issue that can be addressed by a professional chimney cleaning.

Even if you rarely use your fireplace, you should have your chimney inspected by a qualified professional at least once a year, the NFPA recommends. This inspection can reduce the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisonings due to creosote buildup. It also can indicate other problems such as the presence of animals or birds building their nests in the flue.

It also is important to keep an eye out for structural problems with your chimney. The deterioration of bricks and mortar is inevitable. Detecting issues early can help you avoid costlier repairs in the future.

Follow these three steps to help you determine if you should call a professional chimney service immediately:

1. Examine the exterior.

Stand away from the house to check for signs of missing mortar, cracks in the bricks or loose or missing bricks. Also check for overall structural issues such as the chimney or the house leaning in places. (Make sure you don’t climb on top of the roof; this can present additional safety issues).

2. Check the attic/crawl space.

If you notice water stains in the area around the chimney, this could signal problems with leaking.

3. Examine your home’s interior.

Peeling paint, peeling wallpaper or water stains on the ceiling around the fireplace structure can signal problems with the structure of your chimney.


This article originally appeared on Angie’s List.