Down Through the Chimney

A fireplace has its price, though. And it can run much higher than the cost of a cord of wood for those owners who don't exercise proper care.

According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission, there are 25,000 chimney fires a year. Together, they generate $125 million in property losses and claim dozens of lives. Those statistics become all the more relevant as the holidays get into full swing, and wealthier homeowners begin lighting up fireplaces that have been dormant much of the year. Whether the fireplace blaze they're coaxing to life is in a primary home worth millions or a cozy second home in the high six-figures, wealth managers can offer their clients this advice:

Maintenance: Each year, a chimney inspector/sweeper (with the proper certification, insurance, references and Better Business Bureau checks), should be called before the first match of the burning season is struck.

Prevention: Use of seasoned, dry wood will reduce buildup of creosote that fuels most chimney fires. Other common-sense precautions include using a fireplace screen, making sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed, and installing a vented chimney cap to help keep large embers from blowing onto your roof.

Protection: There should always be at least one fire extinguisher in any room with a fireplace, and the pressure indicators on it should be checked twice yearly. Smoke detectors should be installed on each level of your home and within 15 feet of all sleeping areas. For the best protection, a professionally installed system, wired to an alarm that is monitored by a central station, is ideal. Short of that, battery-operated smoke detectors should be tested every few months, and batteries replaced at least twice a year.

Andrew McElwee, ( is EVP of Chubb & Son and COO of Chubb Personal Insurance.

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