Chimney fumes present real estate danger

Elimination of creosote buildup necessary for fire prevention

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Q: I live in an 18-year-old condo in San Mateo, Calif. It is on the top floor of a three-story building. When the condo just below me has a fire in the fireplace, I get noxious fumes–like when a candle has been snuffed–that continue as long as the fire lasts. The chimney pipes are separate but side by side and the same height. What should I do? A: Danger! When was the last time you or your neighbor had your chimney inspected or cleaned by a chimney sweep? Over 18 years, both fireplaces probably have seen many a winter fire. It's likely that you have a wood-burning zero-clearance fireplace with a triple-walled metal chimney. These units have been installed for many years as an economic alternative to brick fireboxes and masonry chimneys. Like their masonry counterparts, they require periodic cleaning and maintenance. The most likely cause of your problem is a dirty chimney. After years of wood fires, creosote builds up in the chimney. As wood burns, it releases heat and ga...