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Fireplace Safety Tips from Microbiologist Turned Philadelphia Chimney Scientist Joe Ochal
What is the relationship between chimneys and microbiology? It is Joe Ochal and The Chimney Scientists!
Ochal began his journey with chimney cleaning while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in economics at Temple University in Philadelphia. He then founded the chimney cleaning company, The Chimney Scientists, while working toward his master’s degree in microbiology at Thomas Jefferson University’s College of Biomedical Sciences.
“I grew up learning that hard work and dedication was the key to overcoming adversity,” said Ochal. “My uncle taught me how to chop and stack wood, which led to a recent three-year field study about the best way to dry wood. I was a hard worker, and he gave me a job cleaning chimneys at his fireplace showroom in college which allowed me to earn some spending money and learn a trade.“
These early life experiences shaped Ochal’s future, now dedicating himself to getting “chimneys down to a science.” As a result, and as a credentialed scientist, Ochal has brought scientific precision to chimney cleaning and fireplace safety.
Fireplace Safety is a Science
In the winter, there’s nothing nicer than a warm fireplace to sit next to with family and friends. As Ochal recalls fondly, “just as the sun outside radiates warmth, the same feeling can be brought inside during the winter. I like radiant heat. It is just like sitting out in the sun.”
But as anyone familiar with fireplaces is undoubtedly aware, they can be challenging to maintain. That is, after all, why The Chimney Scientists exist. They encourage fireplace owners to get annual chimney inspections and cleanings.
According to The Chimney Scientists, one of the causes of fireplace incidents is a failure on the part of owners to maintain them properly through such inspections and annual cleanings.
The first step in properly maintaining your fireplace is knowing what kind of fireplace you have. If you have an electric fireplace, it is crucial to read the user manual and follow it step-by-step. For example, using the correct plugs and outlets can prevent fires in electric fireplaces. Finding out which to use is found in the user manual.
In comparison to wood fireplaces, electric fireplaces require far less maintenance. However, wood burning fireplaces are Ochal’s favorite and are the type of fireplace he has most thoroughly analyzed with his scientific prowess.
Ochal recommends avoiding the use of wood from recently cut trees. He instead suggests using wood treated for starting fires. These are different from synthetic logs, which aren’t natural wood and, if used, should be ventilated with a fireplace flue to prevent carbon monoxide from spreading.
To know if your wood is treated for starting fires and not synthetic wood or wood from a recently chopped tree, check if it is seasoned and dry, indicated by a hollow sound when thrown against other wood logs.
Finally, Ochal suggests not to start wood fires with gasoline or any other flammable liquid but instead use a newspaper or other dry materials, such as dead leaves.
Fireplace Safety During the Holidays
The holidays are ideal for relaxation, but relaxation shouldn’t come at the expense of fireplace safety. Ochal and The Chimney Scientists know that the winter months present the heaviest use of wood fireplaces and have identified common holiday-related safety hazards that wood fireplace owners must be conscious of to avoid.
For example, wood fireplace owners should not hang stockings and other decorations over a burning fireplace because it can start a house fire. That does not mean that you cannot have stockings and other ornaments over a fireplace. Instead, Ochal suggests that fireplace owners should remove them before lighting a fire.
Similarly, Ochal and his inspectors recommend that owners of fireplaces not place wrapped gift boxes near lit fireplaces. Wrapping paper is highly combustible and therefore is a high-risk fire hazard that homeowners should keep away from their fireplaces. Lastly, and this one is seemingly obvious, be sure to keep your Christmas tree away from the fireplace!
About Joe Ochal and The Chimney Scientists
Joe Ochal is the Founder of The Chimney Scientists, serving the Philadelphia area. The Chimney Scientists is a full-service chimney and fireplace company that provides chimney and fireplace repairs, inspections, and cleanings, as well as historical restorations. To find out more about chimney repairs, please visit https://chimneyscientists.com/
Cleaned our chimney and on a separate occasion was able to repair cracked stucco, power wash, and paint the chimney, which looks like new. When looking for a team I was surprised to see so many good reviews, but after using them I understand why. Great work, super great people. Would recommend and would use again!Janelle B.
I reached out to Joe to take a look at the fireplace/chimney in the 100 year old house we recently purchased. He took his time evaluating everything, taking pictures, and overall being really thorough. He gave me a helpful view into some of the damage the previous owners had done as well as a range of solutions (from free steps I could take to purchasing and installing a new insert). We spent a few weeks...Emma L.
Overall experience was excellent with Chimney Scientists. From scheduling the appointment to the actual job, everything went great. Ben and Lindsay were very knowledgeable, thorough, patient and answered all of my questions. We had them inspect our gas fireplace and chimney which hadn’t been used in at least 3 years. It’s been working great since. Would definitely hire them again and would request Ben and Lindsay.Phil B.