November 2018 Blog

Two things you can do to keep your family and your pets safe this winter...

Just face it. Winter is right around the corner. With it come the inevitable chores that accompany the cold Northeast weather: keeping sidewalks and driveways  clear of snow and ice; preventing ice from building up on the roof and in the gutters; making sure your house is properly ventilated to prevent carbon monoxide buildup and – it you have a fireplace – making sure it is in good working order and free of creosote.

There is no hard and fast rule for how often to have your chimney “swept.” However, the National Fire Protection Standard 211 recommends having fireplaces, chimneys and vents inspected at least once a year, with cleaning being done as indicated. If you use your fireplace regularly, it is especially important to have it inspected for potentially harmful buildup of creosote.

What is creosote and why is it harmful?

Creosote is a byproduct of wood burning, consisting mainly of tar. It is typically found in the smoke rising from your picturesque and cozy fire. While your blazing fire looks and feels beautiful, the creosote traveling upwards in the smoke mixes with air and moisture near the top of the chimney. It then becomes a solid and adheres to the liner of your chimney.

Over time, the buildup of creosote can become very dangerous, mainly because of its flammable nature. The more creosote in your chimney flue, the higher your chances of a chimney fire. Jamie Wallace, chimney sweep and owner of Chimney Heroes, recommends inspecting and cleaning annually in order to safeguard your home and family. 

View up the chimney of a flue coated in creosote. Courtesy of Chimney Heroes.

After chimney cleaning. Courtesy of Chimney Heroes.

Wallace also suggests using a fireplace screen. The majority of fires from your fireplace are a result of sparks flying into the room, igniting furniture, curtains or rugs.

Keep in mind, that gas stoves, pellet stoves and coal stoves should also be “swept” and maintained.

What about sidewalks and driveways? What are the best products for ice removal that won’t harm unsuspecting dogs and cats?

Most municipal ordinances require that a homeowner be responsible for the stretch of sidewalk in front of their property. Injuries caused by failure to remove snow and ice can become a huge headache for you, the homeowner, and it is important to make sure paths are clear and dry. Most people use a sodium chloride-based product and other harmful salts, which can be very hurtful to animals’ paws – and their tummies.

When dogs and cats are out for a winter “walk-about,” oftentimes pieces of the chemically enhanced ice-melting products can become lodged in between the soft pads on a dog’s or cat’s paw. In addition to the physical irritation caused by a jagged object lodged in between their pads, the heat generated when the product melts can cause painful burns.

Animals tend to their discomfort by licking the affected areas, unintentionally ingesting harmful chemicals and salts. These compounds can irritate the digestive tract; but they can also cause something called “sodium toxicity,” which can cause mental depression, seizures, imbalance and other symptoms.

While no ice melt products are completely safe, you may want to consider purchasing “pet-safer” products, which contain non-salt components. Two of the safest and best-working products are Safe Paw and Safe-T-Pet. 

Photo Courtesy of

If you are a pet owner yourself, you might also consider purchasing pet booties to offer additional protection. Just remember to choose booties that are made of durable material, fit well (i.e., not so loose that they bunch up and don’t stay put on the foot), and have non-slip treads on the soles.

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