Charleston Home Security: 7 Quick Things You Can Do To Keep Yourself Protected

The Charleston, South Carolina area is a great place to live or have a vacation home.  The weather is great, the beaches are fantastic, golf courses are abundant, there are many historical sites, the architecture is unbelievable, the dining is unbeatable, and the people are the friendliest in the country.  It is because of these reasons that I believe Charleston SC Real Estate is truly unique.  I look forward to helping you with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs in Charleston, Berkeley, or Dorchester counties. Today’s article  is is from a guest author, Dean Rommes, with Charleston Security Systems, LLC. 

Charleston Home Security: 7 Quick Things You Can Do To Keep Yourself Protected

By: Dean Rommes, Charleston Security Systems, LLC

Charleston, South Carolina is one of the most beautiful and culture-rich areas to live in the U.S.; from its historic downtown area to the wonderful surrounding beaches and landmark sites. 

Like any large city in America, however, there are always going to be people on the wrong side of the law looking to take from you what you worked so hard to gain, via home burglaries. 

As a home security systems company in Charleston, we at Charleston Security Systems are constantly at work raising home security awareness for our clients and the rest of the low country alike.  Here are 7 quick tips that will help keep yourself protected:

  1. Eliminate Hiding Places Around Your House

Trees and shrubs can give your property’s landscape a great look, but they also can be potential hiding spots for criminals.  Does this mean that you have to get rid of all of your greenery?  Not at all; just be tidy with your trimming and ensure that a would-be burglar would be visible to a neighbor no matter where they try to hide.

  1. Install Better Outdoor Lighting

Crooks don’t like to be seen, obviously, so make sure anyone can see them – even at night.  All entrances to your home should have proper lighting as well as any other darker areas on your property.  Also, make sure your number address is properly lit, so that if someone does observe someone trying to enter your home or acting suspiciously, they can quickly tell the police your exact address.

  1. Always Give The Appearance of Being At Home

When you’re not home, (i.e. at work or vacation) try to keep a few lights on, along with your T.V., C.D. player or radio; these will help give the appearance that you’re home.  Burglars would rather steal from an empty house than a house with people that would call the police if seen.

  1. Plan Ahead Before Going On Vacation (and keep quiet about it)

We all like going on vacation.  Burglars would love to have you go on vacation, in fact.  Arrange to have your mail picked up by a neighbor.  Invite a friend or family member to house-sit for you.  Keep a car parked outside your house. 

Also, keep quiet about going on vacation as much as possible, particularly on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter – someone may be watching your posts, looking for the perfect time to burglarize your home.

  1. Reinforce Locks, Windows and Patio Doors

If you are moving into a new house, one thing that often goes overlooked in the buying process is the integrity of the door and window locks.  Replace any locks you think may be outdated or weakened by age.  Window locks may be present, but were they made with home security in mind, or were they made with design or vanity in mind? Do your patio doors use a wood or steel bar to block the doors from being forced open?

If you’re not sure how to answer any or all of these questions, most security companies offer free home inspections to help you identify any weak spots in your house’s defense.

  1. Install A Security System (With A Alarm Monitoring Service)

Installing a home security system can increase the likelihood that your home won’t be broken into.  Having window stickers and lawn signs that have your home security company’s logo may make burglars think twice about breaking into your home as it increases their chances of getting caught.

Home security systems include window and door sensors (for forced entry), motion detectors (to detect any unwanted movement in your house) and glass break detectors (to pick up any sound that sound like a window has been broken).  All of these sensors, when triggered, will send a signal to a main alarm panel in your house which will, if your security system is being monitored by an alarm monitoring service, alert the authorities that your house is being robbed.  

Most companies force you to sign 2 or 3 year contracts for monitoring services, however there are some companies (including Charleston Security Systems) that allow you to pay month-to-month, with no contract. 

  1. Install A Security Camera System

With the advances of online platforms and mobile applications, you can now watch your home from anywhere you have access to the internet – with the installation of a home security camera system

Install cameras inside and outside of your house and, via secure internet connection, you can log onto your system and view, in real time and playback, your home.  Today’s security camera systems also come with mobile applications that allow you to monitor your home, right on your smartphone or tablet PC.

Conclusion

As we said in the beginning of this post, Charleston is a wonderful place to live and is filled with several great and safe homes, neighborhoods and communities that we’ve been helping protect for years now.  If you can follow the above quick steps for home security in Charleston, you too can enjoy the sights of the Low Country – and always feel safe doing it.

 

Bio: Dean Rommes is the founder and owner of Charleston Security Systems, LLC.  They provide complete home and business security solutions to the Low Country including security systems, alarm monitoring services and video surveillance systems. www.charlestonsecuritysystems.net

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated.

Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC Real Estate needs or questions.

See Charleston SC Real Estate Blog for local attractions and current Charleston events.

Look at Charleston SC Real Estate homes anywhere in the tri-county area.

View my entire inventory of VisualTours of Charleston SC Real Estate homes at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

 

 

3 Important Home Insulation Questions

The Charleston, South Carolina area is a great place to live or have a vacation home.  The weather is great, the beaches are fantastic, golf courses are abundant, there are many historical sites, the architecture is unbelievable, the dining is unbeatable, and the people are the friendliest in the country.  It is because of these reasons that I believe Charleston SC Real Estate is truly unique.  I look forward to helping you with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs in Charleston, Berkeley, or Dorchester counties. Today’s article is titled:


3 Important Home Insulation Questions


1.  How much insulation do I need?  The Department of energy provided a map with recommended R-values for your area at
http://energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_insulation_table

2.  Which R-values have the highest R-values?  An R-value chart can be found at http://www.coloradoenergy.org/procorner/stuff/r-value.htm

3.  How long will it take to pay back insulation costs?  The Department of Energy can help calculate payback periods at http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/insulation_airsealing/index.cfm/mytopic=11360

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for Charleston SC Real Estate homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours of Charleston SC Real Estate homes at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Green Cleaning Products for the Kitchen

The Charleston, South Carolina area is a great place to live or have a vacation home.  The weather is great, the beaches are fantastic, golf courses are abundant, there are many historical sites, the architecture is unbelievable, the dining is unbeatable, and the people are the friendliest in the country.  It is because of these reasons that I believe Charleston SC Real Estate is truly unique.  I look forward to helping you with any of your real estate needs in Charleston, Berkeley, or Dorchester counties. Today’s article is titled:

Green Cleaning Products for the Kitchen

 
Going green in the kitchen doesn't mean going broke as long as you choose the right eco-friendly cleaners for your countertops and appliances.
 
From meat juices to milk spills, the kitchen can be a messy place. But don't reach for caustic cleaners or synthetic air sprays to give your countertops and appliances a fresher feeling. Many environmentally sustainable products are just as effective at sanitizing your kitchen as conventional cleaners, and they get the job done without relying on harmful chemicals.

Not too long ago you had to scour the backroads of the Internet to find non-toxic alternatives, but no more: Many green cleaners are now available at mainstream retailers. Looks for brands such as Method, Seventh Generation, and Holy Cow. What's more, some of the greenest of green kitchen cleaners can probably already be found in your pantry-and cost a fraction of what you'd pay for commercial cleaners, whether conventional or eco-friendly.

Countertops

Toss out those anti-microbial wipes and sprays when you're cleaning your countertops. Most contain chemicals like sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or ammonium chlorides, which are listed as hazardous to the health of humans and pets by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, says Gary Pien, an allergist and immunologist with Summit Medical Group in Berkeley Heights, N.J. "These chemicals can cause eye and skin irritation on contact, and if mixed with other cleaning products, can release toxic gases," Pien says.

Combine equal parts vinegar and tap water to make your own non-toxic mix. Warm it in a glass bowl in the microwave to boost cleaning power. A 64-ounce bottle of food-grade vinegar costs about $4, so it'll set you back a buck to stir up a 32-ounce batch of homemade countertop cleaner. You won't have to dip too far into your pocketbook to buy a greener all-purpose cleaner. A 32-ounce bottle of Seventh Generation's kitchen cleaner (http://www.theconsumerlink.com/SeventhGeneration/detail/TCL+100333/13) costs about $5, while the same size conventional cleaner costs about $4.50.

Refrigerators

If you have a stainless steel fridge, add a few drops of a natural dishwashing liquid such as Mrs. Meyer's (http://www.drugstore.com/products/prod.asp?pid=84968&catid=13769) ($4.49 for 16 ounces) or Method (http://www.methodhome.com/product.aspx?page=555) ($4 for 25 ounces) to warm water to wipe off greasy fingerprints instead of shelling out the $7-$10 a store-bought stainless cleaner will cost. And when you're wiping, remember stainless steel has a grain, just like wood, and you need to clean in the same direction it runs, says Mary Findley, author of"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Cleaning." (http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Idiots-Guide-Green-Cleaning/dp/159257856X)

On the inside, use the tried-and-true remedy for foul fridge smells: a box of baking soda. It costs about $1. Save even more by buying baking soda in bulk: a 12-pound bag costs about $7. For sticky spills, a vinegar and water mix should clean it right up, Findley says.

Sinks & drains

Liquid dishwashing soaps with bio-based ingredients like aloe and essential oils are a good bet here as well. You'll pay a bit more than the $2-$3 the cheapest conventional soaps will cost, but when you consider this is what's going onto the surfaces you eat off of, the potential health value outweighs the extra dollar or two. If nothing else at least skip synthetically scented cleaners, which can irritate the skin and respiratory tract, says Martin Wolf, director of research and development for Seventh Generation.

If your sink stinks, try cleaning your drain with a paste made of vinegar and baking soda. Give it time to work overnight. Drain cleaners are some of the nastiest chemicals around, and at $7 for a 32-ounce bottle, they're not cheap. Enzyme-based cleaners like Nature's Miracle (http://www.naturemakesitwork.com/home/index.php) are another option: Findley says they'll eat away at odor-causing bacteria and any bits of food clogging the drain or disposal. Nature's Miracle costs more at $12 for a 32-ounce bottle, but it has multiple uses beyond the kitchen. If neither approach works, sprinkle some baking soda on a halved lemon or orange and scrub out your sink basin, then toss the citrus in the disposal for a fresh scent.

Dishwashers

Many dishwasher detergents contain chemicals called phosphates that suck oxygen out of waterways, killing aquatic fish and plant life. Bio- and natural enzyme-based dishwasher detergents like Ecover get the job done without affecting water systems, and are comparable in cost: 25 Ecover tablets cost about $7, while 20 tablets of conventional cleaner cost about $6.50.

Stovetops & ovens

Baked-on stove stains can be a real pain. "Grease-cutting" cleaners may make your stove shine, but they have decidedly less attractive health effects. Most contain glycol ethers, which Wolf says have been implicated in health problems ranging from reproductive damage to eye and respiratory-tract irritation. Instead, start by cleaning your stovetop after every meal before food bits and sauces are baked on. If you don't, you may have to combine some elbow grease with a homemade mix of vinegar and baking soda. Prefer a green grease fighter in a bottle? Go for Holy Cow (http://holycowstore.elsstore.com/view/product/?id=12909&cid=47). It's comparable to conventional cleaners at about $3 for 32 ounces.

A baking soda-vinegar paste should do the job in the oven, as well. If you can, find a natural orange-based cleaner that contains no petroleum distillates like Earth Friendly Products Orange Plus (http://www.ecos.com/orange.html) ($6 for 32 ounces). According to Findley, mixing that with baking soda can give your green oven cleaner extra oomph. Just spread the baking soda mixture in the oven, and let it sit overnight. Re-wet it in the morning. A few hours later wipe it out. It beats shelling out the $6.50 for a fume-filled chemical cleaner.

Microwaves

To scrub stubborn microwave stains, just grab a super-absorbent sponge, wet it, and heat it in the microwave for 30 seconds. The steam from the sponge will soften the food bits, and the hot water inside it will make it easier to wipe off and disinfect your microwave's interior, all for the cost of a single sponge.

Alyson McNutt English has written about the joy of green cleaning for publications like Pregnancy, Conceive, and BobVila.com. She buys her baking soda and vinegar in bulk and uses them liberally for everything from disinfecting laundry to soaking up her kids' food stains.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.
 
To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com
 

Essential Heating System Maintenance

Getting your home's heating system professionally serviced every year will keep it running smoothly and help keep heating costs under control.
 
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is usually a good rule-except when it comes to your heating system. Even if it's humming along just fine, having a technician take it apart once a year to clean the lines and filters and give it a thorough inspection is absolutely essential. Regular servicing reduces the risk of breakdowns and prolongs the unit's life. Plus, it saves you money: For every year of maintenance you skip, energy bills jump 5% to 10% because of reduced efficiency. Here's the lowdown on heating system maintenance.

Who does the job?

The simplest way to get the work done is to hire your fuel company to do it. Oil companies and gas utilities usually provide this service, or you can hire the contractor who installed the equipment. Also, some plumbers handle heating systems.

What is involved?

The technician will clean soot and corrosion out of the combustion chamber where the fuel is burned, and check it for leaks or damage. He'll inspect the flue pipe for open seams, clogs, or corrosion that could cause carbon monoxide to backdraft into the house. He'll replace the filters on oil and forced-air systems. Finally, he'll test the exhaust from your cleaned machine and use the information to adjust the burner for maximum efficiency.

How much will it cost?

You'll pay between $100 and $180 for the service, depending largely on whether you have a gas system, which is easier to maintain, or oil, which requires a fair amount of soot removal. Usually the cost is covered by an annual maintenance contract that also provides 24-hour emergency service. While the technician is there, he should also service your water heater, assuming it has a separate oil or gas burner.

When is the best time to do the work?

Ideally, have your system tuned up in the fall so it's in top shape for the start of the heating season. Of course, that's when technicians are the busiest, so if you can't do it when you want, do it when you can-as long as your system is serviced once a year. And don't expect your provider to call to remind you that it's time. Even if you subscribe to an annual service plan, you still need to call to make an appointment. Call in the spring or summer to be sure of getting on the schedule in the fall.

A former carpenter and newspaper reporter, Oliver Marks has been writing about home improvements for 16 years. He's currently restoring his second fixer-upper with a mix of big hired projects and small do-it-himself jobs.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com

Cleaning and Caring for Siding

The annual cleaning and repair of your home's exterior will pay off in a long life and increased value.
 
If you'd like to prevent costly home repairs and add to the value of your house, clean your siding. With proper care and a little regular maintenance, your home's exterior could be trouble-free for 50 years and more. Cleaning removes dirt and mildew that may shorten the life of your siding. A clean house protects your investment, too. "A good first appearance on a home can add as much as 5% to 10% to the value of the home," says John Aust, a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Appraisers.

Cleaning wood, vinyl, metal, stucco, brick, fiber-cement siding

All types of siding benefit from a good cleaning once every year to remove grit, grime, and mildew. The best way-whether you have wood, vinyl, metal, stucco, brick, or fiber-cement-is with a bucket of warm, soapy water (1/2 cup trisodium phosphate-TSP, available at grocery stores, hardware stores, and home improvement centers-dissolved in 1 gallon of water) and a soft-bristled brush attached to a long handle. Divide your house into 20-foot sections, clean each from top to bottom, and rinse. For two-story homes, you'll be using a ladder, so keep safety foremost.

Cleaning an average-sized house may take you and a friend every bit of a weekend. If you don't have the time-or the inclination-you can have your house professionally cleaned for $300-$500. A professional team will use a power washer and take less than a day.

You can rent a power washer to do the job yourself for about $75 per day, but beware if you don't have experience with the tool. Power washers force water through a nozzle at high pressure, resulting in water blasts that can strip paint, gouge softwoods, loosen caulk, and eat through mortar. Also, the tool can force water under horizontal lap joints, resulting in moisture accumulating behind the siding. A siding professional has the expertise to prevent water penetration at joints, seams around windows and doors, and electrical fixtures.

 Inspect for damage

Right before you clean is the ideal time to inspect your house for signs of damage or wear and tear. A house exterior is most vulnerable to water infiltration where siding butts against windows, doors, and corner moldings, says Frank Lesh, a professional house inspector in Chicago and past president of the American Society of Home Inspectors (http://www.ashi.org). For all types of siding, look for caulk that has cracked due to age or has pulled away from adjacent surfaces, leaving gaps. Reapply a color-matched exterior caulk during dry days with temperatures in excess of 65 degrees F for maximum adhesion.

Other defects include wood siding with chipped or peeling paint, and cracked boards and trim. If you have a stucco exterior, be on the lookout for cracks and chips. For brick, look for crumbling mortar joints. Repair defects before cleaning. The sooner you make repairs, the better you protect your house from moisture infiltration that can lead to dry rot and mold forming inside your walls.

Repair wood, vinyl, and fiber-cement siding

Damage to wood, vinyl, and fiber-cement horizontal lap siding often occurs because of everyday accidents-being struck by sticks and stones thrown from a lawn mower, or from objects like baseballs. Repairing horizontal lap siding requires the expertise to remove the damaged siding while leaving surrounding siding intact. Unless you have the skills, hire a professional carpenter or siding contractor. Expect to pay $200-$300 to replace one or two damaged siding panels or pieces of wood clapboard.
Repaint wood, fiber-cement

Houses with wood siding should be repainted every five years, or as soon as the paint finish begins to deteriorate. A professional crew will paint a two-story, 2,300 square foot house for $3,000-$5,000. If you've cleaned your house exterior yourself, you've done much of the prep work and will save the added cost that a painting contractor would charge to clean the siding before painting.

Fiber-cement siding, whether it comes with a factory-applied color finish or is conventionally painted, requires repainting far less often (every 8-10 years) than wood siding. That's because fiber-cement is dimensionally stable and, unlike wood, doesn't expand and contract with changes in humidity.

It's a good idea to specify top-quality paint. Because only 15% to 20% of the total cost of repainting your house is for materials, using top-quality paint will add only a nominal amount-about $200-to the job. However, the best paints will outperform "ordinary" paints by several years, saving you money.

Repair brick mortar, stop efflorescence

Crumbling and loose mortar should be removed with a cold chisel and repaired with fresh mortar-a process called repointing. An experienced do-it-yourselfer can repoint mortar joints between bricks, but the process is time-consuming. Depending on the size of the mortar joints (thinner joints are more difficult), a masonry professional will repoint brick siding for $5-$20 per square foot.

Efflorescence-the powdery white residue that sometimes appears on brick and stone surfaces-is the result of soluble salts in the masonry or grout being leached out by moisture, probably indicating the masonry and grout was never sealed correctly. Remove efflorescence by scrubbing it with water and white vinegar mixed in a 50/50 solution and a stiff bristle brush. As soon as the surface is clear and dry, seal it with a quality masonry sealer to prevent further leaching.

Persistent efflorescence may indicate a moisture problem behind the masonry. Consult a professional building or masonry contractor.

Remove mildew from all types of siding

Stubborn black spotty stains are probably mildew. Dab the area with a little diluted bleach-if the black disappears, it's mildew. Clean the area with a solution of one part bleach to four parts water. Wear eye protection and protect plants from splashes. Rinse thoroughly with clean water.

 Repair cracked stucco

Seal cracks and small holes with color-matched exterior acrylic caulk. Try pressing sand into the surface of wet caulk to match the texture of the surrounding stucco. Paint the repair to match.

Take time to inspect and clean your house siding, and you'll be rewarded with a trouble-free exterior.
John Riha has written six books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. Riha has been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. His standard 1968 suburban house has been an ongoing source of maintenance experience.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/
 
View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com
 

From HouseLogic.com

Chimney Maintenance for Warmth and Safety

Maintaining your chimney and fireplace can make the difference between warm safety and drafty danger.
 
Your fireplace, the most low-tech piece of equipment in your house, may seem like a simple load-and-light operation, but ignoring annual maintenance can impair its performance, leading to heated air (and dollars) blowing out the chimney, harmful smoke inside, and possibly even a chimney fire.

The average number of annual U.S. home fires caused by fireplace, chimney, and chimney connectors between 2003 and 2005 was 25,100, and the average costs for those fires was $126.1 million, based on the most recent statistics from the Chimney Safety Institute of America. That's roughly $5,024 in damage per home. An annual inspection and sweeping removes flammable creosote, the major cause of chimney fires, and identifies other performance problems.

Is it worth the $205 fee, two-hour service call, and all that ash possibly blackening your carpet? Here's what you need to know to decide.

Annual inspections keep flames burning right

Creosote-combustible, tar-like droplets-is a natural byproduct of burning wood. The more wood you burn, the wetter or greener the wood, and the more often you restrict airflow by keeping your fireplace doors closed or your damper barely open, the more creosote is produced.

Soot build-up, while not flammable, can hamper venting. One half-inch of soot can restrict airflow 17% in a masonry chimney and 30% in a factory-built unit, according to the CSIA (http://www.csia.org). Soot is also aggressively acidic and can damage the inside of your chimney.

The more creosote and soot, the more likely you are to see signs of chimney fire-loud popping, dense smoke, or even flames shooting out the top of your chimney into the sky. Chimney fires damage the structure of your chimney and can provide a route for the fire to jump to the frame of your house.
"If the chimney is properly maintained, you'll never have a chimney fire," says Ashley Eldridge, the education director of the CSIA.

The best way to ensure your chimney isn't an oil slick waiting to ignite? Get it inspected.

Three inspection levels let you choose what you need

A level-one inspection includes a visual check of the fireplace and chimney without any special equipment or climbing up on the roof. The inspector comes to your house with a flashlight, looks for damage, obstructions, creosote build-up, and soot, and tells you if you need a sweep. If so, he'll grab his brushes, extension poles, and vacuum, and do it on the spot.

"You should have it inspected every year to determine if it needs to be swept. An annual inspection will also cover you if the neighbor's children have thrown a basketball in it, or a bird has built a nest," says Eldridge.
A level one typically runs about $125. Add a sweep, and you're talking another $80, or about $205 for both services, according to CSIA.

Consider a level-two inspection if you've experienced a dramatic weather event, like a tornado or hurricane; if you've made a major change to your fireplace; or bought a new house. This includes a level-one investigation, plus the inspector's time to visit the roof, attic, and crawl space in search of disrepair. It concludes with a sweep, if necessary, and information on what repair is needed. The price will depend on the situation.

A level three inspection is considered "destructive and intrusive" and can resemble a demolition job. It may involve tearing down and rebuilding walls and your chimney, and is usually done after a chimney fire. The cost will depend on the situation.

Small steps can improve your fireplace's efficiency

Besides the annual sweep, improve your fireplace's functioning with responsible use.
Only burn dry, cured wood-logs that have been split, stacked, and dried for eight to 12 months. Cover your log pile on top, but leave the sides open for air flow. Hardwoods such as hickory, white oak, beech, sugar maple, and white ash burn longest, though dry firewood is more important than the species. Less dense woods like spruce or white pine burn well if sufficiently dry, but you'll need to add more wood to your fire more often, according to CSIA.

Wood, only wood! Crates, lumber, construction scraps, painted wood, or other treated wood releases chemicals into your home, compromising your air quality. Log starters are fine for getting your fire going, but they burn very hot; generally only use one at a time.

Close your damper when not using the fireplace to prevent warm indoor air-and the dollars you're spending to heat it-from rushing up the chimney.

On a factory-built, prefab wood-burning fireplace, keep bifold glass doors open when burning a fire to allow heat to get into the room.

Have a chimney cap installed to prevent objects, rain, and snow from falling into your chimney and to reduce downdrafts. The caps have side vents so smoke escapes. A chimney sweep usually provides and can install a stainless steel cap, which is better than a galvanized metal one available at most home improvement retailers because it won't rust, says Anthony Drago, manager of Ashleigh's Hearth and Home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Replace a poorly sealing damper to prevent heat loss. "You can get a top-mounted damper that functions as a rain cap, too, an improvement over the traditional damper because it provides a tighter closure," says CSIA's Eldridge.
Install carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors in your house-near the fireplace as well as in bedroom areas (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/create-a-home-emergency-preparedness-kit/).

If you burn more than three cords of wood annually, get your chimney cleaned twice a year. A cord is 4-feet high, by 4-feet wide, by 8-feet long, or the amount that would fill two full-size pick-up trucks.

To burn fire safely, build it slowly, adding more wood as it heats and keeping your damper completely open to increase draw in the early stages. Burn the fire hot, at least occasionally-with the damper all the way open to help prevent smoke from lingering the fireplace and creosote from developing.

By the way, fireplaces aren't officially rated for energy efficiency because they're so varied. Depending on the source of information, they can be 10% to 30% efficient in converting fuel to heat.

No inspection will turn a masonry or factory-built fireplace into a furnace, but it can improve efficiency somewhat, decrease the amount of heating dollars you're sending up the chimney, and increase your enjoyment of your hearth time by reducing smoke. If a sweeping prevents a chimney fire, you're talking about the difference between another ordinary January day, and the potential loss of your home, or even life.

Wendy Paris is a writer in New York currently living in a home with a very smoky fireplace that has set off the smoke detector more than once. After finishing this article, she decided to schedule a chimney sweep. She's written for This Old House magazine, as well as for The New York Times and Salon.com.

As always, your thoughts, questions, or comments are greatly appreciated. Let me know if I can help with any of your Charleston SC real estate needs or questions.

To look for homes anywhere in the tri-county area go to my website at http://www.carolinajoe.com/mls/ 

View my entire inventory of VisualTours at http://www.visualtour.com/inventory.asp?U=182210 

Sincerely,

"Carolina Joe" Idleman
http://www.carolinajoe.com

Article from HouseLogic.com