Dear Heloise:

I've been a chimney sweep for 20 years, and it still amazes me that people refuse to have their chimneys serviced. It is like having a time bomb in the middle of your house. Every year, numerous people lose their lives, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage is done to homes, because of improperly maintained fireplaces. This could be avoided with a simple chimney inspection and cleaning, if necessary. If nothing else, do it for the peace of mind.

Gerald Abshire, Vidor, Tex.

Gerald, thanks for the reminder. Now is the time of year when people start using their fireplaces and heaters, and having the chimney checked is essential.

Our friends at the Chimney Safety Institute of America tell us that many American homeowners think their chimneys only need to be cleaned and inspected if they burn wood in their fireplaces or wood stoves. But almost all heating appliances, whether they burn gas, oil, wood or coal, rely on the chimney to safely vent out toxic gases produced by the heating system.

Here are a couple of hints from the CSIA:

* Schedule a chimney checkup so that if repairs are needed, you will have time to do them before the cold weather sets in.

* Have a chimney cap installed to keep out debris and keep birds, animals and insects from nesting in your chimney.

* Following a violent storm, earthquake, flood or lightning strike, have your chimney inspected for damage -- inside and out. Do not use the chimney until it has been checked out.

* Install a carbon-monoxide detector to warn of harmful gases that might be entering your home because of a blocked or damaged chimney.

Thanks so much to Gerald and the CSIA for their good information.

Dear Heloise:

I stub my toes on the frame at the foot of my bed. I know this can be painful.

The other day, I bought a pair of kneepads (like floor and tile installers use) at a home- improvement store for less than $5. I wrapped them around the bottoms of both legs -- you can't see them. Now, if I stub my toe, it doesn't hurt.

Dennis Anich

Fort Worth, Tex.

Send a money- or time-saving hint to Heloise, P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio, Tex. 78279-5000, fax it to 210-HELOISE or e-mail it to Heloise@Heloise.com. Please include your city and state when faxing or using e-mail. I can't answer your letter personally but will use the best hints received in my column.

(c)2004, King Features Syndicate