As the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder, it’s once again time for an annual chimney cleaning. Some people may be so organized they get their chimney cleaned in the spring. Not me, the turning leaves are my clue that I better get this done. There are multiple benefits, including helping to prevent chimney fires.
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Why is chimney cleaning necessary?
Heating equipment is the number two leading cause of home fires. The only cause of fires that’s more common is cooking. Pointing out the obvious, heating equipment needs a chimney. The most fire prone heating equipment is the fireplace. According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly two-thirds of fireplace related fires start in the chimney. Therefore, one of the most effective actions you can take to reduce the likelihood of a home fire is an annual chimney cleaning. The following is important information to help ensure you don’t experience a chimney fire.
Can I do my own chimney cleaning?
Maybe. Cleaning a chimney can be much more involved than simply running a brush down the chimney and vacuuming up the soot. Here are some other points to consider before taking on the task as a homeowner:
Are any repairs needed?
- For example, are the clearances of the chimney flue adequate and is the flue in good condition?
- In the case of a brick chimney, is it structurally sound?
Which type of buildup needs to be removed?
- Is the buildup soot that can be brushed away?
- Is there a glaze over the buildup indicating creosote is present?
What type of chimney needs to be cleaned?
- Does your chimney include a brick smoke chamber?
- Or, is this a metal chimney flue?
There are a number of different chimney types and chimney conditions that impact whether doing your own chimney cleaning is feasible. The simplest case is a metal flue in new construction, with the proper clearances and structurally sound. In this case, if you simply have soot buildup that does not have a glaze on it, doing the chimney cleaning yourself is straightforward.
Situations Where You Should Hire Out Your Chimney Cleaning
The Condition of Your Chimney is Unknown
Be sure your chimney is structurally sound before using the fireplace or stove. If the stove was recently installed and building permits were filed then an inspection would have been performed by a local building inspector.
In the case that you recently bought the house, a home inspection service may have checked the structural integrity of the chimney. However, this is less reliable than getting an inspection for new construction. Here’s why. Many home inspectors aren’t very thorough. It’s common for home inspectors to get a significant amount of their business through referrals from insurance agents. This can lead to a home inspector not wanting to report problems. They don’t want to report problems that could negatively impact a sale because their business is coming from an agent that refers customers to them.
The rule of thumb in this case is that if you don’t know for certain your chimney is in good condition, get it inspected. A chimney sweep should be able to perform the inspection, make the repairs and clean the chimney all in one visit.
You’ve Heard Noises in the Chimney
It’s common for birds, squirrels or other small animals to build nests in chimneys. A nest can completely block the chimney, causing smoke and hot air to back up into your home. If you’ve heard unusual noises in the chimney, be sure to check it for a nest that may be blocking the natural flow of smoke and fine ash up the chimney.
There’s a glaze in Your Chimney
A glaze present is a sign of creosote forming. Creosote is difficult to clean, often requiring an acid wash followed by a neutralizer. This is a more complex project than sweeping and vacuuming ash. Most homeowners prefer to have this more difficult project done by a chimney sweep.
The Fireplace or Stove Smells Bad, Particularly in the Summer
A bad smell from the fireplace during periods of warm weather is a sign of creosote buildup. There are mitigation efforts you can take to temporarily get rid of the smell. However, knowing you are getting creosote buildup is an indication that you may need to get the chimney professionally cleaned.
A Chimney Flue That is Long or Has Bends
A multi-story chimney flue, particularly a chimney flue with bends in it will need to be cleaned more frequently. When there is a bend in a chimney flue it’s natural that there will be more buildup of soot in that part of the flue, necessitating the importance of regularly cleaning.
How often should a chimney be cleaned?
A fireplace with a brick chimney needs to be cleaned when 1/8th of an inch of soot buildup occurs. For a stove with a metal flue, any appreciable soot means it’s time for a chimney cleaning. If you use your fireplace or stove for heating the home, a general guideline is to have the chimney cleaned annually.
Why is creosote a big deal?
Creosote is a big deal for two reasons:
- It can completely block the chimney, leading to a buildup of smoke that comes back into your home.
- The creosote can catch fire.
Creosote catching fire in the chimney is bad news for multiple reasons. First, the metal flue chimneys are not built to withstand the heat of a fire. Metal flues will not contain the fire and it is likely to spread to your home. For a brick chimney, if there are any cracks in the masonry, heat and smoke can escape into the home, again spreading the fire to your home.
Does a chimney for a gas or oil burning furnace need to be cleaned every year?
Many of the new furnaces and boilers have very high efficiency ratings. This higher efficiency level means there will be less buildup of particles in the chimney. Therefore, there will also be less need for a regular cleaning.
If you have a new furnace or boiler, check with the manufacturer. The answer will depend on a variety of factors and the manufacturer will have the best information available on the frequency with which you need to schedule a chimney cleaning.
Can I burn wrapping paper and other items in my fireplace?
No. Only burn well-seasoned wood, or the type of fuel the stove was built for. For example, a pellet stove should only be used to burn pellets. It’s never a good idea to put quick burning items such as wrapping paper or cardboard in a fireplace or wood stove. Items like wrapping paper are highly flammable and the potential for flames and smoke to come out of the fireplace into the room is high. Also, some items like styrofoam can release toxic gases when burned. You do not want to release these gases into the air in your house.
In short, only burn the type of fuel recommended. Never use your fireplace or stove as a way to get rid of miscellaneous junk around your home.
How else can I protect myself against a chimney fire?
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