The time for relaxing around the fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate is finally upon us once more! But before you gather the family together and start a flame, be sure your chimney is cleaned and inspected properly.
Roughly 25,000 house fires a year start due to issues with the chimney. Many of these instances could have been prevented with proper maintenance.
Chimney cleaning can be done by yourself but many homeowners will request a service from a chimney sweeping service. Either way, the goal is to extract soot, blockages, foreign objects, and creosote from the chimney, firebox, smoke chamber, and damper.
Over time, soot and creosote will build up in your chimney and its many chambers. Animals can also build nests within the flue. While all foreign objects in a chimney could potentially lead to a fire, creosote is the most troublesome.
Creosote is a thick, oily residue that can look similar to tar. It is the byproduct of burning wood. It tends to stick to the walls of a chimney. Certain woods such as pine will create more of the unburned tar vapors that create creosote. It’s extremely flammable and can be far more difficult to remove than soot.
Regularly cleaning your chimney will prevent soot, creosote, and other flammable materials from causing house fires. Failing to do so can be a dangerous decision.
The general rule of thumb is to clean your chimney once a year OR after 50 uses. If you book a professional service, it will include a cleaning and inspection to assure it’s in proper working condition. Gas fireplaces also require inspections and cleanings once a year. While creosote isn’t a concern with a gas fireplace, animal nests can be.
Still unsure if you really need a cleaning service? Check to see if there’s a notable amount of creosote.
To check for creosote, be sure there is no downdraft coming from the chimney. Open a door or window in the room to reverse the airflow. Double-check with a tissue taped to the opening to see which direction the air flows.
Wearing goggles and a dust mask, use a fireplace poker to scratch at the black surface within the smoke chamber. Take note of how thick that layer is. Use a flashlight if need be. Is it paper-thin? Then no cleaning is required. If that layer is any more than ⅛ of an inch thick, it’s time to schedule a service ASAP. If that layer is ¼ of an inch thick then the creosote level is dangerously high and you should refrain from using the fireplace until you get it cleaned.
Note that different types of creosote will be easier to clean than others. Flaky gray, brown, or black creosote will be the easiest to remove. It’s a bit harder to clean black, granular creosote but a stiff chimney brush should do the job. The next level up is a thick, road tar-like accumulation. Removal is doable but will require a lot more effort. And, finally, the most stubborn (and deadly) type of creosote is a slick, glaze-like collection. You will definitely need to call in for backup if this is what you’re dealing with.
Hoping to take on your chimney cleaning DIY-style? Well, you can most likely handle it if there’s only soot present. If there are significant levels of creosote, you will probably need to consult a professional.
If you do decide to handle the cleaning yourself, you’ll need a few things:
Once you gather your materials, it’s time to get to work. Be sure to study the steps carefully and be prepared for an involved process.
Between chimney cleanings, there are ways to reduce soot and creosote levels. For example, sweeping logs will encourage creosote to dry up into a flakey, easier to manage consistency.
It’s best to clean your chimney before the heating season. You shouldn’t clean it if you’ve used it recently. Once you have a proper chimney sweep, you can breathe easy knowing that your home is just a bit safer.
Maintaining a home is a full-time job. Winter can complicate keeping your home in good shape even more. Here are a few more quick tips to keep your home in good shape this winter.
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