Ahead of the chilly autumn days that make it tempting to spend comfortable evenings in front of the fireplace, make the effort to ensure that your fireplace is both safe and welcome. In a 2016 report, the National Fire Protection Association says that neglecting to clean chimneys was a major contributing factor for home heating fires.
Ashley Eldridge, Chimney Safety Institute of America’s education director advises homeowners to leave this task to a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep rather than doing it themselves. This is because chimney cleaning and inspection entails much more than just sweeping away the soot.
HOW FREQUENTLY SHOULD HOMEOWNERS GET THEIR CHIMNEYS INSPECTED?
Each and every year. Newly-installed fireplaces or wood-burning stoves must be inspected halfway through the initial heating season to verify that everything is functioning in the right manner.
HOW FREQUENTLY SHOULD HOMEOWNERS GET THEIR CHIMNEYS CLEANED?
Cleaning ought to be done whenever it is necessary, usually when there is at least 1/8 inches of burnt material that has been deposited inside the chimney. Conducting an annual inspection will establish if you need to sweep or perform repairs.
Sometimes you may be required to sweep several times in one year, particularly when the venting, operator and fuel systems are not matched in the right manner.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE YOUR CHIMNEY CLEANED AND INSPECTED?
- The burning process produces acidic substances that weaken metal or masonry chimneys, making them break down prematurely.
- Substantial accumulation of creosote, an inflammable substance that is formed as a result of incomplete combustion, can ignite and spread fire to the attic and other parts of the house.
- When the chimney is used rarely, small animals and birds can gather and nest there, leading to chimney blockage. Leaves, branches, twigs and pine cones can also clog up the chimney.
- Driving rain or high winds may also ruin chimneys. CSIA advises that generally, chimneys must have rain caps to prevent water and animals from entering because these are the major reasons for chimney failure.
WHAT DOES PROFESSIONAL CHIMNEY CLEANING ENTAIL?
- Sweeping the entire fireplace, examining the firebox, smoke chamber, flue and exterior areas of the chimney and inspection of the appliance to see if the clearances are appropriate.
- Making recommendations to ensure the chimney operates correctly or equipment is replaced and essential repairs are done to the structure and equipment.
- Video inspection, which may mean further costs, but it might help to identify hidden damage.
HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULD AN INSPECTION COST?
Andy Klotz, who works with Angies List, notes that a normal chimney inspection costs between $100 and $250-but this depends on the accessibility of the roof and the kind of chimney inspected. There are some chimney sweeps who give a waiver on the inspection fees if repair work or cleaning is done.
Klotz adds that chimney cleanings usually cost between $100 and $350, depending on whether specialized equipment is needed or there are other complications such as living or dead animals in the chimney.
HOW CAN I CHOOSE A CERTIFIED CHIMNEY SWEEP?
- Hire a chimney sweep that is certified by CSIA and check that the certification has not expired. To get more information, call CSIA using the number 317.837.5362 or check their website.
- Request for references and guarantees (warranties) for any work provided.
- Request for proof that the sweep is properly insured (for a minimum of $300,000) and ascertain that the policy is in force.
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO FOR OTHER HEAT SOURCES AND CHIMNEYS IN THE HOUSE
Wood stoves also come with chimneys and flues that must be inspected every year. When the stove is working properly, gray ash will be main residue. But if you notice a shiny buildup on the inner part of the door, this signifies that the fire is burning at a very low level.
A low-burning fire generates an even bigger creosote buildup on the chimney. Eldridge cautions against burning a hotter fire before sweeping the chimney. This is due to the fact that increasing the heat when creosote has accumulated in the chimney could set off a fire.
IS IT ADVISABLE TO CLEAN THE CHIMNEY YOURSELF?
Eldridge advises against cleaning the chimney yourself because may not do it properly and you probably lack the necessary know-how and equipment to check the chimney for additional problems.
However, Eldridge adds that there is one kind of chimney that a homeowner can clean by themselves. This is where an insert has been fitted in the fireplace using a liner of the correct size. When cleaning, insert a brush into the flue and fireplace and sweep upwards all the way to the top.
The disadvantage of doing this is that there can be a large amount of creosote or soot on the rain cap that also requires to be cleaned. Eldridge says that almost all the work can be carried out from the fireplace. But it is important that you are able to see all the way through the rain cap from the floor in order to ensure there is no blockage. In addition, the chimney cap requires cleaning which may entail going up the roof, a job that is not for the faint-hearted.
SIX WAYS OF ENSURING PROPER MAINTENANCE OF YOUR FIREPLACE AND CHIMNEY
Although it is advisable to get a professional to clean ad inspect your chimney, there are 6 things you can do as a homeowner to enhance your fireplace experience:
- Clean out the ashes from your fireplace as they build up.
- Collect firewood one year before so that it is seasoned appropriately. This leads to less combustible substances accumulating in the chimney.
- Ensure that the damper is completely open prior to lighting up any fire in your fireplace
- Only burn dry firewood or manufactured logs that are CSIA-accepted. At all costs avoid burning painted or pressure-treated wood.
- Use fuel that burns efficiently. Burning poor quality or wet fuel leads to slow fires and increased accumulation of creosote on the flue.
- Think about using a top-down burn approach that burns cleaner and hotter and generates less smoke than conventional fire-building methods. Position the biggest logs at the base of the fireplace and after that add an intersecting layer of smaller-sized logs. Then add a small amount of crushed newspapers and cover it all with one-inch kindling. Set the newspaper on fire, settle back and bask in the warmth of your fireplace.