Chimneys, and especially flues, can be messy places. And a dirty chimney can be dangerous.
Back in the day, when nearly everyone heated their homes with wood or coal, our great-grandparents understood the havoc a chimney fire could wreak.
When wood fires burn, they release a host of contaminants that coat the chimney walls. As time passes, the combustible particles build up into a hard-to-remove coating known as creosote. This coating impedes proper ventilation, creating a dangerous condition called chimney flue deterioration. A dirty chimney can also cause toxic, deadly gases such as carbon monoxide to build up in the house, which is especially harmful for children and seniors.
Chimney sweeps are specially trained professionals who know how to safely remove a chimney’s coating of creosote and other substances. They are also familiar with all aspects of chimney construction and repair, including repairing brick and masonry, repairing tuckpointing, replacing chimney caps, installing fireplace doors, and identifying and fixing air leaks. In addition, they are fully insured and licensed by the state in which they work.
If you have a wood-burning chimney, you should have it swept at least once a year, or more often if there are a lot of combustible particles and your fireplace is used frequently. If you have a gas log chimney, it should be swept less often than a wood-burning fireplace, but still once per year. Chimney fires can be extremely dangerous and lead to costly home repairs, so cleaning the chimney is always a wise decision.
The easiest way to get a chimney swept is to call a professional. A professional chimney sweep is fully insured and licensed, and they are highly skilled technicians with years of training and experience. They are well aware of all the hazards involved in chimney cleaning and can quickly spot problems that you may not be able to see. They can also help you select the best fireplace products for your home, such as a stainless steel chimney liner.
You can try to clean your chimney yourself, but it’s usually a two-person job that requires climbing ladders and going on the roof. A better option is to purchase a pulley system that attaches the chimney brush to two ropes. One person climbs the ladder and holds one end of the rope; the other person waits below with the chimney brush. The two people work together to pull the brush up and down, scrubbing the entire chimney flue.
Preparing for a Chimney Sweep
When you hire a chimney sweep, they should give you a time for when they will come to your home and start their inspection and cleaning. Before they arrive, it is a good idea to clear the area surrounding your fireplace and mantel of any furniture, decorations, or other items that could be knocked over while they are working. It is also a good idea to put down a drop cloth or plastic to protect the floor where they will be working from soot and ash particles that may fall during the chimney sweeping process.
A chimney sweep uses a variety of tools for cleaning chimneys, including brushes, scrapers, and vacuums, to remove creosote and other deposits from the walls of your flue. They will typically start their work on either the chimney or the roof, depending on the type of chimney and its condition. They will usually put down a cloth or tarp to protect the floors in the areas where they are working, and they will also use a mask, goggles, and gloves to protect themselves from the harmful substances that may be on the chimney structure or debris that has accumulated in the firebox.
Many homeowners think that they can clean their own chimneys by following the instructions provided in books and other publications, but this is generally a very dangerous job for someone not trained to do it. The chimney should be cleaned by a professional who has the experience, tools, and equipment necessary to safely and effectively clean it.
Chimney sweeps also do more than just remove the deposit and creosote from the chimney walls; they will inspect and assess the structure of your fireplace, the flue, and other components to make sure that everything is functioning as it should. They will look for problems such as cracks, leaks, obstructions, and other issues that you might not be able to see with your own eyes.
A chimney sweep should provide a detailed report when they finish their work. This report will include a summary of the cleaning process and a list of any problems that they encountered while working on your chimney. This is important information to have because it can help you decide what you need to do to repair or upgrade your chimney system.
Cleaning the flue
A chimney is a structure, usually made of masonry or metal, that surrounds and supports a flue or multiple flues that vent gas, oil, or solid fuel appliances and fireplaces. The flue itself is the inner part that carries and vents the products of combustion, which include smoke, carbon monoxide, water vapour, and debris. The flue can be a masonry chimney or can be made of prefabricated metal.
Whether your chimney is masonry or prefabricated, it’s important to clean the flue at least once per year to keep it functioning properly. A chimney that’s not cleaned regularly can experience blockages, which may prevent the chimney from venting gases. These obstructions can cause fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, or both.
Chimney sweeping requires the use of special tools to remove soot and creosote deposits from the inside walls of the flue. These tools include a screwdriver or power drill to remove any rain caps or animal guards, a wire chimney brush plus extensions, a ladder, and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety glasses and a dust mask.
Before starting a chimney sweep, make sure you’re safe to climb on your roof by using the ladder to get up there and having someone securely hold it for you. Then, remove any hardware obstructing the top of the chimney and take the brush with you up onto the roof. Once you’re on the roof, remove the chimney cap and then start sweeping the chimney with the brush, moving up to the smoke shelf, or flat area located in the “crook” of the chimney.
After sweeping the chimney flue, use a flashlight to inspect it for creosote, and if it looks clean, reinstall the chimney cap. Once you’re finished, remove the sheeting from over the fireplace entrance and use a shop vacuum to clear the chimney of any remaining soot or creosote that fell into the lower areas during the cleaning.
Before leaving the roof, empty out the contents of the chimney satchel and dispose of sandy (stage one) creosote deposits in accordance with your local regulations. Depending on your area’s regulations, it may be possible to place the sandy creosote in a garbage bag with regular trash collection services.
Cleaning the firebox
The National Fire Protection Association recommends that fireplaces, whether gas or wood-burning, be inspected and cleaned annually. Dirty chimneys and fireplaces are the leading cause of house fires, as creosote buildup interferes with proper venting, causes ash to fall in places it shouldn’t, and can be flammable. Clean fireplaces not only look better, they’re safer.
Before starting to clean, make sure the fireplace is completely cool and that any ashes have been swept away and put in trash cans (they’re not the most earth-friendly material). Lay newspaper or old rags on the floor around your hearth to protect it from any loose ash and soot that may come loose during cleaning. If you have a gas fireplace, be careful to read your manufacturer’s instructions and check for any warranty restrictions.
Chimney sweeps do more than simply sweep the flue; they also clean the firebox and grate. They’ll remove the grate and iron, soak them in water, scrub them until they’re sudsy, then rinse and dry them. They’ll also remove the fireplace screen, if you have one, and vacuum the grate and screen area.
After a thorough vacuuming, the chimney sweep will use their wire brushes and scrapers to remove all of the visible creosote from the fireplace walls. If the chimney is brick, they’ll use their power tools to loosen any deteriorated mortar and then repoint it. The chimney sweep will also inspect the fireplace for any damage and, if necessary, recommend repairs to keep the chimney safe and functioning properly.