By Paul FP Pogue
If you own a fireplace and use it regularly, fall is the time to seriously think about hiring a chimney sweep – before lighting your first fire. Chimney sweeping is a complicated, and sometimes high tech, task that is vital to the safety of your home. The National Fire Protection Agency says unclean chimneys are a leading cause of house fires. For this reason, the NFPA recommends an annual inspection. A clear fireplace improves safety, makes for a more comfortable experience, and lets smoke and gases out of your living area.
They don’t always need to be completely cleaned, but the inspection will help identify problems. In addition to ensuring your safety, an inspection can also identify structural problems that can be resolved at a lower cost than it would cost after years of construction.
Signs that you need a chimney inspection are a visibly thick build-up of soot and creosote, smoke entering your living space, a faint fire, and a tar smell emanating from the fireplace.
Elements of a chimney inspection
A professional chimney sweep will carefully check your chimney from top to bottom, including the fire box, interior flue, smoke box, exterior masonry and turn signals. You will be looking for creosote formation as well as structural damage. In many cases, home fires caused by the fireplace occur because a structural problem or a cracked wall is allowing the fire to escape. You will also be on the lookout for animals, bird nests, and twigs.
In many cases, a sweep will inspect your chimney for free. On average, a full chimney cleaning costs between $ 125 and $ 325. In extreme cases with large amounts of build-up, the cost can be higher. If you have significant structural damage, the cost can go up to a few thousand dollars.
A professional chimney sweep uses a wire brush attached to a flexible rod that extends deep into the smoke outlet. In some cases, this is an old school brush that hasn’t changed much since the “Mary Poppins” days. others use electrically powered brushes to break up soot and creosote.
What is creosote?
Creosote is the thick, oily residue deposited by burning wood in a chimney. Creosote deposits increase the risk of fire and, if left unattended, harden into a solid glaze that is difficult to remove. Chimney sweeps take special care to remove creosote from the surface.
You may have seen creosote sweeping logs on the shelves on the shelves of your local big box store. While they don’t completely prevent creosote, using them throughout the season can dry out the creosote and make it easier to flake. It’s not a substitute for chimney sweeping, but when used properly it can enhance your fireplace experience.
As always, when hiring a professional, make sure they have the appropriate license, bond and insurance to work in your area. Ask if they have certification from a professional organization such as the Chimney Safety Institute of America.