Everything You Need to Know About Your Annual Chimney Sweep

As a responsible homeowner or renter, it’s important that you don’t neglect your chimney. While that may sound a little tongue in cheek, getting your chimney swept is actually an important item to check off of your fall to-do list. The National Fire Protection Association found that from 2011 to 2015, 15 percent of home fires and 19 percent of home fire deaths were attributed to heating equipment fires.

The failure to clean chimneys was implicated in nearly a third of home heating fires. If you’re looking forward to a season of cozy TV binging by the fireplace, follow our guidelines below on how and when to get your chimney swept, and how you can contribute to keeping it clean during the winter.

How Often Should a Chimney be Cleaned?

An annual inspection and sweep are recommended if you burn more than 30 fires per year—or if your fireplace or stove contributes significantly to your home’s winter heating. The inspection and sweep will likely run anywhere from $100 to $350—money that will be very well spent.

Steps to a Chimney Inspection and Sweep

A clean chimney provides a clear path for noxious fumes to escape your home when you’re burning a fire in your fireplace. Over time, harmful materials build up on chimney surfaces, and these can eventually cause structural damage if they are not removed. A compound called creosote that is produced when wood doesn’t burn evenly and completely can become lodged in the chimney and cause fire to spread beyond the chimney. Other obstructions like plant debris and nesting animals (or animals who may have died in the chimney) also must be removed by your chimney sweep.

A comprehensive chimney sweep will include a thorough inspection of the chimney so that it can be either declared safe to use, or so that any problem areas that need to be corrected can be identified. The flue should be examined to confirm that it is clear of any blockages and is working properly so that carbon monoxide and other dangerous gasses can safely escape. Older chimneys that use clay liners will need to have a stainless steel liner installed when the tiles begin to crack off and land in the fireplace itself. If either the liner or the damper is not working properly, your home may become filled with smoke while you are burning your fire.

When it comes time to clean the chimney itself, your serviceperson will use a long, bristled brush to remove the creosote from the chimney lining. They may work from inside beginning with the flue and scrape upwards, or they may start on the roof with the chimney and work downwards. Blankets or other protection will be laid down in your home to catch any dust and ashes that result from the job.

Can I Clean the Chimney Myself?

Trying to clean the chimney yourself is not a good plan. Not only does a professional chimney sweep know how to clean the chimney properly, but he will also be on the lookout for damage and leaks that a layperson doesn’t have the experience to diagnose. If you decide to start jamming brushes up your chimney in an attempt to dislodge soot and creosote, you will almost certainly wind up with a mess.

More than likely you will also wind up breathing in a bunch of toxic particles, and you may even come across some unwanted guests such as squirrels or birds who aren’t too happy about being disturbed. On top of all that, if your rain cap needs to be cleared of soot or creosote, you will be in the dangerous position of having to climb up to your roof. Only those whose chimneys have been specially fitted with an easy-to-clean liner should attempt to sweep their own chimney.

How Do I Choose a Chimney Sweep?

Reputable chimney sweeps will be CSIA certified and will carry a minimum $300,000 insurance policy. Make sure to ask for proof that the policy is current, and find out if the service provider offers any guarantees of their work. It’s wise to check Angie’s List or obtain referrals from neighbors since it’s possible that an unscrupulous chimney sweep will fabricate issues in order to add to the tab. After all, if you can’t see or diagnose the problem yourself, you won’t know for sure if there’s an issue—or if it in fact a legitimate issue has been properly fixed.

How Can I Burn a Cleaner Fire?

Part of burning a cleaner, safer, more efficient fire is to observe best practices that keep your chimney as clear as possible while ensuring that the firewood you use burns efficiently. Ensure that your firewood is completely dry before starting the fire. The best fires are built from wood that has been seasoned for at least a year. Wet or soggy wood will burn far less hot and cause excess creosote to accumulate on the flue.

Always remove the ashes from the previous fire before building another one and ensure that the damper is properly opened. Also, consider your fire-building technique. A top-down method of building a fire is actually more efficient than lighting the fire from kindling underneath. To build, place your biggest logs on the grate first, piling increasingly smaller pieces on top. Put your crumpled up newspaper on top and then add a layer of kindling, then light and enjoy.

McNamara Masonry is the Delaware Valley’s Leading Chimney Expert!

Don’t let a leaking, damaged chimney cause structural problems to your masonry—or worse, a fire in your home. Call McNamara Masonry if you suspect an issue with your chimney, or if your chimney sweep has indicated that there may be a problem with your chimney’s mortar, flue lining, or bricks. We will confirm the problem and fix it to ensure that your chimney will remain stable, dry, and safe for years to come. We can also secure your chimney and help keep it dry and free from obstructions by installing a rain cap.

Don’t risk your family’s well being by using a fireplace or stove that may not be burning cleanly or efficiently. Should you require a repair or even a rebuild, McNamara will get the job done right the first time. We are licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, and we have decades of experience planning, building, and installing all types of masonry, from chimneys to facades to patios. Contact McNamara Masonry today!