The Importance of a Clean Chimney

Your chimney, which could be masonry or prefabricated metal, should be cleaned at least once a year. A clean chimney is crucial for fire safety and a safe home environment. See for more.

clean chimney

You can do this yourself by purchasing a wire chimney brush the right size for your flue and some extension rods (these usually screw on). Set a ladder high enough to reach your roof and cover any furniture with plastic or a drop cloth.

Creosote is a natural byproduct of burning fossil fuels like coal and wood, a dark, sticky, tar-like substance that can cling to your chimney’s walls. Creosote isn’t just unsightly; it’s dangerous if not removed promptly and can cause chimney fires and other serious problems. Chimney sweeps call this deposit “smoke tar” or “sticky soot.” Creosote can be in any of three stages: First-degree creosote is a light dust that’s soot-like in appearance and easily removed with a chimney brush during a cleaning appointment. Second-degree creosote is harder to remove and looks more like tar. It’s at a much higher risk of causing chimney fires and can require more specialized tools to clean. Extremely unfavorable fires, such as those with insufficient airflow or unseasoned firewood, can lead to thicker deposits of creosote that are harder to remove. It is known as Stage 2 creosote and is at high risk for chimney fires because it restricts air movement inside the flue.

Creosote can also cause health problems if exposed to your skin or lungs. Its strong, acrid smell can irritate your nose and throat. If you inhale it for extended periods, it can cause respiratory issues and even a type of burn called pyrolysis fume fever. Research has shown creosote is carcinogenic, so that long-term exposure can increase cancer risk.

During a normal chimney fire, the oils in unseasoned or uncut logs release volatile compounds that travel up with the smoke and stick to the walls of your fireplace and chimney. When the smoke cools, the chemicals condensate and form creosote. This process occurs in every fireplace and chimney, but it happens faster in homes with a poorly functioning fireplace or flue.

Stacking your firewood helps improve combustion and reduces creosote. If you’re unsure how to prepare your wood before burning, ask an experienced chimney service technician for advice. In addition, making sure your flue is preheated before you start a fire can reduce condensation and creosote buildup.

When fireplaces are not regularly used, the chimney can quickly accumulate smelly debris. This debris, which may include fallen leaves, twigs, feathers, animal feces, and even the carcasses of dead animals, can produce a foul odor. That is especially true when these materials are exposed to humid summer temperatures and moisture. That is because the decomposition process accelerates when these conditions are present.

When a chimney is used, an updraft of hot air pushes stale odors and smoke through the flue and out of the home. However, when the chimney is not in use and there is no updraft, those moldy odors can return to the house along with moisture from humidity and rain. This moisture can also seep into the stone masonry of the chimney, leading to mold and mildew problems.

If these issues are left untreated, they can lead to serious damage and health hazards. The best way to prevent these problems is to ensure your chimney is inspected and swept at least once yearly, especially during spring and summer. A professional chimney sweep can remove any accumulated creosote and eliminate the odor-causing debris from your fireplace, thus ensuring that no unwanted odors are entering your house.

In addition to annual cleanings and inspections, you should invest in a good chimney cap. A well-fitting chimney cap will keep water, humidity, and other undesirable elements out of the shaft. It can also prevent small animals and birds from entering your chimney, bringing feces and other odor-causing debris.

While nothing adds to a winter evening like a crackling fire and family gathering around the fireplace, it’s important to take safety precautions. Children should always be kept from the fire, and adults should keep a fire extinguisher nearby. It’s also essential to keep the chimney and fireplace clean. If creosote and ashes build up, it can clog the vent and prevent proper ventilation, which is dangerous for home occupants. It can result in carbon monoxide poisoning and house fires, among other issues.

Creosote is flammable, and if it builds up enough, it can cause cracks in “fireproof” brick, stone, or clay flue liner. These cracks can allow hot creosote to reach combustible wood framing or other materials in your home. A dirty chimney is the cause of many house fires each year. Regularly cleaning your vent and having a professional inspect it yearly is the best way to avoid these dangers.

Chimney fires can cause significant damage to a chimney, requiring costly repairs that could have been avoided with regular maintenance. In addition to creosote, chimney fires can be caused by paper and blown-in debris, bird’s nests, feathers, and other items that can easily ignite when exposed to flame. Lightning strikes can also cause a chimney fire.

Keeping the chimney and flue free of debris, birds’ nests, twigs, and other materials makes ensuring adequate airflow during a fire easier. It helps the fire burn more thoroughly, reducing byproducts like smoke and carbon monoxide. It’s also important to have a properly functioning chimney cap, which keeps leaves and other debris out of the flue and allows smoke to escape effectively.

If you decide to clean your chimney yourself, having a helper is a good idea so the job can be completed safely and efficiently. Be sure to purchase a chimney brush that’s appropriately sized and shaped for your flue and a set of extension rods long enough to run the entire duct. You should also purchase a pair of rubber work gloves and a face mask to protect yourself from the dust and chemicals.

With all the responsibilities homeowners try to stay on top of, cleaning their chimneys can often fall by the wayside. It is a shame, as a dirty chimney can cause serious problems. Some of these problems are expensive, and others pose a danger to the home’s occupants.

If a fireplace chimney gets too sooty and creosote-laden, it can ignite. This combustive residue can quickly spread from the flue to the surrounding masonry, and it is a major culprit in many house fires. Periodic chimney cleanings can prevent the buildup of this dangerous substance.

Chimneys also have an important job of venting smoke and other combustion byproducts outside the house. Unfortunately, these byproducts can get pushed back into the living areas when the chimney is too clogged with twigs, leaves, and animal nests. These byproducts can include toxic carbon monoxide, which is odorless and tasteless but can be deadly at high levels.

Regular chimney cleanings can prevent this by removing these obstructions and allowing proper airflow. A clogged vent can also make it difficult for heat and smoke to escape, leading to a drafty house.

Keeping up with routine chimney cleanings will also help to keep energy costs low. A clean chimney is more efficient and can allow a fireplace or wood stove to operate with less heat, saving money on heating bills.

A clean chimney will make it easier for a certified sweep to inspect the chimney liner, damper, and masonry structure. Large soot and creosote buildups can obstruct these areas, making it hard to spot problems in their early stages when they are easy to repair.

When hiring a chimney-sweeping company, finding one certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) is important. During cleaning, your chimney sweep will wear a face mask to protect themselves from ash and creosote dust. They will also cover your furniture and carpets with plastic or drop cloths and use a shop vacuum to remove dust films from surfaces. It will prevent ash and creosote from getting on your rugs, furnishings, and clothing. According to local laws, the creosote removed from your chimney will be bagged and disposed of.