why do you need to clean your chimney
There isnвt a simple rule of thumb on how often to clean your chimney, such as cleaning after 50 uses or one year. The problem is, creosote can form when wood is burned incompletely. A smoky fire without enough oxygen emits lots of unburned tar vapors that can condense inside the fireplace flue and stick to it, possibly leading to a chimney fire. You can reduce creosote buildup in your fireplace flue by providing adequate combustion air, which will encourage a hot, clean-burning fire. To check for creosote yourself, first make sure thereвs no downdraft from the chimney. If you feel an airflow, open a door or window on the same floor as the fireplace until the downdraft stops or reverses and air flows up (tape tissue to the fireplace opening and watch its movement). Then, while wearing goggles and a basic disposable dust mask, take a strong flashlight and your fireplace poker and scratch the black surface above the damper (smoke chamber). If the groove you scratch in the creosote is paper thin, no cleaning is needed. If itвs 1/8 in. thick, schedule a cleaning soon. If you have 1/4 in. of creosote, do not use the fireplace again until it is cleanedвa chimney fire could occur at any time. To check for creosote, shine the light near the top of the firebox, in the smoke chamber and around the damper. And check the fireplace flue, too, especially on exterior chimneys, where creosote builds faster than on interior chimneys because of lower outside temperatures. The easiest creosote to remove is the feather-light dull gray, brown or black soot. The next form is a black granular accumulation, removed fairly easily with a stiff chimney brush.
The third type of creosote is a road tarвlike coating that is much harder to remove even with stiff chimney brushes, scrapers or power rotary whips. The final (and most deadly) is a shiny, glaze-like coating on the fireplace flue that is virtually impossible to remove. You could try to remove creosote yourself, but for a thorough job, call a chimney sweep whoвs certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Make sure the sweep you hire ($150 to $200) does more than push a brush. A chimney sweep needs to be knowledgeable about building codes, trained to recognize deterioration or venting problems and able to advise you regarding the chimneyвs condition. And the National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys, fireplaces and vents be inspected at least once per year. Tip: Save money and avoid a long wait by having your chimney inspected and cleaned in the spring. Have the necessary tools for this chimney cleaning DIY project lined up before you startвyouвll save time and frustration. Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time for this chimney cleaning project. Here s a list. You don't need any materials to test the chimney flue to see if it needs cleaning. Call a pro to have it cleaned.
If you use your fireplace or woodstove regularly but can t remember the last time your chimney was cleaned, it s probably overdue. In many cases, you can clean the chimney yourself and save a few hundred dollars. Removing ordinary chimney soot is pretty simple. But if you have heavy creosote buildup, you ll have to call in a pro.
We ll show you how to inspect yours to see if it qualifies as a DIY job. If it does, just follow these steps. Otherwise, hire a certified chimney sweep. Is it a DIY job? Most chimney fires start in the smoke chamber/smoke shelf area, so it s the most important area to clean (Figure A). Since that area is hard to reach in some fireplaces, check yours to see if you can reach into it and still have room to maneuver a brush. If you can t reach it, this isn t a DIY project. Next, see if you can access the chimney crown. If you have a very steep roof pitch or aren t comfortable working on your roof, then this isn t a job for you. Call a certified chimney sweep. If you decide you can handle the heights, make sure to wear a safety harness. Strap on goggles and a respirator, clean the ashes out of the firebox and remove the grate. Then open a door or window and wait a few minutes before opening the damper so the pressures equalize. Then open the damper and wait a few more minutes for heat to rise from the house. Grab your brightest flashlight and a fireplace poker and lean into the firebox. Shine your light into the smoke chamber and flue and use the poker to scratch the surface. If the soot has a matte black finish and the scratch is 1/8 in. deep or less, it s a DIY job. But if the buildup is deeper or has a shiny, tarlike appearance, you have heavy creosote buildup. Stop using your fireplace immediately and call a professional chimney sweep. There s no one-size-fits-all brush for cleaning the flue. So you ll have to climb up on your roof and measure the size of your flue liner.
You ll also need special brushes for the firebox and smoke chamber areas (Photo 2). Find the equipment at a home center or at an online store such as. Before you start brushing, protect your home s interior from soot with poly sheeting, a canvas tarp and a shop vacuum (Photo 3). Most shop vacuum filters can t trap all the fine soot from a fireplace, and some of it will blow right out the exhaust port. So buy extra lengths of vacuum hose and move the vacuum outside (Photo 4). Then close the doors and windows on that side of your house to prevent the soot from reentering your home. Start the vacuum and begin cleaning at the top of the chimney (Photo 5). Continue adding rods and moving down the chimney until you can t feel any more brush resistance. That means you ve reached the smoke chamber and it s time to climb down from the roof and work from inside the firebox. Peel back a small portion of the poly sheeting and use the long-handled brush to clean the smoke chamber. Use the noodle brush to remove all the soot from the smoke shelf. Then switch back to the long-handled brush to clean the sides of the firebox. Finish by vacuuming the entire firebox. Then fold up the poly sheeting and the canvas tarp and move them outside. Shake them out and reuse them the next time you clean the chimney. Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you startвyouвll save time and frustration. Flue liner brush (metal for clay liner, plastic for metal liner) Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here s a list.
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