Q. How often should I have my chimney swept?
This a tougher question than it sounds. The National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 says, "Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary." This is the national safety standard and is the correct way to approach the problem. It takes into account the fact that even if you don't use your chimney much, animals may build nests in the flue or there may be other types of deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be swept at 1/8" of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. This is considered to be enough fuel buildup to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or spreading to the home. Factory-built fireplaces should be swept when any appreciable buildup occurs. The logic is that the deposit is quite acidic and can shorten the life of the fireplace.
Why to clean your chimney:
1. To Prevent a Chimney Fire
[Chimney Fire] Trust us—you DO NOT want a fire in your chimney. A chimney fire can be quite spectacular—with loud popping and cracking sounds, lots of dense smoke and a strong, hot odor. But chimney fires aren’t always dramatic enough to alert the neighbors. Sometimes, they burn slow and aren’t even visible, but they still reach high temperatures and can seep into the walls of your house and ignite anything flammable. Flames from a chimney fire can quickly spread into the walls or onto the roof of your home and cause massive devastation, if not the total destruction of your home. It is a nightmare scenario, but one that can most likely be avoided with proper care and maintenance of your chimney. The most common cause of chimney fire is, simply, a dirty chimney. Over time, chimneys will become clogged with creosote, a natural, tar-like substance that is a by-product of burning wood. Creosote is black or brown in appearance and, over time, it builds up and leaves a glazing inside your chimney. This glazing is highly combustible and it can take only a small amount to start a fire. Restricted air supply is one of the factors that contribute to the build up of creosote, another reason it is important to clean your chimney regularly.
2. To Protect Your Health
[danger carbon monoxide] Musical comedian Weird Al Yankovic is known for his humorous songs about pop culture icons, but there’s nothing funny about the way his parents died. In 2004, the Yankovics were found dead in their California home, victims of an accidental carbon monoxide poisoning from burning wood in their fireplace. Breathing the fumes from gas or solid fuel fires can be dangerous or, as was the case with the Yankovics, fatal.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever fuel is burned. Even at low levels, CO can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion and fainting. A blocked chimney or a chimney with an improperly functioning flue can cause a buildup of this dangerous gas. CO is responsible for thousands of deaths in America each year, and many of these poisonings are caused by blocked chimneys. This is why it is critical to have your chimney examined and swept to make sure your flue is clear before using the chimney.
3. To Avoid Smoke Damage
[fireplace smoke stains]
When a chimney is not regularly cleaned, soot will accumulate around the flue. This makes it difficult for the flue to draw the smoke upwards and can cause the smoke to enter your room. This soot will leave a black film around your hearth and soil any furniture, carpeting or decorations nearby. Sometimes, smoke can even cause black staining around your chimney, which can be difficult or impossible to remove.
Q. I heat with gas. Should this chimney be checked too?
Without a doubt! Although gas is generally a clean burning fuel, the chimney can become non-functional from bird nests or other debris blocking the flue. Modern furnaces can also cause many problems with the average flues intended to vent the older generation of furnaces. We suggest you check the areas on gas and carbon monoxide for more information.