No matter how far technology advances to bring us digital fireplaces that appear on our big screens at the tap of a button or faux fires that ignite at the rotation of a gas knob, nothing compares to a real wood-burning fireplace. From the chopping of the wood, the arguments about who can light it faster to the glowing embers that we gather around to get toasty there is no denying that a fireplace fuels the imagination and is the best place in the house when burning bright.
On the other hand, there is a whole lot of dirty work that comes with maintaining and operating a wood burning fireplace and this guide will makes it all much easier than you think. The focal point is the chimney. Soot builds up quickly and can lead to a nasty odor in your home that is more of a challenge to neutralize than burning a tray of bacon. Improper maintenance of a chimney is also the leading cause of chimney fires that can bring your home to ashes.
Read on to discover how to achieve fresher air quality and peace of mind with everything you need to know about caring for your chimney.
1. A Background on the Dangers of Dirty Chimneys
Have you ever roasted smores too close to a fire pit and noticed a black soot on your fingers? That’s creosote, just one of the many byproducts of burning wood that forms as the result of gases which are not fully combusted. Think of it like a plaque that builds up on the inside walls of your chimney and stays there until it’s removed. As creosote gets thicker, it welcomes other debris to stick to it like a glue fly trap.
Windy weather, along with birds and other animals usually brings twigs, grass and leaves into the openings of chimneys and this should be prevented at all costs with a flue cap. Before you know it, a chimney fire can erupt with the loud sound of crackling-like gunshots due to the pressure built up in the small space. Fireballs of creosote pour down into your fireplace and the chimney walls give out as flames creep into the inside of your home. Firefighters are required to blast water into the chimney through the top, which usually results in irreversible flood damage to the home.
2. The Perfect Chimney Cleaning Schedule
For those who prefer a fast and speedy chimney sweep to steer clean of the dirty work, you should schedule an appointment in the summer months, however, cleaning your chimney in the fall is just fine as long as it’s cleared out and prepared for the winter wood burning season. The perfect time to perform a self-clean of the chimney is in August, thanks to the dry and mild conditions that make it easier to clean. An annual chimney cleansing is mandatory, but there are a handful of things to look out for throughout the year to stay on the safe side.
Put out your fire immediately if you notice soot or creosote falling into your fire box. Remember that a fire does not need to be burning for either of these to fall, so be cautious of any sound that comes from your pit. Clean your chimney as soon as possible if you notice a honeycomb texture of soot building up on the inside of the chimney or if the creosote is a quarter inch thick. Use a flashlight to get a perfect view. Chimneys that often burn artificial logs and fire starters should be cleaned more often, especially chimneys that are used on a daily basis and used for actual heating purposes.
3. Chimney Cleaning Basics
We recommend to schedule an appointment with a chimney sweeping company if you moved into a new home or know that the chimney has not been cleaned in a long time. Otherwise, this is that you’ll need to prepare to enter the coal mine! It’s more or less one in the same.
- Always work with an assistant to hold your ladder and monitor processes such as handling tools or holding you with rope
- An extension ladder
- Painter’s duct tape
- A cordless drill with a screwdriver bit
- Sheet plastic or a tarp
- Fiberglass extension rods
- Shop vacuum with dust filters
- Safety glasses, gloves and a dust mask
- A flashlight
- A set of quality chimney brushes
Once you’ve collected all the above required tools and materials, be sure to check the weather and prepare for a dry and cool day before cleaning.
4. The 4 Steps for Cleaning Your Chimney
Be sure to check the chimney for animals like birds, squirrels and raccoons that like to nest. Peer up the chimney with your flashlight and take the proper steps to remove animals before cleaning. Always dress in clothes you don’t mind throwing away, cover your flooring around your fireplace with plastic sheets and roll back your rugs away from the pit. Use a chimney brush to clean the damper inside your chimney and then detach it from the chimney. Be sure to section off a piece of sheet plastic wider than the opening of your fireplace and tape it over the fireplace to seal it off.
- Get Settled on the Roof
Lean the extension ladder against the house in a safe location that gives you the fastest path to your chimney and carry up your supplies. Be sure your assistant holds the ladder. Remove the chimney caps with your cordless drill by unscrewing it and then place it away from the working area to prevent tripping or knocking it off the roof. Connect your chimney brushes and then extend your arm into the top of the chimney with an up and down motion like your starting up a lawn mower. Add sections of rods to the brush to extend further down the chimney. Always start at the top and work your way downwards until you cannot reach further or if you hit the smoke shelf.
- Use a Pulley System With Your Assistant
Pulley rope systems are perfect for cleaning chimneys and reaching more area inside your chimney for a easier and deeper clean. With a pulley system, you will attach two ropes to each side of the chimney brush and operate it from the roof and at the fireplace. The person on the roof should lower the opposite end to the person waiting at the bottom and then work together by pulling the brush up and down throughout the chimney in a ‘back and forth’ motion.
- The Final Tasks
Gather your tools on top of the roof, climb down the ladder and wait ten minutes to allow the debris and dust to settle before removing the plastic fireplace cover. Slowly remove the plastic sheet from the fireplace and use the chimney brush to clean the areas that you missed. Shovel away the large debris and then use the shop vacuum to suck out the remaining particles from your fireplace. Reattach the damper handle to the chimney and always remember to dispose of the materials according to local laws. Since creosote is flammable, it should never be thrown into your trash.