When Should You Clean Your Chimney?

According to National Fire Protection Association, around 28% of these accidents happen due to dirty equipment. Despite the fact that chimneys are an excellent way to keep your home warm in the winter, they must be cleaned to ensure optimal performance and reduce fire hazards.

Cleaning the chimney creates better wood combustion, low health risks, and safer environments for your family. Ignoring the accumulation buildup inside the chimney for long may result in fire accidents and risk of life and property.

Chimney sweep cleaning a chimney standing balanced on the apex of a house roof lowering equipment down the flue

How often should I clean my chimney?

In addition to being the most common question and it is also the most important. Your chimney does not need to be cleaned every month or two. It just needs to be cleaned once a year, regardless of how much you use it. 

The NFPA Standard 211 recommends that chimneys, fireplaces, and vents should be inspected every year once for soundness, freedom from deposits and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs should also be performed as needed. Also, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America(CSIA), you need to clean your fireplace when there is 1/8” of creosote or soot buildup inside the chimney liner. 

Whether you use your chimney little or a lot, some factors that may lead to the accumulation of soot or debris. Using a chimney a lot results in production of a lot of soot and creosote inside the chimney liner, chamber and firebox. Even if you use your chimney on occasions, you might find nests and debris as a result of pests inside the chimney flue liner that will make using your chimney unsafe. 

The soot or creosote buildup can also quicken if you are using high moisture wood. Generally, the best practice is to use dry season wood with 12-16% moisture as the efficiency will be great and the soot and creosote buildup will be minimal. However, using high moisture wood will result in a faster accumulation of creosote that might require cleaning more often than usual. 

If you plan on cleaning your chimney, it is advisable to do so in the spring or summer season before the burning season starts to avoid difficulties in the continuation of chimney usage in the winter season.  

How do I know if my chimney needs cleaning?

There are indications and signs that will help you determine whether you should get your chimney cleaned or not. If you find that the soot buildup inside the chimney flue is equal to or greater than 1/8 inch, now is the best time to clean it. The reason is quite simple. Soot builds up faster than it can be removed from the liner, so the longer it is left on the liner, the harder it is to remove. 

In the initial stage, the soot is a powder-like substance that can be easily removed with a chimney brush. The formation of hard creosote, though, occurs as time goes on, which is impossible to remove by a brush but would require rotary loop tools. Creosote starts to thicken as it grows, and this will reduce airflow in the chimney, which in turn reduces the draft in the fireplace. The result may also be the appearance of tar-like creosote that is difficult to remove. Therefore, it is best to remove the creosote at the beginning when it mainly consists of soot.

The accumulation of debris on top of the flue can also be an indication of the problem. If you want to see quickly if your chimney needs cleaning, just check the top of the chimney flue if it holds creosote around it. Generally, the chimneys that go through the inside of the house to the outside through either wall or roof accumulate creosote faster than the chimneys that are present only inside the house. 

The need for a chimney sweep can be seen in even more visible signs. If the smell of burning wood is different or if the wood doesn’t burn like it used to, it is a sign that your chimney is clogged. Sufficient air is required for proper burning and if the chimney flue is clogged, the burning of wood will create a lot of smoke that will fill your room. Therefore, you must inspect all the areas of your chimney including the fireplace damper and flue liner. If your flue liner or damper looks black, there is a significant amount of creosote buildup. 

How do I know if my chimney has creosote?

Creosote is a byproduct of gases from the combustion of wood that cool and combines together to form a sticky tar-like substance. It is highly inflammable and poses a risk of loss of property or even life. 

Creosote doesn’t build up instantly. It takes time and builds up in stages. There are three stages of creosote formation from soot to tar-like sticky substance. It is easily observable through the fireplace or chimney flue at the top. When creosote is at stage two when it appears as hard and shiny black flakes get your chimney cleaned as soon as possible because when creosote reaches the third stage, it is highly likely that it becomes glazed and can destroy flue linings that can lead to the house fire. It also causes chimney obstruction that can lead to toxic gases entering your home. 

Bad wood-burning practices cause creosote buildup rapidly. There are multiple signs through which you can know if your chimney has a lot of creosote buildup inside the flue. The reduced draft is one of those. You will also notice less ash and more wood in the fireplace after the burning of wood. This is the result of a smoldering fire that leads to higher quantities of creosote production.

Creosote of level 3 is difficult to remove and requires cleaning with special chemicals that is time-consuming. Hence, it is recommended that you hire chimney-cleaning experts for this particular process and stop the usage of your chimney as soon as possible. 

Clean Your Chimney to Avoid Catastrophe!

Whether you use the chimney regularly or on occasions, both NFPA and CSIA recommend annual cleaning to avoid fire risks. Cleaning your firebox, chamber, flue, and damper regularly each year is the best practice. Whether you have moved into a new house or you have made changes to your stove, always get your chimney cleaned to avoid any risks. 

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