If you’re having trouble igniting a fire in your fireplace or there are black stains on your fireplace walls, it’s time to have your chimney sweeped.
Chimney sweeping is important if you want a safe and efficient chimney operation. We all know that. However, the real question is:
Should you go to a professional chimney sweep or should you do a DIY chimney sweep?
While you can clean your chimney and fireplace yourself, it’s best that you leave it to the professionals. That’s because there’s a lot more to a chimney sweep than brushing out the soot and dust.
In this article, we’ll explain why it’s best that you let the professionals clean your chimney. We also discuss how you can clean your own chimney for those that still want to go the DIY route.
But before all that, let’s talk about why you need to have a chimney swept in the first place.
What Are the Benefits of a Chimney Sweep?
It’s important to have your chimney sweeped for a safe and effective chimney operation. Let’s discuss these and other reasons for having a chimney sweeped, in more detail.
According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), uncleaned chimneys are among the leading causes of chimney fires.
If not regularly cleaned and inspected, soot and creosote can accumulate inside your chimney flue. Since creosote and soot are flammable, heat from the fire can cause them to ignite and start chimney fires.
The main purpose of a chimney, as most of us know, is to vent out exhaust gasses. A dirty chimney can’t do that efficiently.
That’s because it’s more likely to get clogged either by a buildup of soot and creosote or by other things such as debris, dead birds or small animals, etc. This results in some, or most, of these exhaust gasses downdraft into your living room.
One of which is the colorless and odorless Carbon Monoxide (CO) gas that gets inside your living space. In large enough quantities, CO exposure can be lethal.
In fact, the Centers of Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) estimate, CO poisoning causes 430 deaths in America, every year.
A chimney that’s well maintained and cleaned regularly is less likely to get clogged and have soot and creosote deposits. This minimizes the chances of a chimney fire and protects you and your family from CO poisoning.
Getting your chimney sweeped on a regular basis not only saves you and your family from disastrous fires and CO poisoning, it also saves you thousands of dollars in repairs.
Damages and Repairs
The downdraft from a dirty chimney brings back smoke that can damage your living room walls, ceiling, and even furniture. It also has a deteriorating effect on your chimney liner (flue) since the creosote buildup inside traps moisture that damages your chimney liner. Removing soot and creosote deposits through regular cleaning, thus, increase your chimney liner’s service life.
While your chimney’s life depends upon various factors such as its make and the surrounding environment, you can prolong it through annual sweeping and inspections. It’s better to have a well maintained chimney since the chimney sweeping charges are nowhere near the expenses you’ll have to bear in case of a chimney overhaul or replacement.
A dirty chimney, being clogged, doesn’t allow for adequate airflow. Poor airflow means that there’s not enough oxygen and a damped fire will be produced.
On the other hand, a cleaner chimney will produce hotter fire and will be much more efficient.
Even one-tenth of an inch of soot can reduce the heat transfer efficiency of your heating appliance to half.
Since a cleaner chimney works more efficiently, it’ll take less time for it to heat your living room, cutting down on your energy bills.
A cleaner chimney produces hotter fire which produces lesser amounts of creosote. So, a well maintained chimney means fewer chimney cleaning sessions. You’ll also be doing your environment a favor since hotter fire produces less fireplace smoke.
Regular chimney sweeps and inspections ensure that there are no problems inside your chimney. And if there are any damaged or broken parts, the professionals either fix those issues or replace the broken parts.
On the other hand, if a chimney is not regularly cleaned and inspected, there’s a high chance that a malfunctioned or broken part is present inside. This will not only hinder the optimum chimney operation, but can also result in greater damage.
A broken chimney cap lets water inside. It will come to light during a regular chimney sweep and will be fixed. However, if it doesn’t get inspected, the water damage can deteriorate the mortar between the chimney bricks and cause structural damage. Birds and other small animals can also get inside to find shelter and clog the chimney.
If you haven’t gotten your chimney cleaned in a long time, you’ll experience downdraft, as mentioned before. It will bring the smoke and other toxins from the chimney into the living room. Not only does it leave behind a foul smell, but it’s also harmful and can lead to respiratory diseases.
A cleaner chimney, on the other hand, does a good job of removing the smoke and other toxins out of the chimney, resulting in better air quality in your living space.
DIY Chimney Sweep: How to Clean Your Chimney and Fireplace?
If you’re noticing soot or creosote inside the walls of your fireplace or chimney, it’s time to get your chimney inspected and cleaned. If you’re looking for a DIY guide, here it is:
What You’ll Need
Here’s everything you’ll need for a DIY chimney sweep:
- Chimney brush (according to your chimney size)
- Scratch brush
- Brush loop (and non-organic line)
- Broom, bucket, and shovel
- Safety rope
- Protective gear
- Drop cloth
- Masking tape
Before you begin cleaning your chimney and fireplace, you need to make sure you’re wearing protective clothing and gear. That includes:
- Face mask (to protect yourself against dust and soot/creosote particles)
- Safety goggles (to keep the dust and soot/creosote particles out of your eyes)
- Shoes with proper grip (to avoid slipping down your roof)
Once you’re in proper clothing, you need to shut all the doors and windows to prevent drafts. If you can, shut the damper system located just above your fireplace. Since dust and soot will fall down from the chimney and can ruin your room, closing the damper will keep the room dust free. Use a drop cloth and masking tape to cover the fireplace opening.
Remove furniture from the room, and cover immovable furniture with plastic to protect it from dust and soot.
While on the roof, use a safety rope and stay away from electrical wiring, if any.
DIY Chimney Cleaning Process
If you’re alone, you need to add weight to the bottom of the chimney brush and a line on the other side of it. The weight will pull the brush down the chimney. Pull the brush and lower it several times to clean out the chimney. You can also use rigid extensions instead of a line.
But, if you’ve got someone to help, you can have one person inside while the other on top of the chimney. Tie the brush to a line and lower it into the chimney. Take turns to pull the string so that the brush can clean out the chimney.
Repeat the process until the chimney is clean. You can use a flashlight to make sure that your chimney is in fact clean.
Post Chimney Sweep Cleaning
Once you’ve sweeped your chimney, open up the damper system. All the dust, soot, and creosote you’ve removed during the cleaning will fall. You can use a trash can to collect it. Clean out the firebox for any remaining dust, and remove the soot stains.
A vacuum can be used to vacuum out all the dust and tiny particles that might have escaped into your room.
Why Hire a Service to Do a Chimney Sweep?
While a DIY chimney sweep project could be fun and save you the expense of a professional chimney sweep, it’s only good for regular cleaning. However, for a thorough inspection, cleaning, and repair, a professional chimney sweep is the best option.
Professional Education, Training, & Equipment
A chimney sweep is not just someone that brushes out soot from a chimney. In fact, a professional chimney sweep is well educated on the various fire codes, safety standards, clearance, and is trained to carry out the inspection, cleaning and maintenance of chimneys and vents.
Professional chimney sweeps also have certifications from renowned institutions such as the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). Having these certifications means that the chimney sweep has gone through rigorous training and testing.
But apart from the extensive education and training, these professionals are equipped with state of the art tools required for a thorough cleaning of your chimney. Third degree creosote buildup is especially hard to remove, such that the removal process can often damage the chimney liner (flue). Special equipment is essential for the removal of such stubborn deposits.
Professional chimney sweeps even employ special cameras to inspect blockages in otherwise hidden places and issues in every nook and cranny of your chimney.
No Danger of Injury or Damage
Chimney cleaning is a dangerous business. Without proper training and experience, it can be hard for a person to get on the roof and properly inspect and clean their chimney. There’s always the danger of falling down, which can even prove to be fatal.
You can also unknowingly damage your chimney. Since creosote deposits are hard and sticky, they are quite difficult to remove. And if you’re not careful, you can even damage your chimney during the removal process.
Other Issues Get Resolved
Chimney is a system consisting of several interconnected parts such that each part facilitates the efficient functioning of the other. If even one of the main parts of a chimney is damaged or broken the overall efficiency of the chimney is drastically reduced. If left unchecked, it can also result in deterioration of your chimney and, worst case scenario, can cause chimney fires.
Experienced chimney sweep professionals have knowledge of these parts and the issues that may arise in them.
During the annual inspection and cleaning, they make sure that all parts are working efficiently. For example, they’ll make sure that there aren’t any cracks in the chimney flue, the damper is in its proper condition, etc.
So if you are inexperienced and lack knowledge of all these parts and their proper functioning, it’s best to let the professionals tackle the chimney sweep. Because, several impending issues and problems can go unnoticed if you decide to clean the chimney yourself. These issues and problems, overtime, can cause severe damage and can even lead to dangerous situations.
Professional Advice From Experience
No two chimneys are equal. Even if the make is the same, there are differences in the surrounding weather conditions, frequency of use, the kind of appliances attached, the number of chimney flues, etc. All of these impact the functioning and condition of your chimney.
Chimney sweep professionals, having worked on several chimneys of different types and conditions, are well versed in matters related to chimneys.
This allows them to provide valuable advice on how you can improve your chimney efficiency or better maintain your chimney based on your chimney’s condition. For example, if there’s a lot of creosote deposits inside your chimney flue, they may advise you to use seasoned wood, or maybe you’re not using your damper system properly to allow for adequate airflow.
Such advice is subjective and can’t be gained through online forums or through YouTube tutorials.
Save the Money and the Hassle
Hiring professional chimney sweep services not only ensures that your chimney is well maintained and properly cleaned, it also saves you tons in cash.
Say you decide to clean your chimney yourself. You’ll require professional tools for the job, which costs money. And even if you buy all the tools, you’re still not trained to properly use those tools. Your inexperience can result in a damaged chimney. Which, again, would cost a considerable amount to repair.
Homeowner insurance firms ask for proof of regular chimney maintenance in case of a chimney or house fire. If you don’t have any proof, which you won’t if you decide to clean or chimney on your own, you’ll be held responsible. And even if you manage to get some compensation, it won’t be enough to cover the cost of the repairs.
If you hire a professional chimney sweep for annual inspections and cleaning, you’ll minimize the risk of a chimney fire. But even, after all, a chimney fire does occur, you’ll have insurance to bear the cost.
Also, if you decide to do your own cleaning and get injured in the process, you’ll have to cover the hospital bills yourself. Chimney sweep services, on the other hand, have insurance.
How Often Should a Chimney Be Swept?
Chimney maintenance, cleaning, or repairs depend upon various factors such as how old your chimney is, how often you use it, and the surrounding weather conditions.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) mandates a chimney sweep if there’s one eighth of an inch of soot or creosote buildup inside your chimney liner (flue).
But it’s not possible for everyone to be well aware of the condition of their chimneys. Therefore, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends an annual inspection of chimneys, fireplaces, and ventilation systems.
However, there are certain signs that indicate that a chimney needs cleaning or repairing, as discussed below.
How Can I Tell if My Chimney Needs Cleaning?
A dirty chimney has several tell-tale signs that you should look out for. The table below lists some of the most common signs of a dirty or malfunctioned chimney and its potential cause. If you notice any of these signs, know that it’s time for a chimney sweep.
|Dark oily spots on the walls of your fireplace||Soot and creosote buildup inside the chimney (causes obstruction in the chimney flue and restricts airflow).|
|Poor combustion or difficulty in igniting a fire||Problem in the damper system, or|
|Bad Odor from the fireplace||Soot and creosote buildupDead birds or small animals clogging the chimney liner|
|Downdrafting of smoke||Clogged chimney|
|More than usual smoke||Hindrance inside the chimney liner.|
|Moisture inside the firebox||Broken chimney flashing|
|Bird sounds||Broken chimney cap|
|Glaze inside the chimney||Third degree creosote buildup|
Annual chimney inspection and regular cleaning of your chimney are important for maintaining your chimney for longer service life and safer use.
An unclean chimney poses serious health and safety concerns. It can also reduce the life of your chimney as an unclean chimney contains large amounts of soot and creosote that can deteriorate the mortar between bricks and cause structural damage.
Cleaning your chimney is also essential in improving the efficiency of your chimney as it helps burn hotter fire and prevents downdrafting of smoke.
It’s important to note that chimney sweeping is not an easy job. It’s better to have a professional chimney sweeping service handle the job since they are educated, trained, and experienced in dealing with chimneys. One can easily miss various spots or malfunctioned chimney parts during a DIY chimney cleaning process.
To ensure thorough cleaning and inspection, a certified professional service is recommended.