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Home Improvement: How To Clean A Chimney

Regular cleaning of your chimney is an important part of maintaining your chimney. It is also necessary to do in order to reduce the risk of chimney fires. But cleaning your chimney doesn't mean just making it look nice and shiny. When you clean your chimney, you remove all of the hazardous and extremely flammable creosote in addition to the soot that tends to build up with regular use.

Of course, you also need to remove any bird or animal nests that may have been built in your chimney, not to mention the leaves and other debris that have gotten trapped in there.

Chimney Cleaning and Fire Safety
Not only do all these items pose a fire hazard, but they can also cause blockages in your chimney flue. This means the smoke and emissions from your fires can't escape properly and may result in a buildup of carbon monoxide in your home.

Chimney cleaning is such an important part of home safety that many European countries have made regular chimney cleanings mandatory. Germany, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden are just some of the countries that have significantly reduced the number of home chimney fires thanks to initiatives taken by their government and insurance companies.

DIY or Pro?
So, just how regular does regular chimney cleaning mean? Well, ideally your chimney should be inspected at least twice a month when it is in regular use. Of course, if you are cleaning your chimney this regularly, it can be a bit expensive to call in a chimney sweep every time.

But this doesn't mean you should make cleaning your chimney strictly a DIY project. There is definitely something to be said for having a chimney sweeper come in once or twice a year to inspect your chimney and give it a proper cleaning.

Chimney sweeps are your one-stop answer to all your chimney needs. Not only do they clean, but they also inspect your chimney from top to bottom, make suggestions to help you improve its performance and offer you advice on chimney safety and efficiency.

Unfortunately, though, very few states have placed any regulations on the chimney sweep industry. In fact, often chimney sweeps aren't even required to have a license. To make sure you are hiring a qualified chimneysweeper, ask them the following questions:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Do you have any references? Feel free to call any references that they provide
  • Do you have a valid liability insurance policy that will protect my home and furnishings in case of an accident?
  • What sort of training and/or certification do you have?
  • Have any complaints been filed against your company? Double check with the Better Business Bureau
  • Are you a member of the National Chimney Sweep Guild?

Now that you have had a chimney sweep come in and give your chimney a proper cleaning and inspection, you can maintain the health of your chimney through your regular cleanings until the chimney sweep's next visit.

Ideally, you should clean out your chimney twice a month when you are using it regularly. What you want to look for is a buildup of creosote and soot. Loose soot deposits should be removed once they start getting close to 1/8" thick – if this is any thicker, you could be looking at a serious fire hazard.

How to Clean a Chimney
To clean and inspect your chimney, you'll need a powerful flashlight, a ladder to get up on the roof, a chimney brush and a vacuum. You may want to read up on chimney parts first.

Make sure your brush is the appropriate size for your chimney. To do this, just measure the area inside of the chimney liner. If your brush is too big, it could get stuck in your chimney. Chimney brushes that are too small will not be able to apply the appropriate amount of pressure on the walls.

Whenever you clean your chimney, always wear protective goggles, a dust mask and gloves. Don't forget to cover all your furniture and any carpeted areas around the fireplace. Also, close off the cleanout door. If you have a fireplace, seal it off.

There are a few methods you can use to clean your chimney:

Top Down with Rod: This is the preferred method for cleaning your chimney and will require you to work from on top of your roof. Before you start, be sure to seal off your fireplace or stove so the mess inside your chimney doesn't get all over your house. Using a chimney brush fastened to a flexible rod, lower the brush down into your chimney. You'll want to use a rod that can reach the entire length of your chimney. If necessary, attach several rods together. Once the brush reaches the bottom of your chimney, bring it back up. Repeat this action several times. Once you think it's clean, use a powerful flashlight to double-check your work. If necessary, go over any spots you missed.

Top Down with Weight: For this cleaning method, securely fasten your chimney brush to one end of a rope. On the other end, attach a weight that is a minimum of 20lbs. Make sure the rope is long enough to reach the entire length of your chimney. After you have sealed off the fireplace or stove, head up on to your roof and lower your brush down into the chimney. Pull the rope back up again. Repeat this action several times and double-check your work with a flashlight.

Bottom Up with Rod: This method is basically the same as the Top Down with Rod method except that you insert the rod from the base of your chimney. However, this method is much more messy since you work from within your home, which means that you cannot seal off your chimney to prevent the soot from getting all over your home.

Once you have cleaned out the inside of your chimney, vacuum the entire area around your fireplace or stove to get any leftover residue.

Using chimney cleaning products may help reduce the frequency of your brush cleanings but it will not completely eliminate the need for it. If you have a metal chimney, be careful about what type of cleaner you buy. Some brands can cause metal chimneys to corrode.

Chimney cleaning logs are made of special minerals that stick to the creosote in your chimney and help to reduce tar and creosote build up. You should, however, still clean your chimney, even if you only burn chimney cleaning logs in your fireplace.

A regular cleaning of your chimney will help ensure that your chimney will always perform at its best. And don't forget to do regular maintenance inspections to help prolong its life.