Chimney flues above wood-burning fireplaces or stoves need regular inspection, and occasional cleaning, to reduce the chance that creosote buildup will fuel a chimney fire. Such a mishap can destroy the chimney, and even the entire house. Both jobs are best performed by a professional chimney sweep. A proper cleaning involves brushing the flue tiles from both ends of the chimney. Once cleaned, a competent sweep can then check the tiles for cracks or damage.
Chimney cleanings are also a fine time to check for other problems, such as damaged masonry or chimney caps. Neglected masonry can allow water into the chimney or house, accelerating both damage and the cost of rectifying it.
The following tips will help slow down creosote accumulation:
- Don’t burn green wood. High moisture content reduces fire temperature. Make sure firewood has been aged for at least six months before burning it.
- Don’t burn damp logs, for the same reason mentioned above. The hotter the fire, the less creosote has a chance to build up. Firewood stored outside should be stacked for plenty of ventilation on all sides, including underneath, and covered with a tarpaulin.
- Leave fireplace doors and dampers open to help keep the fire hot. Close the spark screen if the fire starts to crackle.
- Pay attention to how well the fireplace draws air during fires. Draw will be better on cold nights, when the temperature difference between inside and outside is greater. Poor draw can be a sign of a damaged or dirty flue; avoid using the fireplace until a professional has cleaned and inspected the chimney.
If a chimney fire does occur, immediately get everyone out of the house and call the fire department. Deprive the fire of needed oxygen by closing all stove doors and dampers. Your safety comes first — leave ladder climbing to reach the chimney to the firefighters.
For more information on chimney safety and what to ask contractors when hiring a sweep, see the Web site of the National Chimney Safety Institute.
Jeff Bredenberg, editor, in Clean It Fast, Clean It Right: The Ultimate Guide to Making Everything You Own Sparkle & Shine.