After many fires, carbon particles can accumulate and cling to the sides of the chimney, which can create a fire hazard, blockage, or a ventilation problem. Before winter sets in, make sure your chimney is properly maintained so you can enjoy your fireplace without worrying.
If you have a wood burning fireplace and use it once per week in the winter it is recommended that you clean your chimney at least once per year. If you use your fireplace everyday, clean it at least twice per year.
Some of the indicators that your chimney needs cleaning may include:
- Burned wood odours coming from the fireplace when it’s not in use
- Fires that tend to burn poorly, or any smoke coming into the room during a fire
- A black fireplace damper that is caked with creosote (a byproduct of charred wood). You may be able to reach behind the damper and feel for gunk buildup
Cleaning Your Chimney
If you have a day to devote to the task and the proper equipment, it is possible to clean your chimney yourself. However, the process can be messy and dangerous, so be sure you have all the proper tools and assistance you need.
In preparation for cleaning your chimney, purchase the following items at a hardware store:
- A secure ladder tall enough to reach your roof
- A chimney sweeping brush, and chimney brush extension pipes
- A plastic tarp for the inside of your home
- A broom and dustpan
- A dust mask and goggles
Before you begin, cover the fireplace and carpet indoors with a plastic tarp to minimize indoor cleanup.
Outdoors, rest your ladder securely against your roof and check inside the chimney for animals like birds and squirrels that might be nesting inside. Wearing protective gloves and a dust mask and goggles, remove the flue cap to allow for unrestricted access from roof level.
The most common chimney cleaning method involves extending a brush, at the end of a rod, down the chimney flue and turning it with a swirling motion. Keep turning the rods in a clockwise direction to ensure that they don’t become separated and come loose in the chimney. Once your brush reaches the bottom, swirl it back up to the top. Each cycle of the brush will knock more debris loose. When fresh soot begins to appear on the brush, look into the chimney and inspect for cleanliness.
Chimney Maintenance Tips
- Green wood (wood that has been very recently cut), dismantled furniture, and any other questionable fuels should not be added to the fireplace. If possible, burn hardwoods like maple, oak, and ash. These woods tend to burn long, have less sap, are cleaner to handle, and result in less creosote buildup.
- Build fires correctly: place kindling in a criss cross pattern overtop of crumbled newspaper, and place a couple of thin, split logs on top, allowing for air to circulate. Make sure logs are properly supported so they don’t slip. Always open your damper all the way before a fire.
- Clean your fireplace’s interior including its floor regularly, and monitor for signs of buildup. Sweep out or vacuum up cold ashes. Remember to wear a dust mask and gloves when cleaning.
- Excess smoke coming from the chimney is a sign that a fire isn’t burning correctly. A proper fire will show only thin cloud of smoke. If you see dark smoke, adjust your dampers to allow for more air circulation.
- Install a chimney cap. This will keep animals from entering the chimney, and also prevent rain from falling into the chimney flue. A chimney cap can prevent heat loss in the winter, and also protect your chimney’s crown from the elements.
- Homeowners with a fireplace should be sure to install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors inside and outside of bedrooms. Replace the batteries each season and test the detectors regularly.
Every household with an active fireplace should ensure fire safety rules are in place so that all members of the family stay safe. A fireplace is meant to be enjoyed, and regular maintenance and safety precautions will ensure it is, all winter long.