Now that the cold winter season is over, it’s time to clean the chimney and fireplace. It’s a chore that doesn’t rank high on most to-do lists but is essential for protecting your home and keeping your family safe. Here are five common chimney cleaning mistakes to avoid.
One of the most common chimney mistakes to avoid is trying to clean the chimney yourself. Chimney cleaning can be very hazardous without the proper training, tools, and equipment. The flue is a very narrow passageway, and the accumulation of creosote, soot, ash, and other debris can be harmful to your health without taking the necessary precautions. Also, accidentally damaging the interior masonry or flue liner or failure to clean all of the creosote and other residues can increase fire risk and lead to costly repairs. For best results, chimney cleaning should only be performed by a Certified Chimney Sweep®.
While hardwoods burn hotter and cleaner, they still produce creosote. Creosote is a natural by-product of combustion, and it will continue to accumulate in the chimney with every burn. In its early stages, creosote is a white powdery substance easily removed with regular chimney sweeping. As the creosote lingers in the chimney, it hardens into a dark, crusty, charcoal-like material that is very flammable and extremely difficult to remove without professional cleaning.
Chimney sweeping logs, commonly referred to as CSLs, can reduce the risk of fire and help make chimney sweeping in between professional cleanings more effective when used according to the manufacturer’s directions. However, CSLs don’t actually clean the chimney. The logs contain chemicals that loosen the creosote making its removal easier. Keep in mind that, chimney sweeping logs are not a replacement for professional chimney cleaning. Fire safety experts recommend for homeowners who use solid fuel heating appliances to annual chimney inspections and professional cleanings.
Many homeowners make the mistake of cleaning the chimney in the fall, which is the busiest time for chimney sweeps. Instead, homeowners should clean the chimney in the spring. Cleaning the chimney earlier in the year makes it easier to remove the creosote residue before it hardens inside the chimney. It will also eliminate foul odors from decaying organic matter that may have been trapped in the flue pipe during the winter. Spring is also a less hectic time of year for chimney professionals making it easier to schedule a convenient appointment.
Not all chimney contractors are qualified to perform the work, and homeowners should resist the temptation to hire based solely on the lowest price to avoid hiring an unqualified contractor. Hiring a contractor without the proper qualifications and credentials has similar risks as doing it yourself. Homeowners should verify that the chimney contractor is a Certified Chimney Sweep® by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). CSIA credentials can be verified online. It is your assurance that the chimney professional you are hiring has successfully passed rigorous exams and recurrent training programs and adheres to a strict Code of Ethics to earn and maintain their certification.