If you are a responsible chimney owner then you probably already know that your chimney should be inspected and swept at least once a year. You also probably already know what to expect during the process. But what if you are a new chimney owner or possibly have a new appreciation for what it means to be a responsible chimney owner. Well have no fear. Apprehension is common the first time you have someone start looking around all up in your flue. Lucky for you we are here to dispel some of the common myths about chimney inspections and have you looking like a pro when that first chimney sweeper comes calling at your door.
The first thing a chimney sweep will do is lay down a tarp or other covering to contain the mess. Chimney inspections can be a messy business but as with many things if there’s no mess it’s not being done right. A chimney sweep will be checking every nook within your chimney to make sure there are no cracks, creosote buildups, or other potential problems. This has a tendency to dislodge a small amount of soot. Thus the tarp. This will contain the mess and keep your living room or den as clean as it was when the sweep arrived. After everything is properly covered the sweep will get to doing the dirty work.
One of the first things a chimney sweep will check is that you are using proper protection. Every chimney should have a liner within it that will contain the nasty byproducts that result from regular use of your fireplace. There are 3 main types of chimney liners (ceramic tile, steel, and cast in place) which will determine exactly what problems the sweep will be checking for. As an example if you have a ceramic tile liner the sweep will be checking for cracked or broken tiles as well as cracks in between the tiles. If a problem is found your chimney sweep will know the best way to deal with it.
In addition to making sure that your byproducts are being properly contained a chimney sweep will check for buildups of creosote that could lead to a costly chimney fire. Creosote will build up within your chimney as the smoke from a fire in your fireplace moves up the chimney and cools. This tar-like gunk is flammable and if enough of it builds up can catch fire. No one wants to have to deal with a burning in their chimney so it is best to be proactive in keeping your chimney clean. A good sweeping once a year will help prevent creosote from becoming a problem.
When many people think of a chimney inspection the envision a soot-covered man peering at the inside of your chimney but what many people do not realize is that just as important is the state of the outside of your chimney. The most common cause of chimney damage is not from fire but is actually from water. Most chimneys are masonry structures and with any masonry structure exposed to wind and rain it can develop cracks. If water gets into these cracks it can freeze and thaw causing expansion and contraction that can do a lot of damage to your chimney’s structure. There is also the issue of mold and mildew that can be a result of water seepage. It is important to identify these structural blemishes early. If a crack is left unchecked it can spread and before you know it you can have a serious structural situation on your hands. Cracks in the masonry can also lead to less efficiency with regards to the operation of your chimney as they allow air and moisture to get inside. There are several processes with which to repair problems of this nature and your chimney sweep will know best which to perform should the situation call for it.
Depending on the nature of the inspection will depend just how in-depth the chimney sweep will go. There are 3 types of inspection. The first will deal mostly with the easily accessible features of a chimney and is most commonly performed as part of seasonal maintenance. The second level requires the opening of access panels and may involve the chimney sweep going into the attic or other areas to check the masonry. The third level involves actual removal of parts of the chimney and is reserved for if a level 2 inspection reveals intense damage that needs to be immediately addressed. In most cases a level 3 inspection is not necessary.
So whether your fireplace is worn from years of use or brand new and ready to start getting its burn on it is important to have your flue inspected. Chimneys come in all shapes and sizes and can have issues as unique as the structure itself so make sure that you are taking proper care of yours. Don’t let the fear of what an inspection might find stop you from having it done. In the long run you will be glad you did!