According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), fireplaces need to be cleaned once there is 1/8″ of creosote and/or soot buildup inside the chimney liner. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), all chimneys should be cleaned at least once every year, regardless. So which is right, and does everyone need to get their chimney cleaned and inspected, even if the chimney is hardly used at all? The following information can help you decide what the right answer is for you.
What is involved in a Chimney Cleaning?
A chimney sweep removes creosote, soot, and blockages from chimney liners, fireboxes, smoke chambers, and dampers. Keeping the chimney system clean and free of obstructions is essential for a number of reasons, all of which are related to safety, the operation, or the life of your chimney system. The bottom line is that a chimney which isn’t properly maintained can become a fire hazard and can deteriorate to the point that repairs are extremely costly.
When you burn wood in the fireplace, there is always some amount of creosote that is deposited in the flue lining. But when you use certain types of wood, the buildup is far worse. For instance, untreated wood is full of moisture and doesn’t burn clean. Pine also causes creosote in the flue to build up rapidly, which makes it an undesirable type of wood to burn.
If there is a buildup of creosote in the chimney, it’s possible that the flammable material will catch fire, and it could spread from the chimney to the house. If a glaze appears in the flue in any amount, even less than 1/8”, the CSIA agrees that cleaning shouldn’t wait, because of how highly flammable the substance is.
Another reason creosote is a problem is that it can restrict the draw of the fireplace, which reduces the efficiency of the system.
Why is an annual Chimney Inspection Important?
Besides getting your chimney cleaned annually, it’s important to have a professional check to be sure the system isn’t in a state of disrepair. A damaged chimney is a fire hazard and should be repaired before using the fireplace.
Types of damage that might be identified when the chimney is inspected include:
• Moisture damage, which could result in the need for costly repair, the longer the problem remains unresolved. Moisture is the cause of many of the types of chimney damage listed below. • There could be a crack in the flue lining which can’t be detected without the specialized camera equipment used by chimney sweeps. A fireplace should not be used if the flue lining is damaged, since the heat from the chimney could escape into vulnerable areas of the home and cause a house fire. • Any type of stove systems, such as wood-burning stoves, should be inspected annually to be sure that there are no defects. One of the problems caused by defective systems is that deadly carbon monoxide could enter the home; carbon monoxide poisoning is the number one cause of poisoning fatalities in the U.S.
What if the Fireplace is Rarely Used?
Even if you rarely use your fireplace, it still should be inspected each year.
The NFPA recommends that all chimneys be cleaned and inspected annually because if the system is compromised, it creates a fire hazard. It’s best not to merely assume that a chimney system is in good working condition, no matter the circumstances.
When Should a Chimney be Inspected?
Besides getting your chimney inspected at least annually, anytime you see visible signs of deterioration, an inspection should be scheduled as soon as possible. If you upgrade your system by adding a fireplace insert, for example, it’s best to get an inspection in order to make sure the system is working properly.
Many people wait until cold weather is right around the corner to get an inspection, which means that chimney sweeps are often booked solid. The best plan is to get your chimney cleaned and inspected in spring or summer, not only to get a jump on the busy season, but also to give time for repairs, if any are needed.
Chimneys are a wonderful asset to any home, and an annual cleaning and inspection of the system is the best way to prevent the fireplace from becoming a dangerous fire hazard. To schedule an annual inspection, please call our chimney professionals for the best service available.