How To Be A Chimney Sweep

One of the most relaxing things found in an older home is quite often a fireplace. Nothing beats sitting beside a cozy fire, drinking hot chocolate and listing to the fire pop and crackle while the cold winter winds howl outside. And if you have a wood burning stove in your home, its comforting to know that your winter heating bill will be much less when you burn wood. But, with this comfort and savings comes danger. Creosote, an oily liquid which is formed by burning wood, can build up on the inside of your chimney. If it is allowed to build up too much, it can catch fire without you knowing it and damage, or even destroy, your home, possibily causing injury or death.

Cleaning your chimney is a project you can do yourself, if you are not worried about climbing up on your roof. If that is a concern, many areas which have a high number of homes that burn wood will often have a chimney sweep business in the area. If you feel up to the task, this month I will walk you through the steps in cleaning your chimney.

You should always clean your chimney each fall, prior to starting your first wood fire. Later cleanings depend on how often you build a fire. The more often you use your fireplace or wood burning stove, the more often you should clean your chimney. But a good rule of thumb is to clean it two or three times over the heating season.

Creosote is contained in the smoke from a wood fire. Softwoods, like pine, create more creosote than hardwoods, like oak. A smoldering fire will also create more creosote that a roaring fire. As the smoke and creostoe go up the chimney, the creosote will condense and build up in the cooler outdoor chimney and ever in the cooler parts of the indoor chimney sections.

The tools you will need are a ladder, a wire chimney brush (sized to fit your chimney), extention poles, (which allow you to reach all of your chimney), cardboard or plywood to cover the fireplace opening, several rags, old clothes and a dust mask. If you have a wood burning stove, you can take apart the flue pipe and cover the opening with a paper grocery sack held in place with duct tape.

The first thing you want to check when cleaning your chimney is that your chimney and fireplace is cool. You don’t want to work on a warm chimney. You can get burned and the creosote will still be sticky and tar like. The best cleaning is done to a cool chimney. Start by removing the grate from your chimney and opening the damper. If you have a wood stove, remove a section of the flue pipe and cover the end with the paper bag (taped in place.) Place the cardboard or plywood in front of the firepalce to block the opening. Use the rags to seal any gaps around the cover. Make sure the openings are sealed good, because the dust from cleaning your chimney will leak out even the smallest opening and create a mess in your house.

Once you have the opening sealed, the cleaning is done from your roof. Work the brush up and down as you lower it into the chimney. You will want to be vigorous in your brushing, since creosote build-up can be difficult to remove at times. Once you have your chimney clean, it’s time to get off the roof and back to your stove or fireplace.

Carefully remove the cover from your stovepipe or fireplace. The soot you knocked down is quite light and can easily be blown around if you aren’t careful. Shovel up the soot, using a small brush to clean the soot from the damper and shelf. A final sweep with a shop vac is all you need to finish the job.