How To Tell If Your Chimney Needs Cleaning

Your chimney should be cleaned periodically if you have a fireplace or a wood- or coal-burning stove. The by-products of setting up a fireplace are soot and creosote deposits inside your flue pipe or chimney. This sticky, black creosote layer is highly flammable. It is, therefore, imperative to regularly clean your chimney. A professional cleaning program should be carried out at least once a year. Chimneys must be inspected every year for cleanliness and soundness.

Soot Inspection

How to tell if your chimney needs cleaning? If you are going to check fireplace chimney, make sure you wait at least 24 hours after fireplace usage. This period shall allow the fire remnants to settle. Once you’ve waited long enough, explore the fire screen using a flashlight to see the black soot attached to the firebox’s walls. Use a fireplace tool or your finger to ascertain the soot’s thickness along the walls. In case the soot has a thickness of 1/8 inches or more, it means the chimney requires cleaning.

Checking Creosote

Before you check for creosote or find out how to tell if your chimney needs cleaning, you should know what a creosote is so that you understand why it should be regularly removed. Creosote is basically the fuel and wood that does not convert into ash upon burning. It moves up the fireplace flue where it shrinks and attaches to the walls. With continual fireplace use, this unburned fuel thickens to a level that it turns into a potential fire hazard. Kindly note that creosote formation cannot be avoided by burning oak, birch, maple, or other hardwoods.

For creosote inspection, ensure there is zero chimney downdraft. If you could feel the air flowing, open a window or door on the floor where the fireplace is located until the downdraft comes to a halt or reverses, with the air flowing up. Tape some tissue to the opening of the fireplace and check its movement. Then, while putting on a disposable dust mask and goggles, take your fireplace poker and a robust flashlight and scrape the black exterior over the smoke chamber or damper.

In case the groove you create in the creosote isn’t quite thick, you don’t need any cleaning. But, like soot, if the thickness is more than 1/8 inches, fireplace cleaning should be carried out. If the creosote thickness is 1/4 inches or more, you shouldn’t be using the fireplace until it’s thoroughly cleaned. Using the fireplace with such thick creosote cover could lead to chimney fire any time.

To look for creosote, set up the light near the firebox’s top, around the damper and within the smoke chamber. And inspect the fireplace flue also, particularly on the chimneys outside, where creosote build-up is quicker compared to the chimneys inside the house, thanks to lower external temperatures.

Creosote is the easiest to remove when it’s feather-light brown, dull gray or black soot. The next type is a granular accumulation that’s black in color, which can be easily removed with a chimney brush. The next creosote type is a coating like road tar that is a bit difficult to clear even with strong chimney brushes, power rotary whips or scrapers. The fourth type and the deadliest is the glaze-like, shiny coating on the flue that is almost impossible to clear.

Removing Creosote

Creosote can be removed without professional chimney sweeper assistance, but you would require a certified expert for a more thorough cleaning. The professional you hire would be doing more than just pushing in the cleaning brush. If you are going to work with an expert, make sure they know about building codes, are trained to recognize venting or deterioration issues, and are knowledgeable enough to advise you on the chimney’s condition.

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