Regular chimney sweeping and inspection is essential to maintaining the integrity of your chimney structure, preventing costly repairs by catching any issues early, and protecting your family and home from the risk of a chimney fire. An annual chimney sweep is quite affordable, especially when compared with the potential cost of not doing so, and ideally should be carried out by a CSIA-certified company. Here's why you should do it regularly.
1. To avoid level 3 creosote buildup.
Creosote is a black, often tar-like substance that forms as a byproduct of burning wood. It clings to the inside of the chimney and accumulates over time to become a fire hazard. (It can also create a musty, smoky odor, which tends to become more pronounced in the summer months when humidity is high.) The very presence of creosote in your chimney encourages more buildup, as air flow becomes restricted, reducing draft and allowing less oxygen to the firebox, resulting in a fire that does not burn as hot—a condition that facilitates creosote buildup. The buildup is designated level 1, 2, or 3 to indicate its severity. Simply speaking, level 1 creosote resembles a powdery soot and is fairly easily removed. Level 2 tends toward hard black flakes. Level 3 creosote buildup is a thick, glazed-on tar that coats the inside of the flue and is very difficult (and costly) to remove. Regular chimney cleaning will help to rid your chimney of dangerous (and stinky) creosote before it reaches level 3 severity.
2. To check for a chimney cap.
Most chimney cleaning companies will check for the presence of a chimney cap during a cleaning or inspection and recommend one if it is absent, as the benefits to having a cap are plenty. Chimney caps that include wire mesh prevent animals from nesting inside and creating obstructions. A cap also prevents rainwater and snow from entering the chimney and causing damage to both the chimney and potentially the interior of your home. If a chimney cap is noted during an inspection, the technician will make sure it is in good condition, the correct size, and securely placed, and that its mesh screen is free from blockage by leaves, creosote, soot, and other debris.
3. To clear blockages.
Even if you don’t use your chimney, blockages can still occur as a result of tree growth, fallen leaves—and especially nests. Animals and insects are often attracted to the warmth of the chimney and build nests inside, clogging the flue with lots of combustible debris and creating a fire hazard. If the chimney’s inhabitants become trapped and die, their rotting remains create a foul smell as well as a health hazard and should be cleared as soon as possible. A yearly cleaning will ensure that any blockages are thoroughly removed.
4. To look for signs of damage or disrepair.
Even if your chimney does not require cleaning, it should at least be inspected yearly. Freeze-and-thaw cycles cause even an unused chimney to deteriorate over time. During a basic cleaning or inspection the technician will look for any evidence of damage or wear that should be addressed, such as cracks in the flue or firebox, crumbling mortar, etc. (In some extreme cases, the mere act of the technician sending his brush up the chimney results in falling mortar, a clear indication of a compromised flue in need of repair.) From the rooftop, the technician will look for fissures in the chimney crown and flue tiles, as well as spalling brick or crumbling mortar. In many cases any damage noted will be documented with photos. It’s important to remember that the longer any disrepair goes unaddressed, the more expensive the eventual repair will likely be, so it pays to stay on top of this.
5. To check the condition of other flues (water heater, furnace, etc.)
Keep in mind that your fireplace chimney is not the only flue in your home, and the others—including any furnace, boiler, or water heater flues—should be cleaned regularly as well. Blockages in these flues can result in dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and contribute to the deterioration of the flue lining. A compromised flue lining can result in gases leaking into the house or even damage to the flue itself. Many companies offer some kind of multiple services discount, so you can save money by having all your flues cleaned and checked at the same time.
Wanna dig deeper? Download our free tipsheet: 5 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Chimney Cleaning Company.