With the power of owning a chimney comes a lot of responsibility. You may think that they need little care and maintenance, but this is not the case.
A poorly maintained chimney can lead to a lot of problems and could potentially cause a large fire.
While you can no longer send small children up the chimney to clean it, there is no need to be concerned. Cleaning the chimney is an easy task with the right equipment and once you have got the hang of it there will be no problems.
If the task is still too daunting, you can always contact a professional to come and clean your chimney for you.
What Makes Your Chimney Dirty?
Wood fires are primarily what lead up to a buildup of dirt and grime on the inside of your chimney. When wood combusts it releases a number of contaminants such as soot and other things that create a coating on the inside of your chimney flue.
One such contaminant is creosote. This is a black and greasy substance that comes as a by-product of wood combustion.
This is created by the combination of water vapor, smoke, gas, tiny wood particles, tar fog, and other pollutants. Creosote is a highly flammable residue that forms in 3 distinct stages.
The first stage is ash, the second is flaky, and the third is glazed. It forms via condensation and must be scraped off to be removed.
As the stages progress, the thickness of the residue increases. Once the creosote layer becomes ⅛ inch thick or more, it must be removed.
Not only this, the opening at the top of the chimney is often exposed. We all know the scary feeling of a bird falling down and flying, covered in soot, around your home while you panic.
These birds can also drop organic, flammable debris down the tunnel of your chimney. Small animals and other vermin are notorious for doing this too.
In chimneys without flue caps, the wind is very prone to blowing small twigs, leaves, and other flammable materials down the chimney.
These can all combust when they come into contact with sparks or flames and will contribute to the creation of that delicious chimney coating.
What Are The Dangers Of Not Cleaning Your Chimney?
If you do not keep your chimney clean then it will greatly reduce your wood-burning abilities. Fires will take much longer to catch and start burning, and the flames will be a lot less vigorous.
The real danger of not cleaning your chimney is that it can cause a chimney fire. These will start off sounding like a few small pops and snaps.
These will quickly build in intensity and soon they will sound like gunshots. This will then develop into a low, deep rumbling noise and you will see oily streaks of black creosote raining down into the firebox.
What Is A Chimney Fire?
A chimney fire is a very dangerous occurrence and typically cannot be controlled or restrained by the homeowner. They are often incredibly damaging and result in the entire house being destroyed.
This is not necessarily just from the flames. The only way to extinguish a chimney fire is to shoot torrents of water down the chimney from the top, which often leads to severe flood damage to your home.
The fire is often likened to some kind of explosion. Flames are commonly seen escaping the top of the chimney and travel all the way down to the firebox.
This causes thermal expansion and can lead to the flue becoming cracked. If this happens, flames can rush out through the crack and into different regions of your home.
How Often To Clean A Chimney
You should clean your chimney at least once each year to reduce the risk of chimney fires. This is ideally carried out during the first half of fall, a little while before you begin to light fires for the winter season.
If you have opted to hire a chimney sweep, you may find hiring them at the end of summer is easier. This is a less busy period for chimney cleaning companies and you may be able to get the job done faster and more efficiently.
If you want to clean it yourself, it is advised to do this during summer. The weather conditions are mild and the roof will be dry and safe, reducing the risk of slipping and falling.
If you notice a layer of creosote on the inside of your chimney that is thicker than ⅛ inch, you should clean it.
Keep an eye out for honeycomb textured creosote build-up, or soot and creosote falling into the firebox when the fire has been lit.
If you burn a lot of fake wood, use your fireplace a lot, or burn green and unseasoned firewood, you will need to up the frequency of your chimney sweeping schedule.
How To Keep Your Chimney Clean For Longer
You should always opt for the driest and most clean firewood to burn. These are often hardwoods, as they have a low sap content and are unlikely to clog up your chimney flue.
Check the flue regularly for any signs of blockages in the flue or cap. This is particularly relevant after high winds and stormy weather conditions.
Keep an eye out for ash in your fireplace. While you want to remove a decent amount of the residual ash once the fire has been extinguished, you should try to leave about an inch deep layer of ash.
This will help you to create and start fires more easily, reducing the overall build-up levels. When the fire season is over, you should remove all of the ash. This can be used in your garden to increase the nutrient composition of your garden soil.
There are a number of commercially available products that are designed to reduce or slow down the accumulation of creosote. These are just sprayed up the flue of your chimney.