Everything you need to know about prepping your fireplace and chimney for the winter.
How often should a chimney be inspected?
Every year. New wood-burning installations such as fireplaces or wood-burning stoves should be checked midway through the first heating season to confirm everything is working properly.
How often should a chimney be cleaned?
Cleaning should be done as necessary — normally when there’s a minimum 1/8-inch of deposit in the chimney. An annual inspection will determine if any sweeping or repairs are needed. In some cases, it’s necessary to sweep more than once a year, especially if the operator, the fuel or the venting system are not properly matched.
Why get a chimney inspected and cleaned in the first place?
- The combustion process deposits an acidic material that weakens masonry or metal chimneys, causing them to deteriorate prematurely.
- Significant buildup of creosote, a flammable material resulting from incomplete combustion, may catch fire and spread to the attic and other areas of the home.
- If a chimney is used infrequently, critters and birds can collect and nest there, blocking the chimney. Leaves, twigs, pine cones and branches can obstruct the chimney, too.
- High winds or driving rain can also damage chimneys. CSIA recommends that, as a general rule, a chimney should have a rain cap to keep out animals and water as these are the primary reasons chimneys fail.
What should a professional chimney cleaning include?
- Sweeping the fireplace, checking the firebox, liners, smoke chamber and flue, chimney exterior and inspecting the appliance for proper clearances.
- Recommendations for proper operation or replacement of equipment and necessary repairs to equipment or structure.
- A video inspection. It may mean an additional cost, but it could detect hidden damage.
What to do for other chimneys and heat sources in the home
Wood-burning stoves also have flues and chimneys that need a yearly inspection. If the stove is being operated ideally, you will find a gray ash as the predominant residue. However, if there’s shiny build-up on the inside of the door, it’s an indication that the fire is being burned much too low.
Low-burning fires produce an even greater accumulation of creosote on the chimney. But don’t be so quick to burn hotter until the chimney is swept. That’s because turning up the heat when there’s an accumulation of creosote in the chimney could cause a fire.
“I hesitate to recommend do-it-yourself,” we don’t recomend, “because most of us don’t know how to do it properly and we certainly don’t have the expertise or equipment to inspect the chimney for other failings.”
There is one type of chimney that could most likely be cleaned by the homeowner. It’s one where an insert has been installed in the fireplace with a properly sized liner. To clean, insert the brush into the fireplace and flue and sweep up to the top.
“The downside is that there may be a lot of soot or creosote on the rain cap itself that must also be cleaned. Most of the work can be done from the fireplace, but you want to be able to see through that rain cap from the ground to be sure it’s not blocked. Also, if the chimney cap needs cleaning, that means getting up on the roof, a task not for the faint of heart.
6 ways to properly maintain your chimney and fireplace in New Jersey
While it’s best to let a pro inspect and clean the chimney, there are six things homeowners can do to improve their fireplace experience.
- Clean the ashes from the fireplace as they accumulate.
- Gather firewood a year in advance to properly season it. This results in less flammable material collecting in the chimney.
- Make sure the damper is fully open before lighting a fire in the fireplace.
- Burn nothing in the fireplace except dry firewood or CSIA-accepted manufactured logs. Never burn pressure-treated or painted wood.
- Burn fires that consume the fuel. Burning wet or poor quality fuel results in slow fires and more creosote buildup on the flue.
- Consider using a top-down burn method, which burns hotter, cleaner and produces less smoke than traditional fire-building methods. Place the largest logs on the bottom of the fireplace, then add a cross layer of smaller logs. Next, add some crushed newspaper and top it all with 1-inch of kindling. Light the newspaper, sit back and enjoy the fire.
I’ve just lit my fire and it is smoking – does my chimney need to be cleaned?
If it has been used but not been swept within the past 12 months, for safety it should be swept as soon as possible. If it has not been used since it was last swept, and the problem of birds nesting can be ruled out (if there is a cage or cowl on the chimney), it could be due to the cold or weather conditions. Please call us and we may be able to give advice on the appropriate action to be taken.
How much will it cost?
Prices are based on the location and number of chimneys to be swept. We are happy to provide a fixed quote in advance ‘subject to there being no access difficulties, nests or blockages’.
How long does it take?
It usually takes approximately half an hour to sweep each chimney. Occasionally this may take a little longer.
Blockages (e.g. a bird’s nest) take more time to clear because of the amount of debris that has to be removed. Where we know, or our customer suspects, there is a blockage we try to schedule this at the end of our working day to ensure there is time to do the work in full and any potential delay does not inconvenience other customers.
Do you need us to stay with you while we clean or repair your chimney
Often our customers simply let us in and then go out! We believe that this is mainly because all of our sweeps are Police Checked but also because we return year on year and our customers get to know us.
We will happily work with you to make our service as convenient as possible.
What if I have to go out but you encounter a problem?
If we find anything out of the ordinary or of concern we will contact you – it is best to provide us with both a landline and a mobile contact whenever possible. If further work is needed we will check with you before carrying out any additional work unless you are not present or not contactable and we believe the work is essential or it would be dangerous to leave the situation as it is.
Do I need to cover the furniture?
Our service is as clean as we can make it. We provide sheets that cover the fireplace opening and the area to the front of the fireplace, and we also use a commercial vacuum to keep dust to an absolute minimum.
When we remove a nest, however, we recommend that your furniture, television, near-by curtains and carpets are covered. We will do our best to contain the debris but, until we start removing the nest, we cannot be sure of how big it is. The action of removing the nest means it is impossible to fully seal the fireplace and therefore further precautions need to be taken by the householder.
What happens if you make a mess?
The worst thing that we can do when sweeping is to bring soot down the chimney and into the room. We are very experienced and take every precaution to prevent this.
We have public liability insurance so you can rest assured that, if an accident happens, you are fully covered.
Am I likely to get any mess after you’ve swept?
We will always sweep your chimney to the best of our ability and report anything that we found to be out of the ordinary or of concern. Although we make every effort to remove as much soot and debris from the chimney as possible in exceptional circumstances (such as when the soot contains moisture or cold air is trapped in the chimney) small amounts of soot can sometimes fall after we leave. If you’re concerned about this do give us a call.
What do you do with the soot you’ve removed?
Usually, we will leave the soot with you in a bag for disposal with your household waste. If preferred we can remove the soot for disposal off site as we are registered low-tier waste carrier licence holders. There may be an additional charge for this service however – we have to pay to take the waste to a municipal site.
How and when do I pay?
Our standard is that customers pay on the day and this is due directly to the sweep at the end of the visit. We can provide details for a direct bank transfer if preferred and some of our team accept card payment where there is reasonable a mobile signal!
Will you invoice me?
We can arrange to email you an invoice if required.