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Chimney Cleaning Guide

Man using a brush to clean a home's chimney - tips to cleaning a chimney.
Table of Contents

A fireplace or wood stove is a nice way to keep your home cozy in the winter and save on heating oil or electric costs. However, if you’re using wood heat and can’t remember when you last cleaned your chimney, it’s likely overdue. Chimney Cleaning is necessary to remove soot, blockages, and creosote buildup. Failure to do so could cause a chimney fire.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC), an average of 17,600 chimney fires occur annually in the U.S. between 2015 and 2017. Generally, a chimney should be cleaned twice yearly. Yet, the type of wood you burn and the frequency you use your stove can require you to clean more often.

Can I Clean My Chimney Myself?

Depending on your physical abilities and the condition of your chimney, you might be able to start cleaning a chimney without assistance from a professional. If your chimney is frequently cleaned and there’s not much creosote buildup, you may be able to handle the job yourself with the proper tools.

You can clean a chimney top-down (from the roof), or from inside your home. If your roof is particularly steep or you’re incapable of using a ladder, cleaning a chimney from inside your home or contacting a professional is necessary.

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Step-by-Step Guide on Cleaning a Chimney

If you’re physically capable of working from your roof and have the right safety measures in place, DIY chimney cleaning is possible. Before cleaning, you’ll want to check the condition of your chimney and the level of cleaning required. You might be able to inspect your chimney from the bottom by looking up from the fireplace or the cleanout on the outside of your home with a flashlight and mirror.

Most often, you’ll get the best view from the roof. In this case, you’ll need to remove the chimney cap and shine a flashlight into the flue. If you have an undamaged flue, you can take these steps to safely clean your chimney.

1. Get the Right Tools

Measure the diameter of your flue liner to determine the size brush you need. The brush should be about one-fourth to one-half inch larger than the chimney diameter. You’ll also need extension rods to run the entire length of your chimney.

2. Prepare Your Workspace

Whether you’re working inside your home or from the roof, it’s important to protect your home from damage. Make sure the door to your wood stove is firmly closed. If you have a fireplace, remove irons and grates or other accessories from the firebox. If you’ll be working from the roof, cover the fireplace opening with heavy-duty plastic sheeting and duct tape to contain soot and debris. Finally, if you’re cleaning from inside the house, protect the floor and surrounding furnishings from falling soot and debris.

Man wiping a chimney's glass cover - cleaning a chimney.

3. Clean the Flue

No matter your cleaning method, you’ll want to open the damper before you begin.

Working from the Roof

Before climbing a ladder, make sure you have all the tools you’ll need and safety gear on hand. Assign a partner to hold your ladder in place as you ascend. Get positioned on the roof where you can work safely. If you replaced the chimney cap after inspection, remove it for cleaning. Insert the brush into the flue, push it down, scrub up and down and turn the brush clockwise to clean soot and flaky creosote.

Add extension rods as needed to work your way down the chimney. When the flue is thoroughly scrubbed, remove the brush, disassembling the rods as you go. After removing the brush, shine a light into the flue and make sure the flue is thoroughly cleaned.

Working from Inside

If you have a fireplace big enough to accommodate your upper body, you can brush the chimney from the bottom up. This will be a messy job, so you’ll need to dress accordingly. Wear safety glasses and a face mask to protect yourself from falling residue. Reach into the fireplace with the wire brush and up into the flue. Scrub the flue walls with an up-and-down brushing motion. Add extensions as needed until you reach the top of the chimney.

When cleaning is complete, remove the brush from the chimney, removing extensions as you go.

4. Complete Cleaning

When cleaning a chimney, allow time for the dust and debris from the flue to settle. Carefully remove coverings from your fireplace to gain access to the areas you couldn’t reach with a chimney brush. Using a small chimney brush or wire brush, clean the smoke shelf thoroughly. Wait for the dust to settle again before cleaning away all dust and debris with a shop vac.

When to Consult a Professional to Clean Your Chimney

Enjoying the warmth of a fireplace or wood-burning stove brings important responsibilities to protect your home. Cleaning a chimney is a vital part of maintenance that can help you protect your home. Creosote is a highly flammable material that can quickly catch fire when heated. Chimney fires can reach 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to crack masonry chimney liners and start a fire in the surrounding wood framing or roofing materials.

While cleaning a chimney on your own under the right circumstances, many people prefer to call a professional. Getting your chimney cleaned by a professional typically costs between $117 and $800, with an average of $470. However, cleaning extensive creosote buildup will often require professional tools and methods. When creosote has hardened into a thick layer that constricts airflow through your chimney, it’s best to consult a professional for cleaning as soon as possible.

A fireplace or wood stove is a delightful addition to help keep your home cozy during cold New England winters. Yet, without proper maintenance and care, it can increase the risk of a house fire or smoke damage that can harm or destroy your home. To learn more about adequate home insurance and other ways you can protect your Massachusetts home, contact the independent insurance agents at LoPriore Insurance Agency.

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