Experts say cleaning chimney not a DIY job for safety
People are drawn to a fire, whether they’re roasting marshmallows at a campfire in summer or cuddling near the fireplace in winter.
And just as you take precautions outdoors, there are things you should do to make sure your fireplaces and chimneys are safe.
Fires built in fireplaces or wood stoves leave a gummy residue, called creosote, that can stick to the lining of your chimney. Creosote, created by soot, smoke, gases and other particles, is flammable, and can cause a chimney fire.
Between 2005 and 2008, an average 26,900 fires annually were blamed on fireplaces, chimneys or chimney connectors, says the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Experts recommend that chimneys be inspected every year by a certified chimney sweep and cleaned if necessary. The cost can range from $100 to $300 or higher.
Cleaning a chimney is not a do-it-yourself project, says Kit Selzer, a senior editor at Better Homes and Gardens. It’s a dirty job and can be risky, especially if you climb on a roof.
Chimney sweeps are trained to determine if chimneys are structurally sound and if they need to be cleaned, said Ashley Eldridge of the Chimney Safety Institute of America. They will make sure the chimney is up to code.
Selzer recommends that homeowners use the institute’s website, www.csia.org, to select a certified chimney sweep. To become certified, a sweep must pass two tests: one on the inspection process and tools, the other on the international residential code, Eldridge said.
“Each job is different,” said Christina El-Hage, a certified sweep with Pride Clean Chimney Sweeps in Bethesda, Md., but there are basics.
“We’re looking to make sure the flue is fully safe,” she said. “We’re making sure there are no third-degree burns of creosote on the lining.”
Chimney sweeps also check to see if there are animals in the chimney, or anything to block the flow of smoke. They check that there’s no water coming in.
When thinking of chimneys, El-Hage says, many people focus on the one attached to the fireplace. “Yes, they can catch on fire, but we’re not dealing with a deadly gas, carbon monoxide,” she says, as is the case with chimneys leading from furnaces. Whether they burn oil or gas, furnaces vent carbon monoxide outside, and those chimneys, too, need to be inspected.
There are steps to reduce creosote buildup and fire risk.
Pick dry wood to burn, Eldridge said. “Take two pieces and bang them together. You get almost a ring as an indication it’s ready.”
Don’t throw trash in the fireplace. Use a fireplace screen and stay in the room while it’s burning. Also needed: smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguisher.