Roasting chestnuts over an open fire is a delightful holiday season tradition, but unless your flue has been inspected and cleaned, it’s not a very good idea. After all, a far less popular holiday pastime is running out into a winter night in your pajamas because your flue caught on fire. Flue fires account for about 46,000 home fires yearly, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Although most homeowners made it out in time, the property damage that can result is often massive. Some flue fires will go undetected and may smoulder for a long time, while others will quickly burn a house to the ground. This is why it’s so important to keep your flue clean and in good repair, especially if you’re using a fireplace or other wood-burning heating sources.
Flue Checks You Can Do Yourself
There’s a lot involved in caring for a chimney, but there are some checks you can do yourself to ensure your flue is as healthy as possible. If you notice any defects, however, you really should call in a pro because proper chimney cleaning and repair is vital to the functioning of your fireplace or wood stove. If you want to check your fireplace before calling for help, try:
- Checking for creosote build-up. You can often see into the lower portion of your chimney or flue, provided the opening isn’t blocked by a wood stove insert. Shine a flashlight into the empty fireplace, up toward the ceiling, and take a look around. Creosote is tarry black stuff that clings to the walls and moving parts inside your chimney. It’s seriously combustible.
- Examining your cap. Your chimney cap is one of the most underappreciated parts of your home. No, really. It keeps animals out while still letting air in, and prevents rain and show from coming down the chimney (it’s rumored that Santa can still bypass a chimney cap, but no one really knows how). If you can safely access the chimney cap, take a look at it. Is it straight and square? Does the material holding it in place appear to be intact? Big black streaks may be signs that there’s been a small chimney fire in the upper chimney in the past.
- Inspecting the brickwork. It might sound like a small thing, but the brickwork on your chimney actually serves a really important purpose, and for it to do its job, it needs to be intact. And that’s not just the bricks, but also the material that is used to hold them together (the cream in your brickwork Oreo, if you will). If your brick faces have started to shear, or the bricks are loose, you definitely need to get this fixed right away. It’s a hazard to people below, as brick parts can fall and hit bystanders. Loose mortar is bricks waiting to fall down, so take it seriously as well.
What a Chimney Sweep Does
A chimney sweep is a flue professional who is well-versed in cleaning, maintaining, and optimizing your chimney. They’re really good at making sure it’s safe to start a fire in your fireplace, and can advise you on ways to improve your fireplace efficiency if you’re not getting the kinds of results you’d like. There are many, many options for modern fireplaces and retrofitting older fireplaces, so don’t hesitate to ask.
Most importantly, your chimney sweep will keep your chimney clean so that you don’t spend a lot of sleepless nights worrying about little chimney fires brewing in hidden parts of the flue. Using a combination of brushes and chemical treatments, they’ll remove all the highly combustible creosote. While they’re at it, they’ll also inspect your chimney, including the liner, brickwork, damper, and cap. It’s a lot of service, but many fireplaces only need to be inspected and cleaned yearly.