It’s time for a chim­ney sweep

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

If you own a fire­place and use it reg­u­larly, fall is the time to give se­ri­ous thought to hir­ing a chim­ney sweep — be­fore you light your first fire. Chim­ney sweep­ing is an in­tri­cate and some­times high­tech job that is crit­i­cal to the safety of your home. The Na­tional Fire Pro­tec­tion Agency says un­clean chim­neys are a ma­jor cause of house fires. And for that rea­son, the NFPA rec­om­mends a yearly in­spec­tion. A clear chim­ney im­proves safety, cre­ates a more com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ence, and al­lows smoke and gases to vent away from your liv­ing area.

You won’t al­ways need a full clean­ing, but the in­spec­tion will help iden­tify any prob­lems. In ad­di­tion to en­sur­ing your safety, an in­spec­tion may also iden­tify struc­tural prob­lems that can be solved for less that it would cost af­ter years of buildup.

Signs that you need a chim­ney in­spec­tion in­clude a vis­i­bly thick buildup of soot and cre­osote, smoke en­ter­ing into your liv­ing space, a weak fire and a tar smell em­a­nat­ing from the fire­place.

A pro­fes­sional chim­ney sweep will closely in­spect your chim­ney from top to bot­tom, in­clud­ing the fire­box, in­te­rior flue, smoke cham­ber, ex­te­rior ma­sonry and flash­ing. They’ll look for both cre­osote buildup and struc­tural dam­age. In many cases, house fires caused by the fire­place take place be­cause a struc­tural is­sue or cracked wall al­lows the fire to es­cape. They’ll also keep an eye out for an­i­mals, bird nests and branches.

In many cases, a sweep will in­spect your chim­ney free of charge. On av­er­age, a full chim­ney clean­ing will cost be­tween $125 and $325. In ex­treme cases with large amounts of buildup, the cost may be higher. If you have sig­nif­i­cant struc­tural dam­age, the cost may be as high as a few thou­sand dol­lars.

A pro­fes­sional chim­ney sweep will use a wire brush at­tached to a flex­i­ble rod that ex­tends deeply into the flue. In some cases this is an old-school brush that hasn’t changed much since the days of “Mary Pop­pins”; oth­ers use elec­tri­cally driven brushes to break up the soot and cre­osote.

Cre­osote is the thick, oily residue de­posited into a chim­ney by burn­ing wood. Cre­osote de­posits in­crease fire risks and, if left unat­tended, harden into a solid glaze that can be dif­fi­cult to re­move. Chim­ney sweeps make a par­tic­u­lar point of get­ting cre­osote off the sur­face.

You may have seen cre­osote-sweep­ing logs on the shelves at your lo­cal big box store. While they’re not fully ef­fec­tive in pre­vent­ing cre­osote, us­ing them through­out the sea­son can dry up the cre­osote and make it eas­ier to flake away. It’s not a sub­sti­tute for chim­ney sweep­ing, but when used prop­erly it can im­prove your fire­place ex­pe­ri­ence.

As al­ways, when hir­ing pro­fes­sion­als, make sure they hold the proper li­cense, bond­ing and in­sur­ance to work in your area. Ask if they hold cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from a pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tion such as the Chim­ney Safety In­sti­tute of Amer­ica.

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