Keeping your chimney clean

If you don’t clean your chimney regularly, you're raising your fire risk

There’s something magical about a crackling fire on a cold winter’s eve. Hot beverage in hand, you listen to the snap and crackle of the burning wood, feel the heat radiating to warm you all over, and become mesmerized by the dancing flames. And all the while that fire is sending carbon particles up the chimney, which are clinging to the sides of your chimney en route to becoming a fire hazard.

When put that way, the fire loses a bit of its lustre.

But Rick Spencer of Chim-Chiminey Sweep says a thorough and regular cleaning of your chimney will ensure trouble-free magic whenever needed.

It’s this time of the year, naturally, that his crews are busiest, says Spencer, because everyone who uses a wood-burning or oil-burning fireplace or furnace needs the cleaning done before winter sets in.

How often you need to clean the chimney is pretty straightforward, says Spencer. Use the following guide.

• If you have a wood-burning fireplace, and you use it at least once a week through the winter, you need your chimney cleaned of soot and tar build-up once a year. If you use it as your main heat source every day, you should have it done twice a year.

• If you have an oil furnace, you need the chimney cleaned once a year, which should reduce the number of service calls because, Spencer says, many for oil furnaces are the result of a poorly maintained chimney.

• If you have a wood pellet stove for heat, you probably won’t need the chimney cleaned more than once a year – unless your stove isn’t burning efficiently, in which case you need it cleaned and the stove serviced immediately.

• If you have a high-efficiency gas fireplace insert, you likely won’t need to clean the chimney at all unless it’s not working properly, says Spencer. But if you have one of those decorative log sets or a sandpan unit, you should clean the chimney every three to five years.

If you don’t clean your chimney regularly, there are two main risks involved.

The first is fire, because it is possible for the soot build up inside the chimney to catch on fire if allowed to become thick enough.

The second risk is soot build-up acting as a drag on the upward air flow, which means the smoke could exit through the front of your fireplace or stove than up the chimney. This can cause nasty smoke damage to your home.

Spencer says this second problem is more common than a fire, and can potentially be more expensive in terms of actual damage.

Another problem with not cleaning regularly is that heat from a fire can cause the soot and tar to become a glaze inside the chimney, which makes it much harder to clean, and can often lead to damaged liners needing to be replaced. Naturally, says Spencer, this will make the job much more expensive.

It also doesn’t hurt to have the chimney sweep come by in the fall to make sure no birds or rodents have made a home in your chimney, as that can get pretty messy.

Contrary to what some people believe, Spencer says, there is still lots of call for chimney sweep service because plenty of people use fireplaces of one kind or another.

“You are still allowed to have a wood-burning fireplace, contrary to what you may have heard,” says Spencer. “There are some very good, high-efficiency, EPA-certified systems out there that do a terrific a job of providing heat, so people use them for heating their homes.”

As an aside, he notes that Metro Vancouver currently offers homeowners a $250 rebate if they replace an old, non-EPA-certified stove or insert with a new unit that is certified.

When all’s said and done, if you’re planning to light that fire this year, Spencer says it’s just good sense to make sure your chimney is safe to go for the winter.

Robert Prince is a freelance writer who lives in Maple Ridge.

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