Preparing to inspect a chimney flue with a camera (C) Daniel Friedman Chimney & Flue Cleaning Advice
     

  • CHIMNEY CLEANING PROCEDURE - CONTENTS: When, where, how, and why chimneys of each type need to be cleaned. What does chimney cleaning cost & how is it performed? Chimney cleaning, flue inspection, & chimney repair advice. Who should inspect, clean, or repair chimneys and flues to assure fire and carbon monoxide gas safety in homes?. Where to find a chimney repairman or chimney sweep. Use certified chimney sweep and repair companies. Where to find the National Chimney Sweeps Guild and the Chimney Safety Institute of America
  • CHIMNEY CLEANING FRAUD - separate article
  • CHIMNEY CLEANOUT DOORS - separate article
  • CHIMNEY INSPECTION CAMERA - ChimScan - separate article
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about chimney & flue cleaning: how to clean a chimney, who should clean & inspect a chimney, certified chimney sweeps, when or how often should the chimney be cleaned, chimney maintenance & repairs done at cleaning time
  • REFERENCES

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This article describes the basic requirement for periodic inspection and professional cleaning of chimneys. We answer: How often should you clean the chimney? and Who should you use to clean or repair a chimney to be sure that the result is a safe, properly working flue and vent system? We include referral links to professional chimney sweep and chimney sweep certification organizations.

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Chimney Cleaning Advice

Preparing to inspect a chimney flue with a camera (C) Daniel Friedman

These articles on chimneys and chimney safety provide detailed suggestions describing how to perform a thorough visual inspection of chimneys for safety and other defects. Chimney inspection methods and chimney repair methods are also discussed. Also see Chimney Cleaning Fraud Warning

Cleaning wood-burning appliance chimneys by arbitrary rule of thumb such as "once every 50 fires in the fireplace" is better than never cleaning your chimney, but in fact what actually determines the need for cleaning is how clean or dirty the chimney flue is.

Our photo shows a Duluth MN team of chimney sweeps preparing to inspect a chimney interior using a camera and lighting.

Cleaning chimneys based on actual usage: If your building includes a wood burning fireplace or woodstove, especially if you burn a lot of fires, but in particular, if you are burning fires using green wood, or slow cool fires, or worst, slow cool small fires with green wood, you can clog up the chimney with creosote which, later when it catches on fire, can burn the whole house down.

Chimney blocked by wasp nest (C) Daniel Friedman Spalling damaged chimney flue interior (C) Daniel Friedman

Even a chimney that has not been used for a wood burning appliance can become blocked by rodents or insects such as our hornets nest shown at above left.

And a chimney inspection may reveal that the flue has been damaged not by creosote blockage but by spalling and water (above right).

Preparing to inspect a chimney flue with a camera (C) Daniel FriedmanIf you don't already know the condition of your chimney, you should certainly take the following steps:

  • Pay for a thorough chimney cleaning, I would ask the cleaner how clean or dirty the flue actually was (they may fib about it), especially in a building whose chimney conditions and safety are unknown
  • Pay for a thorough chimney safety and condition inspection using a chimney scanning camera such as the Chimscan® or similar device which is basically a fisheye camera on a string.

    Using the chimscan can tell you more than just how clean the flue is, it'll tell you if it has been damaged in some way that could make it unsafe, such as cracked or missing flue tile liners or leaks into the interior of the building.
  • Use a professional chimney sweep such as someone who is a member of and certified by the National Chimney Sweeps Guild (NCSG) or the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). The National Chimney Sweep Guild's certification requires training including in chimney and fire safety. The Chimney Safety Institute of America also certifies chimney sweeps.
  • Also see Chimney Cleaning Fraud Warning.

Oil & Gas fired heating appliance chimneys also need to be inspected and cleaned.

Part of normal oil fired appliance heating service includes disassembly and cleaning of the flue vent connector. Ask your heating service tech to check the chimney itself and order a cleaning if needed.

Gas fired heating appliance chimneys should be inspected regularly: a blocked gas fired appliance chimney creates a serious risk of improper gas appliance operation which in turn is likely to produce dangerous, potentially fatal carbon monoxide.

Once you've done this thorough job, future cleanings can be scheduled based on how many fires you've had, more often if your 're burning green wood, and before use at all if you see clogging in the chimney or thick creosote therein on your own inspection.

Also don't forget to inspect the flue before lighting the first fire of the season- since an animal or insects could have obstructed the flue over the summer. If you have a properly screened cap on your chimney top you'll keep out the animals but not the insects.

Be sure that Your Chimney Company is Qualified

Watch out: At UNLINED FLUE INSPECTIONS we describe a scary story that happened when we identified an unsafe chimney and advised our client to have a chimney expert inspect and repair the condition. She called a chimney company listed in her local telephone book. But the "expert" was so poorly informed about chimney safety that his "repairs" came close to killing the occupants of the house.

Watch out: also for a common chimney repair fraud that takes your money but does nothing to make your chimney safe. See CHIMNEY REPAIR FRAUD WARNING for details.

Be sure that your chimney expert really is one. And if you are in the slightest doubt, in addition to contacting the associations listed below, you should ask your local fire inspector or building inspector for help.

Where to locate a certified chimney installation, repair, or cleaning professional:

  • Chimney Safety Institute of America, CSIA, CSIA Technology Center, 2155 Commercial Drive, Plainfield, IN 46168. CSIA directory of CISA certified chimney professionals: Website: http://www.csia.org/ Email: mmcsweeney@ncsg.org
  • National Chimney Sweeps Guild, NCSG, 2155 Commercial Drive, Plainfield, IN 46168, Tel: 317) 837-1500, Website: http://www.ncsg.org/ , Email: mmcsweeney@ncsg.org
  • National Fireplace Institute - NFI, Website: http://nficertified.org/ Quoting from the associations website:
    The National Fireplace Institute® is the professional certification division of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Education Foundation (HPBEF), a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization for the hearth industry.
  • International Association of Fireplace and Chimney Inspectors, Inc., IAFCI, 5325 N Commerce Ave Ste 5 Moorpark, CA 93021, Website: http://www.membersiafci.org/ Quoting from the association's website:
    The International Association of Fireplace & Chimney Inspectors (IAFCI) is a Non-Profit Association formed to facilitate education and promote professionalism within the Hearth, Fireplace, Vent and Chimney Inspection Industry. ... IAFCI, its Members, and Educational Providers will conform, utilize and assist in the application of recognized standards, listings, and codes for all hearth products intended for service, repair, replacement, or new construction.

What's the difference between the Chimney Safety Institute of America, CSIA, and the National Chimney Sweeps Guild, NCSG?

According to Robert Husted, owner of Dave's Chimney Service in Port Orchard WA:

NCSG vs. CSIA: the big difference is that the NCSG is a guild that promotes proper chimney service through education and training as well as a voice when it comes to NFPA211,54,74, and IRC codes reviews and changes.

The CSIA is a nationally recognized chimney service certification group that works with Realtors, home owners and home inspectors to insure competent chimney sweeps that know the codes and standards of the hearth trade to insure safe and clean burning solid fuel appliances.

The CSIA requires CEU's just like a electrician or plumber. However this is just my opinion as a certified chimney sweep. I DO NOT speak for the CSIA or NCSG.

Chimney Cleaning Costs

Reader Question

I have a fireplace which is blocked from the chimney (top). Could you give me a general idea of how much it will cost to re-open it please? - G.B. 11/6/2013

Reply:

Sorry, but I don't know. Costs for chimney cleaning typically range widely between $100 and $1300. And I am skeptical about the low-end of that range.

The variables that affect the cost of chimney cleaning include at least these:

  • Location of the property - including the country, city, state, etc.
  • Height of the chimney and ease of access from outside and from inside (some chimney cleaning is done from inside but depending on the nature of blockage that may not be appropriate).

    For example, a masonry chimney in good shape on a two story house blocked by a birds nest is at the low-end of cost, probably a few hundred for most chimney sweeps, while a discovery that the chimney is high, hard to access, or damaged and unsafe completely change the picture.
  • Nature of the chimney construction which in turn may affect its condition and ease of cleaning
  • The fuel that has been burned in the appliance vented into the chimney.
  • For example, glazed-on creosote in a chimney can be quite difficult to remove.
  • Why the chimney is blocked.

    For example if the chimney is blocked because of an internal collapse or damage the repair is not going to be done with just a brush and vacuum cleaner.

Watch out: if it's too good to be true, it's in fact not true. The chimney cleaning industry suffers from scammers in some areas. See CHIMNEY CLEANING FRAUD for details.

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