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Tips for Chimney Sweeping
Many people with fireplaces do not realize that the chimney itself can actually catch fire. Chimney fires are among the most hazardous and destructive in any home, as they frequently involve burning highly concentrated and toxic creosote and soot. The resulting carcinogens can have a devastating effect on your home’s walls and atmosphere, one which continues long after the fire has been extinguished. If you have been searching for a way to prevent such a disaster and protect your family in the process, you may want to look into regular maintenance in the form of chimney sweeping.
How does it work? The process is actually quite straightforward. Most homeowners can sweep their own chimneys if they follow a few basic guidelines. With proper equipment, patience and caution, you should be able to remove the threat and greatly enhance the effectiveness of your own fireplace in one fell swoop.
The first step to any chimney cleaning process is to evaluate the situation. Depending on the size of your flue, length of your chimney and the materials/lining involved, you may need to seek out specialized tools that add some difficulty to the process. Assuming your chimney is like most, however, the only preliminary step you will need to take is to determine the length and diameter of the column itself.
Head to the local home center and get your hands on the right tools for the job. This means brushes, poles and even ropes that may be required to reach the full length of the chimney. You will also need to get a tarp or plastic sheeting, as well as duct tape, to ensure no soot or ash makes its way into your home once the process begins. Many experts also recommend purchasing a plastic creosote scraper to help dislodge chunks that the brushes cannot. Finally, grab a dust mask and safety goggles if you don’t already own these items.
Lay a tarp or sheeting on the floor of your fireplace and open the damper. Place more sheeting over the opening to the fireplace itself, ensuring you have a tight seal to hold errant dust and soot at bay. This is especially important if you tend to burn wetter wood that creates more smoke, as the volume of ash released can be impressive. Open any windows nearby so you get plenty of ventilation once the process is complete.
Put on your steadiest footwear and head up to the roof with a sturdy ladder and tools. The cleaning action itself is usually accomplished simply by fitting the rods together and rubbing the chimney’s interior column vigorously for several minutes. Make sure you are wearing your protective face gear at this point, and maintain sound balance at all times. Never go up on the roof in icy conditions, even if you own hiking boots or crampons. Once you are satisfied the walls are clean (a strong flashlight can help on this point), you are ready to return to ground level.
Inside your home, remove the front sheet and begin collecting ash, dust, debris and creosote into a strong trash bag. Extra caution and sturdy gloves are recommended, as ash can retain its heat without much oxygen or energy for hours and even days at a time. Use gentle motions to sweep up what you have collected to minimize the amount of blackened dust in your home.
Finally, do a visual inspection from the ground floor, again with a flashlight. Many chimneys nowadays burn considerably less hot than they used to, meaning they may not generate the strong updrafts necessary for proper ventilation. If you see cracks, pits or perforations in the chimney column, these could be leeching acidic gases and other unwanted particulates back into the walls of your home. Consider getting a chimney liner that eliminates this problem and facilitates much easier cleaning in the future.
As with all DIY home projects, chimney sweeping becomes much less daunting over time. Beginners are well-advised to err on the side of caution, but the process grows considerably less mysterious each time you do it. Stick with home wars stores that offer sound advice and proper tools, and do not hesitate to contact a licensed, bonded and insured professional if you want some help the first time.