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Chimney Care

Submitted by Lorene Bartos, UNL Extension Educator

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Is your home ready for fall and winter weather? Have you taken time to check your chimney or have it cleaned? This is one task you should do this time of year.

Chimneys need to be cleaned to remove creosote and soot deposits. This will helps to prevent chimney fires and improves the draft. How often the chimney is cleaned depends on how frequently the wood burning appliance is used, how it is operated and the type of installation. It is suggested to clean the chimney after every third cord of wood is burned, and most recommend at least once a year. If you observe excessive soot and creosote, the chimney should be cleaned.

You can have the chimney cleaned professionally by chimney sweep or you can do it yourself. Costs to have it done professionally vary by the job. A good chimney sweep can act as an inspector for your installation. Chimneys are normally cleaned by mechanical means to scrape off any loose creosote buildup. Stiff wire chimney cleaning brushes are constructed to match the size of the chimney flue and can be pushed through the chimney with extension rods or pipes or can be pulled with ropes on either end of the brush. A weight can be attached to the bottom of some brushes. The weight will drop the brush to the bottom of the chimney so it can be pulled up with a rope.

You will need the following tools and supplies if you plan to tackle the job yourself: drop cloth or other appropriate covering; trouble light or portable lantern, leather gloves, hand wire brush, hand scraper or putty knife; hammer and screwdriver, heavy duty vacuum cleaner, whisk broom and dust pan, metal bucket, small shovel, adjustable wrench, furnace cement, chimney brush, rope and a weight or extension rods.

Before starting to clean the chimney, be sure all doors and windows are shut to prevent any drafts. Remove damper, if possible. Seal fireplace opening with a drop cloth and masking tape. You will need proper protective clothing, including a mask to cover your mouth and nose, and glasses or goggles for your eyes. The materials which collects in chimneys is of such nature you should avoid contact with it as much as possible. Wear good shoes with slip resistant soles and be careful when climbing on high, steep roofs.

When cleaning the chimney from the roof, the easiest method is to attach a line to the brush with a weight on the opposite end. The weight should be of such a size and shape it cannot swing freely into the tile liners and cause damage. The purpose of the weight is to pull the brush down the chimney. A solid 15 to 20 pound weight is required to move the brush downward. This will depend on how tightly the brush fits and how dirty the chimney is.

More effective is the use of rigid extensions such as a pipe or tubing with a flexible leader. This method allows you to control and feel the scrubbing actions of the brush in the chimney and is used by professionals. Fiber glass rods are available for this purpose. If metal pipe is used, be careful of power lines above. Lower the brush into the chimney being careful not to disturb any loose brick mortar or any device in the chimney. Cleaning can be accomplished by passing the brush through the chimney a number of times in the same direction or by raising and lowering the brush in short strokes in a scrubbing action. If the brush is to large, it will not reverse in the chimney and may even lock up. Experience will tell you how many passes to make to get the chimney clean.

Once this process is finished, remove the seal from the fireplace opening. Use a drop cloth in the working area. Slowly open the damper if you were unable to remove it, vacuum up debris from the bottom of the hearth, smoke shelf, or catch pit. If you can't open the damper, you may have to drop a hose down the chimney to vacuum out the soot. Throw away the vacuum bag when finished.

When cleaning masonry chimneys, check for cracks in the brick or masonry. Cracks allow cool air to come in, thus reducing the efficiency of the fireplace or wood stove and allowing creosote to form.

Stove pipes on a wood burner are critical for safety and require additional attention. When cleaning inside the flue, remove the connection sections. Be careful to protect the areas from soot. Take the sections outdoors and brush them with a hand wire brush or a flue or chimney brush the same diameter as the pipe to remove all the soot and creosote build-up from the breech and loose accumulation in the fire box. Stove pipes need to be cleaned regularly. Check pipes at least once every two or three months of stove operation.

After using your chimney brush, rinse it in a clean solution such as kerosene, dry and store in a dry place.

Now is the time to start making preparation for fall and winter weather. Whether you choose to do these tasks yourself or hire a professional, it will reduce maintenance costs later and may save you from having a house fire.

Ask Lorene

(This resource was added September 2007 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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