Hire a Chimney Sweep or Do It Myself

After seeing so many do-it-yourself projects on the DIY network, many homeowners believe that sweeping a chimney is easy, and attempt to do the work themselves to save money. That way of thinking usually ends in disaster.

Dirty chimney flue

This is one of those annual maintenance items that is best left to the professional. 

Professionally trained chimney sweeps learn what type of equipment to use for the job, the best methods of sweeping, and how to remove different types of creosote.

Chimney sweeps use tarps to protect the floor and carpet from tracking in dirt from out side, or from soot while working. The sweep will use a high-powered vacuum to control soot and dust, and close the damper or put up a protective barrier on the fireplace opening. He/she will then use a special brush wound up on a wheel to sweep from the inside, or if necessary, power brushes on a drill. 

Some sweeps clean the chimney from the top of the flue using flat or round-wire brushes sized for the particular flue they are working on.  Something as simple as an incorrectly sized brush will limit the amount of flammable creosote that can be removed from the flue. 

For wood-burning stoves the risk of creating a mess is much greater since the connecting pipe must be disconnected and removed to the outdoors to clean out.  Then the task of sweeping the metal chimney is completed, again, using the correct type of brush in order not to damage or disconnect the metal chimney pipe sections.  Different types of brushes are used in metal flues than in clay tile flues. This applies to manufactured fireplaces, which use metal flues as well.

Chimney flue after cleaning

In the case of a wood-burning stove used for primary heating purposes, especially in rural areas, a chimney sweep may sell a brush and rod set to a handy homeowner to use throughout the season, then return once a year to do a professional sweeping job and inspection. This allows the homeowner to keep the chimney free of creosote which can inhibit draft and performance of the stove, while lowering the risk of chimney fires until the chimney sweep can return.

The most important part of the job, however, is the inspection of the chimney. 

Only a trained eye and the proper camera equipment can determine whether there are problems with the chimney that are potential hazards. A professional chimney sweep will look for cracks, breaks, blown out tile sections, missing mortar joints, clogs, flammable nests, clearances to combustibles, construction errors, or other issues that could be potential fire and carbon monoxide hazards.  For instance, the untrained eye may mistake a crack in a flue tile for a water mark. 

A Level II inspection of the chimney using an internal chimney inspection camera is the preferred method for interior flue inspections by most professional sweeps. Utilizing this type of camera allows the chimney sweep and homeowner to see any problem areas on a monitor during the inspection process.  If problems are found, photos can be taken to use in a report to provide to the homeowner or insurance company. 

Broken chimney tile

In order to find a qualified chimney sweep homeowners may want to check the chimney sweep's website, check with the Better Business Bureau, Angie's List or Yelp, or ask friends and neighbors for referrals.

Other resources include chimneys.com, the Midwest Chimney Safety Council, and the Chimney Safety Institute of America. The CSIA also offers certification for Chimney Sweeps.

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