Don’t Try to Clean Your Own Chimney!
Problems may occur when “average” (i.e., “untrained”) homeowners set out to clean their own chimneys. Some of these problems are fairly easy to fix. Others are not. Ye Olde Brit Chimney Sweep of San Bernardino, CA, would like to share some information about the chimney sweeping process and possible dangers when you do the job yourself.
Why clean a chimney?
Chimneys, especially those connected to wood-burning fireplaces, need regular cleaning to remove built-up creosote and soot. Creosote is highly flammable and is the cause of most reported chimney fires.
Cleaning is also needed to remove leaves, twigs, the nests of small animals and other debris that routinely enter chimneys that have no chimney cap.
A chimney sweep’s industry credentials
No matter what you see on the Internet or what a friend might tell you, chimney sweeping is not a job for a novice. A lot is involved in the process of safely and thoroughly cleaning a chimney that most people simply aren’t aware of. You can buy a chimney brush, but a brush and some elbow grease aren’t enough.
Professional chimney sweeps undergo extensive training to do their jobs well. The best sweeps hold industry-level certifications, such as the “Certified Chimney Professional” designation and certification by their state’s chimney sweep guild. Here in California, it’s the Golden State Chimney Sweep Guild. Moreover, qualified chimney sweeps and chimney companies benefit from memberships in the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG) and other similar organizations.
The three degrees of creosote
Creosote can exist in three different levels, called “degrees.” Each level has its own requirements for removal.
First degree: In the early stages, creosote is mostly soot and can be removed with basic chimney sweep tools.
Second degree: In the second stage, creosote has turned into shiny black flakes. This type of creosote takes more work to remove, not only because it’s tougher to scrub away but also because there’s usually more of it.
Third degree: This creosote level will be problematic for an untrained sweeper. Here, creosote is a tar-like substance that plasters the inside of the chimney flue. Removing third-degree creosote requires special training and specific tools in order to do the job correctly.
Level 1 chimney inspections
A basic Level 1 inspection should be performed when a chimney is swept. This inspection involves an examination of all readily accessible areas of your chimney structure. Your chimney technician will alert you to masonry damage, separations in the chimney flashing, cracks in the chimney crown and other concerns that could lead to unsafe operating conditions. If a chimney fire or other issue may have affected the inside of the chimney, your inspector can perform a Level 2 inspection. This inspection uses video imaging equipment to see down into the flue so the problem can be better understood.
Chimney fires and other problems
More than 20,000 chimney fires happen each year in the United States, with the majority of them being caused by ignited creosote. Chimneys that are neglected or improperly cleaned are most at risk for a chimney fire, which can be large and blazing or small and quick, going out before the homeowner even knows it’s happening.
Additionally, because of its acidic nature, creosote can damage chimney liners and lead to leaks of deadly carbon monoxide. Finally, excess creosote buildup will narrow the flue and cause sluggish drafting and incomplete burns.
Call your trusted Southern California chimney sweeps
Ye Olde Brit brings 30+ years of experience to chimney projects, including sweeping, inspections, repairs and rebuilding. All our work complies with California building and fire safety codes. Reach a San Bernardino chimney expert today at (909) 880-2120 or get in touch with our handy contact form.