Let’s face it; it’s dark in the chimney. Examining a dark area for something dark is quite tricky. You can perform a chimney inspection on your own, but many homeowners aren’t familiar with the appearance of creosote, the substance that causes chimney fires. Today I’m going to tell you how to spot the tell-tale signs that let you know when your chimney needs to be cleaned.
You must first understand what creosote is in order to understand why it is so important that it be removed regularly. Creosote is the wood and fuel that doesn’t turn to ash when burned. It is carried up the flue where it condenses and sticks to the walls. Eventually this unburned fuel becomes so thick that it becomes a fire hazard.
Please keep in mind that you cannot avoid the formation of creosote by burning hard woods such as oak, maple, or birch. They still create creosote, which must be cleaned away regularly.
Self-inspection of your chimney should be done on a day with little wind. Wind confuses the situation and creates downdrafts where there are generally none. Downdrafts push soot and dangerous gasses into your home. If you have a downdraft in which air from outside is entering through the chimney, open a window or two and see if it stops. Otherwise, call a chimney professional and ask for advice.
Inhaling anything that is in your chimney is never a good idea. Always wear safety goggles and a dust mask while inspecting your chimney. Inspect as thoroughly as you can from the firebox and then again from the top of the chimney.
Use a strong flashlight to shine down (or up) into the chimney flue to determine how much creosote is built up. Look for obstacles like leaves, nests, or other debris. Many small animals and birds seek refuge in a chimney to avoid predators. The inner walls of the chimney should appear smooth and slick, without ridges or bubbles. Creosote presents in several different forms, such as scales, sandy appearance, or similar to tar.
Inspect the outside of your chimney as well as the inside. Make note of any cracks or damages. If you’re ever concerned that the damages may be affecting the performance of your chimney, call a certified chimney sweep immediately.
When to Clean Your Chimney
Most chimney sweeps recommend that you have your chimney cleaned at least once a year. Notice the wording there, “at least” once a year. That is a good estimate, but sometimes it may require more than once a year due to the amount of burning that occurs and the type of woods burned. Make it a goal to clean the chimney when it needs it, not on a certain date marked on the calendar.