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Keeping Your Flue Clean

We all love sitting in front of a nice, warm fire, basking in the gently flickering reflections, feeling the toasty, rose-colored blush rising in our cheeks, as we laugh, talk, or watch a little TV. But did you know that every wood fire you burn leaves soot buildup in your flue pipe that could lead to a wide variety of health issues or property damage? How does that happen? What can you do to prevent clogged chimneys, health risks, and possible property damage?

 

Why do I need to get my chimney swept?

Fires create soot.  Soot buildup can accumulate over time inside your chimney pipe, gradually diminishing the size of your flue, down to almost nothing, if left unchecked. There is also a cap at the top of your chimney flue that prevents rain, snow, debris, and wildlife from getting into your chimney and down into your stove or fireplace, and this cap can quickly become completely clogged with soot buildup. If your flue or cap becomes plugged, smoke cannot escape through the proper means, and will start backing up into your house, leading to breathing issues, smoke damage, and even death, if you don't remedy the situation. Sweeping the chimney can also help prevent chimney fires by eliminating any errant debris that may have found it's way into your flue pipe during the last wind storm, keeping the interior of the chimney clean for easy smoke evacuation, and by giving qualified Sweeps the opportunity to spot broken seals or joints that may need to be fixed, before they become a problem.

 

How often should I get my chimney swept?

This is the million dollar question that everyone asks. The short and simple answer is that on average, once a year at the beginning of the season is enough. But the truth of the matter is...it depends on you.  The main factors that determine how dirty your chimney gets are:

How much wood do you burn? Is your fireplace your primary source of heat, with a roaring fire built when you get home from work, choked down overnight, and stoked back up in the morning? If the answer is yes, you may need a second sweep midway through the season to keep your flue clear.

What kind of wood do you burn? Pine? Fir? Eucalyptus? Soft woods and woods that contain a lot of oils and saps create a lot of soot and creosote when burned. Soot and creosote work together to your disadvantage. If you are burning a lot of soft, sappy woods, even though they are well-seasoned and dry, you may very well need an extra cleaning midway through the season, as well.

How dry is your wood? 1-season cured? 2-seasons? 3? Wet wood creates creosote.  Creosote is a thick, tar-like substance that sticks to the inside of flue, is incredibly flammable, stinks to high heavens, and is extremely messy to clean up. If your wood is wet...you guessed it...you may need a mid-season cleaning, or even more.

 

What about my pellet or gas stove?

Pellet and gas stoves and fireplaces, by their nature, are much cleaner burning than wood stoves and fireplaces. Gas fireplaces and stoves, if burning properly and cleanly, result in almost zero residue and soot buildup.  Pellet stoves produce very little soot, but a TON of soft, dry ash. In general, gas stoves should be serviced at least annually at the beginning of the season to make sure all the components are working and lubricated properly and that the combustion is as clean as possible, with as little residue as possible. Pellet stoves, by virtue of their ash development, require daily routine maintenance on the part of the operator, but should also be given a full-service cleaning and inspection by a qualified technician at least once annually. As with any hearth appliance, if yours isn't working correctly, it's best to let a qualified Service Technician take a look at it to get it functioning properly. Components can, and will, fail. Routine user maintenance and annual service can reduce the wear and tear on these components and help keep you warm through the season, rather than waiting on a part in mid-January.

So if you burn dry, hard wood, in hot fires as supplemental heat, than once a year is likely fine for you.  If you burn wet, sappy, soft wood every day, and keep coals smoldering overnight, you're likely to need more. If you are ever in doubt, it is usually best to give us a call.  It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Stay Warm, Stay Safe!