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Common Chimney Cleaning and Maintenance Questions

Frequently asked questions about chimneys

Posted in Chimneys over 16 years ago, 0 replies

How often should my chimney be cleaned?

The National Fire Protection Association standard 211 states, "Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary." This national safety standard is always the correct way to approach the problem of cleaning chimneys. The standard takes into account the fact that even if you don't use your chimney much either of the following may take place:

animals may build nests in the shaft of the chimney
forms of deterioration could take place making the chimney unsuitable for further use.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America suggests that open masonry fireplaces should be cleaned at 1/4" of sooty buildup and at the sight on ANY glaze present in the fireplace. On the other hand, the Chimney Safety Institute of America advises the cleaning of factory-built fireplaces when any noticeable buildup is present. This amount of buildup is considered to be enough to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or the entire home.

What can be done about my smelly fireplace?

The smell in your fireplace is the effect of creosote deposits in the chimney, a natural result of wood burning in the fireplace. The odor is typically worse in the summer because of the high humidity and the air conditioning in the house. Thoroughly cleaning your chimney will help somewhat, but usually won't fully eliminate the problem of smell. Some commercial chimney deodorants work pretty well in reducing the chimney smell. Some other solutions include baking soda or even kitty litter set in the fireplace. The real cause of the chimney smell is the air that is being drawn down the chimney, which is a sign of overall pressure problems in the house. Some make-up air should be established in another location in the house to eradicate this. A tight sealing, top mounted damper will also reduce the air flow entering down the chimney.

When I build a fire in my upstairs fireplace, I get smoke from the basement fireplace.

This smoking problem has become common in modern air tight homes where weather proofing has caused usual air infiltration rates to be sealed. The fireplace in use drains out air from the house causing a negative pressure situation to take place. In a fairly airtight home, the common route for make-up air to enter is the unused fireplace chimney. As make-up air is drawn down this unused chimney, it captures smoke that is exiting nearby from the fireplace in use and delivers this smoke to the space outside the unused chimney. One solution to this smoking problem is to provide more make-up air to the house, outweighing negative pressure problem no longer exists. This solution will not only eliminate the smoke problem, but also the potential for carbon monoxide entering through furnace chimney. Another solution is to attach a top mount damper on the fireplace that is used less often.

Should my chimney be checked if I heat with gas?

The answer to this question is yes. Despite the fact that gas is commonly a clean burning fuel, the chimney can become non-functional from bird nests or other debris that have developed, blocking the chimney. Some modern furnaces can cause problems with the average chimneys intended to vent the older generation of fireplaces.


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