If you haven’t lit your fireplace yet this season, it’s only a matter of time. Right now, the most popular question our chimney sweeps are being asked is, “How can I tell if my chimney or fireplace needs cleaning?” After all, you don’t want to schedule a chimney cleaning service if you don’t need one, but you also don’t want to put your family and home in danger of a fire.
While unattended fires are the main cause of fireplace-centered house fires, fireplaces that aren’t properly and regularly maintained and serviced fireplaces are a close second. Make sure your fireplace and chimney are inspected annually, preferably in fall or beginning of winter to check for any obstructions from animal nests during spring and summer. That being said, if you recently moved into your home, you may want to schedule a chimney and fireplace inspection any time of year.
Whether you are a heavy or light fireplace user, the signs that your chimney needs cleaning aren’t always crystal clear since you can’t easily see inside it.
Here are seven tell-tale signs that indicate your chimney or fireplace needs cleaning:
- Your fireplace smells like a campfire. You detect the smell of burned wood coming from the fireplace even when it isn’t lit.
- Fires burn oddly. When you light a fire in your fireplace, it just doesn’t burn as well as it once did.
- It takes more effort to get a fire going and keep it going. It’s more difficult to get a fire started, which might be because your chimney is clogged and airflow is restricted. Fire requires oxygen.
- Smoke fills the room. Even with the flue open, smoke from the fireplace waifs through the room.
- The fireplace damper is black. A black damper indicates creosote buildup. Creosote may appear as a build up of soft and flaky soot. In more advanced stages, it condenses into a hard, shiny substance that clings to surfaces in a tar-like fashion.
- Fireplace walls have oily marks. You notice oily spots on your fireplace’s walls, also a sign that creosote is present.
- There’s evidence of animals. You hear animal noises coming from your chimney or see signs of animal nesting (which can be trickier to do if the nest is inside the chimney). Birds and squirrels are the most common culprits for making homes in your chimney.
If you’re experiencing any of the signs listed above, you know it is time to schedule your fireplace and chimney cleaning. But, what if it’s been a while since you had it cleaned and you don’t see any glaring signs? How often you need to clean your chimney depends a great deal on how much you use it.
How Often Should You Get Your Chimney Cleaned?
There are two schools of thought from leading organizations. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), your fireplace and chimney need to be cleaned when there is 1/8″ of creosote and/or soot buildup inside the chimney liner. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) promotes annual chimney cleaning no matter how often you use it.
We recommend once a year chimney cleaning for wood burning fireplaces. Some homeowners schedule service for spring, but the majority schedule right before cold weather sets in so that the chimney is cleared of any nests or debris.
READ MORE: DO FIREPLACE CLEANING LOGS REALLY WORK?
Gas fireplace chimneys need to be cleaned, too. Gas fireplace chimneys should be inspected and cleaned annually. Gas fireplaces won’t accumulate any soot or creosote in the chimney since you are not burning wood, but any animal nests and debris might still be present.
Chimney and Fireplace Cleaning is Dirty Business
Cleaning fireplaces and chimneys is a dirty business, which is why most homeowners hire chimney sweeps. Not only is it dirty work, but chimney cleaning is best left to the experts to ensure it’s done correctly. Look for chimney sweeps who are credentialed by the National Chimney Sweep Guild or the Chimney Safety Institute of America, like Complete Home Concepts.