Unlike the windows and doors we use every day, chimneys tend to be an overlooked and neglected part of our home’s structure. Indeed most of us give little thought to our chimney as we enjoy a fire in the wood stove or fireplace. But regular maintenance of a working chimney, aka chimney sweeping, is one of the most important safety precautions you can take as a homeowner. A working chimney expels the by-products of combustion that include smoke, water vapor, gasses, unburned wood particles, hydrocarbon, tar fog, and assorted minerals. If your chimney is damaged or flammable material has built up in the flue, smoke can enter your living space or worse, a chimney fire can result.
The Risks of a Neglected Chimney
As smoke, wood particles, gasses, and minerals leave your fireplace or wood stove and flow up into the relatively cooler chimney, condensation occurs. As temperatures drop, this deposit becomes thick and sticky, like tar. The resulting residue that sticks to the inner walls of the chimney is called creosote and is very flammable. (While creosote is more of a problem with wood stoves than fireplaces—since the exhaust gasses from stoves are cooler than those from the fireplaces—it’s a concern for any home that burns wood indoors.)
If creosote is left to build up, the chimney and draft opening can be significantly reduced, constricting airflow—and the removal of toxins and smoke—from your home. When creosote builds up in sufficient quantities, and the internal flue temperature gets high enough, the conditions are perfect for a chimney fire. In fact, most chimney fires are caused by creosote buildup and could be prevented by regular cleaning, according to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA).
The Importance of Chimney Inspection and Cleaning
The NFPA and the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommend that chimneys be cleaned at least once a year, as well as any time you observe excessive soot and creosote inside the chimney, structural damage to the outside of the chimney, or smoke entering the house.
The NFPA and CSIA both recommend an annual ‘Level 1’ inspection for chimneys that are used regularly, with no changes to the fireplace or stove and no known damage. Further, NFPA requirements (which are included in the Michigan Building Code) state this inspection be completed by a company that is ‘responsible for the connection, venting, installation, inspection, repair, or servicing of heat-producing appliances’ such as VanderWall (as opposed to a roofer, home inspector or general contractor, for example).
In a Level 1 inspection, your chimney service technician will examine the readily accessible portions of the chimney exterior, interior and accessible portions of the appliance (fireplace or stove), and the chimney connection. He or she will confirm the basic soundness of the chimney structure and flue as well as the basic appliance installation and connections. The technician will also verify the chimney is free of obstruction and combustible deposits. During a thorough cleaning, a chimney sweep will remove debris, blockages, and creosote.
VanderWall Chimney Sweep Services
If you haven’t had your chimney inspected and cleaned in the past year or if you suspect any damage or obstructions, call VanderWall. Our certified chimney inspectors can confirm your chimney is working properly and free of obstructions or buildup, providing you with peace of mind every time you enjoy your wood stove or fireplace. Contact us today or stop in at our Spring Lake or Grand Rapids store for more information.