Do you have a masonry or a brick chimney?  Is your fireplace wood burning or is it gas?  Did you use it at all this last year?  However you answered those questions actually makes no difference.  The answer is the same.  You need to have your wood burning chimney inspected every year and swept as necessary – according to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) Code 211.

You might think that because you don’t use your fireplace very often, having it inspected every couple of years would be sufficient.  Not so.

Every chimney should be inspected and cleaned on a yearly basis because the structure can be affected by freezing and thawing.  It takes its toll on masonry, causing cracks and other defects.   High winds from the winter blizzards could have caused damage that you can’t see from the ground.  If a flue cap has blown off or come loose, you could soon be hearing the scratch scratch of small animals and birds who have made their homes inside your chimney.  The longer these situations are left alone, the more expensive they may be to repair.

Chimney liners can also develop problems over the years.  Depending on the materials they are made of, they can develop cracks or fissures.  Fireboxes should be inspected, making sure that none of the bricks are loose, and that there are no cracks or damage.

Even more importantly, it is possible to have a chimney fire, and not know you have had one until you have had the chimney inspected to a Level II inspection with a video camera system.

If you don’t use your fireplace often you may not have to have your chimney cleaned every year, but during a chimney inspection, your professional chimney sweep will tell you whether you need to have it cleaned or not.  The number of fires you have in your fireplace every year is not the best way to determine if you need to have your chimney cleaned.  The kinds of wood you burn, and how efficiently your fireplace operates both affect how much creosote builds up inside your chimney.  Creosote is a highly flammable tar-like by-product of burning wood.  It is the substance that is responsible for chimney fires.  Some types of wood may produce less creosote, but ALL woods produce it.  Pine tends to have more pitch and if NOT properly seasoned may produce a rapid build-up of creosote.  Burning wet, or unseasoned wood will also produce more creosote.  During the inspection, your chimney sweep can determine how much creosote has built up.  The Chimney Safety Institute recommends that chimneys should be cleaned when there is 1/8” of sooty buildup, or any appreciable glazing.

While it may appear that our job is to inspect, repair, and clean your chimney and fireplace, our REAL job is to keep you and your family SAFE.  An annual inspection allows us to identify any potential problems with your chimney, fireplace and firebox before they cause a serious issue that puts your home and family in danger.  Every year, there are over 25,000 chimney fires.  While we can’t prevent all of them, an annual inspection IS the first step in prevention.

more articles