FAQ

The Ten Most Often Asked Questions

For Your Local Chimney Sweep

Why do I need to get my chimney cleaned?

Whenever wood is burned, not all the smoke goes out the top of the chimney. Some condenses on the wall of the flue and forms creosote, which is a flammable substance. With more than 1/8 inch buildup of creosote, there is a danger of a chimney fire. According to the Wood Heat Safety Alliance, 3/4 of all house fires during the winter season are due to chimney fires. A chimney fire means the whole inside of the chimney is now burning, and the temperature can go up to 2000 degrees within minutes. The flue tile liner can break, or the metal flue pipe ruptures, and flames can spread to the rest of the house including the roof. Heat transference through the superheated masonry can also ignite surrounding wood in the house.

Cleaning the chimney scrapes the creosote of the walls of the flue and fireplace, thus reducing the risk of a chimney fire.

How do I know if my chimney needs cleaning?

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that all flues be inspected yearly for structural faults and cleaned if necessary. A general rule of thumb is if you have burned more than a cord of wood, or have used the fireplace more than 1-2 times a week, it should be checked yearly and cleaned if necessary.

How much does it cost to have my chimney cleaned?

For people in the Austin area the 20-point inspection costs $120 per household, and if the chimney flue needs cleaning:$190 per fireplace, total. Outlying areas are extra..

Is it messy?

No. Because the method I use contains the soot as much as possible in the fireplace, which leads us to the next question:

How is the fireplace cleaned?

A dropcloth is laid down in front of the fireplace, and a plastic sheet is taped over the fireplace opening to keep the dust and soot in the fireplace. Then I go up on the roof, weather permitting, and run a steel bristled brush down the flue which scrapes the creosote off the walls. (In bad weather I push my brush up past the damper to the top of the flue from inside.) I then go back to the fireplace, reach under the plastic sheet and brush out the area above the damper, clean off the smoke shelf, clean off the damper,and brush off the walls of the firebox. I vacuum up the debris in the firebox, and pick up my tools/dropcloth. The inspection and cleaning takes about an hour.

What kind of wood is best to use?

Dry, seasoned hardwood,such as oak, is the best , because it burns cleaner, with the least amount of creosote buildup. Softwoods, however, such as pine and cedar, give off more creosote and burn hotter and faster. If softwoods are used exclusively,then the chimney must be cleaned more often. If the wood isn't dry it is very difficult to satrt a fire, and there is more smoke, and more creosote buildup. Seasoned wood is wood that has had approximately a year to dry and can usually be identified by visible cracks at the end of the logs.

What is the best way to start a fire without getting a lot of smoke back in the house?

During the winter, the air in the chimney is cold,and therefore heavy,so the chimney needs to be 'primed' or warmed
up to create an upward draft.
The way to do this is to lay the kindling and logs to the back of the fireplace. Open the damper, repeat, open the damper. Take a sheet of newspaper. Light the end of it and hold it up at the damper opening until it burns down about 2/3 of the way. Then use it to ignite the kindling. Sometimes it helps to open a nearby window about an inch until the fire gets going. Air has to be coming in, in order to go up the chimney, which is why a lot of homes that are energy efficient can have problems getting the fire to draft properly.

Are there any other safety concerns?

Yes, if the mortar is missing between the bricks in the fireplace, if the chimney tile liner is cracked, if there is no liner at all,, if the metal liner has separated, there is the potential for flames to pass through the cracks/bricks to catch the structure of the house on fire. These things can all be repaired after a safety inspection. Also, sparks can fly out the chimney and catch the roof on fire. A chimney cap acts as a spark arrestor, keeps out birds and animals, and helps keep the rain out, which mixes with the creosote and forms lye. This can eventually erode the mortar between the bricks and tile in the chimney and firebox. It can also accelerate the rusting of the damper.

Are there any other safety concerns?

Yes, if the mortar is missing between the bricks in the fireplace, if the chimney tile liner is cracked, if there is no liner at all,, if the metal liner has separated, there is the potential for flames to pass through the cracks/bricks to catch the structure of the house on fire. These things can all be repaired after a safety inspection. Also, sparks can fly out the chimney and catch the roof on fire. A chimney cap acts as a spark arrestor, keeps out birds and animals, and helps keep the rain out, which mixes with the creosote and forms lye. This can eventually erode the mortar between the bricks and tile in the chimney and firebox. It can also accelerate the rusting of the damper.

Do the same rules apply to woodstoves and inserts?

Basically, yes, the concerns are the same when it comes to creosote buildup and gaps or openings in the stovepipe. Stoves or inserts venting into an existing fireplace should have a direct flue connection to lessen buildup and draft problems.

When installing stoves, be sure to maintain proper clearances (approx. 18") to combustibles,, such as walls, dividers, etc.

How do I know if I am having a chimney fire, and what should I do?

We hope this will never happen to you, and should not happen if you have a regular inspection and cleaning. However, if you hear a loud roaring sound from the fireplace and see sparks and ash falling into the fireplace, (or in case of a stove, the pipe is glowing redly), you are having a chimney fire. As with any fire, use common sense, call 911, and get your family out of the house. If you are able to douse the fire with water, do so, though this may result in cracked flue tiles and/or brick. Have your chimney inspected for safety concerns.

For more information call:
Hammond Fireplace and
Chimney Service
512 859-3922

Hammond Fireplace and
Chimney Service
Austin, TX
512 859-3922