Chimney Sweep - Fireplace Checks & Maintenance
Hiring a good sweep
Chimney sweeps provide an essential service for all fireplace owners, particularly those with wood burning heaters. While some chimney maintenance can be done by the homeowner it is vital to have a professional chimney sweep inspect and clean the chimney at least once a year. The necessary frequency of these checks will depend on how often the fireplace is used and what sort of fuel is burned.
Finding a chimney sweep may be easy enough; most will be listed in the local phonebook. Finding a reputable and reliable sweep may require a little more time and research. Sweeps are not required to get certification or a license and they are not regulated by the state. Despite this, however, there are organizations that offer certification, many of which will have websites listing all certified chimney sweeps in the state. It would certainly be far safer to find a sweep that has been certified as they are more likely to be professionals who know what they're doing.
The next step would be to find out if the sweep is insured as accidents can and do happen. Again, it is better to be safe than sorry. How much a company charges can be a sign of the quality of the services they provide. If the price is cheap then it is quite likely the service will not be as good as it should be. Getting quotes from a variety of companies is a good way of finding the average price, anything lower is probably not worth it. It may also be a good idea to call the Better Business Bureau to find out if any complaints have been made against the company or individual sweep.
The first thing a good chimney sweep will do is lay down some tarp in order to protect your house from soot and dust. They will then proceed to check the structural steadiness and reliability of the chimney. Some sweeps will repair structural damage while others will recommend someone who can but most will not clean the chimney until the damage has been repaired. Most consultations will include an evaluation and cleaning service unless cleaning is not necessary. Some chimney sweeps prefer to clean from the top and then from the bottom while others only clean from the bottom, using long brush extensions to reach the top. Either of these methods is acceptable. Cleaning from the top only, however, is not as soot and creosote will fall into the fireplace and continue to be a fire hazard.
Thoroughly checking and cleaning a chimney normally takes about 30 to 60 minutes, anything less than this is not enough to sufficiently clean a chimney. Once the chimney has been cleaned a high-powered vacuum cleaner is used to clean away the soot and creosote that has fallen into firebox.
Regular professional cleaning is particularly important in the prevention of chimney fires. These are caused by the build-up of a highly flammable substance called creosote on the chimney lining. Creosote is the result of condensed smoke that forms due to incomplete combustion. Chimney fires can vary in size and severity. In some cases the fire will be confined to the chimney but sparks and heat could ignite other flammable substances nearby, such as the roof. Cracked or damaged chimney liners could allow the fire to spread to other areas of the house.