Is this the year to hire a chimney sweep?

Chimney sweeping is a complex and sometimes high-tech job that is essential to the safety of your home.

If you have a fireplace and use it regularly, fall is the time to seriously consider hiring a chimney sweep before lighting your first fire.

Chimney sweeping is a complex and sometimes high-tech job that is essential to the safety of your home. The National Fire Protection Agency says dirty chimneys are a major cause of home fires. And for this reason, the agency recommends an annual inspection. A clear chimney improves safety, creates a more comfortable experience, and allows smoke and gases to escape from your living space.

You won’t always need a full cleaning, but inspection will help identify any issues. In addition to ensuring your safety, an inspection can also identify structural issues that can be inexpensively fixed after years of accumulation.

Signs that you need a chimney inspection include a visibly heavy buildup of soot and creosote, smoke entering your living space, a weak fire, and a tar smell emanating from the hearth.

Professional chimney sweeps will thoroughly inspect your chimney from top to bottom, including the combustion chamber, interior flue, smoke chamber, exterior masonry, and flashing. They will look for both creosote buildup and structural damage. In many cases, home fires caused by fireplaces occur because a structural problem or a cracked wall allows the fire to escape. They will also keep an eye out for animals, bird nests and branches.

In many cases, a chimney sweep will inspect your chimney for free. On average, a complete chimney cleaning will cost between $125 and $325. In extreme cases with large amounts of accumulation, the cost may be higher. If you have significant structural damage, the cost can reach a few thousand dollars.

A professional chimney sweep will use a wire brush attached to a flexible rod that extends deep into the flue. In some cases, it’s an old-school brush that hasn’t changed much since the days of “Mary Poppins”; others use electric brushes to break up soot and creosote.

Creosote – the thick, oily residue deposited in a fireplace by burning wood – increases the risk of fire and, if left unchecked, can harden into a solid glaze that can be difficult to remove. Chimney sweepers make a point of removing creosote from the surface.

You may have seen creosote-swept logs on the shelves of your local big-box store. While not entirely effective at preventing creosote, using them throughout the season can dry out creosote and make it easier to remove. It is not a substitute for chimney sweeping, but when used correctly can improve your chimney experience.

As always, when hiring a professional, make sure they have the proper license, bond, and insurance to work in your area. Ask if they hold certification from a professional organization such as the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

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