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How to clean your chimney yourself and save money

Chimneys play an important part in home heating, but they are not to be taken for granted, especially when they are used for wood burning.  The National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 advises chimneys be checked at least once a year.  Just as with the filter in a furnace, the best time to do this is right after the winter season or right before the next one.  This is not only for the potential buildup of creosote in often-used fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, but also to check for obstructions caused by animal nests in those used less frequently.  Other issues, such as cracks, that could create unsafe situations should be checked, as well, and repaired, if necessary.  Chimneys should be swept when no more than 1/8 inch of soot has built up, as this is enough to cause a fire able to affect the stability of the chimney and spread to the interior of the home.  



For a routine cleaning, you will need a chimney brush and extensions...and a partner.  If you are doing the sweep yourself, do not do it alone.  Climbing up onto the roof is potentially dangerous, and you should always have a spotter in case something goes wrong.  To begin, remove the chimney cap to gain access, then use the brush to slowly clean the sides of the pipe.  You can visually determine when it's complete both by when the brush is no longer picking up creosote and significant amounts of soot and by using a flashlight to check the interior walls of the pipe.  When this is finished, it is also important to clean the cap itself.

Chimney caps can be cleaned in a few different ways.  The best methods, when water is available, or abundant, is by soaking in water and detergent and using a stiff brush to scrub the screen.  Vinegar and water can also be used.  If the cap is copper, it is best to rub on a paste of water, plain white vinegar and flour, allowing it to sit for about an hour before rinsing clean and wiping dry.  In an off grid living situation, where water may not be as available, a stiff brush can still be used to scrub the screen, but you may also need something on hand to poke through the holes where the creosote buildup is tougher to remove.  The screen must be clean to allow proper ventilation.

Once the rooftop portion of the cleaning is complete, you must also clean the chimney pipe from the inside of your home.  In my case, I removed the cap from the stove pipe and used a rubber mallet to loosen and knock out the cresote deposits into a bucket.  When the majority of this has been removed, the brush can also be used to give the walls a more thorough scrubbing.

You now have a safe, clean chimney and can return to using your fireplace, or wood burning stove, efficiently and worry free.

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Troy Reid


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