Keep Your Fireplace Clean and Maintained

By Cheryl Reed

October 12, 2013 4 min read

Keep Your Fireplace Clean and Maintained

Ah, a wood fire. Nothing smells as rich, crackles as compellingly or mesmerizes as readily.

As you ponder the sensory delights of putting your fireplace to use this burning season, don't forget the importance of routine chimney maintenance.

By interviewing highly rated chimney service providers and other experts, our researchers learned that creosote — a residue of burning wood that can build up inside a chimney — is blamed in more than 25,000 chimney fires a year.

Such fires range from flames blasting from chimney tops to slow-burning, gradually spreading fires. But no matter how it starts, a chimney fire can burn the rest of a house.

So if you're reluctant to schedule and pay for a yearly inspection, consider what one chimney pro told our researcher: "It's $99 for an annual inspection versus the cost of a fire."

A chimney inspection involves a worker, often called a chimney sweep, looking for signs of safety issues or defects. The inspection is just that -an inspection-and doesn't include cleaning or repairs. The goal is to search for creosote buildup or structural problems.

The results of the inspection will determine whether you need additional service, such as having your chimney cleaned or repaired.

In addition to creosote buildup, chimney problems can include:

—Water leaks, especially with prefabricated chimneys built of tin and other materials beside brick.

—Damaged chimney covers, missing mortar or bricks, and cracked or loose bricks.

—Leaks of smoke or gasses.

Chimney pros say all chimneys should be inspected annually. Cleaning frequency usually depends on how often the fireplace is used.

Typically, homeowners should clean their chimneys once a year if they burn half a cord of wood or use their fireplace more than 40 hours a season.

When burning wood, use seasoned wood, which often looks gray. Seasoned wood lacks sap, which can reduce the amount of creosote buildup.

A full inspection and cleaning may cost around $150, experts say. However, the actual price will depend on the size of the chimney and fireplace, the extent of the work required, and the going price for your local market.

It's not uncommon to be offered great deals for chimney inspections, but make sure that you hire an experienced, reliable and, preferably, certified professional.

Before you hire a chimney pro, do the following:

—Check the license requirements for chimney inspectors, which vary by state. Also check whether the contractor is properly insured.

—Find out if the inspector belongs to and is certified by a respected professional organization, such as the Certified Chimney Professionals or Chimney Safety Institute of America.

—Request and take time to check the company's or person's references.

Finally, when you know your chimney is in good condition, sit back and enjoy a good fire.

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, the nation's most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care. To find out more about Angie Hicks and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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