Chimney cleaning may not be the first item on life's "To Do" list but if overlooked too long can leave you without house and home! More important then just doing it, is knowing when to clean a chimney, and when it is done correctly. Many times I've witnessed a chimney be cleaned that didn't need it, and on the flip side, a chimney that needed a proper cleaning get one that did not bring it back to a safe condition.
The chimney is an ancient concept as simple in nature as heat rising, however with the multiple variables involved in the demand put on a chimney these days, improper or insufficient maintenance or installation can become life threatening. In "the old days" a chimney was the only heat source and was much better then the alternative, freezing. It is not uncommon in old homes to see many fireplaces throughout a house. However, in today’s high efficiency, forced air environment, a chimney is a gaping hole of energy loss continuously drawing a volume up to the size of its flue. This rising air is the heated air your furnace produced and is being replaced through every crack in every door and window in the house, and is the temperature of the air outside.
For this reason the traditional "open" fireplace is negative efficient in today’s house. It may feel warm close to it but it's almost guaranteed to be colder in the rooms farther away from it or with less tight windows and doors. Your furnace will usually work overtime to maintain the same temperature. All while the chimney keeps slurping the heat out of your house. Most people pay to have these installed in a home spending big bucks and thinking they will benefit from heat, but really just get looks. If this is you, don’t despair. There are options to make the energy consuming chimney you may have into an alternative fuel heater of modern efficiency, with little risk if correctly installed, AND PROPERLY MAINTAINED!
The fact is in the "open" fireplace it is much more likely to develop a dangerous batch of creosote due to the principles involved. Creosote forms due to two conditions.
1. Lack of oxygen resulting in incomplete burning of the particulate
2. Temperature. If you've ever seen a thermometer for measuring the performance of a wood stove a lot of them have an indicator below 250F that warns of creosote forming conditions possible.
In an "open" fireplace the large size of the fire and inefficiency (all the heat, and then some going up the chimney), the temperature has a tendency to be higher through out more of the chimney then a closed unit with more efficiency. The fire also gets as much air as it wants provided glass doors are not used ( and generally not recommended be closed by manufacturers when burning) so e build-up of creosote is generally not much of a problem. The majority of chimneys swept above an open fireplace will have some soot, ash, and cobwebs, but not dangerous creosote.
No, In fact the efficient solid fuel appliance of today is generally the culprit behind most chimney fires as it provides the perfect recipe for creosote in an improperly installed location. By being so efficient, these units pump most of the heat they produce into the room and provide a great substitute for the standard primary source of heat in a home. But in doing this the chimney never really gets hot like it would without it. They also run off the principle of limiting the air supply to the edge of extinguishing the fire to get the longest burn possible and much reduced fuel consumption. This combination can lead to an extremely fast development of creosote to dangerous levels in an unexpectedly short period and left neglected can become a cache of stored energy waiting to ignite.
To read about the solution to creosote dangers when using a stove please refer to our "Chimney Liner" page.
To find out what condition your chimney is in now. Or how to go about cleaning a chimney, no matter what style or condition, Click on the links below.