Chimney Cleaning

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Author – Marge Padgitt

The soot scene with Bert the Chimney Sweep in the movie Mary Poppins was funny on screen. but one that people dread when thinking about their own homes.

Black soot covering everyone and everything in its path as it falls out of the chimney and into the parlor is what many homeowners imagine when they think about having their chimney cleaned.  Fortunately, today’s modern chimney sweeps take precautions and use equipment that prevents this type of disaster. 

The term “chimney cleaning” is actually a bit misleading.  When people think about the word “clean,” they may envision a spotless clay tile flue liner, smoke chamber, and fireplace, but in fact, that is impossible to achieve.  

The term “sweeping” is more appropriate, since the chimney sweep actually removes flammable creosote from the flue and chamber using flat or round wire brushes in a masonry chimney, or poly brushes in a metal chimney flue.  When sweeping, most chimney sweeps also brush the damper and fireplace.  Some clean glass doors if applicable.  Ask your chimney sweep what his service covers. 

Sweeping wood-burning stove flues involves detaching the connecting pipe and taking it outside to clean in order to avoid sooting the home, then sweeping the chimney with a poly brush, and removing soot from the stove baffle.  

Stove inserts are usually directly connected to a flue liner, but some older stoves may need to be “pulled” in order to access the fireplace and flue.  If the sweep finds this type of installation he will likely recommend upgrading to a positive connection (flue liner attached directly to the top of the insert). 

Protecting the home from soot and dust is a primary concern for all chimney sweeps.  

In order to do this the chimney sweep will determine the best entrance door to access the fireplace or stove, then place tarps down from the door to the location of the appliance, place tarps on the hearth, and use a high-powered vacuum to control dust.  

The sweep first inspects the flue to determine the best approach to sweeping, then will likely close off the damper and sweep from the top; or, if the top of the chimney is not accessible, sweep from the bottom.  Many sweeps now only sweep from the bottom using a newer type of brush with the rod wound around a wheel, or a system called power cleaning which involves a brush and rods connected to a drill, which spins the brush.  Whichever method your chimney sweep chooses to use will remove the flammable creosote from the system.  

After sweeping is completed, the sweep will inspect the chimney visually or with a camera system to view the interior.  This step is very important to make sure that the system is suitable for continued use.  

During the inspection process the chimney sweep will look for missing mortar joints, breachings, cracked or broken flue tiles, buckled or warped metal liners, or gaps in the flue that may be a potential fire and carbon monoxide hazard.  

The sweep should also check to make sure the brick smoke chamber is parge coated with insulating mortar.  This coating of mortar lowers the temperature of the exterior chimney chase, and fills in any gaps in the mortar which can lead to escape of heat into hidden areas where there may be combustibles.  Any gaps in the flue system may allow heat and toxic gasses to escape into the interior chimney chase, and then into the home.  

If your chimney sweep recommends repairs, have them completed. 

~ Marge Padgitt

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