For many homeowners, the interior of their chimney is often “out of site out of mind” and the necessity of a regular chimney sweep to safely maintain the venting system a mere afterthought.
Unfortunately, this philosophy will all too often carry consequences. While many of you reading may be under the false assumption that performing a chimney sweep annually is unnecessary or “over kill” there are many important reasons why the National Fire Protection Association has made its recommendation on annual inspections for all fireplaces and/ or venting appliances (wood stoves, furnaces etc.)
Under “normal” burning conditions, the annual chimney sweep and inspection process of a properly designed and installed system should typically involve a Level 1 or Level 2 safety inspection as well as removal of primarily “Stage 1” or “powdery” creosote. This is provided of course that optimal fuel is being used e.g seasoned/split hardwoods and that the system is being operated properly with no other underlying factors.
Recently, here in Northern KY, Hearthside Chimney & Masonry was contacted by a customer for a chimney sweep & inspection, that ended up being anything but “routine.”
The customer stated that it had been three years since their last chimney sweep, which was performed by another company and that they had burned “somewhat” frequently since that time.
During the chimney sweep, the inspection process revealed that the customer had a large and unsafe level of “Stage 3” creosote. Stage three creosote or “glazing” is the shiny, “tar like” substance found in chimneys, which is the result of wet layers of creosote forming on top of one another inside of a chimney. The result is a substance that often has a higher compressive strength than the masonry it is attached to and therefore virtually impossible to remove manually while guaranteeing that the interior of the chimney will not be damaged in the process.
There are many underlying factors that can contribute to a Stage 3 creosote accumulation including improper draft, inadequate combustion air, and burning unseasoned/ soft wood such as fir or poplar. In this particular situation, the homeowner had been burning soft poplar wood that was knocked down by a storm on their property which had not even been split. Unfortunately, had they scheduled an annual inspection every year as recommended, the issue would have been detected much sooner and as a result the solution much less involved and costly. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” really rang true.
As a result, instead of a routine chimney sweep being performed, it was necessary to implement a Stage 3 creosote abatement plan using special chemicals which break down/convert the glazing to a “brush-able” form similar to Stage 1 powder. This involved retuning to the home multiple times to repeat this procedure, until the chimney was cleared of the glazing and safe to operate again.
Common sense tells us that anything in regards to fire safety is definitely not an area to procrastinate or “cut corners” on. As you can see, there are several very important reasons to have a chimney sweep and inspection performed on a minimum of an annual basis.