How Often to Clean a Chimney and Other Little Known Facts

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How Often to Clean a Chimney and Other Little Known Facts

How often does your chimney need to be cleaned?

According to the NFPA or the National Fire Protection Association, chimney cleaning or chimney sweeping should be done at least once every year. However, the CSIA or the Chimney Safety Institute of America suggests having your chimney cleaned if the sooty and/or creosote build-up is ⅛ of an inch thick.

So which recommendation should you follow? Is chimney sweeping that important? Does a chimney that’s hardly being used need to be inspected and cleaned at all?

The following information will help you decide how often you should clean chimney fireboxes, liners, dampers, and smoke chambers. Likewise, you’ll also learn why and when your home’s chimney system needs the services of a professional chimney sweep contractor.   

How often should you have your chimney cleaned?

How often a chimney needs cleaning depends on how it was used. 

For rarely used fireplaces

The NFA recommends annual inspection to check if it is not compromised, or else it could create a fire hazard. It is best NOT to conclude that the chimney system is always in good working order, no matter the circumstances.

“Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.”

Chimney Safety Institute of America


Even if you are not using your fireplace more often, it still needs to be inspected. 


Birds, squirrels, raccoon, and other critters may have been using your chimney as a spot to build their nests. It is unsafe to use your chimney without getting rid of accumulated debris from these animals’ nesting activity.

For regularly used fireplaces

The CSIA suggests that fireplaces and chimneys should be cleaned when the flue system and the surface inside the chimney reveal ⅛ inches of sooty buildup. 

Even so, the flue should be cleaned as soon as there is a presence of glazed creosote or stage 3 creosote. In general, creosote is a dangerous material to have in your flue and brickwork because it can damage the structure.

Stage 3 creosote is an even more dangerous type of creosote. It is a highly flammable substance that accumulates in your chimney liner and is the most common cause of chimney fires.


How do you know if your chimney needs to be cleaned?

So how do you know when your chimney needs cleaning?

Here are six (6) signs that tell you it’s time to hire a professional chimney sweep:

1. You can’t keep your fire burning

Having problems in keeping a fire burning or worse, having a hard time starting a fire in wood-burning stoves or firebox means there is a problem inside your chimney walls. Keeping a fire burning requires a good flow of air. Too much and not enough air can cause fire from burning properly. 

2.You smell a strong odor coming from your chimney

The smell of burning wood in your furnace should have a pleasant odor. Otherwise, there could be a problem with your chimney. The strong, foul odor coming from your chimney means there is a presence of harmful gases like carbon monoxide, which can lead to respiratory problems and even death. 

3. The presence of creosote or greasy black soot 

Creosote releases harmful chemicals that are not safe to breathe. Therefore, immediate removal of the substance is an absolute must. To check for the presence of creosote, try to reach the insides of your fireplace and touch the walls. The greasy black soot is the creosote.

4. Smoke buildup when burning firewood 

The unmanageable buildup of smoke in the fireplace while burning firewood indicates a blockage inside the chimney. The build-up of creosote, tree branches & leaves, and the accumulation of debris from burning wood can block the exit of smoke from the chimney.

5. A damper in bad working order

It is wise to always check if your damper is in good working condition since it maintains the normal flow of air inside the furnace and into the chimney. If you find it hard to open and close the damper then you should have it repaired as soon as possible before it leads to larger problems in the future.

6. Animal noise coming from chimney walls

Scurrying, fluttering, and other animal noises in and around your chimney mean animals are using your chimney as shelter. Squirrels and raccoons can enter your chimney and build their homes. 

Likewise, birds often build their nests on chimneys. Dry grass and straws from bird’s nests not only cause blockage but can also lead to chimney fires as well.  

What is involved in chimney cleaning?

Cleaning your chimney involves keeping it clean and free of obstructions such as accumulated debris from burning wood, soot, creosote, and debris from the animals’ nests. 

Chimney maintenance is essential to the safety of the household and the life and operation of the chimney system.

How long does a chimney sweep take?

Generally, cleaning a chimney only takes around 45 minutes to an hour. But some factors could take any chimney sweeping activity a bit longer. 

The number of fireplaces

More than one fireplace means more time is needed for a chimney sweep to complete his job. Moreover, there are other preparations before the cleaning can start such as wearing shoe covers and laying down covers for the floor and other furniture to ensure your home remains clean just as before.

Time since the last sweep    

If you regularly use your fireplace during cold months but haven’t had the annual chimney inspection then there’s probably a huge amount of creosote buildup inside your furnace and flue.

Thick layers of creosote are hard to remove and may take more time due to the quantity of buildup that might be present. 

This is why regular cleaning of your masonry fireplaces and chimneys is required to prevent further buildup of soot and creosote.

Blockages present

Removal of blockages also takes time. The most common things that cause blockage to your chimney are:

  • Debris falling from the flue
  • Animal nest and
  • Dead animals

Thus, it is necessary to install a chimney cap to prevent leaves, tree branches, birds, and other animals from entering your chimney. 

When is the best time to clean your chimney?

The best time to have your home’s chimney system inspected and cleaned is before the burning season, which is in the summer or early fall. 

It is wise to have your chimney inspected by a certified chimney sweep company before thinking of building a fire after the weather has changed.  

Let us sweep away the dangers of creosote from your home

Chimneys and fireplaces are marvelous assets to any home. Annual inspection and cleaning can make your household safe from fire and health hazards. 

Pro-Tech Chimney Sweeps have licensed chimney cleaning experts who are knowledgeable about building codes. They are also trained to recognize any venting and deterioration problems. Furthermore, they can advise you regarding the condition of your fireplace and chimney.

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