5 Things You Can Do to Help Your Chimney & Fireplace
So, you want to know what you can be doing to keep your chimney and fireplace in great shape. Great! There are a couple of things you can DIY, but some things are best left to the professionals. We’ve included both here because they’re *vital* to chimney/fireplace performance, safety, and longevity.
Alright, let’s dive in and look at the top five things you can do to help your chimney and fireplace perform well (and as safely as possible), stand strong, and look great through the years…
#1 Invest in Regular Maintenance
We’re starting with the easiest and possibly most important one: Invest in routine maintenance. What kind of routine maintenance should you have done, when should you have it done, and how does each service help your chimney, fireplace, and wallet?
What: Chimney Inspection
When: Every year
How it helps: You get professional, trained eyes on your chimney and appliance
All CSIA-Certified Chimney Sweeps® are trained to follow the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 211 Standard, which states that:
“Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances.”
The benefit of getting the eyes of a professional on your chimney and fireplace, stove, or insert each and every year is that a pro knows what to look for. They’ll:
- Be able to alert you to issues while they’re still small and affordably addressed
- Suggest any necessary cleanings or repairs to keep fire and carbon monoxide hazards at bay
- Let you know what needs to be done (if anything) to prolong the service life of your chimney and fireplace
The truth is the chimney is not a static environment. Things change from year to year, even if you don’t use your chimney. By having the system inspected every year, regardless of use, you’ll stay on top of changes and issues, so you can keep your chimney and fireplace as safe, efficient, strong, and attractive as possible.
It’s not just an investment in your chimney – it’s an investment in your home, your safety, and your peace of mind. Learn more about chimney inspections right here.
What: Chimney Cleaning
When: As needed
How it helps: Removes dangerous creosote, soot buildup, and blockages
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 211 Standard also states that all chimneys and venting systems shall be cleaned as needed.
How do you know when a cleaning is needed? A professional will tell you if it’s time during your annual chimney inspection. You can also take a look inside your chimney. If you spot an 1/8” of creosote or shiny, glazed creosote in any amount, it’s time for a sweeping.
During a chimney sweeping, a chimney professional will use brushes, rods, and any specialized tools and products needed to remove creosote, soot, and flue blockages and debris. This routine service is vital for two big reasons:
- Creosote is the leading cause of chimney fires. Plus, it’s highly corrosive and can cause a lot of damage to your chimney liner if it’s left in your chimney for any length of time.
- Flue blockages and debris can be a fire hazard and can prevent your fireplace and chimney from operating efficiently and safely, often leading to the production of more creosote.
These two services alone (chimney inspections and sweepings) can greatly reduce your fire risk and prolong the service life of your chimney and heating appliance – so don’t skip them!
And remember, even if you’re handy, chimney cleanings and inspections should be left to chimney experts with the training, knowledge, and equipment needed to do the job thoroughly and safely.
#2 Keep it Dry
Water is easily the biggest threat for chimneys of all types, whether they’re used often, rarely, or not at all. Year after year, your chimney is bombarded by wind and weather – including rain, sleet, and, depending on where you live, even snow.
All that moisture can wear down masonry and metal chimneys over time, especially if they’re not properly protected against the elements.
So, what can you do to provide a line of defense for your chimney?
Invest in a quality chimney cap.
A good chimney cap will keep water from entering the chimney flue and causing damage to the inner components – like the flue, the damper, and the firebox. But if you want the ultimate protection, choose a chimney cap that covers the entire chimney, including the crown or chase cover. This will help prevent water damage to these important exterior areas, as well.
Keep your crown or chase cover in good shape and free of damage.
The crown is the slab of concrete at the top of a masonry chimney. The chase cover is a metal covering that covers the top of a prefabricated or factory-built chimney. Both can only offer protection against water damage if they’re properly sized and designed, and free of damage themselves.
So, how do you keep them in good shape?
Have your crown checked for proper slope, drip edge, material, and thickness. You’ll need to have your crown inspected annually, and if any cracks appear, make sure they’re repaired while they’re still small.
If you have a chase cover, make sure it’s made of quality metal and perfectly fitted to your chimney. You’ll also need to have it inspected annually and replaced when rust or other damage appears.
Make sure flashing is properly installed and secure.
Flashing is the metal that’s strategically layered to prevent leaks where the chimney and roofline meet. Flashing must be properly installed and free of rust and erosion or it will fail to keep water out. You’ll need to have your flashing inspected every year and repaired or replaced when damage is present.
Invest in waterproofing.
One of the best things you can do to keep your chimney in great shape and ward off big-sticker repairs is invest in chimney waterproofing. Professional-grade products can be applied to your masonry chimney, your crown, and your flashing to prevent leaks and rust, flaking/spalling brick, mortar deterioration, and other common water damage.
The best part is, none of these products will alter the look of your chimney, and most will provide years of protection against leaks and damage.
#3 Schedule tuckpointing and brick repair/replacement when needed.
If water or age does cause cracking mortar and spalling brick, the best thing you can do for your chimney is take care of repairs fast. The longer you leave cracks and damaged brick, the greater the damage will be when you finally address the issue.
Like most of the other things we’re talking about today, brick replacement and repointing/tuckpointing are not DIY jobs. In fact, attempting to do the work yourself or hiring someone without the experience and proper materials to do things right could lead to even more damage – not to mention unattractive results. So, leave this job to the pros.
And remember, once you have repairs made, the best way to prevent the need for future repairs is to have your chimney waterproofed.
#4 Prevent Excessive Creosote Buildup
Creosote is one of the most dangerous aspects of woodburning. It’s a leading cause of chimney fires, and it’s also highly corrosive, which is why it needs to be removed as soon as it’s discovered.
But what can homeowners do to reduce creosote production in the first place?
- Only burn seasoned firewood in your fireplace or woodstove. Wet or green wood will always lead to cooler fires, more smoke, and yes, more creosote. So, if you want to reduce creosote production, make sure you’re only using firewood that’s properly seasoned and contains no more than 25% moisture. For tips on selecting, storing, and seasoning firewood, check out the Ultimate Guide to Firewood.
- Build appropriately sized fires using the top-down method. It may be tempting to build a massive fire that takes up your entire fireplace, but this can actually lead to even greater amounts of creosote. Instead, follow safe burn practices and build a fire that’s just right for your heating appliance, using the top-down method. This will give the flue time to warm up before the fire really gets roaring, which means smoke will move up the chimney faster and less creosote will be left behind. Learn more about fire size and top-down fire building right here.
- Make sure your appliance has adequate airflow. A chimney that doesn’t have adequate airflow to achieve proper draft will have more issues with creosote. So, do everything you can to improve chimney draft – keep your damper fully open when the appliance is in use (unless the manufacturer’s instructions tell you otherwise), keep your fireplace doors open when the fireplace is in use (unless the manufacturer’s instructions tell you otherwise), and make sure there are no design issues or blockages that are preventing your chimney from functioning at peak levels.
- Use your fireplace as designed. If you refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for your appliance, you’ll know how your fireplace or stove was designed to be used. Follow the recommendations included in that manual for optimal performance and efficiency, and you should see a reduction in creosote production.
- Upgrade appliances. Creosote is the result of incomplete combustion, and older fireplaces and woodstoves will typically have more issues with incomplete combustion and creosote. They simply aren’t as efficient as newer models are. So, if you’re doing everything right but you’re still getting excessive creosote each burn season, consider upgrading to a new fireplace, insert, or stove.
And of course, if you have creosote in your chimney, have it professionally removed so it doesn’t restrict airflow and lead to even more creosote.
#5 Remove Soot Stains
Everyone wants their fireplace to be an attractive focal point, not an eyesore – and you can help keep yours looking great by removing soot and smoke stains. Homeowners swear by all kinds of DIY methods like:
- Creating a baking soda, cream of tartar, and water mix, letting it sit on the soot stain for about 10 minutes, scrubbing the area with a toothbrush, and rinsing
- Mixing white vinegar with water, using a coarse scrub brush to scrub the mix into the soot stain, and rinsing the area with a wet rag
- Scrubbing the area with a Magic Eraser
- Applying oven cleaner, scrubbing the area, and rinsing with a wet rag
- Mixing a newspaper and water poultice, applying it to the area, using a scrub brush to scrub the mix into the soot stain, and rinsing the area with a wet rag
Honestly, the internet is filled with methods and suggestions. We don’t know how well any of these homemade concoctions work, so if you’re going to try any of them, do so at your own risk.
If you’d rather skip the mess and guesswork, a chimney professional will have access to commercial-grade products that are designed specifically for removing soot and smoke stains from fireplaces. Call a local CSIA-Certified Chimney Sweep® and ask if they do smoke and soot stain removal. Many offer this service and can have your fireplace looking fresh again within 24-48 hours.
A Little Care Goes a Long Way
Ultimately, your fireplace and chimney can provide decades of service – but only if you take great care of them. Do every ‘little’ thing you can to keep things in good shape, and you’ll have fewer ‘big’ problems and repairs to worry about over the years. A little maintenance goes a long way!
And don’t forget, it’s easy to find an experienced and qualified chimney sweep to help make maintenance a breeze. Search your area right here.
Here’s a great question with answers: Why Is My Fireplace Smoking? See the Homeowner Resources page for lots of other information, too.