Quick Q: Do I Really Need to Clean My Fireplace?

published Nov 9, 2019
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When that first bout of brisk weather rolls in, you might be tempted to light up your fireplace—even if you haven’t gotten around to getting it cleaned yet. What’s the harm, right?

Whether wood or gas, on average, your chimney should be cleaned by a pro at least once a year, says Craig Gjelsten, vice president of operations at Rainbow International Restoration, a Neighborly company. And if you have a wood fireplace, it’s a good idea to give the fireplace itself a once-over after each use to help prevent damage from built-up soot, which—because it’s acidic—can corrode the interior of your firebox.

It’s not just about keeping things in good condition. From a safety perspective, it’s vital to keep your wood-burning fireplace clean. “Cleaning your chimney is the best way to remove creosote, which is a byproduct of wood combustion that contains tar and toxins,” says Gjelsten. This buildup is ultra-flammable, so removing this from the chimney liner and the smoke box greatly reduces the risk of a fire.

According to the latest statistics available, between 2012 and 2014, there were an average of 22,300 chimney-related fires in the US that resulted in $23.7 million in property loss.

What’s even scarier is that the majority of chimney fires go undetected, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America: “Slow-burning chimney fires don’t get enough air or have fuel to be dramatic or visible and they often go undetected until a later chimney inspection,” they say on their site. Despite this, chimney fires reach incredibly high temperatures that can cause large amounts of damage to the chimney structure—which in turn can cause nearby parts of the house to combust, as well. And since homeowners can’t reach—or even see—the insides of their chimneys themselves, it’s important for a pro to take this job on to make sure it’s done safely and effectively.

In addition to annual cleanings, professionals also recommend yearly chimney inspection and maintenance—and that goes for both wood- and gas-burning fireplaces. “Maintenance on your chimney decreases the chance for chimney cap damage and severe smoke or carbon monoxide inhalation,” says Gjelsten. Chimney caps keep out corrosive rain water and nest-building critters; damaged caps can invite both inside. As for carbon monoxide poisoning? That can be the result of a blocked or poorly vented fireplace. (A good reminder here to make sure you have carbon monoxide detectors and that they’re in working order.)

The timing of getting these tasks done is important, too. “The best time to clean and inspect the chimney is before winter arrives, such as in spring, summer, or fall,” says Gjelsten. “Doing so allows for homeowners to be ready to use the chimney and stay warm in the colder months.”

So if you’re planning to light up a cozy fire soon, the answer is yes: It’s best to clean your chimney first.