How Often Should a Chimney Be Swept?

There’s one resource you should turn to when it comes to chimney safety and all things chimney related—it’s the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) also helpfully contributes to standards and advice on chimney, but as far as the amount of sweepings per year is concerned, the CSIA tends to disagree with the NFPA.

According to CSIA, open masonry fireplaces should be swept when there is a presence of 1/8” of soot build up and sooner if there’s glaze present in the chimney system. Of course, this can mean more sweepings than just once a year, but it also means keeping your chimney safely functioning.

The CSIA argues that just an 1/8” of build up can mean that there’s enough fuel to cause a chimney fire, which is extremely dangerous and damaging. Chimney fires can even spread to the main home.

The NFPA is ambiguous in comparison to the CSIA, stating in their Standard 211, “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.” As you can see, the CSIA has clearly done their research in concern with the amount of chimney sweeping necessary to keep the system without hazards.

What to Expect During the Chimney Sweeping Process

After selecting a company and making an appointment for a chimney sweep, you can expect to receive a call confirming your appointment in advance. You might have been given a general time for the chimney sweep to show up at some point during the day. If you didn’t receive a phone call confirmation, it won’t hurt to give the company a call to make sure a chimney sweep is planning on servicing your home as scheduled.

Your appointed chimney sweep will survey and prep the area for a proper cleaning and sweeping. You can expect them to lay a drop cloth or plastic down where they will be cleaning to protect your home and furnishings. The chimney sweeps will also have a shop-vac ready to sweep up any mess.

Chimney sweeps use a heavy metal bristled brush to clean your chimney. These tools are long rods, with the bristles located at the very tip. Professional chimney sweeps will also be outfitted in gloves, goggles, and masks to protect themselves from the soot and ash.

The chimney sweeps will begin from the flue and work their way up, begin at the roof’s chimney access and work their way down, or in some cases, do both. Either way, the ultimate goal for them is to scrape the coating that has accumulated and built up on the chimney lining from numerous fires. The coating and debris will fall to the fireplace, be swept up and vacuumed away.

Debris like creosote can form from having fires in a wood-burning fireplace. Creosote is toxic and can clog a chimney, making a chimney-sweeping all the more essential. Animals can also build homes in chimneys.

Chimneys are the perfect spot for animals, or at least they think it is—quiet, dark and protected from the elements. When a fire is lit, however, this can be deadly for animals trapped inside. Chimney sweeps can remove animals and nests safely, encouraging them to find much better places to set up camp, for everyone.

Although the CSIA advises to have a chimney cleaned when there’s 1/8” of debris on the chimney walls, this can be difficult for an average homeowner to gauge. It’s a safe bet to make your next appointment six months to a year in advance, depending on the season.

Prepare for Your Chimney Sweeping Appointment

There are a few things you can do to prep for the arrival of your chimney sweep. Move any furniture you’re worried about back a few feet away from the chimney and cover it with plastic or a drop cloth. Do the same with any other rugs or tapestries that might be exposed in the room with the chimney.

While it might go without saying, don’t light a fire before your appointment. Your chimney sweep needs to work with a chimney that’s been cooled for at least 24 hours. Also make sure that you’re at home the day of the appointment, even if the company has given you a general time for the chimney sweeps to arrive. You’ll want to let them in and show them inside so they can do their job efficiently and effectively.

Finding a trusted, well-reviewed, and certified company to sweep your chimney is half the battle. The rest of it is up to you in ensuring that you are scheduling appointments at least twice a year to have your chimneys swept.