The Chimney And Chimney Sweeping: Then and Now

The Origins Of The Chimney

Chimneys and fireplaces have existed for hundreds of years at this point: Romans had tubes for directing smoke out of their homes, yet homes still filled with smoke and only larger homes could be used to cook in. Smaller homes would often have a hole somewhere for the smoke to escape, but this was inefficient at best. Much later in the 1200’s, Europeans began to develop chimneys in hopes of allowing them to use the heat for warmth as well as baking. At first, these were made with such material as clay, mud, and/or straw, but these were just as dangerous of catching fire as previous methods. From the 1600’s until the 1800’s, chimneys began being made out of brick and mortar; on top of that, continual refinements were made to make them safer and heat the home more efficiently. This was carried out by designing chimneys to have flues that assisted in directing the smoke out of the top of the house, thus enabling them to adequately heat a room or house while virtually eliminating any smoke from rebounding into the house.

Along with this development came the occupation of a chimney sweep. This was a necessary and very important development, as chimneys need to be maintained as well as cleaned regularly so they do not become a dangerous hazard. Chimney sweeping in its first form was a dangerous and filthy job: the individual had to clean out creosote and coal residue that had to be scraped off by hand and was toxic as well. At first, young boys were used to clean chimneys, as they were small enough to climb throughout a chimney to do the cleaning. Fortunately over time, advancements were made that led to the development of the brush and cane method that is still in use today. It is no longer the case that a chimney sweep has to risk life and limb to clean a chimney, and cleaning them without making a mess is very much the case as well.

What Does A Chimney Sweep Do?

While far less dangerous now, the main role of chimney sweeping has remained complex and best left to those who have extensive knowledge and experience. Their job is to inspect the readily accessible areas of the chimney and determine if it is safe for use, along with cleaning it out so there is no creosote or any kind of buildup inside of it. While seemingly simple, it is a difficult job that is best left for a professional – a qualified chimney sweep knows the ins and out of chimneys, little known things to watch out for, the best method to clean it without making a mess, and be equipped with the right tools for the job.

A chimney sweep will set up protective gear around the chimney to catch any potential soot and ash, and use long brushes to sweep up the inside of the chimney. Using brushes, vacuums, and other specialized tools of the trade, they remove debris such as creosote, soot, ash, and other particles that can restrict or even block the airflow altogether. In addition, a complete cleaning of the fireplace itself and a thorough inspection of it as well to detect any cracks is performed as well. A chimney sweep can then guide you through what work has been completed, advice on preventive care, and help you establish the best schedule for regular cleaning of it as well.

Why Should I hire A Chimney Sweep?

There are many reasons to hire a professional chimney sweeping technician: from the simple situation of having it cleaned, being unsure if a cleaning is required, and even unseen factors that are not so obvious to a layman:

  • Creosote Buildup – This is one of the main reasons to get a chimney sweeping performed. When burning wood or other materials without the proper airflow, the oils in the wood are completely combusted and rise with the smoke. As it rises it also cools, and condenses onto the interior surfaces of the flue. This buildup is creosote and contains a high content of carbon black. At first this buildup is easy to clean and flakes off without much effort. However, if not cleaned then it continues to build up to the extent that removing it requires a professional who has the correct brush and other tools to scrape it off. If it is still left unchecked, it eventually gets thick enough that removing it becomes a challenge and at high heats it will even drip down the chimney like hot wax. It is in your best interest to routinely have a sweep remove whatever creosote buildup is there. Left unchecked, creosote is highly flammable and if it comes into contact with enough oxygen, it can ignite and cause a chimney fire. This is the worst case scenario as it can end up spreading to the main building and destroy entire properties.
  •  Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – this can occur when the chimney is blocked, and that can be caused by creosote as well as other issues that block ventilation. It is a serious issue to be aware due to the colorless and odorless nature of the gas combined with how deadly it is. Some tell tale signs of this possibly occurring is if there is any smoke getting redirected into the house or if you can smell burnt creosote. Another sign you can watch for is if the fire acts differently than usual, i.e. if the fire seems to heat the room far less than it used to, then this could be an indicator of some kind of buildup in a chimney. A regular chimney cleaning will prevent carbon monoxide poisonings from ever taking place.
  •  Lifespan of a Chimney – Chimneys are great to have in a home, and they can last a very long time as they were built to last. However, a homeowner needs to regularly keep track of the chimney and schedule chimney sweeping at regular intervals. While this doesn’t seem necessary, it is a vital part of keeping a chimney healthy and even applies if it never gets used. Even if you do not use it, it is a great idea to have routine cleanings to ensure it stays in the best possible condition and no buildup or damage can occur to begin with. For those who do regularly use their fireplace, it is a general guideline to have it cleaned once there is 1/8″ of soot buildup as this is what the Chimney Safety Institute of America has determined to be enough of a buildup to cause a chimney fire. With regular maintenance, you will not only preserve the life span of a chimney but in some situations can even extend it.
  • Fuel Used for Fire – While in the past wood was the main and often the only type of fuel used for fires, today people can use wood in addition to natural gas, propane, pellets, oil, and even corn. Each type of fuel burns in a different way and thus affects the chimney in different ways. For example, oil is the most corrosive of these on your chimney and as a result, those using oil must have a very strict regimen of chimney cleaning. On the other side, natural gas is considered the most environmentally friendly of the fuels, although it does require access to a gas line and can be more expensive as well. Also, keep in mind that even though cleaner, natural gas still creates soot buildup. Whatever the type of fuel used, it is important to remember that they all create buildup of some sort; knowing what you are using and how often to get a chimney sweeping is of the utmost importance.

Chimney Sweeping For All

The chimney and fireplace is an important staple of a home, providing warmth as well as a unique ambiance that people have enjoyed for centuries. While we have developed them to become incredibly sturdy, chimneys still require (and will benefit from) regular cleanings by trusted professionals. Being able to tell if you need a chimney sweeping can be an arduous task, and with all the detailed minutiae of how a chimney works, it is always a good idea to schedule a cleaning and inspection by someone who knows the ins and out and will do the job right the first time.

EZ Chimney has a long history of providing exceptional care and service to customer’s chimneys; our technicians are not only highly qualified but experienced in cleaning a wide assortment of chimneys and fireplaces. With that skill and experience, they are experts at cleaning a chimney efficiently with no mess, along with ensuring everything is in working order. In addition, they follow all COVID-19 health guidelines as well as safety protocols for the work they perform. Since chimneys are an integral part of every home, we make sure that you can rest easy knowing your chimney has been inspected and cleaned to the highest standards.