Fireplace Chimney Tips

It doesn't take much to use and maintain your home's fireplace. Here are some basic tips to walk you through the basics and address a few common problems.

Cleaning the Chimney

The inside of your chimney is invisible to you. It can be easy to forget that it needs attention. But you don't want your first sign of a problem to be smoke billowing out into your living room or an explosive chimney fire.

Chimney cleaning is not something you can do yourself. The chimney cleaning logs you can buy at the supermarket do not provide the whole answer. A certified chimney sweep will do more than clean your chimney. He or she will inspect the entire system and recommend any necessary maintenance and repairs.

Your chimney should be cleaned at least once a year by a certified profession, more often if the fireplace sees heavy use. Even a gas fireplace should undergo this kind of inspection.

Getting a Chimney Cap

The top of your chimney can provide an attractive place for birds to build their nests. This is especially true of the smaller, prefabricated fireplace chimneys that have become more popular. These nests can block the smoke's only escape, forcing it to do a U-turn and cover your furniture with soot. You need to check for this before starting your first fire of the season. Better yet, install a chimney cap that will discourages the birds from nesting.

Avoiding Smoke

There are any number of reasons that smoke might come out your fireplace instead of going up the chimney. If cleaning the chimney doesn't work, check to make sure there are no windows open, especially upstairs. This can change the airflow and create a second "chimney" that takes its route through your home. Make sure the damper is fully opened. If it's very cold, light a small fire first, or light a rolled up newspaper and hold it up the chimney for a bit to warm things up.

Avoiding Odor

Your chimney can start to stink, especially in the summer. The creosote builds up on the inside and becomes noticeable in high humidity, especially with the air conditioner turned on. A good cleaning is the first and best answer, but you may need to do more. Baking soda or kitty litter set in the firebox can absorb a lot of the odor. Commercial deodorants also exist. A damper mounted on top of the chimney can also restrict the air flow (and therefore the flow of odor) going down the chimney. Make sure to open this damper fully when it comes time to light the first fire of winter!