How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

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Small Law Survivor
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How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by Small Law Survivor » Sat Sep 30, 2017 2:17 pm

We have a fireplace in our family room that we use, on average ~15 times/year.

We haven't had it cleaned in maybe five years.

I inspected it (by looking up the flue past the damper with a flashlight), so see if there was accumulation of creosote on the walls (familyhandyman.com website said to clean if more than 1/8 inch thick). Using the poker to scrape the side, the build-up appeared to be paper thin - nowhere near 1/8 inch, at least at this location.

Should I still have it cleaned? Is there anything else to look out for? Any advice would be welcome.

Jack FFR1846
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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by Jack FFR1846 » Sat Sep 30, 2017 2:40 pm

Would you consider doing it yourself? I ask because that's what I do. Sometimes, you have to look around, but getting a chimney brush and a bunch of screw-together poles, you can do it yourself. You have to get on the roof to do it so if you're not comfortable doing that, forget it.

It depends on a lot of things, how dirty the chimney gets. I did mine over the summer and it didn't need to be done. I had last done it about 2 years previous. I burn probably 10 cords of wood through each winter in our wood furnace and will purposely get a really, really hot burn going on occasion in an attempt to burn off any build up inside the chimney. Apparently, it's worked as things were great over the summer.

15 times a year? I'd maybe do it every 10 years.
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ThriftyPhD
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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by ThriftyPhD » Sat Sep 30, 2017 2:48 pm

CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) suggests yearly. Partly for the cleaning, partly for the inspection. Most places seem to do a Level 1 inspection when performing a cleaning. Like all things, probably best to perform regular maintenance so that problems don't occur, or are caught when they're easy to fix. Growing up some neighbors lost their homes to chimney fires, so I would error on the side of more maintenance than too little.

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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by Spirit Rider » Sat Sep 30, 2017 3:01 pm

How often you have to clean not only has to do with how often you use it, but what fuel you are using. From the sounds of it, you might be doing things right, as said above a periodic cleaning and inspection of the chimney is a good idea. Of course CSIA is sponsored by the chimney sweep industry, so factor that into their recommendations for a yearly cleaning/inspections.

You want to use seasoned hardwood with the highest density and avoid all evergreens except for fire starting. Also, slow smoldering fires are more likely to cause creosote buildup than at least periodic rip roaring fires. Of course, the latter is definitely not advised after years of the former and neglect. That is a good way to get a chimney fire.

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zaplunken
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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by zaplunken » Sat Oct 07, 2017 4:15 pm

A fireplace burns fast and hot, no way to control the air so they are less likely to accumulate creosote. I'd say every 5 years but I'd burn hardwood not pine or other evergreens that have a ton of pitch in them. For a woodstove every year especially if you use it as a primary heat source.

mancich
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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by mancich » Sun Oct 08, 2017 7:36 am

We do it yearly (we live in Hudson Valley area of NY) . We use the fireplace a lot and for a couple of hundred bucks it is cheap piece of mind.

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Nicolas
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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by Nicolas » Sun Oct 08, 2017 9:17 am

My chimney guy says every three years.

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zaplunken
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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by zaplunken » Sun Oct 08, 2017 9:45 am

mancich wrote:
Sun Oct 08, 2017 7:36 am
We do it yearly (we live in Hudson Valley area of NY) . We use the fireplace a lot and for a couple of hundred bucks it is cheap piece of mind.
You are charged a couple of hundred dollars to clean 1 chimney? :shock:

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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by Sconie » Sun Oct 08, 2017 9:49 am

If you're only burning 15x a year, I'd get it cleaned about once every couple of decades. Most creosote gets built up in a flue from a stove, especially one dampered-down and burning softwood. With an open fireplace, I just don't see where you have all that much to be concerned about.
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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by Nicolas » Sun Oct 08, 2017 5:49 pm

Jack FFR1846 wrote:
Sat Sep 30, 2017 2:40 pm
Would you consider doing it yourself? I ask because that's what I do. Sometimes, you have to look around, but getting a chimney brush and a bunch of screw-together poles, you can do it yourself. You have to get on the roof to do it so if you're not comfortable doing that, forget it.

It depends on a lot of things, how dirty the chimney gets. I did mine over the summer and it didn't need to be done. I had last done it about 2 years previous. I burn probably 10 cords of wood through each winter in our wood furnace and will purposely get a really, really hot burn going on occasion in an attempt to burn off any build up inside the chimney. Apparently, it's worked as things were great over the summer.

15 times a year? I'd maybe do it every 10 years.
Yes you can do it yourself, but you do know that chimney sweeps bring good luck.

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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by lthenderson » Mon Oct 09, 2017 10:41 am

I would inspect it yearly. How often you clean it depends on the height, insulation, type of wood, frequency of use, etc.

I grew up in an old two and a half story farmhouse. We had to clean the chimney on that twice a year. The house I currently live in I have never cleaned the chimney for the five years we have lived here. I just checked it a week ago and is still has just soot particles but no buildup. The reason is because it is a much shorter chimney with new-ish insulated flue so the smoke with particulates never has a chance to cool off and deposit any creosote. I also burn well seasoned wood fire maybe thirty times per winter.

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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by Grt2bOutdoors » Mon Oct 09, 2017 3:06 pm

I use my fireplace about 2-3x a year, use only well seasoned hardwood (oak and maple). Had the chimney cleaned about 5 years ago, was having it cleaned every year but the sweeps came away with less and less after the first cleaning I had done when I bought home (last owner did very little :annoyed ).
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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by iamlucky13 » Mon Oct 09, 2017 11:25 pm

ThriftyPhD wrote:
Sat Sep 30, 2017 2:48 pm
CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) suggests yearly.
That recommendation applies if you're using it regularly. Folks who are using a stove (not an open fireplace, if they're wise) for their regular heat source will within a few years get a good sense of how fast they build-up creosote and adjust their cleaning interval based on that, but yearly is the usual starting point. Such people are typically burning 4-5 cords a year, however. That's a huge amount of wood to most people.

I'd suggest the OP have it cleaned and inspected after a few years, and assuming they hire the work out, ask the sweep how if it seems like they could go longer, based on how much accumulation he found. There's no guarantee the sweep won't give an answer intended to provide him more business than necessary, but it's hard to offer a better starting point that his.

Well seasoned firewood is the most important part of avoiding creosote accumulation and the risk of chimney fires. The recommendation is no more than 20% moisture content by weight. There are moisture testers available that some people like to use. Others just get a sense of how dense various types of wood feel when they've clearly had long enough to dry.

That's usually going to take at least 1 full summer after splitting with good sun and air exposure for softwoods, then stored under cover during the rainy season, or 2 full summers for hardwoods. Unsplit rounds do not season quickly.

As a bonus, you can get significantly more heat from well-seasoned firewood than from firewood that is nearly green.
Spirit Rider wrote:
Sat Sep 30, 2017 3:01 pm
You want to use seasoned hardwood with the highest density and avoid all evergreens except for fire starting. Also, slow smoldering fires are more likely to cause creosote buildup than at least periodic rip roaring fires. Of course, the latter is definitely not advised after years of the former and neglect. That is a good way to get a chimney fire.
All excellent points, except that hardwood is not necessary. Evergreens, and especially pine species have achieved a mythical perception with respect to chimney fires. This likely arose from the greater ease of achieving roaring fires with pine, and it's tendency to crackle and generate more sparks, so when people used to smouldering hardwoods for years on end try a softwood fire, that's the most likely chance for them to start a chimney fire. Various species of pine make up the majority of what we burn out west.

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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by iamlucky13 » Mon Oct 09, 2017 11:28 pm

mancich wrote:
Sun Oct 08, 2017 7:36 am
We do it yearly (we live in Hudson Valley area of NY) . We use the fireplace a lot and for a couple of hundred bucks it is cheap piece of mind.
Do you actually have a enclosed fireplace insert? If not, I'd seriously consider getting one. Open fireplaces allow most of the heat to get wasted up the chimney. In the worst cases, they can actually draw so much room air out of the house that although the room the fireplace is in may be warmer, the rest of the house ends up colder than if there were no fire burning at all.

Not only are stoves and fireplaces inserts much more efficient than open fireplaces, but they control the combustion much better to help maximize combustion and minimizecreosote production.

goodlifer
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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by goodlifer » Wed Oct 11, 2017 2:45 pm

We burn a cord of wood a year and get the chimney cleaned every 3 years or so. As someone else said, inspections are important. We were wondering why our dog would stare at the fireplace for no apparent reason. We assumed she was looking at her reflection. Turns out, she heard a tiny leak dripping and we needed our cap replaced. Also, be very careful who you choose. Our first pick was full of lies and said that we had so many chimney fires that we needed the whole thing rebuilt. They missed the damaged cap, though. That is what we get for going with a coupon mailer. I'm not sure if everyone has this, but we also have a little "ash vault" (I don't know the actual name of it) in our basement that needs to be cleaned out, too. The original owners never had it cleaned and it was filled to the brim when we opened it.

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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by Small Law Survivor » Wed Oct 11, 2017 4:53 pm

[/quote]Do you actually have a enclosed fireplace insert? If not, I'd seriously consider getting one. Open fireplaces allow most of the heat to get wasted up the chimney. In the worst cases, they can actually draw so much room air out of the house that although the room the fireplace is in may be warmer, the rest of the house ends up colder than if there were no fire burning at all.

Not only are stoves and fireplaces inserts much more efficient than open fireplaces, but they control the combustion much better to help maximize combustion and minimizecreosote production.
[/quote]

I googled "fireplace insert", and it looks like these are a few hundred dollars (parts, not installation).

Could you expand on this a bit more? How much does it help, and what kind of expense do you think is reasonable?

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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by Yooper » Wed Oct 11, 2017 5:26 pm

Small Law Survivor wrote:
Wed Oct 11, 2017 4:53 pm
Do you actually have a enclosed fireplace insert? If not, I'd seriously consider getting one. Open fireplaces allow most of the heat to get wasted up the chimney. In the worst cases, they can actually draw so much room air out of the house that although the room the fireplace is in may be warmer, the rest of the house ends up colder than if there were no fire burning at all.

Not only are stoves and fireplaces inserts much more efficient than open fireplaces, but they control the combustion much better to help maximize combustion and minimizecreosote production.
[/quote]

I googled "fireplace insert", and it looks like these are a few hundred dollars (parts, not installation).

Could you expand on this a bit more? How much does it help, and what kind of expense do you think is reasonable?
[/quote]
Not to hijack the thread, but had a friend who got so tired of his fireplace (loss of heat, dealing with wood and maintenance) that he bought a Harman pellet stove fireplace insert. Loves it. Not cheap. But clean and maximizes heat output. Pretty sure it's even got a thermostat hooked up to it.

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Re: How Often Should I Have Chimney Cleaned (New England)?

Post by iamlucky13 » Wed Oct 11, 2017 8:21 pm

Small Law Survivor wrote:
Wed Oct 11, 2017 4:53 pm
iamlucky13 wrote:
Mon Oct 09, 2017 11:28 pm
mancich wrote:
Sun Oct 08, 2017 7:36 am
We do it yearly (we live in Hudson Valley area of NY) . We use the fireplace a lot and for a couple of hundred bucks it is cheap piece of mind.
Do you actually have a enclosed fireplace insert? If not, I'd seriously consider getting one. Open fireplaces allow most of the heat to get wasted up the chimney. In the worst cases, they can actually draw so much room air out of the house that although the room the fireplace is in may be warmer, the rest of the house ends up colder than if there were no fire burning at all.

Not only are stoves and fireplaces inserts much more efficient than open fireplaces, but they control the combustion much better to help maximize combustion and minimizecreosote production.

I googled "fireplace insert", and it looks like these are a few hundred dollars (parts, not installation).

Could you expand on this a bit more? How much does it help, and what kind of expense do you think is reasonable?
A fireplace insert is an enclosed wood-burning stove designed to fit into a fireplace (there are also zero-clearance types designed for recessed installations without an existing masonry fireplace, as well as gas-burning inserts).

Because it is enclosed, it better controls airflow, so far less air inside the house that you already paid to heat is drafted up the chimney. Modern stoves and inserts also control the way air circulates within the stove to ensure more complete combustion. Some even have catalysts like the exhaust on your car to further improve the combustion process. All this means lower risk of chimney fire, less smoke in the neighborhood, and less wood consumed for a given amount of heat.

Most of the inserts I've seen are in the $1000-2000 price range, plus another $500-1000 for installation, although I wouldn't be surprised if there are some cheaper models, and there are definitely some more expensive models. The differences across the price range are mainly going to be in how many years they last, how much wood they hold, how efficient they are, how well they can keep a fire going at low intensity without smouldering for long burns in mild weather, and appearance.

Exact numbers vary, but commonly cited figures are 20-30% efficiency (actual heat delivered to the home versus theoretical heat content of the wood) for open fireplaces vs. 60-70% for stoves and high efficiency inserts (laboratory ratings sometimes exceed 80%, but the laboratory test is ideal conditions). More practically speaking, it should be possible to get the same amount of heat from a single cord of wood burned in a modern insert as from 2-1/2 cords of wood burned in an open fireplace.

Because of the cost, it's not really worth it for occasional fires burned only for ambience. If you're burning a couple cords of wood a year though, it is probably worth it. In most areas, a cord of wood is worth $200-300, so if somebody using an open fireplace for supplemental heat were able to go from four cords a year to two cords a year, that's a 5 year payback on an appliance that might last 20+ years.

On the other hand, if natural gas is available in your area, that's generally the best value you can get for home heating, and you might consider a gas fireplace insert if you want a fire for ambiance, although I don't personally find a gas fire to be nearly as enticing as a wood fire.

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