Everyone loves a fire in the hearth crackling on a frosty morning. Even in sunny California, fireplaces are popular, particularly in autumn and winter, for the warmth and cozy atmosphere they bring to a home. When wood is burned in a fireplace, smoke is generated and, if the chimney is working properly, the smoke is drawn up the chimney and into the outside air. Particles in the smoke – called soot or creosote – are deposited on the inside of the chimney and fireplace. Creosote is flammable. When a sufficient amount builds up in a chimney, a fire hazard exists and the chimney needs to be cleaned. We are told – from clients who did NOT clean their chimneys in time – that a chimney fire sounds much like a jet landing on the roof. Part of this “roar” is from the rush of air up the chimney created by the fire’s demand for oxygen. A dirty chimney may also not draw well. This causes smoke to drift or billow into the room when a fire is lit. Soot buildup, particularly right above the fireplace in an area called the “smoke shelf,” is the most common cause of a chimney not drawing properly. Another cause is improper construction. But if the fireplace worked well at one time but is now drawing poorly, you can assume a good cleaning will restore it to working order again.

WHAT IS A SPARK ARRESTOR?

Most municipal codes require that each chimney have a “spark arrestor.” This is at minimum a screen that fits across the top of the chimney to deflect or “arrest” sparks that fly up from the fireplace. A good spark arrestor reduces the likelihood of a stray ember leaving the chimney and landing on a nearby bush or tree. We have had clients who have told us of their surprise upon seeing the hedge in their front yard suddenly light up the night!

HOW OFTEN SHOULD A CHIMNEY BE CLEANED?

We recommend every 1 to 5 years, depending on the usage of the fireplace. If the hearth is in use daily during the colder months, an annual cleaning is highly recommended. For most residences, we find every 3 to 5 years is sufficient.