Many aspects of maintaining a chimney can be done by the homeowner who enjoys do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. However, it is important that DIY chimney projects are done properly to prevent accidents or further damage. Remember that if you are not confident in doing your own work, you should hire someone that is an expert in chimney services. Here are some general chimney maintenance tips that any homeowner can follow and do themselves:
- Remove plants or mosses that grow on and in between the bricks. This will prevent moisture from being absorbed by the bricks.
- Check chimney flashing and bricks and mortar to make sure everything is intact. Look for missing or loose flashing. If mortar needs to be replaced, remove the cracked mortar and pack with weather resistant ready-mixed mortar.
- If your chimney crown has cracks, a quick fix would be to fill the cracks with cement patch or an easy-to-use flexible crown repair material.
- You can perform your own chimney waterproofing by purchasing a breathable waterproofing mixture and applying it to the chimney and crown. Remember that mortar should be in good condition before attempting this.
- Check your flue liner for damage. If it needs to be replaced, consider terra-cotta. Other material options include ceramics, metal and cast concrete. Consult a professional when replacing your flue liner.
- If you find stains in your firebox, use a metal brush and chemical cleaner to remove them.
- Look up your flue liner to determine whether there is creosote buildup. If you detect buildup, contact a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to perform the chimney and fireplace cleaning or you can choose to do it yourself.
DIY - Cleaning Your Chimney
If you prefer to do your own chimney and fireplace cleaning rather than hire a certified chimney sweep, make sure you have the proper equipment and safety materials on hand. The most important cleaning tool you need is a quality wire chimney-sweeping brush. These brushes are flexible allowing them to clean those hard to reach areas of your chimney. If you notice your chimney is excessively dirty and contains a thick amount of creosote, consider purchasing a flat wire brush for more surface coverage. Be sure to measure the flue tiles and purchase a brush that is about the same size. Rod attachments are also needed and will extend the arm of the brush so you can reach the entire length of the chimney.
Other materials needed for the job are plastic covers or tarps, a wet/dry vacuum, goggles, gloves, and a face mask. You will need to securely cover your fireplace opening with a plastic tarp to prevent debris from falling into your living room and damaging your floors and furniture. A wet/dry vacuum will be needed to remove all the soot and debris from the fireplace and smoke shelf after cleaning is completed. Goggles and gloves are recommended to keep soot and dust out of your eyes. A face mask will keep the dangerous debris out of your lungs.
If your roof is steep or slick, you will want to secure yourself to the roof with a harness and rope to ensure no accidents happen. To begin cleaning the chimney, simply push the brush down the chimney and slowly pull up to begin removing soot and creosote. Try to work in square foot sections to ensure every area of the chimney is properly cleaned. Once cleaning is done, you can carefully remove the tarp from your fireplace and vacuum the soot and dust that accumulated in the fireplace during cleaning.
DIY - Extinguishing a Chimney Fire
Chimney fires range in severity from small and fairly calm to large and explosive. In some cases, a chimney fire can be controlled or extinguished by the homeowner, allowing more time for the fire department to reach your house and ensure the entire fire has been put out. There are a couple tactics you can use depending on where the fire is in the chimney and how dangerous it is. Always remember that the first thing you want to do when you realize you have a chimney fire is get your family and pets out of the house.
If you have a chimney fire in the grate area of your fireplace, first call the fire department. If you feel safe enough to be around the fire, throw sand or baking soda on it to prevent oxygen from reaching the flames. While wearing heat-proof gloves, attempt to starve the fire more with a metal container such as a baking sheet. You can also close the doors of your fireplace to further stop oxygen from reaching the flames. Once these steps are done, go outside and spray your roof with a hose to prevent fire from spreading to other parts of your home.
You should also call the fire department immediately if the chimney fire is located farther up the flue. For a smaller, less hazardous fire, you can choose to throw a chimney fire extinguisher into the firebox and shut the doors. The chimney fire extinguisher will help to remove oxygen from the flue which will prevent the fire from growing. You can then go outside and begin spraying your roof with water to prevent spreading.
When a dangerous chimney fire does occur and you don’t feel safe trying to put it out, simply evacuate yourself and all occupants from the home and call the fire department. It is better to keep yourself and your family safe rather than attempt to save the house.