Use a fireplace in Indianapolis? Hire a chimney sweep to inspect it
It’s always a comfort to have the home fires burning, especially during colder, frigid weather that can put Indiana in a deep freeze. But if your home fires are fueled by wood, you definitely need to have your chimney cleaned regularly or the creosote created by the burning wood can build up and spark a chimney fire.
Even more important than regular cleaning, local chimney sweeps say, is an annual inspection. And that’s a necessity whether you have a wood-burning or gas fireplace.
“The inspection is more important than the cleaning, if you ask me,” said Michael Baun of Baun’s Chimney Sweeping in Franklin. “Winter weather can be pretty cruel, that’s why an inspection is actually more important, especially here in Indiana. I hear a lot of people who have gas fireplaces tell me they don’t need their chimney (inspected). That’s not quite right. You still have the same winter weather out there where the chimney is as you do with a wood stove, so it’s still very important to keep an eye on that as well.”
Masonry fireplaces can develop loose bricks and mortar in the firebox, and cracks in the smoke chamber and flue. An annual inspection can reveal potential safety hazards.
“In those three different areas you want to make sure that the fire and the smoke is contained and always is going up and out,” said Kourtney Zahn of Masonry Outfitters in Indianapolis. “If there are voids in any of those three places, loose mortar or a broken brick, you could leave room for smoke or hot embers to get past those areas, get in the walls of your home and cause smoke damage, or in a worst-case scenario, start a fire.”
Homeowners who hire a chimney sweep should make sure that person does a visual inspection of the chimney from their roof.
“You not only want to make sure the chimney is safe for the use of having a fire, but it’s also structure that’s protruding out of the top of your house, so you want to make sure there’s no room for water to enter the structure if there’s any kind of damage to it,” Zahn said. “Make sure the chimney sweep is going on top of the roof, is looking at the masonry work and is giving you a thorough investigation of not only the internal portions of the chimney, but also from a structural standpoint, the exterior of the chimney. Both of those things are vital because they really work together. If something goes wrong outside, it will bring problems inside.”
Using well-seasoned, dry wood can help homeowners reduce the frequency of needing a chimney cleaning. Baun also cautions homeowners from using wood from the backyard or any wood that is still wet. The best wood to use has seasoned for more than a year, he said.
“Also, use a little wood at a time instead of a making big pile,” Baun said. “The bigger pile, the bigger then chance you have to kill the flame. When you kill the flame, the gases from the wood sit in the chimney and create the creosote, which is flammable and causes chimney fires.”
A typical cleaning can range from $100 to $200, depending on variables like the size of the fireplace, its location and how difficult the cleaning is. Baun said he charges $35 for an inspection only and about $165 for a cleaning and inspection.
Chimney sweeps don’t need to be licensed in Indiana, so it’s important homeowners do their research and find a company that is qualified. Look for a chimney sweep that is insured and is a member of the National Chimney Sweep Guild or Chimney Safety Institute of America.
If a chimney inspection reveals you have damage, ask for proof through photographic or video evidence before agreeing to have the repair work done. When in doubt, seek out a second opinion.
“I’ll show them the pictures on my iPad right in front of them, but if the weather permits, I’ll also take them outside and point out what I’m looking at as well,” Zahn said. “They can’t see it up close, but they can get the (general) idea. Customers should be aware of the color of their brick and the color of their mortar and make sure they’re lining up (with what’s in the picture). If the contractor says you have problems and has no proof to attach to it, I wouldn’t think that was a trustworthy contractor. In today’s world, there’s plenty of technology out there that should allow them to do (provide a photo or video).”
Editor's note: This article was originally published in January 2013.