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Anytime wood is burned in a fireplace, soot and creosote are produced. Soot is sticky, black carbon particles, and creosote is an oily, flammable liquid tar. These byproducts cling to the inside of a chimney and can easily cause a chimney fire. That's why anyone who has a fireplace needs to hire a professional chimney cleaning service to come in at least once a year.
When to Clean a Chimney
Make sure you inspect your chimney in the fall before the burning season actually starts. If birds, squirrels or other woodland creatures have built nests inside your chimney, you'll need to clean it out before the very first use. You should also inspect it inside and out for cracks and other damage that needs to be repaired.
After the burning season starts, how often you'll need to clean your chimney will depend on three factors: how much you use your fireplace, how low or high you make the fires and what kind of wood you burn. Low-burning, smoldering fires produce more creosote than high-temperature fires. And woods such as beech, pecan, pine and cedar, which create more creosote in your chimney than low-sap, low-oil woods such as oak. Make sure, too, that wood has been aged and dried, or seasoned. Dried wood burns better and generates less creosote.
If you own a gas fireplace, you're not immune to the hazards of creosote and carbon buildup, though they accumulate more slowly than they do in wood-burning fireplaces. As a rule of thumb, when you see a thick coating of carbon on your gas logs, it's time to clean the chimney.
If you've just moved in to an older home, have the chimney inspected and cleaned before starting the fireplace for the first time, especially if it's a gas fireplace. The previous owners may have been diligent about keeping the firebox clean and neglected the chimney.
For safety's sake, check the inside of your chimney often. A bright flashlight will help you see better. A good rule of thumb to follow is whenever the creosote has accumulated to an eighth of an inch thickness, it's time to clean your chimney out.
Chimney and Cap Chimney