18 Common Chimney Myths
I love fireplaces. Not just because that’s the business I’m in. But because there’s nothing like a fireplace burning in the middle of winter. They serve as the perfect centerpiece for relaxation, gatherings, and entertainment.
Lucky for me, a lot of homes have fireplaces. But through the years a lot of myths have been created about the longevity, upkeep, and repair of chimneys. I wanted to take time today to talk about the 18 most common myths that we hear about.
#1 DIY Chimney Inspections & Cleaning is Cheap & Easy
I’ll give you this one. DIY chimney inspections are cheap especially if you have the tools needed. But they aren’t easy and you get what you pay for. In fact, our technicians have gone through some serious training in order to spot problem areas in chimneys. An untrained eye may overlook areas of damage to the fireplace or chimney, which can lead to further damage costing way more than an annual chimney inspection.
DIY chimney sweeping can also be cheap once you have some of the brushes required. But how do you plan to deal with stubborn creosote that’s stuck to the chimney walls? CSIA chimney technicians have the skills, tools, and chemicals needed to keep you and your family safe.
#2 Regular inspections are no longer required once I get a metal chimney liner
For some reason, many people think that having a metal liner gives them a hall pass to avoid any chimney problems. This includes standard maintenance and cleaning. The fact is that creosote doesn’t care what kind of liner you have, nor do animals. The sooner you can catch problems, the more you can save on the cost of repairs. This is why you should ensure to have an annual chimney inspection, regardless of your liner.
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#3 An Annual Inspection is unnecessary when the fireplace is barely used
I think this misconception is based on the assumption that chimney problems are caused by excessive use: “If I don’t use my chimney, then I won’t have any problems, thus meaning I won’t need an inspection.”
The truth is your masonry can deteriorate, moisture can enter the system, birds and other critters and build their nests in the chimney, the crown and bricks can go through freeze-thaw cycles, your chimney cap can rust….the list can go on for the number of issues that aren’t directly related to using your chimney.
Even if you don’t use your chimney, an annual inspection will help save you any future exorbitant costs associated with your chimney.
#4 Burning Softwoods Causes Excessive Creosote Damage to Your Chimney Lining
There’s a common myth that burning softwoods, like pine and cedar, can cause excessive damage to the chimney because they produce more smoke. This was actually dispelled by the University of Georgia (whom I hate; Go Gators!) when they found that softwoods do no more harm than other types of firewood. The wood just needs to be properly seasoned. The culprit was low temperature fires and burning green wood.
#5 Fireplaces make the House Colder
There’s some truth to this myth, but it’s fixable.
First, for a fire to burn, it will require oxygen, which comes from the air surrounding it. As the air moves into the area of the fire, cooler air from somewhere else in your home replaces it (or it’s just a ghost coming to enjoy the fireplace too…). The fix for this is a fireback. You can fit the device against the back wall of your fireplace and it will radiate heat back out into your room.
The second option is likely the positioning of your thermostat. A lot of homes have thermostats in the same room as the fireplace, like in your living room. Whenever you run the fireplace in the living room, it is detecting the rise in temperature in that room. As that happens and the temperature in the room meets the one set on the thermostat, the thermostat shuts off and makes the rest of the house colder.
#6 It’s just as good to go with the cheapest chimney sweep
Just like with the DIY myth, you definitely get what you pay for. Any chimney sweep that can advertise a $35 chimney cleaning will take about 20 minutes and you won’t be getting a thorough cleaning. Depending on the size of your chimney and the level of creosote buildup, you should expect to pay between $150 and $300 for a thorough cleaning and inspection. You should make sure that you hire reputable members of our industry by hiring CSIA Certified members of the National Chimney Sweep Guild.
#7 My Downstairs Chimney connects to the chimney upstairs in my bedroom
I guess this could be true, especially for very old houses. If it is true, you should have this checked out because it is dangerous. But most houses that have fireplaces that share the same chimney, have multiple flues within that chimney. The downstairs fireplace’s flue will run up past the upstair’s fireplace.
#8 Since I have a multi-fuel stove, I can burn both wood and smokeless coal
Don’t mix two types of fuels at the same time. The moisture from the wood will mix with the sulfur in the smokeless fuel to create acidic deposits. Those deposits can cause rapid deterioration and corrosion of your chimney liner. Burn one fuel and burn it hot!
#9 We had an open fireplace as children, so we’ll know how to use our wood burner
Open fireplaces and wood burners are two different animals. They’re about as similar as a typewriter and a computer. Your old open fire was probably connected to a masonry flue and you probably used house coal on it. You probably also tried to keep the fire in for as long as possible by “banking” it up with fuel. If you do these things with a stove you’ll wreck the liner, forcing you to dish out a lot of money for a replacement. However you heat your home, be sure to understand how to use it by reading the manufacturer instructions and taking the advice of the technician who installed it.
#10 My chimney sweep will need to go on the roof to sweep the flue
It’s not unreasonable to think this. And it’s a pretty common practice. But top-down sweeping isn’t 100% necessary. Sometimes it’s safer for the sweep to clean your flue from inside your home. The technician doesn’t have to “brave” heights and sometimes it can actually help mitigate the dust and keep it to a minimum.
#11 It is best to get my chimney cleaned before the burn season
I actually like to recommend to our customers to schedule their inspections and cleanings right after the burn season. Preferably in the spring time. This way we can see how the chimney did when you used it and how it will hold up when the rain is heavier.
Chimneys go through freeze/thaw cycles in the winter, sometimes causing cracks in the masonry. During heavy rain, water can enter the cracks and make their way into your home causing substantial water damage.
Also, it’s best to remove the soot and creosote deposits that are left in the chimney so that it doesn’t come in contact with water. Spring and summer is a time when the natural moisture content is at the highest, in addition to those seasons being the “rainy” season. Since creosote is acidic, when water comes in contact with creosote, it can encourage corrosion and deterioration. So it’s best to avoid that with a spring cleaning of your chimney.
#12 It’s easy to get a chimney sweep at short notice.
Maybe in the spring and summer since most people don’t adhere to my advice from #11… We are busiest during the colder months, actually starting in late August and early September. And this is the case for most chimney companies. By October, it’s likely that we’ll be booked through to the New Year and it’ll be hard to find a spot for us to fit you in.
#13 Home Remedies work well to clean chimneys
Don’t trust any articles that brag about having a “cool home remedy” to keep your chimney clean. Maybe you’ll get convinced that burning a particular substance with your logs will keep the creosote level down. Or maybe it’s something like tossing a burlap bag filled with rocks down your chimney to clean your chimney, instead of brushes. Those home remedies may sound convincing but they don’t work and can potentially put you in harm’s way.
#14 Chimneys and Fireplaces aren’t safe
They can definitely be unsafe. Fire isn’t something to mess around with. The danger comes when they aren’t inspected and maintained properly. Think about it like dental work. You need a professional to inspect your teeth and make a plan to fix any problems they may see. Without maintaining your teeth (or your chimney) can cause some underlying diseases and problems that you won’t be able to spot. Having teeth isn’t dangerous for your health, but you need to follow a maintenance schedule to stay healthy.
#15 Burning Wood is Bad for Air Quality
Fireplaces now are actually cleaner than ever. The air in the home and out of the chimney is cleaner because of advances in new technology for fireplaces and woodstoves. In some ways, burning wood can have a much lower impact on the environment than central heating systems. For example, fireplaces use less energy to heat small spaces by heating specific rooms. Central heat uses significant amounts of fuel to heat your entire home.
#16 Wood Fireplaces are more fuel-efficient than gas fireplaces
Wood fireplaces will cost less than gas fireplaces, especially if you cut your own wood. But using wood as a source of fuel is less efficient since it can only generate around 25% of the heat for your home. Also, it will only create more heat while it’s burning and most will end up lost in your chimney. Gas, on the other hand, may produce a little less heat, but it is 70-99% more efficient.
#17 Bigger is Better when it comes to BTUs & Heating
You only need as many British Thermal Units (BTUs) as the room you are heating requires. Oversizing causes waste and unnecessary expense. It’s just not efficient. Good efficiency comes from matching the heater to your heating needs. Look at the tables below to determine how many BTUs are required to heat your room.
#18 Chimney Sweeping is an Unskilled Job
This one just hurts. Sweeping is an old profession, but with new technology and requirements set forth by the Chimney Sweeping Institute of America (CSIA) and the National Chimney Sweep Guild, our technicians are skilled workers.
They are required to understand the whole chimney system as well as the physics behind why it works. They need to understand the problems that a chimney has, what causes those problems and the steps required to fix the problems. They have gone to school, studied, and passed rigorous tests to earn the designation of Certified Chimney Sweeps by the CSIA.
This isn’t a very regulated industry. So it may be true that some chimney sweeps are not “skilled” workers. But you can bypass this by looking for a company that works with the CSIA to ensure their workers are certified. That’s how you can find “skilled” workers in this industry.