Guide to Preparing Your Chimney & Fireplace for Spring 
Spring is a wonderful time. We can finally go outside without a jacket. The sun is back to shining after the cold and gloomy winter. Flowers are blooming.
The earth is warming up and your chimney is probably the last thing on your mind. I get it – why think about your chimney when it’s starting to get hot? You’re not going to use it…
But Springtime is the best time to have your chimney looked at. Think about it.
It’s right after you’ve used it all winter. Your chimney has been put through the wringer after you and your family used it all winter.
Plus, springtime signals the rainy season. Winter weather is notorious for being horrible to bricks and mortar because of freeze/thaw cycles that cause cracks. When it rains, these cracks can lead to water leaks in your chimney and can find its way into your walls.
I’ve pieced together 10 tips that you can follow this spring to make sure your chimney is functional and safe when you need to use it again.
Table of Contents
1. Check for roof-related damage
This should be the first place you look for any visible damage. We’ll take a look at the potential damage you may face from your roof.
2. Get a chimney inspection
You should get a chimney inspection at least annually. We will talk about what you can expect from each of the three chimney inspection levels.
3. Remove animals (keep them out)
Creepy critters with rabies and roundworm seek refuge in your chimney. We talk about what you may see and what you should do if they make it in your chimney.
4. Repair cracks in your crown & masonry
Cracks in your crown or in the masonry of your chimney can lead to larger problems down the road by way of water leaks into your chimney and walls.
5. Check your chimney cap
Chimney caps help keep water and animals out of your chimney. They also can come undone in strong weather. We discuss what to look for to make sure your cap is fine.
6. Check your chimney flashing
The flashing is located in an area particularly vulnerable to water leaks. We talk about what to look for and how to know it’s time to get a repair on your flashing.
7. Replace your liner and/or get a chimney sweep
Your liner is one of the most important parts of your chimney. It helps direct the smoke out of your home. We talk about sweeping and relining.
8. Clean your firebox
Your house gets a spring cleaning every year. Do you forget to give your fireplace a nice scrub? We talk about best practices whether you have a gas or wood fireplace.
9. Close your damper
Closing your damper may be pretty easy to forget. Don’t worry, we have you covered, whether you have a lever or a set of pull chains.
10. Plan for renovations
Spring and summer are the best time for renovations. We give you tips on how to think about what potential renovations you may want.
1) Check for Roof Related Damage
The first thing you want to do is look on your roof and check for any visible damage. Winter can be especially harsh on your home’s roof. There are three main winter roof damage problems that you should be aware of if you live in Southwestern Virginia. Of course, there are some other issues, like heavy rooftop snow loads, that are very important, but it’s not as frequent an issue here. You should consider consulting with a local roofing company if you have any concerns.
Ice Dam Formation
When warm air rises, it warms the shingles of your roof and the snow that covers your roof. The snow melts and drips down to colder edges of your roof where it freezes again. Once the ice grows thick enough it forms a dam for the other snow melting down. This causes the water to seep under the shingles and eventually into your home through leakage points.
Icicles are cool (pun intended). They often result from the same conditions that cause ice dams. Even though they are pretty neat to look at, they can damage your shingles and gutters.
Attic Condensation Problems
With conditions like ice dams, there’s a chance that your attic ceiling will have excessive condensation. The moisture build-up is scary because this can lead to wood rot and mold.
2) Get a Chimney Inspection
In the chimney industry, there are three levels of chimney inspections. A Level 1 Inspection is the most basic level of inspection and is required for each chimney swept. Whereas level 2 and level 3 are progressively more detailed and comprehensive.
Level 1 Inspection
As I mentioned before, a level 1 inspection is the most basic inspection. If your chimney is under continued service, under the same conditions, and used with the same appliance, you should get a level 1 inspection every year.
Level 1 inspections are typically limited to readily accessible areas of the chimney, structure, and flue.
At Patriot Chimney we use a 50-Point Checklist for Level 1 Inspections. Plus we always inspect with a camera so that we can get a full top-to-bottom understanding of the condition of your chimney.
Level 2 Inspection
A level 2 chimney inspection is more detailed and thorough than a Level 1 inspection. We include everything from the 50-Point Checklist in Level 1, plus we add a 40-Point Inspection for all Level 2 Inspections.
Level 2 inspections also include accessible areas, such as attics, crawl spaces, and basements. It doesn’t include any specialty tools that are required to open doors, panels, or coverings.
You should have a Level 2 Inspection if you are buying a house with a chimney. Or if you experienced an operation malfunction or external event that may have caused damage to your chimney. This includes building fires, chimney fires, seismic events, or major weather events.
Level 3 Inspection
This is the big boy. A Level 3 inspection is the most detailed of all inspection types and includes inspection of concealed areas of the building.
A Level 3 inspection includes all areas covered in a Level 1 and 2 inspections, but also adds a 20-Point Inspection. It also may include the removal of certain components when the technician needs to check areas that are subject to inspection.
When serious hazards are suspected, a level 3 inspection may be required to determine the full condition of the chimney system.
Of course, if a level 3 inspection is required and removal of certain components is necessary, responsible and respectable chimney companies will consult with you and earn your permission first.
3) Remove Animals (and keep them out)
We like animals! But not when they’re in your chimney.
Raccoons, squirrels, rodents, bats, and birds are some of the most common unwanted visitors that consider any opening in your chimney as a warm invitation. If your chimney cap or screen is damaged, these animals can easily sneak in.
These animals can nest in your chimney to raise their young. Unfortunately, the smoke and conditions aren’t good for these animals either, so they often die, leaving flies, maggots, feces, and other very disagreeable and unpleasant elements in your chimney.
Even if they make it through the smoke and fire, there are a lot of diseases that you need to be wary of, such as rabies, roundworm, histoplasmosis, and insect stings and bites.
And you can’t just remove these animals yourself. In fact, in a lot of areas, chimney technicians aren’t even allowed to remove them, since there are a lot of regulatory restrictions on animal removal.
One of the most common birds found in a chimney is called a Chimney Swift. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects the swifts and their nests. Harming a swift, or disturbing an active nest, is a violation of Federal law.
In other words, it is always best to do everything you can to prevent animals from entering. And the simplest way of doing this is by installing a cap and screen on your chimney.
4) Repair Cracks in Your Crown & Masonry
Southwestern Virginia is no stranger to freeze/thaw cycles. Bricks and mortar are very porous. They are designed to have very small holes so that water can pass through. Water that seeps into the small holes then freezes. This widens the small holes and allows for more water to enter. Freezes again and widens the crack even more.
The recurring freeze/thaw cycle can split boulders, so imagine what the cycle can do to your chimney.
As winter wraps up, you should consider having a CSIA certified technician take a look to make sure that your chimney’s masonry didn’t fall victim to a freeze/thaw cycle that cracked your chimney.
If it did, there are a few things that we can do to fix it, such as repointing mortar between bricks and replacing cracked bricks. Chimney companies can also add a water-based waterproof sealant that seeps into the small holes of the porous bricks, waterproofing deep into the brick, helping to prevent future freeze/thaw cycles.
5) Check Your Chimney Cap
I like to think of your chimney cap as an umbrella. It may not protect from all water, but it will help keep you from getting wet from above. Moisture that can enter without a chimney cap can cause deterioration within the structure.
Moisture mixed with the creosote that has built up from using your chimney can become even more harmful to the inside structure of your chimney.
Premature deterioration of the firebox and liner mortar joints in a fireplace is usually a result of water entry. Future damage may be prevented by simply installing a chimney cap.
In addition to preventing water from entering your home, it also serves as a shield from those unwanted animals we talked about earlier. Animals walking along your roof will feel the warmth from the fire below. Without a cap, they’ll make their nest close to or inside the flue.
Another huge benefit of having a chimney cap is that it prevents embers from leaving your chimney and landing on your roof or in your yard. Having a chimney cap could quite literally prevent your home and yard from catching on fire.
At Home Check
First, you should check that your chimney cap is still there.
Next, make sure that your cap is in place and that heavy winds or tree branches didn’t knock it out of line. A tilted chimney cap can fail to protect your chimney in the ways mentioned above.
Third, look for debris, rust or cracks. Debris can be blown in or brought by animals. This will block the opening of the chimney, making it extremely difficult for the hot air and smoke to safely escape from your chimney.
If you’re still unsure, it may be worth getting an expert opinion. Just make sure they are CSIA certified.
6) Check Your Chimney Flashing
Just like your chimney cap is the umbrella, think of the flashing as your chimney’s custom rain boots. Basically, your chimney’s flashing is what seals the space between your roof and your chimney.
It’s important to make sure your flashing is in tip-top shape to keep water from leaking off your roof and into your house. The corner of your chimney, where the flashing is located, is particularly vulnerable. Leaving it unmonitored can result in significant damage to your ceilings and walls.
Your flashing can become damaged for many different natural causes, like weather and rust. It could also become damaged by having your shingles replaced if the roofer covered the flashing with tar, diminishing the effectiveness of the flashing.
You can check your flashing by looking around the base of your chimney. Look for areas where water might be getting in, such as gaps, bent flashing, holes made by roofing nails, etc. Flashing is your main defense against leakage, so it’s important to make sure it is securely fastened and that there are no holes or gaps.
7) Replace Your Liner or Get a Chimney Sweep
Your chimney liner is a clay, ceramic, or metal conduit inside of the chimney to contain the combustion products and to direct them out of your home. Chimney liners serve three main functions:
- Protects the house – Unlined chimneys allow heat to move through your chimney so rapidly that the adjacent woodwork can catch fire in only 3 1/2 hours!
- Protects the masonry from the corrosive byproducts of combustion – the flue gases are acidic and eat away at your mortar joints from inside your chimney. As the mortar joints erode, heat transfers more rapidly to nearby combustibles and can cause carbon monoxide to leak into your home.
- Maximizes efficiency for your appliances – Modern appliances require a correctly sized flue to perform properly. An incorrectly sized liner can lead to excessive creosote buildup and the production of carbon monoxide.
To save your chimney, you should have your flue swept annually. But if your chimney is too far gone, it is a good idea to have your liner completely replaced.
When we sweep your chimney, we use long rods with a heavy metal bristle around the tip. The goal of a chimney sweep is to scrape all of the coating that has built up from fires off of the chimney lining so that it falls down the chimney to be vacuumed and swept away.
The liner is responsible for allowing smoke to properly go out of your home. The draft inside allows the air to move freely with minimum pressure. Once your flue or liner starts to have holes or cracks, there is less chimney draft.
This means that smoke cannot be carried up through the flue efficiently. At this point, your liner will need to be replaced.
8) Clean Your Firebox
Spring cleaning is right around the corner. You should give your fireplace a nice cleaning too! Cleaning your chimney during the springtime will help make sure that your chimney is safe for when you need to use it again.
Here are some tips that you can follow, whether you have a gas fireplace or a wood-burning fireplace:
Sure, gas fireplaces burn cleaner. But you should still clean them. Creosote is still present in gas combustion, albeit in smaller quantities. All of the dust, soot, and dirt that builds up should also be removed.
- Turn the pilot light off. You can call your gas company and they’ll do it for you if you don’t know how.
- Remove your ceramic logs and grate. Clean these with a lint-free cloth or brush.
- Vacuum any loose particles inside the fireplace.
- Use a wet cloth to clean soot and any stains in the firebox. For stubborn stains, I like to use a water-vinegar solution.
- Clean your glass doors with a streak-free window cleaner or warm water and a lint-free cloth.
- Replace your grate and logs
- Clean the gas fireplace and surround
Wood Burning Fireplace
Cleaning a wood-burning fireplace can be a much dirtier job than cleaning gas fireplaces. Before starting, I recommend you wear old clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, goggles, and a facemask so that you don’t breathe in any dust or ash particles. Also, be sure to lay some newspapers on the floor in front of the fireplace and cover any nearby furniture.
- Empty the firebox by removing the grate and any remaining wood logs.
- Clean out the ash. You can store the ash in a metal container and recycle it in your garden. Also, try to reserve a small amount to use when it gets cold again. The ash can help maintain fires.
- Vacuum any remaining debris in the firebox.
- Use a wire brush to scrape away as much creosote on the walls inside the fireplace as you possibly can. You can mix baking soda with water to make a paste to apply to the creosote to help scrub. Rinse the surface with water.
- Use a damp lint-free cloth to clean any remaining soot and dirt inside the fireplace. Rinse the surface with water and dry with a lint-free cloth. Don’t forget the damper too!
- Use a streak-free window cleaner to clean the fireplace glass doors.
- Clean the masonry surround and mantle.
- Scrub the grates using the water-vinegar solution. Consider doing this outside on your patio or in your garage.
- Replace the grates in the firebox
9) Close Your Damper
Your damper is a valve that controls the flow of air or smoke in your chimney. Oftentimes, the damper is accidentally left open after the last fire of the winter. This can be a problem for many reasons:
- Open dampers can draw cool air from your air conditioner out of the room and up your chimney.
- Even with a screen and a cap, you can still get some mice that squeeze through the screen. Did you know that mice can fit through a hole the diameter of a pencil?
- Some violent rainstorms can still get through your cap and flow past your damper causing water to puddle in your firebox. This can cause unnecessary stress.
Closing your damper is pretty simple. All you’ll need is a flashlight and maybe some gloves.
First, turn your gas off to the fireplace. Make sure your firebox is cool before attempting to close the flue.
Next, look inside the fireplace with a flashlight. You’re going to want to find a vertical lever or a set of pull chains to close the damper. Generally, the lever or chain is toward the interior front of the fireplace.
Finally, push the lever up to disengage it from its support tab and pull it away from the tab horizontally as the damper lowers into a closed position. Or, if your fireplace has pull chains, pull the longer chain to disengage the damper and then pull the shorter chain to close the flue.
If you’re more visual check out this video.
10) Plan for Renovations
Springtime is a good time to renovate or remodel your fireplace and chimney. From about September through winter, chimney companies are very busy during what we call the “burn season.”
Spring and summer is a busy time for us with minor repairs, but it’s a lot easier to get on a chimney company’s schedule for a week-long renovation project in the summer.
When thinking about renovations, put yourself back on your couch when the fire was burning. What did you wish you had on your fireplace? Gas instead of wood? Wood instead of gas? Insert or stove? A nicer view of the flames?
Spring is a great time to have that vision realized. Consult with a certified chimney technician, who can help you move in the right direction.
Wow! That was long. But safety is important to us and we want you to be safe. By following these 10 steps, your home and chimney will be ready to brave the spring and summer showers that are coming.
If you have any questions, please let me know. Share this with your friends and family, who also have a chimney so that they know how to prepare their home as well.