Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chimney cleaning: It's a dirty job, but it's got to be done!

I can hear what you're saying, wood burning is not a eco-friendly lifestyle choice. But here on rural Lummi Island, where storm season runs for 3 seasons, and power outages can extend for weeks at a time, our wood stove provides us a heat source and cooking capability.  That said, when burning wood there are some things you can do to reduce the environmental impact. 

The most important way to make wood heat less harmful is choosing a high efficiency, EPA approved wood stove.  The stove in our home is designed to reburn the smoke through a series of baffles on the stoves roof.  This not only helps to reduce the output of smoke from the chimney and into the environment but also increases the BTUs that we get from each load of firewood. 

Other important factors in reducing your impact are burning fully dry seasoned firewood, maintaining the seals on the stove and performing regular maintenance of your chimney including yearly inspections and cleaning. 

A good reason to clean your chimney annually is for fire prevention and the peace of mind that it brings.  Chimney fires burn hot and fast and can quickly move from your chimney to the structure of your home.  They occur when creosote built up in the flue catches fire. Creosote is a naturally occuring buildup created when hot smoke cools and is highly flammable. This is what we want to remove from the chimney walls.

We awoke this morning to a rare but beautiful calm dry autumn day.  Perfect for the dirty job of chimney cleaning.  After the coffee was brewed, Ben began on the ground floor by removing the stove pipe and vaccuuming out the ash build up at the connection.

Then it was time to clean the pipes that run from our stove to the chimney.  Here you can see the creosote built up inside of the pipe.

Ben used a wire brush and a long stick to loosen the deposits.  Anywhere the pipe has a corner, T, or turn it's especially important to clean because these are places where the smoke tends to cool condense into creosote deposits.

The dark material in the tray is the creosote that Ben removed from the connection.  You can see Echo performed his usual role as supervisor!

Once he had the pipes cleaned, Ben attached a large garbage bag to the bottom of the last section with duct tape.  This bag would capture the soot that would come down the chimney as he ran the chimney cleaner from above.

Fortunately our 3 story home was built with a roof access and a nice flat section of roof at the top, so access to the chimney is easy. First thing to do from above was removing the chimney cap.  This is simply a matter of unscrewing it and pulling it off the chimney flue.

Next, Ben got the chimney cleaner and ran it down into the flue.  This handy tool is pretty cool.  It's attached to 2 ropes and you lower it into the chimney and then pull on one rope to expand it.  Once its open, those wavy looking pieces run up the insides of the chimney loosening the creosote deposits which fall into the garbage bag below. 

Here it is in the closed position

Here it is in the open positon

Ben ran the cleaning tool through the chimney several times to be sure to get all the flakey deposits out. An Viola!  A clean chimney! 

Of course the cap had to be cleaned too and may as well sweep off the fir needles from the skylights while we were up here.

Thanks Ben!  And yes, I helped a bit.  I was the tool gofer and chimney checker :0)  It was even a family affair with  Echo checking on our progress from below.

Here's the view from the roof. Beautiful!

And looking down into my veggie garden

After clean up and reassembly our fireplace is ready for action for the cold days ahead.  Now that it's been cleaned we can have the piece of mind that we are safe and have done our part to make our woodburning a little bit greener.


  1. Thanks for these rather well thought out and presented tips. My family has an ever growing 'if/when the sh*t hits the fan' cabin in Vermont. Only a few of the 9 of us (plus 6 partners and 13 additions to the fold) visit regularly from Boston. The main source of heat from October to April or May is our wood burning stove. I'll put your info and a link to your Fat Bottom page on our family site, I'm sure the gang will also find this information useful! Good Job! Good Earth! Good God...(%^D)

  2. Glad you can use the tips on your family cabin. It's a pretty easy job, just dirty and a little time consuming. I checked out your carneyfamily site. What a great idea to have a site where you can share family info! btw beautiful family!

  3. Hi Dude,

    Wow so nice! I like this site.Keep it working every day.Thanks for this wonderful post and hoping to post more of this.


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