Up on the roof: Chimney issues can be tricky

Country Chimney Service

 Q. Winter is fast approaching, and my house is getting chillier by the night. I'd love nothing more than a roaring fire in my fireplace, but before I light up, can you fill me in on the dos and don'ts of chimneys?

A. Most people should let a professional handle the actual act of chimney cleaning, since it can be a complicated and dangerous process. Cleaning requires specific kinds of poles and brushes, which a homeowner may not feel comfortable wielding up on the roof. Cleaning costs range anywhere from $85 to $100.

However, you can save yourself the cost of a professional chimney inspection– roughly $25– by doing that on your own. When you inspect your chimney, shine a flashlight into the smoke chamber and measure the amount of buildup on the sides of the chamber. If it's more than a quarter inch, your chimney's in need of a sweep.

A lot of people in the areas surrounding Charlottesville burn wood in their fireplaces all winter. If you're one of them, you should check and, if necessary, clean your chimney after burning every cord of wood. If you burn only now and then for atmosphere, you can get away with a bi-annual chimney check.

Chimneys that vent oil burners need to be checked and cleaned more frequently than other kinds because of the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. If the carbon monoxide cannot escape through the chimney because of clogging, the deadly fumes will enter the house.

For wood-burning fireplaces, dry oak is the best kind of fuel. Hickory is also suitable, and cedar is sometimes a popular choice because of the scent it emits as it burns. Be sure to avoid burning pine, which will quickly create buildup on the sides of the chimney.

It's important to make sure your damper is open before lighting a fire. You'll know right away if it's closed because smoke will start billowing into your home instead of rising up through the chimney. Occasionally homeowners will accidentally bang wood against the damper door and inadvertently close it. It's a good idea to have a pair of fire-resistant gloves handy in case this happens to you, so that you can quickly reach in and open the damper.

A chimney cap is another handy fire-related accessory. It's useful at keeping out both rain and critters, neither of which you want dropping down into your living room.

John Dedio