We heat with a wood stove from October until May which ends up being a long continuous burning season at our elevation of 9.750‘. When I was younger and living in N. Florida I had a chimney fire that was a very scary event. Our chimney pipe quickly went from red to orange to yellow to white hot and made some very ugly noises. Fortunately it did not catch anything on fire except the chimney but it certainly impressed me with its ferocity. Therefore in the last 17 winters here on our homestead we use a creosote remover throughout the burning season and I clean the wood stove and chimney at least once a year.
Safety Precautions on a Ladder
Our home is an A-Frame so I have to go up the ladder 30+ feet to reach the wind cap which seems almost straight up so it is imperative that all safety precautions be taken. Since I’m now in my 70’s that means reflexes are slower and my agility leaves much to be desired. Therefore I wear a climbing harness and when I get to the top of our 40’ ladder I attach it to the top rung with a strong rope. Since both of us can barely lift and carry the ladder I figure with its considerable weight it will stay in place and if I’m firmly attached at the top it is unlikely that either the ladder or I will go anywhere. To make matters even more risky when I get to where I can reach the chimney cap I have to turn around and face out on the ladder which puts a ladder rung under my heels and lots of air in front of me. With the harness if I slip I will only go a few feet before the heavy duty rope halts me. If you are afraid of height I would suggest that you consider hiring a professional chimney sweep to save you the anxiety.
Removing and Cleaning a Wind Cap
I will describe how I approach cleaning our system because each house and chimney are different. First after getting the ladder securely in place and having put on the climbing harness and adjusting it to a good fit I go up the ladder to take the wind cap off. Some are held in place with a band of metal that can be loosened through a small bolt. Others may be affixed to the top by sheet metal screws or still others may be like ours and sit inside the chimney by virtue of a collar.
I prefer to remove the wind cap and take it down to the ground where I can work on it with a wire brush or screw driver to scale the stubborn creosote off. Once I have it devoid of all soot and creosote accumulations I set it aside and proceed to clean the chimney from the inside. The less I have to ascend and descend the ladder the better I like it.
How to Clean a Chimney
I approach the chimney from inside and first remove the double wall section of chimney and set it outside to be cleaned later. I now have a chimney open at both top and bottom. Unless you want a large amount of soot and creosote cascading down the chimney as you run the wire brush through it a method has to be devised to stop it at the chimney base. My method is using an old inner tube cut open so I have a large flat rubber piece that is wide enough to cover the bottom of the chimney with a margin left over so I can place a band clamp around the rubber and chimney end and tighten it in place. I cut a small X in the center large enough to accommodate the shaft of the brush rods before I clamp it to the chimney.
Insert the brush from the top side of the inner tube piece before the clamping process. Then I can screw my first section of fiberglass rod to the base of the brush and I start up the chimney brushing as I go. When it clears the top of the chimney I then repeat the process coming back down removing the 4’ sections when they come out through the rubber inner tube. Then after the last section of rod has been removed I put a garbage bag over the entire end of the chimney, release the clamp and let the rubber, brush and creosote all fall into the garbage bag. I remove the brush and rubber tube piece when I get them outside.
How to Clean a Woodstove
The next step is to then clean the double wall chimney I removed earlier by running the wire chimney brush through it several times. Then I remove the wood stove top and using my shop vacuum I suction out the inside of the stove from the top being sure to get all the loose material with the vacuum. I usually find a large quantity of soot, ash and creosote inside the stove after I remove the top. I wire brush those areas that do not vacuum up and then finish with a final vacuum.
I then clean the under side of the top and replace it. I then reinstall the double wall section of chimney pipe and that puts the entire system back together again. When everything is back together I clean out the firebox, ash pan, doors and inside until it has no further deposits. As I work on the stove I check the gaskets to make sure they are all in good working order and that finishes the job. For me by going slowly the total time expended is about 3 hours from start to finish. It also helps if you have someone helping you.
Safety With Creosote
Creosote is abrasive and an irritant especially if it gets in your eyes. I understand it is also carcinogenic so wear safety goggles and gloves when working around it. I try to not inhale any which is why I do the majority of my cleaning outside with the wind blowing away from me. If you choose to be your own chimney sweep be sure to go slow, use safety precautions and all safety equipment mentioned. Since I sometimes have to get my hand into the wind cap I also use rubber bands to close off my long sleeves at the wrist. Again if you are remotely afraid of heights or slightly clumsy it just might be worth the cost to hire a chimney sweep. The described method above has worked for me over the years and keeps our chimney and wood stove clean and safe. In case I forgot to mention it plan on getting dirty as it is a very dirty job.
For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their life at high elevation go to: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com