Chimney Sweeps vs DIY

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray

Subsequent to my previous blog on sweeping our own chimney I received notification from an organization that specifically certifies chimney sweeps. I was totally unaware of such an organization but in exchanging emails and perusing their website I have found that this non-profit organization is a good place to go if you don’t want to clean your own chimney. My prior blog on DIY was geared toward cleaning our own woodstove chimney but each chimney is different and may require different techniques. Professional chimney sweeps are able to not only inspect and clean your chimney but have closed circuit video cameras that can be inserted into your chimney to see if any cracks exist or if there are any other potential visible hazards that are hard to see with the naked eye. For anyone who is timid over heights, doesn’t want to get dirty or suspects that they may have chimney problems the following information may prove valuable.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America

The organization is called Chimney Safety Institute of America and is a nonprofit that educates homeowners and certifies Chimney Sweeps. Since there are no national or federal standards for those who service and clean your chimney this peer driven organization has been in existence from 1983 to create professional standards and consistency in maintaining safety and performance of chimneys – all kinds. They have a very informative and interactive web site at: . Simply by going to their web site and putting in your ZIP code it will index certified chimney sweeps in your area. Presently they have over 1,450 chimney sweeps that are certified. The web site is full of helpful and useful information pertaining to chimneys and it is easy to navigate.

To receive certification chimney sweeps must attend a review session, pass a one hour exam, then pass a 90 minute exam on residential codes and agree to the high standard of ethics formulated by the institute coupled with their peers. They will take prospective chimney sweeps and put them through their 6 day school to help them become certified. It is the purpose of this non profit organization to foster public awareness of issues relating to chimney and venting performance/safety plus promote the education of associated professionals through technical training and certification. Not only has the organization established a country wide standard of performance and professionalism but the underlying benefit is safer chimneys and fewer chimney fires. Having had a chimney fire I can attest that it was a very scary ordeal and I was fortunate that only the chimney was damaged and not our home.

Professional vs. DIY

I have successfully cleaned and maintained our chimney for so many years I can’t remember when I started doing this. It is nice to know (and the time is rapidly coming) that if I need a chimney sweep all I need do is log onto a web site and enter my ZIP code to find a professional sweep in my area. I have talked to friends who tell me that their chimney doesn’t need cleaning but I know differently. They burn highly resinous firewood and the slow accumulation of soot and creosote will eventually be ignited by a spark. The resulting damage will far exceed the cost of having their chimney cleaned regularly. Having personally witnessed a double wall insulated chimney go from red to orange to yellow to white hot I don’t intend to ever take another chance on a chimney fire. Our current chimney actually cost more than our woodstove and replacing it is an expense we would not like to do.

Chimney Options

I only see three options available when it comes to chimneys and chimney safety. One is do nothing and risk or wait for a chimney fire to occur. Second is do your own maintenance and chimney cleaning, especially if you have a knowledge of proper installation and maintenance and are not afraid to get dirty or are fearful of heights. Third, if you don’t want to undertake the personal risk of climbing to the top of your chimney hire a professional and certified chimney sweep to do it for you. Keeping a chimney clean and functional is vital to safety. Not maintaining the integrity of your chimney regularly is equal to never replacing the oil in your vehicle and expecting long and satisfactory life from your engine. Cleaning a chimney is a dirty job and whether you do it yourself or have someone do it for you it is needed on a regular basis for safety. I equate keeping our chimney safe and clean to a sign I see each time I go to my dentist that says “only brush the teeth you want to keep“. When it comes to a chimney it could be said to only brush those sections you want to keep.

Chimney Sweeps Look for More Than Creosote

An inspection by a trained professional may be just as important, if not more so, than actually sweeping the chimney. Having someone who knows what to look for can save a lot of heartache later. Home heating fires are not limited to just a chimney although that is a major cause. Clearances to combustibles, inadequate floor protection, damage to chimneys or flues are all equally important. A professional chimney sweep will recognize these defects in an instant. A periodic inspection will go a long way toward heading off a chimney fire and help reducing the risk of a chimney fire or worse. Having a certified chimney sweep who knows what to look for can be a real asset to having a properly functioning woodstove. Many thanks to Chimney Institute of America for advising me that there is a certification process and the benefits of hiring a professional chimney sweep.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray go to: