Cleaning Our Chimney

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Another dreaded job done for the year. Perhaps it would not be so intimidating if it were not 34’ from the ground to the top of the house at such a steep angle. I’m referring to the annual cleaning of the chimney and wood stove. After all these years you would think that it wouldn’t be so intimidating and I’d be somewhat used to it. Each year going up the outside of a steep A-Frame that high still turns my stomach into knots. It is especially unnerving because when you get to the top you have to turn around and face out and away from the house with nothing but your heels on the ladder and your balance holding you there. I now use a climbing harness (purchased a few years ago) and hook the safety rope to the top of the ladder. That would limit any mishap to a four foot fall at most. I also try not to look down but when there is nothing between myself and the ground but thin mountain air it is hard not to glance down just to maintain my balance. 

Each year I run a wire brush down through the chimney; this year I tried something different. I took the wind cap off and instead of running the brush down from the top, I removed the bottom section of chimney and ran it up from the bottom. To avoid all that creosote from cascading down I used one of the empty dog treat canisters. I drilled a hole in the bottom where the fiberglass rods would fit through the hole and wrapped it with an old T-shirt that held it in place by making a plug out of it. The canister caught most of the creosote and ash and when I got the brush back down the chimney I simply put the last rod and “plug” in a garbage bag and took it all outside. 

Last year when I attempted this procedure the plug in the bottom of the chimney fell out and I was three days shampooing carpets, cleaning walls and furniture not to mention several cleaning applications to myself. It helps if you have one other person to hold the plug in place as you scale the creosote from the inside of the chimney with the wire brush. As everyone knows a little creosote and ash can spread over everything and anything. Just a little bit spreads a very long ways.

It was not until I was at the top of the ladder facing out that I realized I was wearing a white long sleeve shirt. I would like to say wearing a white shirt reflected a total confidence in my ability to cleanly perform this job but that would not be true. The white shirt was resolved as soon as I had my feet back on solid ground. Chimney sweeps wear black for a reason. 

Once again the chimney, wood stove and chimney cap are clear and clean of creosote/ash. Cleaning a chimney and wood stove is a very dirty job. I don’t mind getting dirty as much as being that high facing outward and away from the house. One slip at that height could ruin your entire day. Last year I paid the crew that installed the new wood stove to clean the wind cap. It is worse standing on the ground watching fear in someone else’s face than going up and doing it myself. It is a really steep roof and when you turn around on the ladder to reach out to the chimney to remove the wind cap you better have a strong resolve as it is scary to look out at nothing from that height. I’m glad to have it done for one more year but I don‘t expect it to be any less difficult next year either. Not having it nice and clean for the next wood burning season is not an option for us.

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