The time of year and soot levels are both factors.
neutral-colored dining room with black fireplace

On your laundry list of things to get done this winter, cleaning out your fireplace or chimney might not make it to the very top. Experts say it should be a priority, though—especially if yours hasn't been cleaned in a few years. The reason why? One of the main causes of chimney fires is caused by the build-up of creosote, a byproduct of burning wood, in the chimney interior, warns Andrew Wilson, a home improvement contractor from Contractor Advisorly. "While you can take certain steps to reduce the amount of creosote that gets created, you can't prevent it from growing, which makes cleaning your chimney a must-do task," he says.

Another incentive for cleaning your chimney is that it makes it more energy efficient. "As debris builds up, it will often clog up the chimney flue liner," he says. "When the liner gets clogged, it can inhibit fire operation." While there is no single standard for how often you should clean your chimney, Wilson recommends doing so at least once a year, especially if you use it frequently. Here are some other factors worth considering to determine when it's the right time to have your fireplace and chimney cleaned.

Consider the season.

The start of fall is often the best time to clean your chimney because it's right before you're likely to start using it more often. "In order to reduce the dangers of creosote, cleaning the chimney before you start to use it often is crucial to reducing fire hazards," says Wilson. "Another incentive for cleaning your fireplace or chimney in the fall is that hiring a professional to do the work for you is usually cheaper this time of year, as opposed to winter when they are busier." That said, you can have your fireplace and chimney professionally cleaned at any point during the year.

You're starting to smell burning wood.

Another sign that you need to clean the chimney is when you start to smell burning wood—even when the chimney is not being used, notes Wilson. "This smell is often caused by creosote deposits inside the chimney," he says. "When it comes to the point where it's strong enough to smell, then it means there is a large enough amount that should be cleaned out."

You can see soot.

Wilson suggests visually inspecting the chimney to check for any soot that is at least one-eighth of an inch thick. If you find any, it's time for a cleaning. "Any large accumulation of soot will often make it possible for a chimney fire to occur," he concludes.


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