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Inspect and Prepare Your Fireplace and Flue | Fireplace Safety

by Penguin Air on December 16, 2016

how to inspect fireplace and flue - winter savingsYou love your fireplace or woodstove, and use it regularly. But, can you remember the last time you had your chimney inspected or cleaned? If not, it’s time!

Fireplaces and chimneys should be inspected every year, about halfway through the heating season.

Schedule professional heating maintenance every year, including having chimneys cleaned and inspected.

Depending on the type of build, you may be able to act as your own cleaning service and remove ordinary chimney soot yourself. Most of the time, however, you need to hire a certified chimney sweep. Professional companies often employ people with a certificate in forensic chimney fire analysis. These are the pros! An annual safety inspection will determine what is needed. Expect to pay between $100 and $350 for a chimney cleaning.

Neglecting chimney cleanings is the leading cause of fireplace and chimney fires.

Before you call out the professionals, there are simple tests to determine what your chimney needs and what steps need to be taken next. So before you try to roast chestnuts on an open fire, check off the steps below.

How to Perform a Chimney and Fireplace Inspection

Remember, most home service jobs are better left to the professionals, but with some know-how and safety tips, you can perform an efficient chimney inspection to get a feel for your fireplace and chimney’s current state.


  • Goggles
  • Respirator Mask
  • Stick Broom or Chimney Brush
  • Work Gloves
  • Old Clothes

Once you have your outfit on and all your materials on hand, clear the ashes out of the firebox and remove the grate.

How to remove ashes & debris:

  1. Never remove hot coals. Wait until the ash is completely cold (you can sprinkle damp tea leaves or coffee grounds to cover up the stale,  ashy smell).
  2. Scoop the ash pile with fireplace shovel and dump into a metal can.
  3. Always take the discarded ash outside, preferably in a larger metal can or bucket.
  4. Using a stiff broom or chimney brush, brush the sides and bottom.
  5. Then, use a wet/dry vacuum to get the rest.

clean and inspect fireplace
Source: Wikihow

  • Next, open a door or window in your home — you’ll need to air things out before opening the damper.
  • Grab a strong flashlight and a fireplace poker.

What to do: Lie on your back, poke your head into the box, and shine the flashlight into the smoke chamber and flue.

What you are looking for: Look for cracks in the masonry, burn out holes, and the general condition of the damper.

  • Open and close the damper to make sure it does so smoothly. It should fit securely in the brackets. When finished with your inspection, be sure the damper is securely in the closed position. You may want to enlist someone to help you with this part.
  • Use the fireplace poker to scratch the surface of the chimney liner to measure the creosote build-up (pictured below). Burning wood causes creosote.

How to examine your findings: Is the soot a matte black finish? Is the scratch 1/8 inch deep or less? If so, and if you have the patience and desire to perform the cleaning, you can DIY safely.

If the creosote build-up is any deeper than 1/8 inch or if there is a shiny, tar-like finish instead of a matte appearance, then not only can you NOT clean the chimney yourself, but you should STOP using your fireplace immediately, and schedule a professional chimney sweep ASAP!

fireplace heating safety tips
Source: The Family Handyman

Watch this video to learn How to Visually Inspect a Fireplace & Chimney:

Get Ahead of the Winter Freeze

heating season safety tipsGet more NFPA safety tips sheets here.

More Home Safety Advice:

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