The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that homeowners have chimneys, fireplaces and vents inspected at least once a year to make sure they’re sound and free of deposits that would hamper the flow of air or smoke moving up and outside the home. It’s also a matter of safety: The NFPA reports that 30 percent of fires caused by fireplaces result from failure to clean the chimney. Nearly 20 percent of all fire deaths are caused by faulty home heating equipment. If wood-fired heat or a gas fireplace makes up an important part of your home heating, you need a regular chimney inspection and cleaning.
Chimney sweeping companies inspect chimneys, fireplaces and sometimes the vents that make up an HVAC system to ensure that they’re free of debris and working properly. These professionals can also inspect and clean clothes dryer vents and ducts, another common cause of home fires. The average nationwide cost for chimney cleaning is $80–$150. Chimney service companies typically offer a cleaning and inspection together for a flat fee, unless there are mitigating circumstances such as unusual buildup or something blocking the chimney like a rodent’s nest.
Fire prevention experts recommend getting your chimney inspected and cleaned every year before cold weather begins, if you burn more than 30 fires a year.
The first step in getting your chimney ready for the winter is a proper inspection, which will require the inspector to climb up on the roof and look at the fireplace from the inside. The inspector will check the chimney’s structural integrity, the liner, the smoke chamber and the firebox. There might be an extra fee for a video inspection, but lowering a camera down the chimney could reveal problems that can’t easily be seen from outside the structure.
Ask your service provider if their cleaning fee includes removal of soot, creosote and blockages from the flue liner, smoke chamber and shelf, firebox, and damper to ensure that you’re getting a comprehensive cleaning.
Expect to pay between $100 and $250 for an inspection. Some chimney sweeps include the cost of the inspection in a flat rate if you also hire them to do the cleaning.
Like many other tradespeople, chimney sweeps offer flat rates for cleaning and inspection. DNG Complete Home Improvement, SNG Chimney Sweep and Xtreme Chimney Sweeps all will clean and inspect chimneys for for $89–$120.
If you haven’t cleaned your chimney in many years, or if you’ve just bought an older home and don’t know how long it has been since the chimney was cleaned, that could affect the cost of the job.
The chimney sweep may also charge an extra fee if your roof is too high for a ladder to reach or is too steep to safely climb on without a harness.
How often do you use your fireplace? If you burn wood in your fireplace 3-4 times a week, or use it as a primary heating source for your home, the buildup of soot might be far greater than if you just use your fireplace a few times a winter when company comes over.
The chimney sweep may also charge extra for dealing with either live or dead animals in the chimney. Birds, bats, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, various rodents, and the occasional cat or dog sometimes end up in a chimney, especially in an older home without a chimney cap or in a home where the fireplace isn’t used very often. A chimney cap can help prevent animals from getting in, but once you hear something scurrying around, or smell the unmistakable scent of dead critter, you should call a professional to remove the animal and clean the chimney.
Repairs and maintenance
DNG Complete Home Improvement charges $99 for cleaning. The company offers free estimates for chimney repairs and typically charges $99 to install a chimney cap, not including the cost of materials. SNG Chimney Sweep can do a wide range of masonry repair, brick repair, tuck pointing, back wall repair, fireplace floor repair and crown repair. Prices vary based on the extent of the repair.
If you own an older home and anticipate structural repairs to your chimney in addition to a regular cleaning, consider hiring a general contractor with experience and certification in other homebuilding trades like masonry to better assess your chimney’s maintenance needs.
Fireplace or wood-burning stove
Chimney professionals typically charge about the same to clean chimneys on both fireplaces and wood stoves.
A cleaning for a wood-burning stove might be slightly more expensive than for a fireplace if the flue is an odd shape that is difficult to access. However, wood-burning stoves often include a catalytic cleaner that reduces deposits and buildup, which will make regular cleanings easier.
The purpose of a chimney liner is to ensure that heat (and fire) stay contained in the fireplace and chimney, to protect the masonry from the corrosive byproducts of combustion, and to make sure the fireplace or wood stove has the proper size flue for maximum efficiency. Liners are typically made of heat-tolerant materials such as clay, ceramic or metal. Keeping your chimney clean and in working order is important because replacing a chimney liner can cost $2,500–$5,000.
In older homes, the liner needs to be thoroughly inspected because a past fire in the chimney could have cracked a clay liner or damaged a metal liner. If your chimney is past due for a sweep, your chimney’s liner might need critical repairs as well.
Some chimney sweeps are certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), which offers training and certification in chimney cleaning and repair. CSIA certification is a good way to ensure that your chimney work will be completed in a professional manner. The CSIA requires all the contractors it certifies to complete a one-week online course, take two timed exams and sign a code of ethics. Chimney sweeps certified through CSIA must re-certify annually, participate in continuing education opportunities and abide by its code of ethics.
Other certification agencies include Fire Investigation Research and Education (FIRE) and the National Fireplace Institute (NFI).
Some states and cities require licenses for chimney sweeps, but a fly-by-night business can assemble a business license, a contractor’s license, insurance and a surety bond, and still not be properly trained to clean and inspect a chimney. Ask your sweep for proof of certification to avoid being victimized by a scam artist who leaves your living room looking like a soot bomb went off in it.
Gas fireplaces do not create the same soot and creosote buildup as wood-burning fireplaces do, but professionals still recommend that chimneys be inspected every year.
Even though gas fireplaces burn cleaner than wood, a regular inspection and cleaning will prevent common problems. If the chimney is too cool, it can cause water condensation that can cause your wallpaper to peel, paint to blister, ceilings to stain, or even mortar to erode or bricks to crumble. A cool chimney on a gas fireplace can also cause incomplete combustion, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Keeping chimneys capped, clean, and free of cracks and leaks will prevent water damage and keep litter from getting in, which, in turn, will decrease the likelihood of developing bigger, more expensive problems.
If you’re burning wood regularly during the winter, you’re already saving money. So don’t cut corners on annual cleaning and inspection, which can save you even more down the road by finding problems early before they become serious.
Have a chimney cap installed to prevent rain, snow and sleet — and animals — from getting into the chimney.
To prevent creosote buildup, only burn dry wood.
Expect the chimney sweep to cover the flooring around the fireplace with blankets to catch any soot that comes out during the cleaning.