Chimney Sweeps and Fireplace Experts Offer Advice

Written by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Updated June 15, 2021
Fireplace
Even if you hire a pro to cut and stack wood, it's important to adequately prepare for using a fireplace. (Angie's List/Brandon Smith)

Making sure your fireplace is in proper working order can prevent fires. Two Indy fireplace experts offer advice on keeping fireplaces in tip-top shape.

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Nothing soothes the midwest winter chill like a crackling fire. But before you strike a match, make sure to hire a chimney sweep professional to ensure your fireplace or wood stove is in tiptop condition.

On average, about 27,000 house fires are blamed on the fireplace, chimney or chimney connector each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available, fireplace or chimney fires caused $147.6 million in residential damages and 10 deaths. For the most part, you can prevent these fires by making sure your fireplace stays in working order.

If you only use your fireplace once or twice a year or if you have a gas log burning fireplace, you may not need to have the chimney cleaned annually, says Kourtney Zahn, owner of highly rated Masonry Outfitters in Indianapolis. However, even if the fireplace isn’t used often, Zahn says the chimney should still be inspected. “It protects the chimney from deterioration or an extensive rebuild,” he says.

If you use your fireplace regularly in winter, then you should consider an annual cleaning and inspection. A certified chimney sweep will check the condition of masonry, the firebox, flue, damper and crown of the chimney. Zahn charges about $100 for both. “We want to make sure there are no cracks at the joints, the crown isn’t deteriorating and the rain caps are installed properly,” he says. Most importantly, a chimney with creosote buildup will have to be cleaned to avoid a chimney fire.

One way to reduce creosote buildup is to burn dry hardwood, says Jess Ray, owner of highly rated Woodland Tree and Landscape in Brownsburg. “Hardwoods, like maple, ash, hickory and cherry, stay hotter longer,” Ray says. He charges about $100 to deliver a stack of wood 4 feet tall, 8 feet wide and 16 inches deep, sometimes called a rick.

Most customers get a mix of hardwoods, although if someone wants all one species, Ray will oblige. He recommends wood be seasoned nine months to a year before burning. “Seasoning doesn’t start until the wood is split,” he says. Ray likes to split logs in a triangle shape about the size of a hand. The pieces average about 16 inches long.

Both Ray and Zahn say when starting a fire, too many logs on the grate can be detrimental. It’s best to only use two or three logs with kindling or newspaper to begin. “The air flow is critical to getting a fire started,” Ray says. As the fire develops, add another log or two.

When it comes to the fireplace, it’s critical to make sure it operates in a safe manner. To find a certified sweep or chimney specialist, check with the Chimney Safety Institute of America (csia.org), a not-for-profit based in Plainfield that promotes chimney and venting safety.

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, the Hoosier Gardener, lives in Indianapolis. A freelance writer, her work appears in many publications. Sharp, a director of the Garden Writers Association, also speaks about gardening throughout the Midwest.

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