Because climbing down the chimney is reserved for Santa
You’re cozied up on the couch to catch up on your favorite show when—what’s that sound? You’ve got a visitor in your chimney, and Christmas is months away. Before you end up with a squirrel running through your house, learn the right way to remove animals from your chimney.
1. Identify the Animal
The easiest way to get an animal out of your chimney is to identify it first, or at least whether it's a bird or mammal. You can often tell by the sounds. If it chirps, squawks, or flaps, it's probably a bird. If it sniffs, claws, or scratches, it's likely a mammal.
You may also notice debris like soot or nesting material falling into the fireplace, even if the damper (the plate you keep closed to prevent air from escaping) is closed.
2. Find Out If It’s an Intentional or Accidental Visitor
Knowing whether the animal arrived by accident or on purpose can help you figure out how much help it needs to get out and what remedial measures you'll need to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Some wildlife, like squirrels, birds, and mice, accidentally fall into the chimney while trying to evade predators. But the inside of the chimney is slick, so they often can't get a good enough grip to clamber out again. Animals who inadvertently get stuck make their presence known through loud noises.
Other animals, particularly raccoons and bats, think your unprotected chimney makes a secure and secluded residence. Wildlife that has chosen to make your chimney their home will make their usual sounds (using their indoor voices, if you will) and only make noticeable noise at certain times of the day or night.
3. Tackle the Problem Yourself or Hire a Pro
Depending on the situation, it might be relatively easy to get a stuck animal to leave—particularly if you've got fireplace doors and you're comfortable working with wildlife.
Some animals, such as bats and raccoons, can carry diseases dangerous to humans and pets. Or you may be afraid of or aren’t comfortable working with wild creatures in general. For these instances, call a local wildlife removal specialist trained to deal with animal emergencies.
Wildlife removal costs $180 to $560, which can cost less than replacing or repairing a damaged chimney.
Important note: Never try to smoke any animal out of the chimney by lighting a fire. You risk injuring (or worse) whatever is in your chimney. And in most states, it's illegal to harm animals that are likely to get stuck in your chimney.
4. Put Your Rescue Plan Into Action
If you know what animal you're dealing with and you understand the different parts of your chimney, it's time to take action.
If heights don’t bother you and the squirrel is above the damper, it's a pretty straightforward process. Follow these steps to help the squirrel out safely:
Make sure the damper is closed.
Take all reasonable safety precautions, such as securing the ladder and having a second person steady it.
Climb a ladder onto your roof.
Tie a rope, at least three-quarters of an inch thick, around the chimney breast and hang it down the chimney. Make sure it's long enough to reach the damper.
Climb down and give the squirrel plenty of space.
Assuming the squirrel is healthy, it’ll climb out on its own within a few hours. Then, you can retrieve the rope and cap the chimney.
If this process doesn't work and you don't have fireplace doors to place a humane animal trap, call a squirrel removal pro for assistance.
Bats are tricker to remove because many species are legally protected, carry disease, and are often reluctant to leave. They’re best left to a qualified or licensed bat removal specialist to handle the job. Many states also prohibit harming or killing them, so the technician will find the most efficient and humane way to get the bat out and advise on or perform remedial action so it doesn't come back.
The bat removal pro will perform an inspection to identify all entry points, then seal up all but one of them to encourage the bats to leave. They’ll seal the remaining entry point once the animals are all gone and add exclusion netting to the chimney top so the bats can’t come back to their cozy roost.
Note: One thing you can do immediately without a pro’s help is to close the damper so bats don't get into your house.
Your best bet when it comes to raccoons? Make sure the damper is closed and call a raccoon removal expert.
Raccoons really like chimneys. If you live in an area where there's an abundance of these animals and your chimney isn't capped, there's a high possibility that a mama raccoon will take up residence and give birth to and raise her young. Some, especially those who are nesting, seem impervious to repellents and deterrents.
Once you hire a pro, they'll assess the situation and most likely trap the mom, safely snare the babies, and then release the family to somewhere more suitable. They'll advise on the remedial action you need to take, like capping your chimney to prevent any more critters from calling it home.
If you've got a bird nesting in the chimney with her young, it's illegal in most states to disturb them. So before you take any action, wait for the babies to fledge and the whole family to fly off.
If you've got a single bird in the chimney that fell in there by accident, you can take immediate action. Call a bird removal professional or emergency animal control if it’s stuck and you're not comfortable trapping and removing it yourself.
5. Stop More Animals From Invading Your Chimney
Keeping unwanted animals out is much easier than removing them.
Once you've gotten rid of the interlopers, hire a local chimney sweep to thoroughly clean and install a cap, which protects the chimney opening without blocking escaping smoke. A chimney inspection from a nearby professional will also identify any other issues, likely entry points for animals to make their way in, and other necessary remedial work.
Installing a mesh cap is one possible option to prevent animals inside your chimney. But your pro can advise you on the best product for your particular location, as they'll be familiar with the most common wildlife likely to take up residence.