Maintaining your fireplace and chimney is not only a necessity, it can, in some cases be a lifesaver. Chimney fires are a common occurrence, especially in the autumn when people start using their fireplaces again after the summer period. The best time to maintain your chimney is after the cold season so that you know it is all ready for the following winter.
First, check the outside of the chimney. Although it is often better to leave the more difficult maintenance to the experts there are a few simple checks you can do to make sure that your chimney is in good working order.
Use an extension ladder, or better still, a mobile scaffold tower to access the top of the chimney. It might also be worth hiring a roof ladder so that you can get to the chimney quickly and safely. Clear any debris from the chimney cap such as dead leaves and check that it is in good condition. It is worth fitting a wire screen over the top of the chimney to stop animals, birds and debris coming down the chimney or flue. If you already have one then check it is still in good condition with no holes.
Look closely at the mortar between the bricks to make sure it is not flaking or cracked. It is also important to examine the flashing between the chimney and the roof to see that it is still watertight. If it is damaged, it is possible to patch it with caulk.
Once you know that the outside of the chimney is sound you can move indoors. Remove any ashes and debris from the fireplace using a shovel and a bucket. Once the fireplace is clear then it is worth using brushes to sweep the chimney or flue itself. You can either call an expert to do this part for you or have a go at it yourself. It is important to cover all furniture and carpets before you get started though, the soot tends to fly everywhere.
If you are doing this yourself then it is worth having a friend outside watching the chimney to see when the brushes appear at the top of the structure.
Finally, once the chimney has been swept and the excess soot has been cleared, it is worth giving the fireplace itself a good clean using a mix of soapy water.
If you have a wood burning stove, you can clean the glass using specialist chemicals (but be sure to wear protective clothing). It is also important to check the fibrous seal on the door to be sure that it is in good shape.