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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chimney Cleaning and Safety

Wood-burning fireplace with burning log.

Original Article

Winter is finally fading away, and for those on a survival homestead a new season of maintenance and housekeeping awaits for the coming spring weather. One of the primary concerns of a homesteader, as well as anyone else that may use a wood-burning stove, fireplace or other device that utilizes those grand old chimneys that adorn so many homes is cleaning them out of the seasons soot. A lot of folks prefer to put the chimney sweep act off as long as possible, but I believe it should be done in the springtime, and as early as possible.
Why do I suggest springtime for cleaning your chimney? Because it will still be fresh from use and the buildup of soot and creosote will not have had time to harden up. Most of the pros I’ve talked to say it’s a lot easier for a homeowner to clean their own chimney if the soot is fresh, and preferably warmish. They say that if you have an open chimney you may have a sort of concreting or hardening of the accumulation near the top of the chimney if it gets repeated moistening from the rain. Covered chimneys apparently don’t have that problem.
Cleaning chimneys is a relatively easy task, provided you don’t mind getting dirty and you’re not afraid of heights. It’s a simple matter of obtaining a properly sized and shaped brush for the opening, and sufficient brush extensions to allow you to reach the entire length of the chimney.
Simply climb to the top, insert the brush and work it up and down a few feet at a time until you’ve brushed the entire length. It’s sort of like brushing your teeth before bedtime. To make things easier, if you have a fireplace open to the room indoors, tape a layer of plastic sheeting around the opening to keep the soot inside the fireplace. When you’re done brushing, take a shop vac and suck out all of the soot from the fireplace, the stovepipe, and/or the cleanout chamber at the bottom of the chimney.
Remember that soot is a very fine dust, so make certain you have a very fine filter on your shop vac. If you don’t you will end up blowing a fine cloud of soot all over the house, and believe me, it ain’t a breeze to clean up after that happens.
Check out some of the websites that specialize in this sort of thing, and also some of the chimney brush dealer’s sites. There is a lot of info by way of tips and suggestions that can be found.
While you are cleaning your chimney, check it out for loose masonry, disintegrating mortar and cracked flue linings. If you do this in the springtime, you’ll have all summer to obsess over it before you get it done.
Here are a few old timers’ tips for dealing with your chimney;
Suggestions for Repair Of Old Unlined Chimneys
1. A chimney in any existing building that becomes too hot to hold the hand against comfortably is dangerous if there is woodwork touching it. Have it carefully inspected by a reliable mason, and apply the protection prescribed by this ordinance as far as is possible.
2. The smoke test is strongly recommended as the best method for discovering defects in chimney walls which always indicate danger. If smoke escapes through the chimney walls at any place the chimney should be re-pointed or rebuilt as conditions may warrant.
3. Where soft coal is used it is often necessary to rebuild unlined chimney tops every few years, and all unlined chimneys, irrespective of fuel used, are very liable to become defective through disintegration of the mortar joints. In order to ascertain if chimneys need rebuilding, climb to the top and look inside. If mortar has begun to fall out from between the bricks it will soon do so all the way through the wall. Take an ice pick, a table knife, or other sharp implement and try to push it through the mortar; if you can do so, rebuild at once as follows:
Tear the chimney down to a point where mortar joints are solid, but at least 18 in. below the roof, get fire clay flue lining of the same size as the inside measurement of the chimney, set it in the top of the flue and build up with good brick and Portland cement mortar. This will make a solid chimney through the roof where there is greatest danger, and is the best that can be done unless the chimney is completely torn clown and rebuilt. Preserve a clear space of at least 1 in. between the woodwork of the roof and the chimney wall, and connect the chimney with the roof by metal flashings. Build to a height above the roof sufficient to clear nearby ridgelines and other obstructions.
Cleaning Chimney Flues
For efficient and safe operation of heating apparatus it is extremely important that both the flue and the smoke passages in the heating device be free from soot. When bituminous coal is used for fuel, soot accumulates quite rapidly and frequent cleanings are necessary.
Accumulation of soot in a chimney introduces the risk of a chimney fire with the consequent danger of sparks being thrown upon the roof or penetrating cracks in the chimney walls. This is a very great hazard and is the reason why chimneys should never be purposely burned out to clean them. The burning out of a tile lined flue is liable to crack the lining.
A common and efficient method of cleaning a chimney is to sweep it with a properly weighted bundle of rags or a bush attached to a rope and worked from the top, but because this operation is troublesome, chimney cleaning is frequently neglected.
Other methods of chimney cleaning recommended as simple and efficient are as follows:
1. The U. S. Fuel Administration [no longer exists as such] has strongly advocated the use of salt. The fire should he put in good condition with a substantial body of hot fuel. Well dried common salt is then scattered over the incandescent fuel in quantity depending upon the size of the furnace. For a household furnace, a pound at a time is ample. The- dampers should be kept open to maintain the furnace temperature until the fumes entirely disappear. This usually takes about half an hour. The soot is disintegrated by the action of the salt fumes. Repeat the application as necessary.
This method is highly endorsed for cleaning boiler tubes and furnace passages. It does not interfere with the operation of the plant and neither brickwork nor metal is deteriorated.
It is known that a layer of tarry soot 1/16 in. thick on boiler tubes or furnace passages will decrease their heating efficiency 20 per cent, hence the necessity of keeping them clean. It is claimed that an occasional use of salt as described will keep both heating apparatus and flue free from soot.
2. An ex lire chief recommends firing a revolver loaded with one or two blank cartridges up a chimney flue to remove soot. He asserts it to be very effective and that no injury to the flue results. Precaution should be taken to shut off the flue opening or fireplace with an old blanket or piece of burlap to prevent the soot flying back into the room when it falls following the shot. This method requires that the fires be extinguished before it is applied.
3. Scrap zinc thrown on a hot fire is recommended as a soot remover. The zinc fumes are said to disintegrate the soot.
Zinc compounds are also sold for this purpose, but as several pounds of these zinc materials are recommended to be used at a time, they would be somewhat expensive.
EXTINGUISHING CHIMNEY FIRES
A handful or two of powdered sulphur thrown on a fire is claimed to be effective in extinguishing a soot fire in a chimney. It produces sulphur dioxide which extracts the oxygen from the air supply and so prevents combustion.
A few pounds of salt thrown in the flue at the top is an old and excellent remedy for a soot fire. Even a pail of sand, earth or ashes is helpful. Such materials, however, should be used with much care, if at all, when a fireplace connects with the chimney flue, for they would be liable to scatter the burning soot into the room where the fireplace is located.