When it doesn't work, that's when it's time to take action. Chimney sweeps are the go-to people for help with this delicate area of the home.
"I saw an episode of 'Dirty Jobs' on the Discovery Channel about two years ago," Mike Clawson, owner, The Chimney Guys, said. "They were profiling chimney sweeps, and I thought that would be a cool home business."
Clawson and his wife Annette moved to Brazil two years ago from Arizona. He works evenings as a pilot for Lifeline in Terre Haute. He's been flying for more than 25 years, and they were looking for a home-based business that they could do together.
"In the beginning, we really focused on sweeping chimneys," Clawson said. "As time went on, we began seeing a real need for maintenance. We began expanding the business to include selling wood stoves, inserts, and other fireplace equipment in addition to the cleaning service."
Citing statistics from 2002, the latest year he could find, Clawson explained just how dangerous a dirty chimney could be.
"In 2002, there were more than 36,000 fire incidents that involved a fireplace or a wood stove," Clawson said. "Out of that, more than 300 incidents resulted in death or serious injury."
According to Clawson, an unclean chimney is a potential time bomb, with many people not even aware of how close they come to having a fire.
"Most of what you burn in a fireplace turns to ash. But inside your chimney, the smoke and fire cause a build-up of what is called creosote. If the fire gets hot enough, creosote can ignite quickly, and start a chimney fire," He said. "If you've ever started a fire in a fireplace and heard what sounded like a freight train in your chimney, you've probably had a chimney fire."
He explained that many chimneys are lined with tiles, which during a fire, can crack. This allows the fire access to your house and gives you the potential to lose everything within the house, including your life or someone else's.
After making the decision to become chimney sweeps, the Clawson's enrolled in a class at the Chimney Safety Institute of America in Plainfield where they received their certification. They are the only certified chimney sweeps in the Wabash Valley.
"We clean and inspect chimneys and give piece of mind," Clawson said. "We also recently added a full-time mason to our team to repair the mortar work where needed."
The Chimney Guys typically do at least one cleaning daily, and during the busy season, late fall, can do as many as three or four a day. Chimney repairs may take longer, so they usually don't schedule a cleaning on repair days.
Clawson uses several tools in this trade to clean and maintain a chimney in working order. Chimney brushes and rods, pellet stove brushes and rods and even dryer vent brushes. The chimney cleaning logs are ok to burn periodically, but he recommends that you have the chimney cleaned professionally first.
"The most important tool you can have to help combat problems with your chimney is a chimney cap," Clawson said.
"It'll keep out critters like birds, squirrels and raccoons. It'll also extend the life of your masonry work, flashing at the base of the chimney and your chimney crown."
Clawson does have some good advice about fire in general.
"Use decent wood that is dry and has aged at least 6 months," Clawson said. "Make sure it's split well. When you start a fire, start small, and use small pieces of kindling. A small fire will pre-heat the chimney, and cause less wear and tear on the inside materials. This can stop the materials from cracking and lesson your chances of having a chimney fire. Remember that old saying, 'an ounce of prevention, is worth more than a pound of cure.'"
Those wishing for more information on getting a chimney cleaned can contact the Clawson's at 812-240-6554 or by e-mail at email@example.com.