Keeping your chimney in top shape

Skipping annual chimney inspections and cleanings can lead to big problems. So, before you cozy up in front of the fireplace, make sure it’s in good working order.

“If you live in a brand new house and don’t really use your fireplace, you may not need a yearly inspection,” said Angie’s List founder Angie Hicks, “but if you live in an older home, they are very important, because you might find that your foundation has settled, which can pull the liner away and it can start to separate. So, you want to be sure it’s in good condition each year.”

“If the crack is large enough to fit a nickel inside of it, and/or it’s broken all the way through and the whole panel flexes on that crack, then it’s probably time to replace that panel,” certified chimney technician Dennis Lamb said. “If those cracks are smaller than that and very superficial in nature, then it’s not necessary to replace the panel at that time.”

Angie’s List says if a certified chimney specialist uncovers a problem, don’t simply take their word –- demand proof.

“It’s important to see, I think, photographic proof of whatever it is that you might be indicating that they have a problem with so they can see that for themselves,” added Lamb.

“When talking with your inspector be sure they are using the pictures in a way that you can actually see things that identify your house in particular,” Hicks said. “Unfortunately, the most common scam that we hear about is when a chimney inspector uses pictures from another house. So, you want to be sure that the pictures you’re looking at are your house and the damage to your chimney.”

Experts say another common mistake homeowners make is failing to use firewood that’s seasoned and dry.

“It also, the wood, needs to be split because the bark on a tree actually holds moisture in, so once the wood is split and stacked and then it needs to dry for six months to a year and be covered,” said Lamb.

While gas fireplaces may require less maintenance than a wood–burning fireplace, don’t skimp on it.

“If you’re burning real wood in your fireplace and you have a problem, the house may smoke up and you know you have a problem,” said Lamb. “If you’re burning gas inside your fireplace and you have a problem, you might not know it, ’cause it’s carbon monoxide, and it’s deadly.”

Chimney cleaning typically costs about $150 to $200. Angie’s List says if someone knocks on your door and offers a super low rate to clean or inspect your chimney, you should probably pass on the deal.