How to tell when it's time to inspect and clean your fireplace or woodstoveby Mike Godden on 10/09/11
The NFPA recommends annual cleaning and inspection. As a chimney professional I agree that it should be inspected before you start burning for the season however it might not need a cleaning. As a general rule for masonry fireplaces I recommend burning no more than 2 facecords of seasoned hardwood between cleanings. If you have a wood stove you can usually burn much more. The first thing you must do to determine if you need a cleaning in your fireplace is to open the damper and look up the flue with a light. If you can see a buildup of black soot on the walls of the smoke chamber and flue it's time. If you see any shiny creosote buildup it really needs a cleaning and is likely to start a chimney fire and can cause serious damage. If you have a stove you can tell if you need a cleaning by removing the stovepipe from the stove and looking in the pipe and flue. Again if you can see a buildup of a 1/8" or more it's time for a cleaning. It's very important to keep the system clean and free of defects. Super heated flue liners expand and crack and allow dangerous creosote to get into areas that can ignite house framing. Get yourself in the habit of checking frequently and you'll be burning safely in no time.