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Whether you burn wood as a primary or secondary home heating source, it's vital to stay on top of routine maintenance and repairs. Failure to do so could result in hazardous conditions and significantly reduced energy efficiency. An annual chimney service and inspection prior to the burning season should turn up any problems. Other signs that a repair is needed include smoke coming into the house, a leaking chimney, or chimney damage.
The general rule of thumb for chimney sweeping is once per year. The best time to schedule a cleaning is the off-season (from April to September), when prices are lower.
Depending on the quality of the fire, the condition of the wood, and how often you use the unit, however, an annual cleaning may not be necessary. The main reason for a cleaning is to remove creosote, a buildup produced by wood combustion. Creosote accumulates more rapidly when the wood is wet or unseasoned, while a hot, clean-burning produces less creosote.
If you're feeling ambitious, you can strap on some goggles and a dust mask and check creosote levels by scratching the chimney area above the damper. 1/8 inch of creosote indicates a cleaning is required; ¼ means you're at serious risk for a chimney fire and need to hire a chimney sweep ASAP.
To be on the safe side, an annual cleaning is recommended. Even if your chimney only has moderate creosote buildup, a cleaning service almost always includes an inspection. Spotting and correcting a problem early on can spare you the expense of an emergency service down the road.
Beware of Dishonest Contractors
There have been nationwide reports of scam-artist chimney contractors charging homeowners thousands of dollars for unnecessary repairs. Don't let underhanded companies prey on your fears about chimney fires or carbon monoxide poisoning. Get a second or even third opinion from a reputable technician (one who's bonded, insured, and a member of the Chimney Safety Institute of America [CSIA]) before moving ahead with any work.
Common Fireplace and Woodstove Problems
Repairs to a fireplace or woodstove are often performed for one of the following reasons:
The chimney has several areas where issues can arise. The chimney flue, which funnels smoke away from and out of the house, receives the brunt of creosote buildup. Regular cleanings help preserve the flue, but eventually, it can crack or break, necessitating a repair or even replacement of the flue liner.
The chimney crown (the part that sticks up over the roof) is another magnet for damage, as it's exposed daily to the elements. Cracks in the crown masonry are common and can lead to leaks. Repairs and resealing can prolong a crown's life. Depending on the extent of the damage, it might be more economical to replace the crown altogether.
A chimney cap sits atop the crown. It helps prevent debris, animals, and water from entering the chimney and also keeps sparks from spreading to nearby combustibles. Replacing (or installing, if you don't already have one) a cap is a quick and simple job.
Flashing is installed around the base of the chimney crown. It serves as a barrier between the chimney and the roofing material and directs rainwater into gutters. Flashing can be damaged due to inclement weather and age. It should be replaced as needed to avoid leaks.
- A faulty damper (the damper controls air flow in and out of the chimney) can let cold air in and heated or conditioned air out. Replace a worn or outdated damper with a newer unit for a tighter seal and better energy efficiency.
- A loose woodstove loading door results in heat loss. Replacing the door gasket (seal) often solves this problem.
- The firebox on a masonry fireplace wears down and fails over time due to combustion. Rebuilding the firebox involves tearing out and replacing the firebrick.
Fireplace and Woodstove Repair Average Costs
- A chimney sweep and inspection runs $150 to $300.
- Repairing cracks in a chimney flue costs $250 to $1,000; installation of a new flue liner costs $2,500 to $5,000.
- Simple repairs to a chimney crown can cost $500 to $1,000; more complex work (including rebuilding) can cost $1,000 to $2,500.
- A new chimney cap costs $50 to $500, plus $100 to $200 or more for installation.
- Repairs to chimney flashing cost $250 to $500.
- A new chimney damper might cost $100 to $500 or more, plus installation.
- A new woodstove door gasket costs $20 to $50 (not including installation)
- Rebuilding a masonry firebox costs $750 to $1,500.