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How do I keep my chimney clean and safe?

Provided by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC)

The beginning of each heating season is a good time for a chimney inspection. This inspection should cover all chimneys, including boilers and furnaces. One of the most common causes of chimney fires is the pipe coming in contact with combustibles. After years of exposing insulation and wood framing to heat, the ignition point of the material drops and it takes less to be ignited. Consequently, checking on creosote inside the chimney and clearance to combustibles outside the chimney is also a good idea.

Since people in Alaska primarily use factory-built insulated metal chimneys, this article provides an inspection checklist for that particular type.

· Examine the chimney wherever it is accessible, especially inside the roof.

· On the outside of the pipe look for dents, missing screws or bands, rusted metal, heat discolorations, separation between sections and any other abnormalities.

· Perform the same inspection inside the pipe, with a powerful flashlight and a mirror if necessary. The pipe should be clean and smooth, with no defects or buildup.

· Insulated metal chimneys should have an ID label and a rating. Call or visit your local building supply store to find who carries specifications for your brand of pipe. Product information is available online too.

· Pay close attention to the required clearances between the pipe and any combustible surfaces, especially inside the roof. There should be no insulation touching the pipe, even if it is rated as noncombustible, unless specifically approved by the manufacturer. Insulation installed closer than the minimum air space is a serious fire hazard.

· Attic insulation shields keep the chimney pipe the proper distance from combustible materials inside the roof and are a standard off-the-shelf item. They can also be manufactured by local sheet metal shops for special applications.

· On the roof, the chimney cap should be in place to control sparks and prevent water from entering the pipe.

· The pipe should extend at least three feet above the point it exits the roof, and at least two feet above any wall, ridge, roof, or adjacent building within ten feet. If the pipe exits the roof more than ten feet down from the peak, you should be able to measure down two feet from the top of the chimney and ten feet horizontally in any direction without contacting the roof. This is considered a code minimum – a greater height may be necessary for draft and safety reasons. Check with the manufacturer for specifics relating to your application.

· Make sure the chimney is protected from sliding snow, particularly on a metal roof. Snow stops, bracing or crickets may need to be placed where impact damage can occur.

· If you are installing a new chimney, be sure to inform your insurance company, as policies may require notification and inspection.

Chimney sweeps and wood heat installation specialists can be good resources for questions and inspections. If you are burning wood in an old untested chimney, a professional inspection and some new pipe can bring you peace of mind–instead of an emergency visit from the fire department.

The Cold Climate Housing Research Center is an industry-based nonprofit based in Fairbanks, Alaska that develops and tests energy efficient building technologies for the north. The articles and videos included in this guide are part of its mission to promote healthy, sustainable, affordable housing in Alaska and beyond. Find more at