A clean chimney makes for a safe fire

This home was destroyed by a chimney fire Dec. 21, displacing a mother and her five children. People who burn wood in their fireplaces should clean chimneys before winter, according to chimney sweep Chris Dunshie.

Courtesy/Kingman Fire Department

This home was destroyed by a chimney fire Dec. 21, displacing a mother and her five children. People who burn wood in their fireplaces should clean chimneys before winter, according to chimney sweep Chris Dunshie.

KINGMAN – It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

Unless you want to look like Dick Van Dyke’s soot-covered character in “Mary Poppins,” cleaning out your chimney these days is best left to professionals such as Chris Dunshie, owner of Dunshie’s Handyman and Chimney in Kingman.

Chimney cleaning is not something to be overlooked when trying to cut home maintenance costs.

Take it from the family who lost their home in December because of a chimney fire. It happens often during the winter months when people try to save money on heating costs by burning wood in their fireplace or heating stove, Dunshie said.

He starts getting calls in early September and stays busy through April, cleaning about 200 chimneys a year.

Chimney sweeping removes the residue of condensed smoke called creosote that can cause a chimney to catch fire. The job should include an inspection for damage such as missing mortar or cracked tiles.

“I basically go in and clean the fireplace first so people can see how much stuff will fall down there,” Dunshie said. “I like to show them what all came out of their chimney. You don’t want that coming out and catching fire.”

He uses a tarp to cover the hearth and a high-powered vacuum to keep fine dust coming out of the chimney from settling on furniture and floors.

Then he goes up on the roof and climbs on top of the chimney, which is 8-9 feet above the roof, and uses brushes and poles to clean the inside of the chimney from top to bottom.

Dunshie recommends cleaning chimneys once a year if you burn more than a cord of wood, and once every two years if you burn less. It costs $135 for a single-story home, and $185 on a two-story home.

“It’s not expensive,” he said. “It’s pretty cheap insurance for keeping your house from burning down.”

Creosote is a highly flammable substance that builds up inside a chimney or liner as a result of burning wood.

Some people “dial” down their wood-burning stove at night to keep it burning into the morning, Dunshie said. Then the flue doesn’t get hot enough to burn off the by-product, he said.

To check for creosote buildup, wear eye protection, find a strong flashlight and use the fireplace poker to scrape the black surface above the damper. If it’s a thin scratch, no cleaning is needed. If it leaves a one-eighth inch groove, schedule cleaning. If it’s one-quarter inch of creosote, the fireplace is in danger of catching fire and should not be used until it’s cleaned.

Dunshie started cleaning his own chimney about eight years ago, purchasing the necessary equipment, and then got requests from some of his customers, eventually snowballing into its own business.

“It can be a pretty dangerous job,” said Dunshie, who carries his own liability insurance. “On a two-story, I’m standing on a chimney 30 feet off the ground.”