There are several different ways to maintain a chimney. The homeowner can complete some methods, such as visual inspections and maintaining the landscaping around the chimney. Other types of chimney maintenance require a professional. Professional methods of chimney maintenance include annual inspections, detailed inspections, and relining.
Before the heating season begins, the homeowner should shine a flashlight up into the chimney from inside the house. Any obstructions, such as birds' nests, need to be removed before the first fire of the season. Take note of any soot accumulation on the inside of the chimney. While only a professional inspection can determine if chimney cleaning is required, soot thicker than one-quarter inch (0.6 centimeters) typically indicates it is time for a chimney sweep.
A home surrounded by trees presents a challenge for the homeowner. Leaves, limbs and squirrels will all have easy access to the chimney when there is a tree nearby. Cut limbs so there are none within 15 feet (4.5 meters) of the chimney, and install a chimney cap.
Annual inspections are the main form of chimney maintenance recommended by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. These inspections will uncover potential damage as well as soot buildup, which is the leading cause of chimney fires. After the inspection, the inspector can let the homeowner know if a cleaning is required.
There are three levels of chimney inspection. In a level one inspection, the inspector will physically examine the chimney's interior and exterior. Anytime that the homeowner makes changes to the chimney system, a level two inspection is recommended. Changes that may indicate a level two inspection is necessary include relining the chimney, changing the type of fuel used in the fireplace or adding anything to the system to improve heating efficiency. A level two inspection is often required at the time of sale or if a problem occurs with the fireplace, such as a chimney fire.
The most extensive form of inspection is a level three inspection. A level three inspection is required when a level one or two inspection uncover a problem. The level three inspection is invasive, and may require the removal of certain areas, such as the interior chimney wall, to access particular areas.
Damage from a chimney fire, lightening strike, or settling may require more extensive chimney maintenance. Damaged chimneys can be relined with stainless steel, new flue tiles, aluminum, or a cast-in-place lining. This maintenance allows the homeowner to get many more years of use from an existing chimney.