It’s that time of the year again! Time to cook your favorite homemade meals and spend some time with friends and family. As always, gifts will be part of your Christmas celebration. Santa will also be paying a visit soon, so besides for leaving him cookies and milk, you’ll want to clean out your chimney before his arrival. After all, leaving Santa a dirty chimney to climb down might just land you on the naughty list! It would ruin his suit and his white beard will be black with soot by the time he gets down. Santa is busy on Christmas Eve, he can’t go home and take a shower to clean off soot after visiting every house.

But when it comes to taking care of your chimney, coal in your stocking and landing on the naughty list should be the least of your concerns. Keeping Santa happy isn’t the best reason to have your chimney cleaned this winter.

Why Clean A Chimney?

Unlike other parts of your house, cleaning your chimney isn’t something you do so it will look nice. You won’t really be able to see the difference after your chimney has been cleaned. Not unless you actually look up or down your chimney, at least. Sweeping a chimney is a safety precaution to avoid a chimney fire from starting in your house.

Many homeowners neglect having their chimney inspected and cleaned annually. Unfortunately, many of those homeowners end up paying dearly. There’s no way of knowing what a chimney fire would cost you if one were to start in your house. At the very best, it would cost a few thousand dollars. At the worst, it might cost your life.

Fire is a dangerous thing to work with, so if you use your chimney in the winter (even if it’s only a few times) you should have it inspected and cleaned out once a year. There are a few reasons why a neglected chimney can be very dangerous:

  • Soot buildup, birds’ nests and other debris could be hiding in your chimney. If it isn’t removed it could easily catch fire. Even when extinguished as soon as possible, these fires tend to cause a lot of damage. The worst cases are when entire houses burn down and people lose their lives.
  • Certain aspects of your chimney, like its height, might not meet local safety regulations. If you’ve never had your chimney inspected, you could find out that it’s been a safety hazard all along.
  • When your chimney isn’t clean, it could leak carbon monoxide into your home. Carbon monoxide is a gas fires release as they burn. Because carbon monoxide has a similar molecular structure to carbon dioxide – which is an abundant gas you breathe in all the time – your red blood cells can bond with carbon monoxide molecules . The problem is that, unlike carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide is poisonous and too much carbon monoxide buildup in your blood is fatal.

While you might think your chimney is safe, it’s important to realize that carbon monoxide (much like carbon dioxide) is an invisible, odorless gas. This means you won’t be able to see or smell if your chimney is leaking this poisonous substance into your house. If your chimney is leaking any smoke into your home, that’s certainly a red flag. You should have your chimney inspected, cleaned and perhaps even fixed before using it again.

But even if your chimney isn’t leaking smoke, there could still be carbon monoxide released into your home from your fireplace. Symptoms of mild carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, headache and weakness. If you often feel somewhat light-headed after adding wood to your fireplace that could be a sign that your chimney is leaking carbon monoxide. And while carbon monoxide in small amounts isn’t fatal, it’s still damaging to your health.

And when it comes to carbon monoxide, it doesn’t matter what you burn in your fireplace. The gas is released even from your car exhaust. So not matter what kind of chimney you have, it has to be regularly inspected.

Furthermore, a chimney that leaks carbon monoxide is likely to have obstructions that prevent it from effectively channeling smoke out of your home. These obstructions are usually flammable, meaning it’s an early warning sign of a potential chimney fire.

Can I Sweep My Chimney Myself?

Many want to know if they can DIY their chimney inspection and cleaning. The problem is that a professional chimney sweep knows exactly what to look for. Homeowners that clean their own chimneys often leave a lot of soot and other debris, so cleaning your own chimney won’t necessarily make it any safer.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (or CSIA), suggests you have your chimney inspected by a professional chimney sweep before you start using it for the winter. This is to ensure that any potential problems are caught and dealt with before you start making fires.

But although it’s always better to catch problems even before they can cause any harm, having your chimney inspected in the winter is also acceptable. Especially if you didn’t have your chimney checked before making your first winter fire. In that case, having it checked before making another fire is absolutely recommended. Just because your previous fires didn’t cause harm doesn’t mean your chimney will be safe for the duration of winter. On the contrary, your chimney could’ve been a ticking time bomb all along.

Please consider the safety of yourself and your family and have your chimney checked this winter. Not only will you make Santa happy, you could also be giving local firefighters the gift of a holiday season free of tragic emergencies.