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No one in my family ever had a chimney cleaning; they all have oil heat. The assumption that chimney sweeps are employed only by those who use fireplaces, wood stoves, pellet stoves, or coal burners is wrong. After a heavy rainstorm our basement took on a small stream of water starting from the base of our chimney.
It concerned me, but after a quick visit from our chimney sweep I was assured that the sixty year old chimney simply needed a cleaning. After all these years the oil burner hadn't sent soot into the chimney like a wood stove would have done, but debris and dirt entered the chimney from the other end. It was news to me that I should have called a sweep earlier, and it made me wonder what fire risks I had luckily avoided all these years.
Those who burn wood are at the highest risk for creosote buildup, though all chimneys can have it. At any point that the creosote builds up to one quarter inch or more, the chimney is going to need to be swept.
The more silent concern is one with which oil heat customers may be familiar - carbon monoxide. A blocked chimney, as with a clogged furnace, can send poisonous carbon monoxide into the home. This gas prohibits the body from absorbing oxygen, causing a quick and quiet death. Allowing the chimney to "breath free" will keep the carbon monoxide outside where it belongs.
Now that fall is upon us, this is a good time to check out your fireplace. If you need to call in a chimney sweep, do it now, before he is in big demand. In our area, we only have one chimney sweep. His rates are lower during the warm weather and higher during the winter months.
He explained it to me this way: In the summer, he has some days of no work, and at the most he may work 8-10 hours a day. During the winter, he is in demand and people need his service and he may be working 10-14 hours a day. He feels he deserves "overtime pay" as most others earn, plus he has to pay his seasonal winter help overtime as well. In addition, colder weather also brings on a more dangerous work environment, such as snow or ie on the roofs, and having to set his ladder in snow or ice.