When to clean your chimney and fireplace and how much it should cost

Your fireplace may be the center of your home but if it's not properly maintained – especially if it's wood-burning – you could be in danger.

The numbers according to the National Fire Protection Agency, are alarming – 30% of all home heating fires are attributed to a dirty chimney – which means there's a build-up creosote on the inside. The good news is that you can fix it with a bit of maintenance and a few hundred bucks.

Who doesn't love the warmth that comes with a burning fire? On a cold winter's day, there's something great about mesmerizing flames while you relax with a book and a cup of coffee. But before you do it, you have to have a clean and clear path.

Grey Oaks Chimney Sweep owner Jeff Cancelosa explains that when you burn a fire, you could get a build of creosote in your chimney – among other things that can build up inside.

"Creosote number one is flammable.  It's very combustible, especially if you are not cleaning on a regular basis," Cancelosa said. "(I've seen) cobwebs, sticks, leaves, twigs, raccoon nests, birds nests, and even squirrels."

How to tell if your chimney is clogged

The good news, Cancelosa says, is that when your chimney is clogged, it will be pretty obvious: smoke that should go up and out is instead coming inside.

"A fireplace is a venting system, just like your dryer vents or air ducts."

In most cases, the main concern is creosote, which is a byproduct of burning wood. It can collect on the inner walls of the chimney. If a floating ember reaches the creosote build-up, it ignites and could burn through the chimney and into your home. 

Another clue, he said, is that if you smell a fire without there being a burning fire.

"Your chimney will not vent properly, so that's when you start getting the smoke inside the house and you get those odors. So keeping that chimney clean means you are keeping your house safe and you're definitely going to get more performance," he said.

How much should a chimney sweep cost?

So if you're looking at any of those factors, it's time to call in a pro like Cancelosa.

"A typical chimney sweet clean and safety inspection runs $200 to $225. On larger homes, we tend to charge more."

Gas-burning fireplace concerns

Creosote isn't a problem for gas-burning fireplaces – but carbon monoxide should be.

According to the CDC, 420 Americans died from carbon monoxide poisoning in 2023 and more than 100,000 needed to be treated at the hospital.

One way to avoid the accidental poisoning is ensure the pilot is lit and the chimney and fireplace are clean.

"Homeowners call it soot, but from a gas fireplace, it's actually carbon. You'll get that build-up on the fake logs, on the gas logs, or even on the side walls of the actual firebox itself. When you start seeing a build-up like that, absolutely it's time to get it cleaned out," Cancelosa said.

He admits you could do it yourself – but you're looking at a very messy job that could do more damage than good.