By Jim Gillam
Illustrations by Laura Zerzan
You may have seen “chimney sweeping logs” for sale at stores such as Ace Hardware, Home Depot and Walgreen’s. Or maybe you’ve seen them advertised on TV.
They come in a package similar to other manufactured solid fuel logs. Instructions call for “chimney sweeping logs” to be burned one at a time in a wood stove or fireplace. According to diagrams and promotional literature of two companies marketing the logs in North America, minerals in the smoke react with the creosote (flammable residue) left by the passage of smoke through the chimney. Thereafter, over the course of 15 days, the creosote is said to break away from the flue, or smoke passageway, and fall into the fireplace. Are “chimney sweeping logs” a good solution for your chimney maintenance needs? Can a log really replace the services of live, trained, professional chimney sweeps?
Theory vs. Reality Diagrams that appear on the packaging of “chimney sweeping log” products show loosened creosote falling away from the inner walls of the flue, down into the fire. In reality, the smoke passageway is usually not as straight as these diagrams indicate. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to chimney safety, ‘falling creosote actually may land and accumulate on a curvature, smoke shelf, baffle, catalytic combustor, or off-set, and, if not removed, may lead to a blockage and resulting fire and carbon monoxide hazards.” One company that markets a “chimney sweeping log” acknowledges this on their website. “Much of the fallen debris, produced by repeated fires, ends up staying on that smoke shelf,” they admit. “Depending on how often the smoke shelf is cleaned there can be a considerable amount of buildup. “Try to clean it periodically,” they advise, “either with a curved brush, or a wet-dry vac type vacuum cleaner, but not your standard household vacuum. It might get damaged by the soot particles. “If you are unsure about the location or condition of the smoke shelf, you should consult a professional.”
A Log Has No Eyes and No Voice
The instruction manual inside the package of the Chimney Sweeping Log marketed by Joseph Enterprises warns, “Don’t forget, The Chimney Sweeping Log will not tell you if your chimney is blocked or has any kind of structural damage. A professional who is able to determine its condition, should always inspect it on a regular basis.”
Chimney sweep Judd Berg (Judd Berg & Sons Chimney Sweeps, North Eastharn, MA) has a unique way of demonstrating this to his customers. When they ask him about “chimney sweeping logs” he says, ‘Come on out to my truck. I’ll show you one.’ Out of his truck Judd produces a cracked flue tile, a material commonly used as a chimney liner in original construction. Then he shows the customer a “chimney sweeping log” package and sets it inside the liner section.
After a period of time, Judd’s customer says, “So?” “That’s exactly the point!” Judd exclaims. “The crack in that flue tile means it is defective. The log isn’t telling you that!, A professional sweep will clean the system from top to bottom and report any problems that they find to you. The sweep might suggest that it is time to replace the connector pipes, catalytic combustor, or door gaskets and will probably be able to do the work for you when the time comes.
No Substitute for the Real Thing
A “chimney sweeping log” is really not capable of doing the job it is being asked to do. One Certified Chimney Sweep’ likens so-called “chimney sweeping logs” to chewing gum that is said to clean your teeth. “I usually tell people,” says Allan Bopp of Bald Eagle Enterprises in Sandpoint, Idaho, “Using one of those logs instead of having your chimney cleaned manually is like chewing Dentyne instead of brushing your teeth. It may help a little, but it’s a poor substitute for the real thing.’ I rarely need to say more to get the point across.”
Save yourself the price of a log and get the peace of mind you deserve by calling for the services of a reputable professional sweep. If you don’t already know a good chimney sweep, ask around in your community for a company with a good reputation. Sweeps also demonstrate their competency through certification programs offered by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), the Wood Education Technology Transfer (WETT) program in Canada, and some state chimney sweep organizations. A list of CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps@ is available online at www.csia.org.
Reprinted, with permission, from the November 2002 issue of SNEWS – The Chimney Sweep’s Newsmagazine an independent magazine for chimney service professionals. Jim Gillam, editor/publisher. 541-882-5196. www.snewsmagazine.com