Ever seen a chimney fire? I haven’t… yet. I’ve never owned a house with a fireplace until now, and although ours had not been used for some 15 or 20 years I was bound and determined to put it to use.
I reasoned that since it had not been used for so long and probably only seldom before that, it probably wouldn’t have a whole lot of creosote build up… or I’m just cheap and didn’t want to pay a chimney sweep… unless it was Dick Van Dyke.
How hard could it be to sweep a chimney? I looked at chimney brushes at a few big box stores but realized that they would not work because my chimney splits into two at the second floor to go around a window. Since there was little chance of getting a brush past two 45 degree angles I reasoned that the best way to see if it needed cleaning was to put a fire in it. A shame, as I was looking forward to preforming my own rendition of “Step in Time”.
The previous owner had stuffed a bunch of fiberglass insulation into the damper to keep the cold air out. What was interesting was that the damper had been left wide open. Way to keep out that cold air!
This one did not have a handle to pull inside the fireplace, it is operated by a screw mechanism turned by a short metal shaft below the mantle. The original knob or handle is missing, so for now I’ve improvised with a vise-grip. Once I worked it back and forth a bit it operates quite nicely. Next it was on to the hearth.
So after removing a decorative holiday log with ribbon and pine cones hot-glued to it, I swept it out and found a small metal framed opening. Sweet deal, ash pit! Now I don’t have to scoop all that ash out every time I light a fire! But wait, it all has to go somewhere…
In the basement I found a cleanout door behind the boiler. Apparently it is the best cleanout door ever. It even says so. Opening it was like when Belloq opened the Ark, minus the face melting and head exploding. I was rewarded with a solid wall of dense ash from the beginning of time. And a light bulb.
Wanting to start with a clean slate, I decided to scoop it all into buckets and haul it outside. I set up the hose of my shop vac on the edge of the bucket to minimize the dispersal. Judging by some of the junk in it, I’d wager someone had been burning their trash in there. Classy. Other than some antique perfume bottles the only thing of interest I found was a small piece of tile that had come from the floor in front of the fireplace. I even found the spot where it fits.
Finally go time! Piled on the wood, fire extinguisher at the ready, standby to phone the fire dept. and light the match – works beautifully. No disasters, no smoke filled rooms or flames leaping into the sky out of the top of the chimney. It has excellent draw even with the damper all the way open. The only thing a little disappointing was the heat provided is somewhat lacking. I wasn’t expecting to heat the whole house, but maybe the room wasn’t too much to ask? At any rate, the rather dismal btu production has prompted an interest in converting it to a Rumford style. Google it, the science is sound enough…