The First-Time Foray Into Stove Pipe Cleaning
We recently moved into a 200-year-old cabin in central New York State over a 2-week period around Christmas and New Years. The cabin was purchased 2 years ago, but we had a convenient and comfortable home in town and didn’t want to rush the move.
Repairs were ongoing and necessary to our new cabin and we weren’t rushing the project. The time we spent there was peaceful and we gradually felt the tug of full-time living in the wooded acres we had purchased. Our dream was to use the trees that inhabited our forest to burn in the wood stove that was a solid and curious presence in our living room.
One of the first items of interest when we bought the cabin was the stove pipe cleaning brushes in the attic. The wood stove definitely had a used look to it, as did the equipment. This had been the only source of heat for the previous owner, and if they could do it, why not us? But what did one do with those brushes? The stove wasn’t offering any hints.
The previous owners hadn’t told us the last time they had cleaned the stove pipe, and we didn’t ask. Some things are better not knowing.
On a recent trip into town we stopped at a hardware store where we saw a computer print-out page of an ad from a chimney sweep with the little tags at the bottom carrying the phone number, ready for anyone interested to tear off. This caught my interest, but my husband surmised we didn’t need it just yet.
On the way home we stopped at the general store for a pizza. This rickety old store sells a better pizza than most we’ve tried in the city that had been our home. Again, the computer print-out sheet for the chimney sweep with the little tags bearing his phone number was affixed to the bulletin board. Running into this subtle warning was beginning to feel prophetic.
My husband didn’t think we needed to worry about the stove pipe; after all we had just bought the house. And he didn’t believe he wanted someone else tackling this job that he thought he could handle.
Two or three days later, very late into a frosty evening, he and I walked our dogs outside for their stroll. The setting is deep woods and intensely still. The stars shine like they never do in a city, and the only sound is strangely wild, ever-changing, and an articulation from an animal from time to time. Well, there is the wind through the White Pine that stands in the front yard. The wind through that tree is almost constant; at when we first bought the cabin, we thought it was traffic. Looking up, all we saw was the breeze in the trees.
Standing on the porch with the dogs, I heard a hissing sound from near the stove pipe where it exited the wall from the living room to the outside. I said, “what’s that?” My husband, who doesn’t get as nervous as I do, said, “oh, that’s just steam coming out of the stove pipe”. Well, that caught my interest. I hurried over with my flashlight, and sure enough, I could see moisture from the pipe and also smoke rolling out of a seam. I said, “that doesn’t look right”. My husband thought it was probably just ice build-up in the top of the stove pipe. Again, I didn’t like the sound of that explanation. I’ve become suspicious of my husband’s manufactured explanations.
Not backing down, I insisted something wasn’t right in the stove pipe. My husband thought it would be okay, and we should just go to sleep. I said, “I don’t think so. I think we can die from this situation”. Finally accepting the disturbing possibility that this was an event that should be addressed, he closed the little wheels on the front of the stove that allows in air to encourage the fire. On this very cold night, our wood stove fire went out and we went to sleep.
First thing in the morning, we awakened to the new task of handling this problem.
I made coffee, my husband stood face-to-face with our huge Timberline stove. My contribution was to call the general store, where the woman answering was kind enough to give me the phone number of the chimney sweep that we hadn’t felt the need for two days before.
My husband stubbornly held the position that he could handle this himself. So, not knowing where to start, but having looked up stove-pipe cleaning on the internet, he put together his tools and tackled removing screws that held the pipe together. Sure enough, we had creosote build-up in the pipe from the stove to the outer wall, and in particular in the two elbows of the pipe, just where the internet said the build up would be the most dramatic.
And, interestingly, even though we had shut down the stove the night before, we still had embers in the elbow that went from living room to the outdoors. My husband said something I was shocked to hear—”hmmm, you were right”.
So, as I drove off to work, I left him with the phone number of the chimney sweep “just in case”; and he was arm deep into the stove pipe, clearing out stuff. Along with creosote there was also powdery black ash.
When I returned home a few hours later, the stove was again functioning and it looked smug and clean. My husband was also smug and self-satisfied. He had removed the pipe and cleaned it out with the previously-alien-stove-brush to the point that, as he said, “It’s as clean as a cooking pan”.
Of course, I had to go outside to inspect the outer pipe that had been smoldering the evening before. Sure enough, everything look tight and intact and functional.
The stove seems to be burning better. And now we know to watch for signs, which takes the nervousness out of the use of the stove. It almost makes one feel capable.
Perusing the internet for information on cleaning the wood stove pipe was invaluable, and no doubt there are many suggestions worth gathering. But our particular problem was solved when my husband simply jumped in and did it.
If we can, the same could be true for other people new to the world of wood stoves.