Ten tugs on a cord, and the chimney's clean
Sometime during a weekend, often after the midday meal, Don Vickory gets up from the table and goes outside to sweep the chimney. When he's through with the chore, his wife has just about finished clearing the table. That's how simple chimney sweeping is in the Vickory home.
As fire marshal of this upstate New York town, Vickory knows the importance of regular sweeping. Even he admits, however, that but for the simplicity of the operation, he would never be quite so zealous. His chimney is swept in rain, snow, or shine and whether there is a fire burning in the stove or not.
Over the years, Vickory has seen the results of too many chimney fires ever to risk having another one in his own home. To his acute embarrassment he did have one such fire a few years back. That's when he learned just what happens to creosote when it burns. The fire also led to his developing what might be termed the lazy man's chimney-cleaning system.
Called the Chisler, it is a permanently installed pulley and weight system, complete with scrubbing tines, that can be operated by a long cord from ground level. Cleaning the chimney simply involves pulling the cord 10 or a dozen times.
''Do it any time of day or night but not when the washing is on the line,'' says Vickory, speaking from experience.
When the chimney is swept, most of the soot and creosote scrapings fall to the bottom of the chimney. All you have to do is sweep it up. However, every time the weighted tines are pulled up, small puffs of the dusty particles emerge from the top of the chimney. That's where the family wash comes in.
Vickory says he had inspected his chimney just before the fire a few years ago. It had approximately one-quarter inch of creosote clinging evenly to the sides. Thus, Vickory saw no reason to be concerned because his chimney was tile-lined and could readily withstand a possible fire.
In any event, wasn't a good fire one of the best ways to clean out a flue? Yes, if it is a very thin layer but not when it reaches a quarter inch or more.
This is what happened in the Vickory home:
The creosote burst into flame and, as it burned, expanded some fivefold into a layer of burned waste more than an inch thick. These layers then peeled off and fell to the bottom where they lodged, totally blocking the chimney just above the stove. With nowhere to escape, the smoke billowed back into the house.
It was a bitterly cold January day, but every door and window in the house had to be opened to let out the smoke. Hastening to the roof, Vickory cleared the blockage by suspending a heavy weight on the end of a long rope with which he pounded through the obstruction. He knew the moment he had broken through because escaping smoke and cinders rushed back up the chimney like erupting ash from a volcano.
Thinking back on the incident, Vickory realized he could readily pry loose hard creosote layers that form on chimney liners, using a putty knife. But what good would that be without a 30-foot-long arm to do the job all the way down. The answer came in the form of a weight containing steel tines, hard enough to scrape away the creosote but not so hard that they would damage the tile liner.
The weight was, in turn, attached to a stainless-steel cable, which became the ''30-foot arm'' he needed. A simple metal brace and pulley attached to the chimney enables the weight to be readily drawn up and down the flue.
The slightly conical weight is left in the flue at all times. It does not hinder the escaping gases because they leave a flue in a spiraling motion somewhat the way water flows down the drain hole in a bathtub. In other words, the smoke is less dense at the center of the column and readily escapes around the sides of the weight. When not in use the weighted head can be suspended below the fire, near the cleanout entry.
The Chisler, which is readily installed by the handyman homeowner, retails for about $60 in kit form or $100 made up. Currently, it is designed to clean tile-lined flues only, but work on developing tines that would be effective with refractory-cement-lined flues is planned.
Chisler is being made available through hardware outlets throughout the nation. For details write: N. A. Taylor Company, PO Box 1190, Gloversville, N.Y. 12078.