Q. How often should I have my chimney swept?
This a tougher question than it sounds. The simple answer is: The National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 says, "Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary." This is the national safety standard and is the correct way to approach the problem. It takes into account the fact that even if you don't use your chimney much, animals may build nests in the flue or there may be other types of deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be swept at 1/8" of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. This is considered to be enough fuel buildup to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or spreading to the home. Factory-built fireplaces should be swept when any appreciable buildup occurs. The logic is that the deposit is quite acidic and can shorten the life of the fireplace.
Q. Why Should I Worry About My Dryer Vent?
A dirty or badly installed vent can be a serious fire hazard. It also costs you time and money.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that over 15,500 dryer related fires occur each year. The CPSC reports that the most frequent starting point for these fires was the dryer vent area. The typical scenario is simple: the dryer overheats, the lint catches fire and the fire is then helped by combustibles in the immediate vicinity (these fires can smolder for hours going unnoticed until after you've gone to bed or left your house for an errand.)
If your vent is clogged with lint or otherwise obstructed (e.g. a birds nest or crushed vent) your clothes will take longer to dry and your dryer can overheat. If your laundry takes more than one cycle to dry your clothes it's time to act - your vent needs servicing.
Q.How Often Should I Clean My Vent?
This depends on many factors: how much laundry you do, if you have pets that shed hair, if your dryer vent is long and/or has several turns in it, etc. As a general rule of thumb though,you should have the vent cleaned at least every 2 years. It's really something which needs to be maintained. Just because the dryer seems to be working fine is definitely not a good reason to put off cleaning it.
Q. My fireplace stinks, especially in the summer. What can I do?
The smell is due to creosote deposits in the chimney, a natural byproduct of woodburning. The odor is usually worse in the summer when the humidity is high and the air conditioner is turned on. A good sweeping will help but usually won't solve the problem completely. There are commercial chimney deodorants that work pretty well, and many people have good results with baking soda or even kitty litter set in the fireplace. The real problem is the air being drawn down the chimney, a symptom of overall pressure problems in the house. Some make-up air should be introduced somewhere else in the house. A tight sealing, top mounted damper will also reduce this air flow coming down the chimney.