In my time as a chimney professional, I have come to acquire a large amount of customers that call in about the same time each year
to have their chimney professionally cleaned. These folks are usually older and use their fireplaces frequently. We come out, service their chimney; which includes a chimney sweep, an exterior evaluation of the chimney and a video inspection of the inside of the chimney’s flue system, and go about on our way. Other customers, however, are extremely reluctant to spend money to have their chimney cleaned. They see no point in having a chimney sweep come to clean the chimney when there are cleaning logs that can simply be burned like the rest of the wood in their pile to clean the chimney.
Depending on the brand of cleaning log you get, they can be very effective. However, what a chimney sweeping professional has that no cleaning log ever will is the fact that they can evaluate both the inside and outside of your chimney for damage that can be both dangerous and expensive if left unattended.
If you plan on using your chimney each year, it is prudent to have it swept and inspected each year because each year, after a season of changing temperatures, freeze and thaw damage can occur causing cracks to appear on
the exterior of your chimney. Similarly, a lot can happen to the inside of your chimney during that time. The foundation of your home could shift significantly in that time causing a crack to appear in the flue system. A chimney fire could have occurred during the last burning season after your chimney professional checked out the chimney. Even if your flue is capped, a bird or bat could have made an opening in the mesh and brought in debris which could catch fire.
The reality is that maybe since the last time you had your chimney inspected and cleaned none of these things have occurred, but risking it is never something that I would recommend to customers. Paying for a professional evaluation of the chimney is a small price compared to the possible costs of repairing a chimney after a chimney fire has occurred or fixing a heavily damaged chimney’s exterior because you didn’t inspect the integrity of the brick frequently enough and allowed the masonry to deteriorate.
Chimney cleaning is only as effective as the method that you use to clean it. A chimney professional that does not run a video inspection of the flue system is far less effective than a chimney professional who does. In the same way, using a cleaning log is less effective than calling out a professional. NFPA requires the chimney to be swept after one cord of wood is burned, but remember that damage can be incurred by the chimney even when the chimney is not in use.