About Chimney Sweep Certifications – The Need To Know

Chimney Sweep Certifications to Enhance Expertise

Chimney sweeps play important roles in our lives: they keep our fireplaces and chimneys happy and healthy so we can stay warm!  Kind of like a doctor for our chimneys!  These pros have to know what they’re doing when they stick their heads inside a chimney, and to do that, chimney sweeps obtain specialized training and the highest certifications in their field possible.  So what credentials do good, qualified chimney sweeps have?  There are a few necessary certifications, and we’ll look at those as well as what it takes to earn them.  Keep reading to learn more!

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Chimney Liners: Description, Types, and Importance


At High’s Chimney we’ve found that chimney liners are perhaps the most under-appreciated part of the fireplace and flue system. That’s why we decided to write a little piece giving an overview of their function and importance.

What is a Chimney Liner

A chimney exists to carry dangerous gasses out of the home, and it needs to do so without getting over-heated. A chimney liner creates a barrier between the flue and the walls of the chimney, and its purpose is to insulate and protect the chimney. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, a chimney liner is defined as:

“A clay, ceramic, or metal conduit installed inside of a chimney, intended to contain the combustion products, direct them to the outside atmosphere, and protect the chimney walls from heat and corrosion.”

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Tools of the Trade: Chimney Cleaning Equipment

Everyone loves a good fire burning in the fireplace. Every once in a while, though (generally between burn seasons), your chimney needs to be cleaned to remove buildup and keep you safe for many fires to come. A qualified chimney sweep should be able to tell you during your annual chimney inspection if a cleaning is necessary (which should be done when soot buildup reaches 1/8” in thickness), and the procedure can be completed by the sweep or by yourself with the help of a few essential chimney cleaning tools. Here’s what you (or your sweep) will need…

Chimney Cleaning Essentials

  • Chimney Sweep Wire BrushWire Brush – Think Mary Poppins. These flat, round brushes are used to get into the chimney to scrape buildup like soot and creosote off of the inside walls. Creosote can accumulate and thicken into a “glaze” form, which is especially tricky to remove, but these tough brushes are able to get into the tight space of a chimney and loosen the debris. Sometimes they’re recommended especially for masonry chimneys that have clay flues.
  • Polypropylene Brush – This is strictly an alternative to a wire brush, and they needn’t be used together. Polypropylene is better used with a chimney that has a stainless steel chimney liner, as the brush won’t damage it. This change is necessary, as using a different material may void the warranty on the steel liner.
  • Chimney Cleaning Rods – The round wire or polypropylene brushes come as standalone tools and must be paired with rods of appropriate length. These rods are attached to the brush and enable you or your sweep to scale the brush the entire length of the chimney interior, cleaning every nook and cranny along the way. They come in several sizes and can connect to one another to extend the length so there’s never a worry over whether a brush can be made long enough.
  • Chimney Cleaning LadderLadder – It goes without saying that cleaning a chimney is hard work and that different parts of the unit will have to be dealt with in special ways. Sometimes the chimney must be accessed from the top, such as when the chimney cap is cleaned, so a long and sturdy ladder will be essential to get to the roof.
  • Chemical Agents – Not all chimney cleaning tools are hardware. Chimney residue can sometimes be thickly caked on, so brushes or scraping tools won’t quite do the job just yet. As an alternative, chemical cleaners are employed. A variety of products are available to reduce creosote. Spray-on powders, like Chimney Saver’s Cre-Away, can therefore be used to coat the fireplace and chimney walls and break down glaze. Spraying this on before a fire ensures that when the fireplace is lit, creosote and soot lose their sticking power and can be removed by traditional means. The product reduces the flammability of creosote, removes residue odor and absorbs creosote oils.
  • Hand Brush – Luckily some of the muck inside your fireplace and chimney can be easily accessed. This is typically the case with debris like ash, which often settles in the fireplace or against chimney walls. A hand brush has a short handle and can be used to sweep away unwanted dusty residue, kind of like a broom. This tool is also used in tighter spaces, where maneuvering a large and/or long-handled brush would be difficult.
  • chimney cleaning vaccumsVacuums – Chimney cleaning is messy business! You’ll want to have at least one heavy duty vacuum on-hand during the cleaning (or more likely after it) to rid your home of any leftover particles. Consider using something like a high capacity Shop Vac with a long and flexible hose to remove the ash you swept up with the hand brush and get into tricky corners around the base of the fireplace and lower parts of the chimney. The Shop Vac is preferable to avoid clogging and overworking your household stand-up vacuum cleaner. Using a vacuum will not only get rid of debris from surfaces but also help keep the air in your home clean after the chimney procedure.

A lot of work goes into cleaning and maintaining your chimney. Brushes, rods, chemicals—these are just a few tools that will help to get the job done when the chimney requires a little bit of extra TLC. It is possible to do the cleaning yourself, however, nothing’s better than a certified chimney sweep when you want to ensure the best possible results. Give High’s Chimney a call today and we’ll see you through!

Fireplace vs Stove: The Wood Burning Showdown

Wood is good!  But when it comes to deciding between different wood-burning solutions for heating your home, some comparison shopping is in order.  Today we’ll look at the features of wood fireplaces and stoves, and see how each “stacks up.”  Get it?  Wood…stacks up.  Anyway, let’s compare some of the key features to look out for when deciding between a whole hearth unit and a stove.

Purchase Price

fireplace

Winner

The price tag.  It’s a necessary “evil,” if you will.  While the following additional factors may ultimately be more important to you in the long run, your wallet may dictate what you decide to buy now.  Home heating is a valuable commodity, and as such carries prices to match.  For heating on a budget, you might consider a wood-burning fireplace.  For a standard factory-built fireplace, look to spend an average of $3,000 – $5,000 in the DC area.  Note that replacing/updating an old unit costs less, as it involves only swapping the hardware, however fabricating a fireplace from scratch will involve heavy construction and weighing the costs of different materials (i.e. stone vs. brick).  Wood stoves, on the other hand, are pricier from the outset.  These run at an average of $2,500 – $4,000 PLUS the cost of installation and venting.  You’ll also have to think about whether or not a special ventilation system is necessary for your stove if the home doesn’t already have fireplace venting.  Stoves can either be vented through a wall or chimney and the method matters to your wallet!
Winner: Fireplace.

Efficiency

wood stove

Winner

Each unit uses wood as the fuel source, which is easy to come by and relatively inexpensive when bought, but there are major differences in the efficiency levels of fireplaces and stoves.  Wood fireplaces are best used to heat a single room because during combustion, a fireplace takes in air from inside your home and may bring it in from outside to send smoke and CO up the chimney.  This can bring a draft through the house, so you benefit from less of the fire’s heat.  A stove, on the other hand, is potentially 50% more energy efficient, according to the EPA, and uses 1/3 less wood for heat while providing more warmth than its fireplace counterpart.
Winner: Stove.

Greenness

wood stove

Winner

We absolutely cannot forget about the environment when weighing our options between a fireplace and a stove.  A major player here is carbon monoxide, which is toxic when inhaled.  Burning wood is considered to be environmentally-safe and carbon-neutral, as emissions amount to only 0.00612 pounds of CO per hour, but should still be monitored.  Carbon monoxide emissions vary between the two types of units, with a lower risk of in-house pollution from a stove, as combustion gases flow straight up and out of a stovepipe instead of into your home.  A fireplace, however, might back draft some hazardous gases into your home, with the rest escaping through the chimney.  In either case, however, a certain degree of CO makes its way into the atmosphere, affecting the surrounding area.  It’s a tight race in this case, however when considering the larger environment and your own home, we have a clear winner.
Winner: Stove.

Aesthetics

fireplace

Winner

As one blogger we encountered put it, a wood stove in the corner of a room sometimes just looks “sad.”  Wood stoves are often big, freestanding metal units that simply look awkward when not in use and do little to add beauty to a room.  A nice compromise is to opt for a wood stove insert, which would occupy the fireplace area, but you might still want to have a standard wood fireplace for added beauty.  A wood fireplace is very much a centerpiece to the room it occupies.  Dressed with an elegant mantle, rustic bricks and/or gorgeous tiling, it brings joy to a room.  You can add to it seasonally, with decorative accents placed atop the mantle and much more.  And when that fire’s lit—boy you’ll be in for a treat!  Between the low crackling of wood and the glow of the flames, a fireplace brings the ambiance!
Winner: Fireplace.

Safety

Wood-burning comes with some hazards.  For instance, we know that both units rely on wood for fuel, which itself can carry mildew or pests.  We also know that burning wood can result in creosote buildup inside a chimney, a possible house fire risk.  With diligence, though, these problems can be managed.  Additionally, many times wood-burning fireplaces are open, sometimes with a mesh curtain for minimal protection.  This means that sparks can fly out, resulting in the potential for burns on your hands/arms or for your property to catch fire.  Along those same lines, wood-burning stoves are enclosed, usually by a glass door.  Without sacrificing heat, that closed door will usually keep you, your family and your property safe, with sparks only being problematic when tending to the fire.  It is important to realize, though, that although stove flames are sequestered behind closed doors, the unit itself will become quite hot and should not be touched to avoid further burn risks.  The safety levels of each type of unit are pretty equal when all is considered.
Winner: It’s a tie!

There are lots of things to think about when it comes to choosing how to heat your home.  Sticker price, efficiency, greenness and other factors are just the tip of the iceberg in choosing between a wood fireplace and stove.  The two compare quite closely, but the choice really depends on which features you value more.  No matter which one wins in your book, fireplace or stove, High’s Chimney has you covered!  Call us to discuss your needs today!

Weirdest Things Found in Chimneys in 2013

At High’s Chimney, we’ve shared just about everything there is to know about the chimney business, including a few bizarre stories (criminals, chimney accidents, etc.).  You’d be surprised what chimney sweeps find in their line of work!  A few odd tales have come down the pipeline in 2013 alone.  So what’s made sweeps around the world stop and do a double-take lately?  Let’s see…

“A 16-year-old boy…a family friend.”

16year-old-stuck-in-chimney (1)

Credit: KCAL

It’s great to be able to say that your grandma loves your friends like family.  Unfortunately for a woman in North Hills, CA, her trust was misplaced.  Pat Hawkins always treated her grandson’s friend like one of her own, but after the 16-year old was found stuck in her chimney in August, she’ll likely be more careful.  The boy managed to make it 10 feet down into the structure, a plan LAPD claimed was executed in attempt to burglarize grandma, before becoming stuck.  The teen was only trapped for around 30 minutes, leaving him relatively unharmed, but emerged from the chimney in supposed victory, waving to cameras.  He probably wasn’t as eager when shown to his prison cell!

“Ma’am, you have a duck in your chimney.”

img via Bruce Cowan

Image via Bruce Cowan

Back in June, Rhode Island woman Susie Cabassas scheduled a routine chimney cleaning.  The technicians who came out to do the job found the usual suspects—soot, ash, etc.  What Ms. Cabassas didn’t expect, however, was for her sweep to tell her, “Ma’am, you have a duck in your chimney.”  With some help from the homeowner, the chimney sweep on the job managed to get the duck out safe and sound, allowing it to tumble from the damper to a pile of ash at the base of the fireplace.  As Ms. Cabassas said herself, the animal became “one lucky duck,” having been swaddled in a towel and released outside by the chimney sweep after a quick photo op.  Lucky duck, indeed, as it was pure coincidence that the chimney cleaning was scheduled for that day!

“A Mysteriously Naked Man in Central Berlin.”

homless-man-stuck-in-chimney (1)

Homeless Man Stuck in Chimney

There have been plenty of stories of burglars attempting to sneak into homes the Santa Claus way (like the one above).  A 39-year-old man in Berlin, Germany, however, doesn’t quite fit the bill.  In fact, no one really knew what to make of him when he was found nude, 30 feet down a chimney in January.  Some claimed that the unidentified victim was homeless or that he’d run away from a hospital, but no clear answers were found.  Police had a tough time rescuing him, and grasping onto a rope had failed.  Finally, fire rescue personnel succeeded in freeing who Reuter’s called a “mysteriously naked man” by drilling a hole in the structure to reach him.  Luckily the man was OK, however he’d lost consciousness prior to his rescue and had to be resuscitated and was described as having become very cold.

Truth be told, just about anything you can think of could get stuck inside of a chimney.  People, pests, objects…anything!  As chimney pros, we’ll never stop running into strange things, and it’s tough to surprise us. But once in a while a story is just too weird not to share!  Ever have your own unique encounter?  Share it with us in the comments below!

 

 

 

How to Buy Firewood

It’s that time of year again: the wind is blowing and cold nights are becoming more common. There’s only one thing to do—start a roaring fire! Before you kick off your fire season, however, you must be prepared. This means purchasing the right firewood! Knowing how to buy firewood isn’t complicated, but there are a few rules to live by to get the best results, so let’s talk not only about getting your hands on firewood, but about how to buy good firewood.

1. Choose Seasoned Wood
firewood-cord-largeNo, the firewood you buy doesn’t have to be sprinkled with salt and pepper. By “seasoned” we mean dried. Seasoned wood may have some “checks” or cracks in the logs, indicating a lack of moisture, and if the bark has not been shaved off by the dealer, it will begin to flake off of dried wood (and in fact should be removed prior to burning!). Firewood burns best when it has been properly dried outside, generally for about a year.

2. Get Efficient Wood
Wet logs, or “green” wood, on the other hand, attract mold and mildew, are home to insects and dirt, produce excess smoke when burned and cannot reach maximum heating potential due to using energy to burn off water. Whatever dealer you seek, be sure that the wood is in prime burning condition. If not, you could be looking at pests invading your home (wood roaches, beetles, spiders, rodents) and the unwanted habit of constantly replenishing your fuel source during each burn.

Some species of seasoned wood make for better fires. Knowing how to buy firewood means avoiding inferior “soft” woods, such as the likes of firs, spruces, pines and poplars. These may be easy to handle, but they’ll leave your home cold—with a maximum of 13,000 – 15,000 BTUs per cord, stinky, smoke-ridden and throw sparks all over (both unpleasant and a safety hazard!).

The better bet is to go with one of several “hard” woods. Some of these include ash, beech, red and white oaks, hickories, maple, locust and birch and they ignite easily and burn hotter and longer. Hard woods are manageable because they’re easy to split for use in your stove. Additionally, they give off copious amounts of heat while minimizing smoke output—giving off 19,000 – 26,000 BTUs of heat per cord! Think about it; would you rather be warm and toasty or cold and shivering?

3. Buy Firewood by the Cord
Firewood is typically sold by cords—stacks of logs equal to 4 feet wide by 8 feet long by 4 feet high—it’s the universal measure! Reputable dealers will sell by multiples of this and fractions of cords—i.e. half a cord. In fact, according to the State of Maryland, such a practice is required by law, so a dealer you found on Craigslist who shows up with a truckload of loose timber might not be treating you fairly in price or volume.

Cord Wood Measurements Maryland State

In addition to knowing that you’ve bought from an ethical business(more on that in our Washington DC Firewood Guide) , buying firewood by the cord also ensures that you can keep track of how much you need and use during the burn season. We usually recommend investing in 3 – 4 cords of wood each year, though this may vary. Knowing these details as well as your own fireplace habits will give you an idea of how many cords you will actually need for a single burn season.

Let’s recap. To enjoy your fireplace all winter, you’ll need 1.) seasoned wood to produce the best possible fire and make good use of fuel, 2.) efficient hard wood to promote warmth and avoid problems like smoke, and 3.) selling firewood by the cord required by law in Maryland. Find a reputable dealer to buy from, it will guarantee you quality and adequate fuel supply. And remember: store your firewood supply in a cool, dry place away from pests or flammable materials to keep it in prime condition for fireplace use! Questions or comments? Sound off below! Happy burning!

Types of Gas Fireplaces

custom fitted fireplace insertThere are a good many fireplace options for homeowners nowadays, and gas fireplaces are quite popular.  The big reasons gas fireplaces are attractive are that they are clean, convenient, and cheap to operate.

Depending on your needs or home’s capabilities, different types of gas fireplaces are available. Gas inserts, log sets, built-ins and free-standing units are all among the major types of gas fireplaces, so let’s learn more about them.

Gas Fireplace Inserts

Fireplace inserts in general are intended to be installed into a preexisting firebox, meaning that one sits directly inside a regular fireplace.  Gas inserts are often appealing alternatives when the home’s fireplace no longer works properly or isn’t safe to operate due to damage.  Many inserts are connected to and operate off of your home’s gas lines and are ignited via push button.  Other inserts may be fueled by a propane tank outside of the home.  Fireplace inserts often use ceramic logs to provide the benefits of the appearance of a real wood-burning fire, but without the smell or the smoke.

Gas Log Sets

electric fireplace

Photo by Jeffrey Beall

With gas log set units, you transform a run-down fireplace and get the standard ceramic logs and a grate to sit them in for an authentic look.  Gas log set units are noted as mostly decorative and are best for light use. Gas log sets may be vented or unvented.

Vented gas log sets are typically ventilated through the home’s chimney, but require little maintenance.  Unfortunately, that the burner doesn’t run very hot, and most of the heat will escape up the flue, so this unit isn’t a significant heat source.  Please note that, for log sets venting through the chimney, the flue must remain sized for normal fireplace operation.

Unvented gas log sets are generally more efficient. However, they should not be run continuously due to inevitable leftovers from combustion that will remain in the house such as water vapor, particulates, and even carbon monoxide.

Because log sets are mostly decorative, they are good choices for those who want to add a bit of ambience to a room and work well for those residing in warmer climates.

Built-In Gas Fireplaces

built in fireplaceIf you’re building a home and know that you want a fireplace but don’t want to maintain a wood-burning stove and chimney, you might go for a “built-in”.  A built-in gas fireplace is installed as the primary fire source in a wall of your home and has the inherent benefits of less heat waste compared to wood units.  When the fire is burning, less heat gets cycled out, allowing you to benefit from its warmth.

Vent-less built-in units do not require a chimney for ventilation.  They instead rely on oxygen sensors built into the logs to monitor your home’s oxygen levels. Many vent-less units are UL listed (certified by Underwriters Laboratory as suitable for home-use), but we again note that they may not eliminate all combustion byproduct from the interior of the home.

Direct-vented built-in units, on the other hand, enable pollutants—smoke, exhaust, etc…— to exit your home through the chimney, through a pipe scaling the wall, or up through your home’s roof.  A great benefit of direct venting is that without needing to be in proximity to a chimney, a built-in gas fireplace can be installed virtually any room in the home. Please note that for direct-vent units (or for any vented units other than gas sets) that vent through the chimney, the flue must be lined with a liner that is properly sized according to the units’ manufacturers’ specifications — note that this may sometimes require the additional cost of relining the chimney with a smaller liner. Additionally, the flame of direct-vented units is a traditional yellow, like the flame of wood, as opposed to the blue flame of ventless units.

Free-Standing Gas Stoves

Photo by Edvvc

Photo by Edvvc

Free-standing gas fireplace units combine all of the features and benefits of the other 3 choices.  But can you guess the biggest difference?  That’s right, these fireplaces are stoves that sit on your floor—in the corner, near a wall, or wherever you like.  They are operated by running a gas pipe to them for power, and they sport the same ceramic logs as other units to create a rustic feel.

As an added benefit, free-standing gas fireplaces are not only exposed in the front (like built-in units that only show the face), but also have all sides fully exposed in the room — This allows more heat (from the front, right and left side of the warm stove) to radiate into your room.

Fireplace Extras

No matter which type of gas unit you choose, there are many styles and add-ons available.  For instance, gas fireplaces come with the ability to add extras like fans to better circulate heat through your room.  Additionally, you may opt for one of many ignition systems—using automatic ignition that creates a spark to light the burners or various pilot lights (standing pilot, which is always ignited, in-demand pilot which can be manually turned off, etc.) to start your stove. A remote control is also a very popular option.

Gas fireplaces are sought-after because of the convenience as well as strong efficiency (averaging 70% and up).  There are types of gas fireplaces for anyone—log sets, built-ins, inserts and free-standing stoves each serve various needs.

So which will it be?

  • The insert, which resurrects your old fireplace to bring it back to working order?
  • A log set, which doesn’t provide substantial heat but makes for a lovely home accent
  • The built-in, which bypasses the need to deal with an old wood unit and perhaps even the need for a chimney?
  • Or a free-standing stove, which allows you to place it anywhere in the room to best enjoy it’s warmth?

The sky’s the limit and you can customize anything to your liking!

Types of Fireplace Inserts

With the cool weather moving in, many of us are planning ways of keeping our homes warm and toasty in the coming months.  Fireplaces always seem to be a go-to heating option, given their calming ambience…but not everyone has that luxury.  What’s a homeowner to do, then?  Invest in a fireplace insert, of course!  Inserts are great to have because they fit snugly into an already existing firebox and experience less heat loss than traditional fireplace units.  Perhaps the best part is that there are types and styles to meet every home and homeowners’ needs.  Let’s find out more about the many fireplace insert options.

Main Types of Fireplace Inserts

gas fireplace insert

Photo by Katie Schumm

There is indeed an insert option for every taste and need.  These include gas inserts, wood-burning inserts and electric inserts.  All options are typically dressed with self-cleaning glass doors for both enhanced safety and appeal, but as you can tell by their names, what really distinguishes each type is the means to fuel or power each unit.  Gas units make use of various types of gases to light the flames, wood-burning units operate like real fireplaces and operate from wood power and electric inserts may require little more than the flip of a switch.  No matter which you choose, your fireplace insert promises better home heating than traditional units because each is fully insulated to result in increased temperatures, better combustion and improved heat efficiency.

Types of Gas Fireplace Inserts

A gas fireplace insert is one option for your home.  They are unique in that they run off of gas fuel, such as natural gas or propane.  These units usually hook up to your home’s gas lines or a propane tank outside and direct venting models take in and release air through the chimney.  Some are vent-less, and will monitor oxygen levels in the home instead of using the chimney.  The major benefits of the gas insert are enhanced efficiency and heating power—giving off between 25,000 and 40,000 BTUs at 76-83% heat efficiency.  Additionally, gas units afford users a traditional look with decorative ceramic logs.

The biggest risk with gas units, however, is carbon monoxide poisoning.  While gas units are largely safe, it is difficult to check for leaks in the gas line, so a carbon monoxide detector is an essential accessory.  Overall, gas inserts are good bets for those who operate appliances via gas, individuals looking for the best value (Gas units heat small spaces well, ultimately saving on gas bills), and those wanting ease and convenience of use (They burn cleanly, requiring little chimney maintenance and are lit by means of a pilot light and ignition button).

Types of Wood-Burning Fireplace Inserts

custom fitted fireplace insert

Photo by Brenthasty

Wood-Burning fireplace inserts are some of the most complex of units available.  They’re unique in that they are fueled by wood or, alternatively, wood byproducts like manufactured logs made from sawdust.  These units are in the middle ground in terms of efficiency—running at about 50% due to potential heat loss during air circulation—and can burn very hot and long—upwards of 65,000 BTUs each hour, for 6+ hours.  Wood-burning units are ventilated via the home’s chimney and are therefore attached by a connector between the unit and chimney flue liner or by a connection which scales the entire height of the chimney.

The primary benefits of wood units are the rustic feel they create and the fact that they are “off-the-grid” and therefore work even in the absence of electrical power.  These units also have improved performance in recent years due to more stringent EPA guidelines, which have resulted in decreased smoke output and wood used.  We did say that wood-burning inserts are the most complex, however, and for good reason.  Wood inserts come with the inherent disadvantages of requiring increased maintenance, such as chimney inspections and removing soot and creosote from the units, and despite their lowered smoke emissions they still pose health risks to those who inhale the smoke and to the environment.  So when is a wood insert best?  Wood is likely a go-to option for individuals who heat their homes primarily by fire and do not want to/cannot rely on other methods of power such as gas and electricity, as wood is plentiful and reliable.  Even better, if your chimney is in good repair, you might as well make use of it!

Types of Electric Fireplace Inserts

electric fireplaceElectric fireplace inserts are a pretty good deal…all you do is plug it in and flip a switch!  The unique part about electric units is that they are entirely powered by electricity, via 110-volt outlets and don’t require chimney ventilation.  They come in a variety of sizes to suit your needs, too, and produce just the right amount of heat for comfort—around 4,000-5,000 BTUs.  A nice benefit is that electric units may be used with the heat on to provide warmth, or alternatively as a decorative piece with the heat off and the glow of the flames flickering on artificial logs.  Additionally, these inserts are flexible—they may be used as an alternative to the wood-burning fireplace they reside in or easily removed to light a traditional fire (so long as the fireplace functions correctly).

The downside, of course, is that when the electricity goes out in inclement weather, so does your fire.  Luckily, these units may be backed up with a battery or generator, so don’t panic!  And these units are especially good for those who live in older homes, as operating the traditional fireplace is often out of the question because the unit and/or chimney are in disrepair and electric inserts provide a sound alternative.

Gas?  Wood?  Electric?  There are so many types of fireplace inserts and each is unique and advantageous in its own way.  So how do you choose?  Compare, compare, compare and choose one based on the most important features!  Safety and efficiency are key, but so is appearance.  There’s a fireplace insert to meet everyone’s needs…which one wins in your book?

Chimney Sweep Trivia: The Light Side

The following post is brought to you by Nayaug Chimney Services, chimney sweeps from Glastonbury, CT.

What do a pig and a whale bone have to do with chimney sweeping? Why did chimney sweeps of long ago wear top hats? Is it true that many people consider chimney sweeps to be as lucky as a rabbit’s foot? What the heck is a spazzacamini? These are just a few of the questions that can be answered when you take a look at the light side of chimney sweep trivia.

Whale Bones Brushes

whale

Photo by Whit Welles

After the use of climbing boys was outlawed in England in 1864, inventor Joseph Glass came up with the original chimney cleaning equipment that was so effective, the cane and brush design is still in use today. One major difference is that early canes were imported from the East Indies and made of Malacca. Chimney cleaning brushes were originally made with whale bone, not nylon or polypropylene, as they are today.

 

Top Hats and Tails

chimney sweep

Photo by Pilekjaer

There are a couple of different stories which provide an explanation for why early chimney sweeps wore top hats and tails.

A common tale is that chimney sweeps got their top hats and tails as cast-offs thrown out by funeral directors. Being black in color, the garments were practical; and they gave a distinctive air to chimney sweeps in their filthy but necessary professions.

One legend is that in about 1066 King William of Britain was pushed to safety by a chimney sweep as a runaway horse and carriage barreled toward him. The king rewarded the chimney sweep by declaring sweeps lucky and allowing chimney sweeps to wear top hats, which had previously been a custom reserved for the gentry and royalty.

 

Chimney Sweeps and Pigs

pigletOne of the bizarre stories involving chimney sweeps as good luck symbols also involved pigs. It was for a period of time a custom on New Year’s Day for a town chimney sweep to carry a pig through the streets. People would pay the sweep a small sum and then, while pulling a hair from the pig, make a wish.

 

Chimney Sweeps and Weddings

chimney sweepOne legend that is still recognized today is that it is good luck to see a chimney sweep on your wedding day, and it’s even luckier if you shake a chimney sweep’s hand or if he gives the bride a kiss. There are a couple of stories behind this tradition. One is that a chimney sweep once fell from a roof; but because his foot was caught on a gutter, he hung upside down from the roof. A young woman who was engaged to another reached out and pulled him inside through her window, saving his life. The two fell in love and eventually got married to one another.

Another legend which suggests that chimney sweeps are symbols of good luck at a wedding involves King William of Britain and the above-mentioned story about top hats. Part of the king’s reward for saving his life was to invite the chimney sweep to his daughter’s wedding. Ever since that time, it has been considered good luck to have a chimney sweep at your wedding, at another special event, or even as a visitor to your home.

 

Gathering of Spazzacamini

climbing boys“Spazzacamani” is the Italian word for “chimney sweeps,” and it’s also the term used in reference to the annual international gathering of chimney sweeps in Santa Maria Maggiore, Italy. European sweeps have gathered there annually for decades as a way of honoring the climbing boys – referred to as the cradle of the chimney sweep profession – and to celebrate the great progress made in the industry since that cruel, centuries-long practice of sending small boys to climb up the chimneys with cleaning brushes.

 

Largest Chimney Sweep on Earth

chimney sweep statue

Photo by Sam Leung

In McPherson, Kansas, the largest chimney sweep in the world stands on the side of the road. The huge chimney sweep was formerly a baker holding a wooden spoon, but the owner of a chimney sweep company, Vaughn Juhnke, bought and renovated it.

As professional chimney sweeps, we take great pride in our profession and how far we have come since the days of such things as toting pigs down city streets on New Year’s Day. Give us a call if you need a chimney cleaning or inspection or if you need any repairs, including masonry repairs; our technicians are all licensed professionals who have the skills to help keep your fireplace and chimney safe.

Wood Stoves vs Pellet Stoves

As fall approaches, we begin to say goodbye to scorching days and nights and prepare to say hello to the colder ones.  As that transition gets underway, we become more concerned with heating and begin to evaluate our options for the cool months ahead.  There’s always the option of more expensive home heating via gas, but what about a good old fire?  Any home can be equipped with a stove.  But which type should you choose?  Here the decision comes down to wood vs. pellet stoves, and each has its own ups and downs.  Let’s take a look.

Wood Stove Pellet Stove
Price
Cost of Fuel
Power
Green?
Safety
Performance
Maintenance
Aesthetics

*Checkmark Indicates Advantage


Buying Your Stove

Wood Stove

Wood Stove.

You want a new stove, so the first consideration will likely be price.  There’s a lot to love about wood and pellet stoves, but the price tag will undoubtedly stand out.  So how do the options stack up?

Wood Stoves
Wood stoves average around $3,000 – $4,200 when you factor in the cost of bringing in a pro installer.  For a premium model with all the bells and whistles, you may be looking at about $5,000.  If your home has a chimney and a preexisting fireplace unit, installation may be simplified and you may be able to save money and opt for a fireplace insert, which sits directly inside the fireplace’s firebox. If not, you’re looking at lofty fees to fashion a ventilation system.

Pellet Stoves
On the other hand, pellet stoves come in anywhere from $1,700 – $3,000 prior to installation fees, and could total $3,500 – $4,000 when all is said and done.  That’s already lower than the higher price points of wood stoves, plus pellet stoves are able to be ventilated through a small hole in the wall, making them able to be installed anywhere in the room and saving on chimney costs.

With cost and installation flexibility, the better bet has to be a pellet stove.

The Cost of Fueling Your Stove

wood pellets

Wood Pellets.

The primary difference between pellet and wood stoves is their fuel source.

Wood Stoves
Wood stoves operate much like fireplaces in that they burn logs.  This is generally convenient and cost-effective, as firewood can at times be harvested and seasoned on your own property (free wood!) or bought by the cord from stores for low sums.

Pellet Stoves
Pellet stoves utilize wood pellets for fuel, composed of sawdust or small wood chips.  These chips are added to a reservoir to be burned.  Pellets are harder to come by as they are specially manufactured (not available in your own backyard) and not everyone sells them.  This fuel must be purchased from other areas in the US, making them somewhat less common, though plenty of regions carry them.  Using pellets means planning to buy and ship the item to use.

In either case, according to the Department of Energy, you should expect to pay about $190 for a cord of wood or ton of pellets (at 6.5 cords or 7.3 tons of pellets per season, factoring in that a ton equals 1.5 cords).  Pellets are slightly higher in price per year, though they burn longer than wood.  So, given both the abundance of and cost per season for natural wood, wood is a winner over pellets, as it’s both affordable and accessible

 

Powering Your Stove

Pellet Stove Hopper

A motorized hopper on a pellet stove.

Another aspect that distinguishes wood and pellet stoves is power.

Wood Stoves
Wood stoves work essentially like fireplaces—add wood, light it, stoke as needed, etc.  They operate completely free of power such as electricity, making them usable anytime as long as timber is available.

Pellet Stoves
Pellet stoves rely on power no matter what.  Electricity is a cornerstone in their operation, so when the power goes out, so does your fire. The electricity powers a motorized hopper that feeds the pellets into the stove.  It is possible, however, to run your stove on a UPS backup battery or generator during power outages.

So what wins on power?  In this instance, wood does.  Got dry wood and a match?  You’ll have fire.  Pellet stoves require extra resources and expenses.  With the electricity used for such a unit, you may be left in the cold during a power outage, all the while paying for 100 kilowatt-hours each month (about $9).

 

Lean, Mean and Green

a wood stove chimney

Installing A Wood Stove Chimney.

Pellet and wood stoves vary in their degrees of “greenness.”

Wood Stoves
EPA-certified wood-burning stoves are tightly regulated, releasing between 2 – 7.5 grams of smoke into the air every hour— an improvement over those of the olden days that emitted 40+ grams. According to the Biomass Energy Centre in the UK, when burned, wood releases 0.00612 pounds per kilowatt-hour of CO2.

Pellet Stoves
Pellet stoves, however, emit almost no smoke—less than 1 gram per hour.  With such a small footprint left behind, the EPA doesn’t monitor them.  Additionally, as pellets are essentially wood waste, using them is a form of recycling, keeping wood particles out of landfills. According to the Biomass Energy Centre in the UK, when burned, pellets release 0.035 pounds of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.

So for greenness, which stove comes out on top?  Pellets stoves.  While both wood and pellet stoves have come a long way toward operating cleaner and greener, pellet stoves have minimal smoke and CO2 impacts and also promote recycling.  Both fuels are “carbon-neutral” and are not considerable hazards.

 

Stove Safety

wood stove fire

A fire burns hot in this wood stove.

“Playing with fire” is risky business all around and one must take necessary safety precautions when tending to a fire.  Everything from using appropriate kindling to wearing gloves may be essential.  Beyond this, however, are the safety factors of the stoves themselves.

Wood Stoves
Wood stoves give off flame sparks, which may lead to burns, and these units could accumulate creosote deposits resulting in dangerous house fires down the road.  Additionally, firewood has the potential to bring mold or pests into the home from outside.

Pellet Stoves
Pellet stoves burn cleaner and safer, without the risk of harming you or your home.  The contained flames keep your family safe from flying embers and sparks, however the pellet stove will become hot to the touch. All members of your household should be made aware that the stove will become very hot, and efforts should be made to keep pets away from the device.

In terms of immediate safety, wood stoves get a big thumbs-down here, leaving pellet stoves to take center stage. Sparks, creosote buildup and house fires from wood stoves are great risks associated with wood stoves. Pellet stoves contain flames and prevent users from getting unexpected burns from flying burning debris.

 

Maximum Performance

pellet-stove

An efficient pellet stove.

Your stove is there to keep you warm, so which type does that better?  This all depends on the units of heat measure, or BTUs and how effectively they’re used between the fuel sources and getting heat to your space. Each stove uses great amounts of BTUs to burn logs or pellets throughout the season.  However, not all of this energy is converted into usable heat.

Wood Stoves
Firewood is used by the cord (stacked wood equaling 4 feet high x 8 feet long x 4 feet deep).  According to the Department of Agriculture, every cord utilizes 15.3 million BTUs.  In heating your home, you benefit from 10.7 million BTUs out of that total, enjoying a stove efficiency level of 70%.

Pellet Stoves
On the other hand, pellets come in 40-lb bags and the stoves have a BTU output of 13.6 million per ton of pellets.  From this, you soak up 11.3 million BTUs of heat. The result is greatly improved efficiency over wood stoves, coming in at about 83%.

Pellet stoves come out on top.

 

Stove Maintenance

chimney sweep

A chimney sweep.

Some maintenance is required no matter what type of stove you opt for.  Cleanings, component checks and more all must factor in.

Wood Stoves
Wood stoves are maintained like chimneys, requiring that a certified chimney sweep be brought in annually to do an inspection of the system, including the flue and other components, and need to have residue and soot cleaned out periodically.  A major maintenance consideration for wood stoves is inspecting the catalytic combustor, and that must be done 3 times per season alone.

Pellet Stoves
Pellet stoves, however, are simple to maintain, so long as you follow manufacturer recommendations.  It may be as simple as checking the working order of motors and fans or removing excess debris. Maintaining a pellet stove is a straightforward and potentially less-costly process.  You can do much of the checks yourself by following guidelines and don’t need to pay for as many inspections. However, if your pellet stove needs serviced, finding repairmen with the necessary skills can be difficult and repairing one of the three motors or electronic circuit board can become costly.

Pellet stoves win here, too.

 

Aesthetics

wood stove

A log burning in a wood stove.

Ok, admit it.  After all of this talk about wood and pellet stoves, you’re wondering, which is prettier?  Well, each option comes in a variety of shapes and models designed to fit well with your home décor, many fit into preexisting fireplaces and still others are freestanding models that may be moved if necessary.  Both wood-burning and pellet stoves are made to be attractive whilst being functional.  Therefore, the deciding factor here has to be the burn itself.

Wood Stoves
When you look into a wood burning unit, you see orange flames licking at dried, aged logs.  Still more, you take in the smoky aroma of the burning timber.

Pellet Stoves
Pellet stoves have the same bright flames, however, that “wow” factor may be diminished for some, as the logs you’d expect to see are replaced by minuscule fragments.

Aesthetically-speaking, then, wood’s got it won.

In the war of wood vs. pellet stoves, you may still wonder which stove is the better option.  Strictly speaking, pellet stoves may be a better investment due to such factors as maintenance, efficiency, safety and more.  But ultimately, the decision lies with you.  What things are most important?  If it’s the crackle of logs burning, wood may be good too!  YOU decide!