Posts made in November 2010

Guide To Buying Chimney Chase Covers

What’s a Chimney Chase Cover and Why Do I Need It?

First: a word on what a chase cover is not:  Chase covers are not for masonry chimneys, rather they are for the boxes (chases) that house a factory built chimney.  This is the top of the box that runs up the side or through the middle of the house and above the roof.

Buying a chimney chase cover is important and necessary to the life and maintenance of your chimney and your home. A chimney chase cover is a metal covering designed to keep precipitation, debris and animals out.  It is not an option it is a necessity.

Fitting over the top, outer opening of your chimney chase, it is important to buy a cover that fits perfectly and is made to last. Chase covers are custom made to fit your chase perfectly.  It’s up to you to decide what type of material to use.

Chase Cover Material Choices

Rusted Galvanized Steel Chimney Chase Cover

Rusted Galvanized Steel Chase Cover

When it comes to chimney chase covers, the materials used and quality of the design matters. Made from aluminum, stainless and galvanized steel and copper, each of these types has something different to offer.

  • Galvanized steel, which is  always the lowest cost, will rust quickly and need to be replaced very soon after installation so it is usually best not to invest in this choice.
  • Aluminum will not rust, but is generally too soft for the purpose.  It’s often not readily available in the sizes necessary either.  As a practical matter it’s not a good choice.
  • Stainless steel is the strongest of all your choices. It costs more than galvanized steel but will last virtually forever.  Stainless steel is generally considered to be the sensible choice.  It’s certainly the value proposition.
  • Copper is truly the top quality choice, but the price tag will reflect it.  Copper chase covers are generally so expensive that only very expensive houses warrant getting them, and the wealthy owners don’t like the price tag either.

Chase Cover Design/Spec Considerations

Ensuring that your chase cover is made to exact specifications is also very important.  You should allow about ¼ to ½ inch all the way around, and the cover should be spaced off the chase by about 1/8 to ¼ of an inch.  This ensures the cover isn’t too tight to install but protects the entire top of your chimney from small animals while leaving enough space to allow for a little ventilation.  (A chase cover that’s too tight traps moisture which can rot away the house.)

Chimney Chase Cover

Chase Cover Design with Cross Breaks

You’ll also want cross-breaks in your cover,  These look like a big X from corner to corner and keep the cover from catering and collecting water (which is in fact why most galvanized chase covers need to be replaced.)  There’s also the side drop and collar to consider.  The sides usually range between two and six inches, while three or four inches is pretty standard.  While a top collar (around the hole that the chimney comes up through) isn’t actually required, it’s a nice feature of a good chase cover; they’re usually 2 inches tall.

Aesthetics

Finally, the last thing you should consider when buying your chase cover is how you want it to look. Most home owners shop only for utility when it comes to these pieces, and stainless steel is usually acceptable.  However, more and more companies are offering customization. After you have decided on the type, it may be possible to choose a specific color finish so that it matches or coordinates with your home. This can be done tastefully and make your home more attractive, but it will also add to the cost so be sure to ask about the additional cost upfront.  Also, realize that painted surfaces need maintenance you’ll have to repaint every now and again if you want color. You could even hire a chimney sweep to complete such upkeep for you and your family.

Summary:

Good Stainless Steel Chimney Chase Cover

Excellent Choice, Sir

To recap, High’s recommendations are:

  • All factory-built chimneys need a chase cover.
  • Material best buy: stainless steel chase cover
  • Sizing: allow about ¼ to ½ inch extra all the way around
  • Cross breaks (“x” ridges) are essential

Remember that it is smarter and more cost effective to buy a quality piece now. When purchased wisely and installed correctly, a chimney cover will last for a very long time.

Are you in Maryland, D.C. or Northern Virginia and in need of a quality chimney chase cover installion? High’s Chimney has you… covered:)

NEWS FLASH: Dryer Vent Fires Are More Common Than Chimney Fires

You can increase safety by a wide margin and get your clothes drier quicker, saving money and energy, simply by keeping your home’s dryer vents clean.

 Dryer Vent Fires are More Common than Chimney Fires

Clothes dryer fires and hazardous carbon dioxide emissions often start with problems in the dryer’s venting system or lint trap area. Why these two places? Because the lack of proper vent cleaning and the use of improper dryer venting practices. Mixing the extreme heat of the dryer necessary to efficiently dry clothes and an over-abundance of lint and debris can be dangerous, and sometimes even deadly.

Here is what you need to do for proper maintenance:

  • Clean the lint filter/screen after each dryer use.
  • Clean the vent and exhaust duct periodically.
  • Check the outside vent while the dryer is in operation to ensure that air is escaping and not getting clogged somewhere. It may be necessary to remove the exhaust duct from the dryer to dislodge an obstruction. This lint and debris is highly-flammable particles of cotton and polyester. Once these fibers clog the vent, heated air cannot escape.
  • Pull the dryer out from the wall and ensure that lint and other fibers aren’t collecting.
  • Hire proper chimney sweep services to come clean and maintain the vent.

Although you can perform many of those tasks yourself, it is a good idea to have a professional come in yearly and give your dryer unit a thorough clean. Because today’s newer homes often place a dryer away from an outside wall, the dryer is vented for a longer distance and inspection and debris removal is complicated to impossible without professional tools. Many apartment/condominium complexes and homeowner’s associations now require an annual or semi-annual cleaning to prevent accidents and fires.

If you have a gas dryer, there’s also CO poisoning to consider.  While we hear of deaths from CO once and awhile, death is relatively uncommon.  What is extremely common, and much more common that most people imagine, is the low level CO poisoning that keeps people feeling tired or in general malaise for years on end.

All dryers seem to allow a little dust to escape into the air we breathe.  This is especially so when the vents are full of lint.  Indoor air quality improves dramatically when the dryer vents are clean.

A final advantage to keeping dryer vents free of lint and debris is the dollar savings you will see. When lint traps, vents and exhaust areas are full of debris, heat is not distributed in the drum as it should be. This makes the dryer run longer in order to fully dry clothes. It may also take more than one cycle to completely dry a full or heavy load. Also, as your vent continues to fill with debris, the life expectancy of your dryer is cut in half with each load.  Some studies conclude that the cost off professional dryer vent cleaning can be free when offset by the savings.  Regardless, the health and safety benefits are well worth having. Even if it means staying on to up vent and gas fireplace maintenance.

Capping Your Chimney

Chimney Caps

A fireplace can be a lovely, warm centerpiece for your family to gather around. In colder climes, a wood fire is often more cost-efficient than operating a furnace. However, to enjoy your fireplace safely, you must maintain your fireplace. Along with professional sweeping, capping your chimney is also essential.

For anyone who owns a home with chimneys, a chimney caps is a necessary facet of home maintenance. Capping your chimney will keep out rain water and prevent animal intrusion.

Chimney Water Damage

Water damages your chimney in two ways. First, water is absorbed by the masonry of your chimney. This can lead to mold and fungi growing in the creosote and ash that lines an unclean chimney. These spores can enter the home and cause allergic reactions and breathing difficulties.

Capping Your Chimney

The biggest and most visible problems are caused by the freezing and thawing of the water in the brick, which leads to cracking, crumbling masonry. Repairing such damage can cost thousands.

When water comes down the open chimney lands of a metal firebox, the steel will rust. The structural integrity of your firebox is compromised, and in severe cases of neglect, a rusted firebox can be the cause of a house fire. Such a huge fire hazard but so easily- and inexpensively- avoided.

Finally, your uncapped chimney is a haven for all kinds of unwelcome guests. While fuzzy raccoons may be cute, you do not need one descending your chimney in the middle of the night. Lured by the warmth, opossums and squirrels may also make nocturnal intrusions. Bats and birds are drawn to an open chimney as well. Be aware that many of these animals may carry lice or rabies. All animals will damage your home and possessions in their frenzied attempts to escape if they can’t get back out easily.

Capping your chimneys is not a task to delay. It is inexpensive, and especially compared to the wide-spread damage that deferring can cause. A chimney sweep should be able to cap your chimneys for you if you don’t want to climb onto your own roof. To avoid water damage to internal structures and masonry, as well as keep out animal visitors, cap your chimney today!

All About Your Chimney Lining

Lining your Chimney

Why are so many people having their chimneys relined these days? As cold weather approaches and you fire up your heating system, wood stove or fireplace, are you thinking about the inside of your chimney system?  In a perfect world, the inside of a chimney is something you’d never have to think about. Unfortunately the world isn’t perfect and many masonry chimneys aren’t either! Let’s discuss what can go wrong inside of a chimney and how chimney liners figure into it.

A chimney’s purpose is to carry the flue gases out of the home, and it needs to do this without getting over-heated. The problems with the inside of chimneys falls into two general categories: the problems that cause flue gasses to back into a house (smoke or carbon monoxide) and the problems that can cause house fires.

Most masonry chimneys are lined with fireclay tiles. This material has been used for 100 years and was a huge improvement to unlined chimneys of the 1800’s and before. In fact they served well enough until the 1970’s. Here’s what happened.
chimney lining

As people became conscious of the cost of heating, they started to put glass doors on the front of their fireplaces. This changed the fuel-air ration that had existed for eons. Suddenly masonry fireplaces that had never had problems before got full of soot and creosote in a matter of months.

Fireplace inserts caused the same problems, only even more so. The stoves were engineered for flue openings of six or eight inches round but were venting into chimneys built for open fireplaces. And fuel-air ratio was now so low that many chimneys collected a thick, wet, gooey tar. In some cases, chimneys were catching on fire within weeks after the stoves were installed!

Obviously the same was true for freestanding woodstoves.

And what about central heat flues, that is gas and oil? Well, those appliances changed too: they became much more efficient. The problem there isn’t creosote, as these fuels burn much cleaner. But it takes a certain amount of heat loss in the chimney to take the fumes up the flue and it wasn’t there anymore.

Three bad things happened to the masonry chimneys:

  1. More heat was delivered into the home and the flues didn’t have enough heat to carry the gasses up and out!
  2. The water in the exhaust condensed in the flues (instead of in the atmosphere). The inside of gas heaters in particular got very wet. Very, very wet indeed: so wet that they could freeze in the winter and block up, or so wet the wall paper inside the house was peeling where the chimney passed by. So wet that the freezing and thawing deteriorated the outside bricks themselves!
  3. And carbon monoxide levels in the houses skyrocketed! Tens of thousands of people a year are affected by CO poisoning and many don’t even realize it. They just don’t feel so great; lethargic or as if they have a cold. And of course there are even deaths… it’s a bad situation.
    • For reasons more technical than this article will cover, a properly sized liner will extend the appliance life and its heating efficiency. This is true for both central heaters or wood burning appliances.
    • For gas flues you can use aluminum but it often doesn’t have a very long life with modern appliances. The best material for lining a chimney, whether gas, oil or solid fuel, is stainless steel. #316 is a very good alloy for chimney lining and is readily available.
    • The liner must be properly sized to the appliance for it to work properly. Either too big or too small is not good enough. Don’t get this wrong.
    • There are three systems in your home that can kill you: electrical, plumbing and venting.  Unless you really know what you’re doing, unless you’re the kind of do-it-yourselfer who’d dig up his own sewerage system etc. don’t try to do it yourself. While anybody who can work with tools can theoretically do anything, there are enough things to go wrong with a venting system that this isn’t something you should tackle yourself. Hire a professional.

    Add to this that in most cases tile chimneys are not particularly well sealed in the first place, just because that’s the way they’re built. Also, many homes now operated under “negative pressure.” That means that our airtight windows and doors, our weather stripping, and our fans in the house all conspire to prevent good draft in chimneys. All of these factors combine to create the need for smaller, positively sealed venting systems.

    This is where chimney liners come in. The info above pretty well describes why you need a modern chimney liner. Lining your chimney with a good stainless steel liner will pay you and your family dividends both in dollars and in vastly increased safety.  Make it your next home improvement!

All About Chimney Crowns

What’s a Chimney Crown Anyway?

Your chimney crown protects your chimney from water damage entering through small cracks. Some experts believe that less than one percent of all chimneys are properly crowned. Most bricklayers simply finish off the chimney with brick mortar – this is probably due to expediency or lack of education. In either case, this ultimately leads to severe damage, especially for those who live in parts of the United States where freezing is an issue.

Why Are Chimney Crowns Important?

Without a proper chimney crown- or if you have a cracked one, rain water seeps into the bricks and mortar of your chimney structure. In the winter this water constantly freezes and thaws. When water freezes, it expands by about ten percent turning small cracks into large cracks and causing “spaulling” (peeling) of the bricks, and deterioration of the mortar.

Chimney-Crown-Finished

Even minute amounts of water can result in brick flaking, mortar deterioration, and unsightly salt deposits on your chimney. Without a good crown that has been sealed your chimney does not have any protection. Eventually, the bricks and mortar break up enough that the chimney is no longer structurally sound.

How To Tell If Your Chimney Crown Is Properly Built

A properly built chimney crown has a slope to protect your chimney from water damage. The crown will slope from the flue liner at a certain distance from and past the walls in order to protect the chimney. An overhang will keep water from dripping off of the chimney crown and onto the face of your chimney.

If your crown is not built like this, as important as chimney waterproofing is to everyone, it’s even more important to you! While checking your crown, be sure your bricks are not soaking up water, be sure your flashing at the roof-line is sealed, and that you have a chimney cover!

Seal That Crown!

While your entire chimney needs to be protected, your crown is particularly vulnerable. For protection from freezing and thawing, the crown must be sealed with a durable sealer, such as Crown Coat by Saver Systems or Flexible Crown by WeatherTite Industries.

Call your chimney sweep to have your chimney inspected for water damage. What might appear to be minuscule damage may only require one more season of wet weather to ruin your chimney. Modern crown materials allow for quick, affordable repairs while your cracks are still only small cracks. It is a hard fact that paying for a new crown and set of chimney caps and seal now is much less expensive or messy than paying for a whole new chimney later!

The Benefits Of Wood Burning Stoves

Wood Stoves: Why You Want Them and Why You Need Them

Been wondering if a wood stove or fireplace is right for you? Here is some information you can use to make a good decision for you and your family.

wood stove

There are five reasons people buy wood stoves. We’ll discuss each one:

  1. Save Money
  2. Increased Comfort
  3. Going Green
  4. Electricity Independence
  5. Beautify the Family or Living Room

Cost Savings With Wood Stoves

Let’s take a look at the money aspect. Wood heat is low cost heat- wood just cost less per BTU than other fuels or electricity does. And it’s free for those who like to cut their own wood of course. Another reason it costs less to heat with wood is the “zone heating” aspect. Most people find they can heat the area they like with a woodstove and let the rest of the house be cooler. If effect, you just don’t waste energy dollars heating areas you aren’t using.

Today’s stoves are efficient heaters too: often as efficient as your gas or oil furnace in fact. The manufacturers of wood stoves spend huge amounts of money on designers and engineers to make sure they get maximum heating efficiency, as well as keeping particle emissions at all-time lows.

How Much More Comfortable Can You Be?

And increased comfort? Many of us with heat pumps and forced hot air systems know that even though our thermostats say we’re supposed to be comfortable, we aren’t. The radiant heat of a wood stove truly warms in a way that hot air systems can’t. And again, you can make the room with the wood stove or insert as warm as you like, probably much warmer than you’d ever heat it from the thermostat.

A Great Green Heating Solution

The “green aspect” hardly needs explanation. Wood is a renewable and easily obtained source for burning. There’s a zero-sum impact in carbon emission as well. When a tree falls in the woods and takes 50 years to completely rot away, ever so slowly it gives off heat, water and CO2, and leaves its mineral content in the forest. When you burn wood the exact same thing happens only obviously very quickly. No additional-anything is produced. (Keep in mind those minerals are in the partly form of ash and what’s commonly called creosote– which can stick to the inside of the chimney. That’s why there are chimney sweeps!)

green heat

One of the great advantages of wood heating is having heat when there is no power. There’s not much more satisfying than being warm and happy around your wood stove when all the lights in the neighborhood are out. You’ll have that pioneer feeling, as you should. You thought ahead.

Finally, today’s wood heating appliances are designed for beauty. A wood stove or fireplace insert can be the focal point of the room. Regardless of your taste, there’s a stove designed for you. In fact, it’s difficult to find ugly stoves or inserts nowadays. So many beautiful stoves… so few rooms in which to install them…