Posts made in October 2011

Dryer Vent Cleaning and Maintenance

Dryer Vent Cleaning: for safety and savings

Dryer vent cleaning is an important part of fire prevention and home maintenance. Dryer vent fires are the most common type of house fires in the United States, with an estimated 15,000 fires annually (in fact, there’s more dryer vent fires than chimney fires). It’s little wonder why dryer vent fires are such a problem. Lint traps give the average home owner a sense of safety.

Unfortunately lint traps only capture a fraction of the total lint, which leave the rest of it lining your dryer vent. Luckily, this highly combustible lining gives its presence away. There are several signs that you might have an excessive accumulation of lint inside your vent.

Lint clogging your vent manifests itself in poor performance and excessive heat. Clothes will take longer to dry completely, and feel hotter once removed. The dryer may feel hot to the touch, and your laundry room may be more hot and humid than is normal. A faint burning smell might also be noticeable.

Any of these symptoms are cause to clean your dryer vent.

Professional Dryer Vent Cleaning

Periodic dryer vent cleaning and maintenance is essential. It’s recommended that twice a year your dryer vent is checked for lint buildup. Most lint accumulates near the end of the end of the vent tubing and within the back of your dryer. Remove any large accumulations of lint by hand or using a vacuum.

For optimal safety it’s recommended that you have your dryer vent professionally cleaned annually. While most lint accumulated near the ends of the vent, large chunks of lint may get stuck in the middle. Dryer vents are frequently long and difficult to clean the length of without special tools. Additionally, various factors can greatly increase the rate of lint accumulation. Sharp bends or kinks in the venting are the most common causes of rapid lint build up. An unexpected cause of rapid buildup is running a dryer vent through a cold area, such as an attic. This will cause condensation that will greatly increase the rate of lint accumulation. A local professional will know these and many more hazards and will inspect your dryer vent to ensure your safety.

While safety is the most important aspect of dryer vent cleaning, people are often surprised by the amount they can save on electricity. A clogged lint trap prevents your dryer from working efficiently, requiring much longer dryer cycles. Keeping your dryer vent clean is an easy way to help keep your electricity bills low.

If, like most American homes, it’s been years since a professional cleaned your dryer vent, it’s time to schedule a cleaning. We at High’s Chimney provide dryer vent cleaning to Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. We take the utmost care to provide accurate, professional service that will leave your home clean and safe.

DIY Masonry Repair

DIY Masonry Chimney Repair: A Warning

DYI Masonry Repointing Gone BadThe do-it-yourself movement has taken the world by storm. With the ability to bring up video walkthroughs for most tasks, hiring a specialist is often viewed as a last resort. The spread of information over the internet is an amazing and life changing phenomenon. Suddenly, replacing the belt in your vacuum is no big deal. Changing fuses in your car is a snap. Is your garbage disposal clogged? You can find countless walk-throughs to help clear that obstruction.

This prevalence of do-it-yourself walk-throughs, however, has left people attempting do-it-yourself projects that are sometimes best left to the professionals. While saving money in the short term is a great thing, it’s important to remember the long term too. Saving money right now hardly counts if it ends up costing you twice as much later.

Masonry is especially susceptible to the DIY problem. Countless articles exist online about repointing brickwork, filling splits or cracks, or even replacing spalled brick. As chimneys are often in need of some work, many look to these articles when contemplating how to fix their masonry chimneys. While these might seem like helpful resources, in the long run they can cost you more in time and money than your local masonry professional.

Most DIY masonry repair articles mention mortar only in passing. While they mention its use between layers of brick, they rarely emphasize that mortar isn’t just a slapdash mixture of sand and water. This omission can be costly and belies their disinterest in supplying a genuinely useful article as any trained mason knows that improperly mixed mortar can cause massive masonry damage.

Mortar exists as a cushion between bricks. As bricks swell and contract from temperature changes, a proper mortar absorbs these changes. Gradually, that causes the mortar to crumble. This mortar can then be replaced with relative ease by a professional, providing another 25 or more years of low-maintenance service.

If the mortar is mixed so that it is stronger than the surrounding brick, temperature changes actually cause the mortar to squeeze, and thus damage, the brick. This causes the bricks to spall. Spalled bricks cannot be repaired, and must be replaced before further damage accrues. If incorrect mortar mixture is the cause of the spalling, the mortar must also be replaced to prevent further damage.

Mortar that is too soft, on the other hand, quickly deteriorates and requires premature replacement or repair. If it deteriorates faster than surrounding mortar, this can create instability in the masonry, and if left unchecked can even cause collapse.

When so many masonry professionals offer free initial consultations, taking advice from strangers over the internet seems a poor choice. For those in Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland, High’s Chimney offers free masonry estimates where we discuss problems with your masonry chimney and how we would fix them. Not just handy-men, our highly trained masons have years of experience, ensuring that your masonry chimney is safe.

Chimney Caps and Chimney Crowns: Chimney Masonry Maintenance 101

Chimney Caps & Chimney Crowns: Essential to Masonry Chimney Maintenance

Proper maintenance of masonry chimneys extends past the brick work. Chimney caps and chimney crowns are both important for the longevity of your masonry and the safety of your home. Both caps and crowns help protect your masonry chimney interior and flue from precipitation, and the damage freeze and thaw cycles cause.

Chimney Crown with Flue Caps

Chimney with crown and 2 capped flues

Chimney Crowns

The chimney crown is placed atop the masonry chimney as a form of protection against the weather. As crowns withstand a lot of abuse, they need to be made out of a solid material; most commonly, chimney crowns are made of poured concrete and free from cracks and crumbling.

As its primary purpose is to protect your chimney, it should overhang the masonry by at least 2 inches. The top should gently slope away from the chimney opening, encouraging precipitation to run away from the chimney interior. The overhang prevents this water from running down the masonry, and a slight ridge build into the underside of the masonry further encourages the water to drip onto the roof rather than reach the masonry.

Chimney Caps

Copper Chimney Cap

Jim and a shiny new copper chimney cap

Chimney crowns do not cover the chimney interior. Chimney caps serve this purpose. Generally made of metal, they are installed just inside the chimney opening and extend well above the chimney to allow proper venting and draft. They prevent water from falling directly into your chimney, and also help keep out birds and small animals attracted to the warmth.

While most chimney caps are relatively simple, they are not always interchangeable. Chimney caps can affect your chimneys draft and certain styles work better than others with different vent sources.

For example, wood burning fireplaces or fireplace inserts produce creosote and other combustible solids. Not only will these accumulate in your flue, they will also build up your chimney cap. This is specifically a problem if your chimney cap has a protective mesh. As it accumulates, it causes draft problems that can make your fireplace unpleasant and unsafe.

Top Sealing Dampers

Top Sealing Damper

Up close and personal with a top sealing damper

In addition to simple cap styles, you have the option of added functionality. Top sealing dampers, otherwise known as “Top Dampers”, serve the function of both cap and damper. They affix to the top of your chimney much like any other cap, but can be opened and closed to allow venting. These easy to use top sealing dampers are connected to a switch near the fireplace, and with a quick pull of a lever the damper opens and closes. They’re constructed to prevent small animals from entering the chimney when open while shedding most rain, and to seal tight against water and air when closed.

While these top sealing dampers are of particular interest in older homes where the original damper is missing or broken, they can be of great benefit to most homes. They increase energy efficiency by preventing heat loss and down drafts. Relatively simple to install, most homeowners are surprised by how much top sealing dampers can save them in energy costs.

Chimney caps and crowns are an important component of masonry chimney maintenance. If you have any questions about chimney caps, crowns, or top sealing dampers, contact a trusted chimney professional. And of course, if you’re in the market for a trusty chimney professional in the Washington D.C. area, we’d love to work with you to ensure your chimney is safe and functional.