Posts made in October 2012

Winter Chimney Checklist

Chimney sweep in Potomac MDBefore firing up your fireplace for the first time this winter, there are a few things you must check for the sake of your family’s health and safety.  Cozying up to a warm fire can be delightful on a chilly winter night, but be safe about it!  Follow the winter checklist below to ensure a pleasant and safe experience.

Chimney Inspection and Cleaning. The best way to be sure that everything is in proper working order and is safe for use is to have the chimney checked and/or cleaned.  The National Fire Protection Association suggests having your chimney inspected on a yearly basis for maximum efficiency and safety.  Common chimney problems include build-up of deposits and chimney fires.  Bring in a Chimney Safety Institute of America certified chimney sweep to assess the situation.  A few things on their chimney checklist will include looking for:

  • Soot. Soot is a brown or black soft powder.  It is made up mostly of carbon and sometimes combined with ash.  The threat this buildup poses depends on the amount of ash it contains, as more ash reduces the problem.  Carbon is flammable, posing a larger risk of a chimney fire.
  • Creosote. Creosote, another flammable substance, starts off as a residue of smoke and vapors from wood.  It clings to the venting system as it builds up as a hard, flaky deposit resultant from incomplete combustion.  It is recommended that a cleaning be performed when either soot or creosote buildup reaches ¼ inch or more.
  • Glaze. Glaze is the toughest chimney intruder to remove.  This is a tarry, shiny substance which puddles up in the chimney and sometimes even drops down into black icicle-like deposits that hang above your fireplace.  It’s the most dangerous chimney fire culprit because of how dense it is, allowing the glaze to burn longer.  Glaze should be removed when buildup reaches or exceeds 1/8 inch.

If the above residues are found in your chimney, or other problems are detected during inspection, the chimney sweep may decide to clean out the system.  Aside from the risk of a chimney fire, cleaning will help to ensure proper chimney ventilation, eliminate undesirable odors and remove blockages that would result in CO poisoning.  While cleaning, the chimney sweep will employ:

  • Standard cleaning. Standard cleaning is recommended for the elimination of both soot and creosote.  Brushes and high-powered vacuums are run along the chimney walls to eliminate and prevent the substances from entering the home.
  • Mechanical cleaning. Mechanical cleaning is the high-powered version of the standard method.  Wire brushes, cables and chains are twisted and turned by a motor at a quick speed to rid the chimney shaft of hard creosote and glaze.

Some chimney sweeps also choose chemical cleaning, which involves spraying various substances to break down and dissolve hard glaze and creosote.  In any case, at least one of these methods will be used.

Chimney Inspections in Chevy Chase MD MDIn addition to cleaning your chimney, there are some fairly obvious safety measures you should take in preparation for your fireplace’s first seasonal use. Add the following to your winter checklist:

  • Proper firewood. Only use dry wood that has been split and seasoned outdoors for 6 months to 1 year. To learn more about firewood, read our articles on environmentally friendly firewood and firewood in the Washington DC area.
  • Clear the Area of Fire Hazards. Move all furniture, curtains and other items away from the fireplace.
  • Smoke Detector. In the case that you leave the room for a minute or dose off, a smoke detector will alert you of problems near your fireplace. Make sure yours are installed and working.
  • Carbon Monoxide Detector. CO is a major concern when burning fires in the home.  It is virtually odorless and unnoticeable unless you have the right equipment installed, and is the primary chemical that comes from burning wood and having chimney soot.  Do not be caught off guard!  Install one of these.
  • Fire Extinguisher. Accidents happen to everyone.  Maybe the fire burned to hot or big, maybe the door was not shut and a log tumbled down onto the floor.  In cases like these, be prepared to deal with the situation by having a fire extinguisher nearby to avert a crisis.

Winter fire burning can be a tremendously enjoyable part of the season.  Follow this guide and you will be well on your way to preparing your chimney and fireplace for winter!

Why Your Fireplace is Smelly

Choose the best – High’s Chimney for Chimney Services

weird chimney smell in Travilah MDHave you been dealing with an odor in your home that seems to be coming from your fireplace and chimney?  The good news is that putting up with bad smells doesn’t have to be a part of your fireplace experience.  First you need to identify what the root of the problem is; and from there, you should be able to get rid of the odor for good. There are four basic kinds of problems which could be causing your fireplace to stink, and they are:  Animals/birds, excess moisture/mold, creosote, and negative air pressure.


Burning wood in your fireplace naturally results in creosote deposits in the chimney, though you’ll have less creosote buildup if you burn wood with low moisture content.  Excessive deposits of creosote can work their way into flue tile joints so that even after having your chimney cleaned, there’s an odor of burnt wood.  Humid air mixed with the creosote during the summertime is usually what causes the smell.  A damper which closes at the chimney top and operates with a pull chain cord can help to solve this problem by preventing outdoor drafts from carrying the odor into your home.  When it’s burning season, simply keep the top damper open.

Animals and Birds

If you don’t have a chimney cap or if animals have chewed through the screen on your chimney cap, it’s very possible that creatures have taken up residence in your chimney.  Animals cause a variety of odorous problems.

Sometimes, creatures climb into a chimney and then can’t get out.  As a result, they slowly die, the body decomposes, flies enter the chimney, and a very strong odor permeates the chimney and enters into your home for up to eight weeks.  Call your trusty chimney sweep to remove the dead animal, if you want to get rid of the odor sooner rather than later.  While the chimney technician is there, go ahead and get a chimney cap installed or have your existing cap repaired.

Smelly chimney in Cloverly MDSometimes the smell in a stinky chimney comes from animal defecation.   Raccoons, for instance, often live in chimneys; and when they have babies, too, the accumulation of animal poop becomes a real problem.  It’s as though your chimney becomes a smelly sewage facility.  Get help from a chimney specialist to remove the animal(s), and secure your chimney cap, to prevent the problem from occurring again.

Usually when you hear birds in your chimney, it means that chimney swifts have nested in your chimney.  These birds are protected by the federal government, and there is a $10,000 fine for removing them.  You’ll have to wait until the migratory birds move on before you can deal with the bird droppings.  Be aware that it’s possible to get a very serious lung disease called histoplasmosis from bird droppings.  Allow a chimney technician to deal with the situation; they will know to use gloves and respirators
for cleanup.  A chimney cap will prevent a recurring chimney swift problem.

Moisture and Mold

When a chimney develops a leak, mold begins to grow.  Mold is a serious health problem and can create terrible odors.  The mold needs to be removed, and the chimney needs to be properly sealed to prevent further leakage.  Talk to your chimney professional about waterproofing your chimney.

Negative Air Pressure

Negative air pressure pulls air from your chimney into your home.  Whatever odors are in the chimney will also enter your home.  A change in air pressure can be caused by clothes dryers, kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans, windows, and other home improvements.

You may need to provide outside air to combustion appliances, to solve the problem.  Other steps you can take are:

  • Closing the damper when the fireplace isn’t used. This may not stop the odors because many dampers aren’t adequately sealed.
  • Installing a glass fire screen.
  • Installing a damper at the top of the chimney and keeping it closed when it’s not burn season.

When smells enter your home through the fireplace, you can’t find a better friend to help than a professional chimney sweep.