Reviews: the Good, the Bad, and the Grateful

This doesn’t really fit in any category but I’m in a mood to write it.  Online reviews are an important part of doing business these days. We certainly get our fair share of the good and bad, but ultimately what’s important is our customer. We recently got a terrible review online. The guy gave a long and detailed description of a job gone bad and how terribly inept, unresponsive, etc, etc. we were. You can bet that got our attention and we looked into it right away.

customer reviews speech bubbleThe thing is that we couldn’t find this fellow in the system at all.  And we couldn’t find a job that fit the description around the time he mentioned.  Not to mention, anything that went as bad as this guy’s job could not escape notice around here.  We are certain something is wrong with the review.  Do not think I am saying we never mess up- a company this size has its share of problems (usually from some kind of lack of communication- it’s our constant challenge) but we try to be right on top of every problem.  We try to get things resolved quickly for everyone’s sakes, including our own.  But this review doesn’t ring right.

So I wrote up a response nice and polite saying something was out of whack here, and asked the fellow to please contact me directly since we can’t find him in our system.  I went into how we see four possibilities; this is what I wrote:

  1. That this could be a fake review (from a competitor) meant to hurt us.  Your story has the feel of truth so we don’t think this is a fake review.
  2. That we could have actually messed up this much on one job.  However it is extremely doubtful that all of this could have happened without my knowledge.
  3. That we have an employee who did this on the side representing himself as the company.  We have not ruled this out yet.
  4. That you have mistaken a different company for our company.  While this happens more than you’d think, and we have yet to completely rule this out, we are not leaning this way.  Which takes us back to option #3.

At this point we do think the reviewer has the wrong company, but a misbehaved employee is not out of the question.  Now High’s, like lots of companies these days, has an SEO company.  Our SEO guy said responses should be simpler (that I shouldn’t post those points on a response) and we should just apologize even if we didn’t we do anything wrong, which is what we did, but we don’t like it.

The interesting thing about online reviews is that few people leave good reviews without being asked.  If you leave good reviews without being asked, you are the exception.  But bad reviews are easy to come by.  And it’s even more interesting than that: if all things are equal, a big company and a small company will get the same percentages of bad reviews.  That means if you annoyed 1% of your customers (which is a lot really) but only serviced 100 customers this year, you’d get one bad review.  But if you service 100 customers a week, you’d get one each week!  Looking at the two online you’d say one was good and the other terrible.  But it is really the case that one just has less overall reviews to balance out the inevitable bad reviews. And it gets even more interesting.

In our case we don’t do a very good job of asking for good reviews; we should but we don’t.  But let’s say that same, smaller, competitor is very good asking for reviews and gets ten good reviews.  He could well have a much better rating than we do just because of our volume!   The easy answer is that we should do a better job asking for good reviews, but you see the underlying problem.  The internet does more than “level the playing field.”  It can actually work against the larger operators.  Ah well…

Obviously we didn’t get this size by beating up on our customers for the last 30 years.  But it is frustrating to work so hard to focus on making sure we have top notch services, then also have to fight for the internet’s good graces on the back end. Anyway, thanks for letting me rant.  Enough of this.  If you ever have a problem with High’s Chimney, call us.  And if we ever gave you good service, you know we’d love to get that review.

National Fire Prevention Week – Washington, DC

This October 5th-11th marks the 93rd year the National Fire Prevention Association holds their Fire Prevention Campaign. The campaign was first launched in 1922 after President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire (October 8th, 1871).

This year the theme is “Working smoke alarms save lives, test yours every month!” As part of the theme the NFPA has released some tips for installing, checking, and maintaining smoke alarms.

Below are some smoke alarm tips from the NFPA:

• Install smoke alarms inside and outside each bedroom.
• Install smoke alarms on every level of the home and in the basement.
• Large homes may need extra smoke alarms.
• It is best to use interconnected smoke alarms so that when one alarm sounds they all sound.
• Test all smoke alarms at least once a month.
• There are two kinds of alarms. Ionization smoke alarms are quicker to warn about flaming fires. Photoelectric alarms are quicker to warn about smoldering fires. The fire department recommends using both types of alarms in the home.
• A smoke alarm should be on the ceiling or high on a wall. Keep smoke alarms away from the kitchen to reduce false alarms. They should be at least 10 feet from the stove.
• People who are hard-of-hearing or deaf can use special alarms. These alarms have strobe lights and bed shakers.
• Replace all smoke alarms when they are 10 years old.
At High’s Chimney we take fire safety very seriously because we understand the inspection and repairs we perform for our clients effect the safety of their family. To help spread awareness of the dangers chimneys and fireplaces pose we have taken data gathered by the NFSA and CSIA and estimated both the number and damage in dollars caused by residential fires in 2014.

For more information about statistics used in this document see the resources at the end of this page.


Embed this infographic: <iframe width="600" height="3244" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="overflow-y:hidden;" src="https://magic.piktochart.com/embed/2565625-2014-home-fire-stats" href="https://www.highschimney.com"></iframe>

Resources: 
About Fire Prevention Week
Chimney Safety Institute of America: “CPSC Heating Equipment Estimates 2009-2011″
National Fire Protection Association: “Home Fires, 1977 to 2012″
Consumer Product Saftey Commision: “2009-2001 Residential Fire Loss Estimates”

Is Chimney Repair Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

Is Chimney Repair Covered by Homeowner’s Insurance?

Short Answer: It Depends. Here are some answers to questions we regularly encounter, and hopefully, a lot of insight into the whole subject of “insurance coverage and chimney repair.”

When is chimney repair covered by home insurance?

Repair is generally covered when there is a loss caused by a sudden and unexpected event. Wear and tear, old age, etc. are not covered. That said, the true devil is in details. And there are always the exceptions.

The Classic Case of Repair. The two classic cases of when a chimney repair is covered is

  1. when the top is struck by lightning and
  2. when a chimney fire occurs and causes damage. The common element being that an “event” happened.

Unexpected events that aren’t covered. Keep in mind that an event such as someone driving his truck into your chimney is a different kind of event. This would be covered under the drivers or vehicle owners insurance.
Events cannot be intentional. Obviously you can’t set fire to your home and collect insurance (without risk of going to jail) and that applies to creating smaller events as well. It has to be sudden and unexpected.
There are exceptions. Your policy explains what is and is not covered, including exceptions to the rule. Wind damage and flood damage are usually not covered. So if the wind causes chimney damage, the insurance company probably has no responsibility. However, if the wind blows a tree down which strikes your chimney, that’s different – the tree did it, not the wind; you may have to argue about it. If flooding occurs from the creek rising and eroding the foundation under the chimney, again you are probably on your own.

Insurance policies make for boring reading, but it’s not that hard to find the information you need. There are sub headings and each point or exception is made separately; information isn’t buried in long paragraphs you can’t understand. Do take a look at your policy, especially if there’s wind or flood involved.

“Take a look at your policy, especially if there’s wind of flood involved.”

Will homeowners insurance cover chimney fires?

You bet it will. Usually getting them to cover chimney repair due to a chimney fire isn’t a problem. Every once and a while the insurance company will not want to cover the damage in which case you’ll have to put on your debate hat and argue your point. Your policy covers chimney fires so don’t take no for an answer.

Now if they determine that you don’t maintain your chimney to their satisfaction, they might cancel your policy after the event. But even if the fire was caused by your failure to make reasonable efforts keep the chimney clean, the repairs to the chimney are covered.

The more specific question: “Is any damage covered if there is a chimney fire?” Yes, anything damaged as a result of the fire. This includes broken flue tiles and damage resultant from heat transfer. For example, the outside of the bricks get so hot the 2×4 framing catches fire.

And what about damage to someone else’s property? That is handled under a different part of the policy than for your own home, but you undoubtedly have liability coverage. I have little experience with this aspect so will say little more about it, but I’m sure you’re covered. Do read your policy or call your agent to confirm that.

Will homeowner’s insurance cover repair to a leaning chimney due to a structural defect?

No it won’t. This is because this is not a sudden and unexpected event. This is not to say that your insurance won’t kick in if that leaning chimney causes damage to another part of the house. Let’s say the chimney falls over and crashes right through your deck and onto your lawn tractor. The deck and the tractor would be covered, but not the chimney.

“It’s generally covered when there is a loss caused by a sudden and expected event. Wear and tear, old age etc. are not covered.”

Is hidden structural damage covered by homeowner’s insurance?

It depends. If the structural damage in question is a poorly built chimney, repairs to correct those defects are not covered. On the other hand, if damage (…a fire for instance) occurs as a result of the fact the chimney was poorly built, that damage is covered. It also depends on the insurance adjuster. I’ll talk about this aspect at length later.

Will homeowners insurance cover a chimney collapse?

Maybe, even probably. But interestingly, it probably should not. Or at least let’s say, the insurance companies can probably make a plausible case for denying the claim. That said, there’s a good chance they might pay up.

The reason for NOT paying would be that the chimney collapsed for some structural reason, and if that reason is apparent they may well deny the claim. As with the example above with the leaning chimney that crashed through the deck, they could maintain that it was a long time coming and you should have dealt with it. (Again, they would be on the hook for resulting damage, but not the chimney itself)

On the other hand, it’s a pretty sudden and unexpected event when a chimney collapses. They might pay and in fact I’ll guess they will more than 50% of the time. But don’t bank on it.

Will homeowners cover repair to a chimney due to water damage?

Probably not. It’s hard to think of a scenario where flood isn’t involved that involves water. I suppose a plumbing problem that somehow affected your chimney would be covered. Rain and snow do wear out chimney, particularly in the winter with the freezing and thawing. This falls under normal wear and tear however; it’s not a sudden event.
This is true for cracks in the crown as well. Unless damage is the result of some covered event, it’s not covered.

Will homeowners insurance cover the destruction of the chimney cap?

Again, we apply the test- “Is it the result of a covered event?” If the wind ruined the cover, probably not. But if a tree limb falls on it, probably so. For the record, it’s probably not worth turning in a claim anyway. A chimney cover is a very small claim and you want to save your insurance for the day it really matters. You don’t want to get canceled over a $200 claim.

What will the insurance company cover on my chimney?

They will cover whatever was damaged, and the necessary labor to restore it to its original condition. They will not pay for an improvement. More to the point- they will not pay for an unnecessary improvement; fact is that most liner replacements would cost more to restore to original condition than to install a brand new stainless steel liner. Stainless steel liners are superior to the original clay tile liners, so in that sense it’s an improvement.

Every now and then an adjuster will try to make an issue of that, but when he learns how much it costs (this could include tearing down the whole structure and buying matching bricks) to replace the tiles according to code they will agree to replace the tiles with a stainless steel liner.

So they will repair the tiles if they are broken after a chimney fire. They will also repair any structural damage you incur as a result of the fire. Perhaps the face of your fireplace also caught fire inside the wall. The firemen ripped off the whole wall and left it on the floor- all that has to be fixed too.

They may fix pre-existing conditions. Let’s say they rip open that wall and you see that not only did the chimney catch fire but there are holes in the smoke chamber and it’s evident they have been there all along. Technically that is not covered, but it is extremely doubtful the company will quibble over getting that area made right. They do not want you to burn the whole house down. In practice they will want the whole structure made safer in a case like this.

But let’s say you never did like the mantle out front and think you’ll take this opportunity to get a real nice one. They’ll draw the line on that. What will likely happen is they adjuster will say, “OK to replace the old one would cost $XXX.xx and the new one is $YYY.yy. We’ll allow $XXX.xx toward that part of the job and you pay the difference.” Again, they aren’t in business to improve your home, just to insure you against loss.

What about the crown and cap? The crown and cap are small things, but they are not covered unless they suffered damage as a result of the fire. These are small things in comparison to other damages and are normally considered to be part of quality chimney repair. If your crown or cap has damage not caused by the “event”, then you can discuss it with the adjuster or with any luck you have a chimney contractor that just folds it all into doing the job. Some sort of cap is required with any UL listed system anyway. As for sealing a cracked crown…technically no, but it’s seldom an issue.

However let’s say it’s not something small like the cap. Let’s say the chimney caught on fire but in the inspections that followed it turned out that the plywood form that your hearth was poured on is still there. That wood can’t be there, but it’s bad workmanship. The company will want you to fix it, but it’s not the company’s responsibility to pay for it. Even so, you can ask; they might pay- stranger things have happened.

Just because something is nicer after the repair than it was before the damage is not a reason for the insurance company to balk. If it’s necessary to do [whatever] to restore the condition of the chimney, it’s covered.

“Just because something is nicer after the repair than it was before the damage is not a reason for the insurance company to balk.”

How does the insurance company decide when to pay or not?

The insurance companies have the terms of the policy, but they also have company policies (general ways they want customers treated, etc.) This means they do have some elasticity. The fact is that most companies, most of the time, don’t really want to make your life miserable. The industry is priced to allow for the gray areas, and for being somewhat elastic when they aren’t obviously constrained by the terms of the policy.

Most companies are happy to pay a legitimate claim. Of course they’d be better off if there were no claim, but once you are there making your claim, they are prepared to deal with it and smile at the same time. It’s what they do.

They also do not want a bad name with the public. The insurance commissioners are consumer oriented and want the public to be protected, which helps keep them on track if they start to stray. The insurance company doesn’t want to waste time on fighting battles that when won result in “losing the war” of bad publicity. So they are all priced in a way that allows them to pay some claims they might not really own, strictly according to the terms of the policy.

However this is not random. In my experience claims which otherwise might not be paid are only paid for the following reasons:

  • If it can’t be proved that an event didn’t occur.
  • If you are a long-time customer who has a packaged insurance with them. A claim-free history is a plus too.
  • Very pushy and unreasonable homeowners who dig in and don’t let go. Creates the situation for an unwinnable war.
  • People lie about the cause of their damage.
  • Inexperienced adjusters who don’t know enough to deny a claim.
  • Magic. Somehow, out of the blue, they pay and you wonder why.

Here’s the story on insurance adjusters

Insurance adjusters come in two (technically three) different types. There are company adjusters and independent adjusters. The third type adjuster will represent you, we will talk about them later.

A company adjuster is just what it sounds like: he is an employee of the insurance company. Big companies have their own adjusters. Companies like State Farm or Allstate for example. These companies often handle things over the phone and you never even meet the adjuster. Other companies, not always so small, choose to use the services of outside adjusters. These are usually individuals that contract with the insurance companies to handle verifying the claims for them.

Generally speaking, the independent adjuster is successful in business if he “keeps a lid on claims.” That is to say, these individuals are probably tougher about paying claims than company adjusters are. I don’t know if they are paid a percentage of the savings on some reserve, or if it’s just getting called more frequently; whatever the payment model is, it is true that independent adjusters can be real tough.

Company adjusters obviously are not going to last long if they give away the store either. But in their cases they do have a corporate attitude. I mean that in both ways: the employee himself is part of a large company and may well be more relaxed about small sums of money against a huge reserve budget because he has that flexibility. And then there’s the company’s attitude toward the customer: If it’s a “friendly” company, the adjuster has the freedom to be “friendly.”

A word on lying about your claim

Don’t do it. They call it insurance fraud. Insurance fraud can be prosecuted in a court.

And at least some of your history follows you forever. A cautionary tale… My dad once had a weekend place in the woods. He rented it to some people and they caught place on fire. It wasn’t a huge claim, but 20 years later when he went to get insurance for a rental house in a different state, the old fire came up before the underwriters. He did get insurance, but his name seems to be forever flagged as a person to watch.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I have been asked to falsify what I see to the insurance company. There was no chimney fire, but if I say there was a fire, the insurance company will probably believe it. I get the job and the homeowner doesn’t pay; no victim- right? Wrong. The insurance may have more money than you and I have, but my desire for someone else’s goods do not give me title to them. It’s not my money and taking it by lying is wrong. Don’t do it.

How to fight a denial of a claim

Hopefully you won’t get into an adversarial relationship with your insurance company. But if you do for some reason, and you know you have the law on your side, there is no reason why you should lose.

The first line of defense is just to dig in and say NO. As an internal matter, they don’t want claims open for a long time. They don’t want bad PR. Most companies are perfectly reasonable, but you can get unreasonable adjusters, or adjusters who don’t know what they are doing yet. Just sticking with it will get results over 50% of the time.

If that’s not getting the job done, you can call the insurance commissioner’s office. They do not want complaints, and the especially don’t want to be reprimanded for denying legitimate claims.

You can get a lawyer, though it shouldn’t be necessary. Only if it’s a big claim and you think it needs a judge to interpret the policy.

You can get a public adjuster to represent you, assuming you have a large enough claim. Remember I said there are technically three types of adjusters? This is the third type and they are different in that they represent you. They do this for a fee. And my experience they are worth their fee many times over. This is not for the small claim. However if half your house burns down, call the fire department first, your insurance company second, and an independent adjuster third. Don’t waste time; get them in from day-one.

I had an employee who set my business on fire once. The place did not burn down, but the computers were ruined etc. lots of damage. I assumed my insurance company would take good care of me, but I found out that they are not so friendly when there is A LOT of money involved. They didn’t want to pay anything until it was established that I didn’t set the fire myself. Understandable I guess, but I was going to go out of business waiting on the process.

I’ll skip the middle of the story, but suffice to say I wound up with the services of an independent adjuster company. They knew more about my policy than I did and got me way more money (all of which I legitimately had coming) than I’d ever have gotten because I would not have known enough to ask for it. My experience was that the hard-nosed insurance company folded and got real cooperative the instant I had representation. For what it’s worth… and I hope you never need that wisdom.

Can I use my contractor or do I have to use theirs?

You can use yours. They can’t force you to have someone in your home you don’t want there. And mostly they are not going to try to force you into anything. While I mention problems in this article, most of the time you are dealing with reasonable people who just want to help you get whole again.

So said, insurance companies surely do have people they like to work with. In fact, I use to have several adjusters who would call me to go inspect chimneys that were being claimed on. The adjusters that called me did so because over time they’d come to trust me. As a result I did get a lot of work.

Conversely, that worked against me the days when somebody else held that same edge. I was careful to explain to my customer that it was her home and she didn’t have to have anybody do work there she didn’t want; she could insist on having me do the repair if that’s what she wanted. If my customer liked me well enough, I still got the job ;-) You get my point.

Why is that important? Because the criteria for being an adjuster’s favorite vary. In my case I had guys who liked me because I was honest (i.e. I wouldn’t stick them with a claim that wasn’t a fire just to get the work). But for some adjusters, it’s all about price. There are even guys who never do any repair at all; they just look at chimneys and say there’s no problem and get paid for the service call.
You may be asked to get three estimates, and they’ll pay the lowest one. Don’t fall for that. Best advice is to figure out which contractor you want in your home and insist on hiring that one.

What to do? Understand your policy and trust your contractor. And insist on having people you trust in your house. Even if the proposal is more it’ll go. If the price is ridiculously high there will be lots of discussion and hassle, but as long as it’s in range, they will pay the higher price.

Additional Resources

http://blueridgechimney.com/chimney-services/chimney-repairs/insurance-claim-specialists/

Your Source for Fireplace and Chimney Information

The following library of information is broken up in a way that will educate you on your chimney so you know how your chimney should be properly cleaned, maintained, and/or repaired. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, leave us a note in the comments and we will try to find you an answer!

The Basics

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Gas vs Wood Fireplaces: Price, Aesthetics, and Maintenance

Gas vs Wood Fireplaces: Price, Aesthetics, and Maintenance

Are you looking to install a fireplace in your home?  Better late than never! But the question isn’t if you should invest in one, it’s what kind is right for you?  Well, many fireplaces are powered by one of two types of energy: gas or wood.  These heating units vary slightly in features and benefits, so let’s get the inside scoop and figure out which is best for you.

Fireplace Price

So many buying decisions rely on purchase price.  Luckily, both wood and gas fireplaces are generally affordable.  Gas fireplaces come as built-ins and inserts (as well as freestanding and log sets, but we’ll save those for another time), all with different price tags. Built-in gas units may run up to $8,000 after installation, and most closely mirror a traditional wood-burning unit because they are installed into the structure of your home. Gas inserts are similar to traditional fireplaces too, however one is simply installed into a pre-existing firebox.  Expect to pay up to $4,000 for a gas insert after installation.  One perk of each is that gas built-ins and inserts may bypass the need for a chimney, as many built-ins can be direct-vented and inserts operate from the home’s main gas lines.

wood burning fireplaceWood fireplaces are a different matter.  When shopping around, you’ll find inserts, freestanding wood stoves and built-in wood fireplaces (we’ll focus on the latter two).  These are unique as you will need a working chimney for ventilation.  Expect to invest up to $5000 (including installation of the unit, venting system and/or fire resistant flooring) for a freestanding stove, which can be placed anywhere in the room. You may instead opt to spend up to $10,000 for a built-in wood fireplace.  Remember that built-ins are constructed from scratch, so this price tag includes the hardware of the unit, labor involved for installation—constructing a chimney if your home doesn’t have one, gutting an old fireplace if you’re replacing one, etc.—and surround accents like bricks/tiling and the mantel.

At the outset, gas and wood units are comparable by sticker price.  However, think about usage costs.  Gas fireplaces will require the installation of and/or tapping into a home gas line, and incur extra expenses to your monthly gas bill, an already sizable sum. Conversely, wood fireplaces are cheaper throughout the life of the unit because wood is a cheap and sometimes free fuel source.  Our verdict: wood!

Fireplace Design

built in fireplace

Built-In Fireplace

When it comes to looks, gas and wood fireplaces are on level footing.  The fireplace options for each are virtually the same and the appearance is nearly indistinguishable.  Built-in fireplaces give you a homey, rustic feeling and add decoration to a room.  Dancing flames engulf the interiors of both gas and wood fireplaces, and although gas units use ceramic logs, you couldn’t really tell to look at them.

On the other hand, gas and wood insert units and freestanding stoves perhaps lack that quality that makes them blend seamlessly into your home, but each has a firm presence in its own right.  Freestanding stoves especially have an advantage over insert units, as they can come in more shapes and decorative styles.  You can choose a smooth-lined, classical-looking stove or even go with something that looks older and/or more industrial.

The only aspects that differ significantly between gas and wood fireplaces aesthetically involve two things: sounds and smells.  After all, aesthetics encompass more than just the visual.  With wood, no matter the fireplace style, comes the smells of the outdoors—natural wood and the aroma produced by the flames licking it.  The same is true with sound, such as the soft crackling of logs breaking down and the hiss of sparks being thrown around.  Gas fireplaces don’t give you these experiences, presenting only the quiet glow of the fire.  Perhaps this alone would have a hand in your decision!  The verdict: wood fireplaces all the way!

Fireplace Maintenance

An essential aspect of fireplace ownership and use is unit maintenance.  Wood-burning fireplaces, be they stoves or built-ins, require diligent attention each year.

This includes the annual chimney & fireplace inspection.  A chimney sweep should assess the structure, ensuring that your chimney and fireplace are each free from cracks, leaks and buildup like soot and creosote, and making sure the flue is in good shape.

Wood Fireplace: If you’ve opted for a wood stove, its catalytic combustor must be checked 3 times annually to ensure that it is breaking down fuel safely and efficiently.  Depending on the outcome of the inspection, you may need fireplace and chimney repair and/or cleaning.  This might range from fixing a cracked chimney cap to a chimney cleaning by a sweep using proper tools.

Gas Fireplace: Maintaining gas fireplaces, be they built-ins or inserts, often requires only small, do-it-yourself steps.  Direct-vented gas units don’t need a chimney, so inspections and cleaning are out.  One step to take, however, is to have the venting system checked out to ensure safety and maximum efficiency.  You’ll want to be sure that venting pipes are not clogged with dust or debris or are leaking gas.  Additionally, be mindful of the condition of the ceramic logs.  Logs can accumulate dirt or even break from time to time, and you can check this and use appropriate cleaning agents to resolve issues.  Also, if your model has a fan to spread heat, keep an eye on it.  This might be an exception to the DIY nature of gas fireplace maintenance, and if the fan malfunctions, it’s time to call in an expert.

The special touch of a professional is always awesome to have because of expertise and thoroughness.  But if you can maintain your fireplace alone, that’s a definite perk.  The verdict: gas fireplaces for the win!

So which do you choose in the battle of gas vs. wood fireplaces?  A gas unit, free from the need for wood fuel?  What about a wood fireplace, which is big on ambiance?  Maybe you already had an existing fireplace structure, so all you need is an insert.  Perhaps even a freestanding stove is an ideal solution.  Even if you’re opting for a newly-constructed fireplace, High’s Chimney has you covered there, too.  Give us a call to discuss your fireplace needs today!

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!