Category Archives: Chimney Cleaning Tips

Learn about chimney cleaning by reading our articles below.

Removing 3rd Degree Creosote with Poultice Creosote Remover

Since the other articles were written, there is something new to add. There is a new chemical by Saver Systems called PCR (Poultice Creosote Remover) and it works really well and really fast. By fast I mean overnight. In extremely bad situations it is conceivable that it could take two applications. It is available through chimney service companies, not available to the general public.

Before Poultice Creosote Remover

Source: chimneysaver.com

After Poultice Creosote Remover Image

Source: chimneysaver.com


Who is it good for? It’s good for people who have 3rd degree creosote and… Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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… Continue reading

The Three Levels of Chimney Inspections

Chimney Inspection

source: CSIA

Article contributed by Ashbusters Chimney Service, fellow chimney experts whose knowledge in this topic comes from several years of chimney inspections performed in Charleston, SC.

When we think of a fire in the fireplace, it brings to mind images of comfort, warmth and safety. There is little that compares to the relaxing feeling of sitting by a warm fire in the comfort of your home on a cold night. But, as responsible homeowners, we must never take fire safety for granted. Before you use your fireplace, it is critical that you have a chimney inspection so that you can be sure that your chimney is not a fire hazard.

These inspection levels have been classified by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and they are the standard upon which certified chimney sweeps base their work.

Level 1
A level 1 chimney inspection is the most common type of chimney inspection. If you have used your fireplace regularly in the past without experiencing any problems, a level 1 inspection is appropriate. With a level 1 inspection, the chimney technician will examine the readily accessible portions of your chimney. This means the technician will perform a visual inspection with a flashlight, examining all areas of your chimney and flue that can be viewed without any special tools. Your technician may use common tools such as a screwdriver or pliers to examine any openings, but there should be no damage to any structures or finishes.

Parts of your chimney that should be examined in a level 1 inspection include:

  • Portions of the chimney exterior
  • Portions of the chimney interior
  • Accessible portions of the appliance and chimney connection

In short, your chimney technician will be examining the chimney to make sure that the basic structure is intact and there are no visible signs of damage. In this inspection, your technician should also verify that there are no obstructions or combustible materials in your chimney.

Level 2
If you are making any changes in the way you use your chimney, such as changing the type of fuel used, relining the flue, or if you’ve had any accidents or external events that may have caused damage, a level 2 chimney inspection is needed. If you’ve had a building fire, chimney fire or an earthquake, you will need to have a level 2 inspection preformed. Also, a level 2 inspection of the chimney is required before you sell your property.

As you probably assumed, a level 2 inspection is more detailed than level 1. A level 2 chimney inspection includes all of the visual examination included in a level 1 inspection, plus some additional work including examination of the attic, crawlspace and other accessible areas. In a level 2 inspection, a video camera or other device may be used to examine the flue and check for cracks or damage to the joints in the chimney’s structure. There should be no removal of the structure or permanent damaged caused to your chimney in a level 2 inspection.

Level 3
The level 3 chimney inspection is the most comprehensive type of chimney inspection. In addition to all of the checks preformed in level 1 and level 2 inspections, a level 3 will also examine the concealed areas of the chimney. This inspection may also include the removal of certain parts of the building or chimney structure if necessary. For example, the chimney crown or parts of the interior chimney wall may have to be removed in order to perform the in-depth inspection required for a level 3. This type of inspection is performed when serious damage to the chimney is suspected.

For more information about chimney inspections and safety standards, visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Get additional information at ashbusterscharleston.com.

Top 3 Reasons to Sweep your Chimney

–Article contributed by Owens Chimney Systems

Many people enjoy the rustic feel and relaxing ambiance of a wood-burning fire. However, when it comes to fire in your home, Owens Chimney Systems in Charlotte, NC is there to help keep your family safe. If you need to cut corners on your home maintenance, your chimney and fireplace are definitely NOT the place to do it. Before using your fireplace, you must make sure that it is clean and safe to operate.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that you have your chimney cleaned and professionally inspected at least once a year. There are many good reasons to clean and inspect your chimney, but here are the top three:

1. To Prevent a Chimney Fire

Chimney FireTrust us—you DO NOT want a fire in your chimney. A chimney fire can be quite spectacular—with loud popping and cracking sounds, lots of dense smoke and a strong, hot odor. But chimney fires aren’t always dramatic enough to alert the neighbors. Sometimes, they burn slow and aren’t even visible, but they still reach high temperatures and can seep into the walls of your house and ignite anything flammable. Flames from a chimney fire can quickly spread into the walls or onto the roof of your home and cause massive devastation, if not the total destruction of your home. It is a nightmare scenario, but one that can most likely be avoided with proper care and maintenance of your chimney.The most common cause of chimney fire is, simply, a dirty chimney. Over time, chimneys will become clogged with creosote, a natural, tar-like substance that is a by-product of burning wood. Creosote is black or brown in appearance and, over time, it builds up and leaves a glazing inside your chimney. This glazing is highly combustible and it can take only a small amount to start a fire. Restricted air supply is one of the factors that contribute to the build up of creosote, another reason it is important to clean your chimney regularly.

2. To Protect Your Health

danger carbon monoxideMusical comedian Weird Al Yankovic is known for his humorous songs about pop culture icons, but there’s nothing funny about the way his parents died. In 2004, the Yankovics were found dead in their California home, victims of an accidental carbon monoxide poisoning from burning wood in their fireplace. Breathing the fumes from gas or solid fuel fires can be dangerous or, as was the case with the Yankovics, fatal.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever fuel is burned. Even at low levels, CO can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion and fainting. A blocked chimney or a chimney with an improperly functioning flue can cause a buildup of this dangerous gas. CO is responsible for thousands of deaths in America each year, and many of these poisonings are caused by blocked chimneys. This is why it is critical to have your chimney examined and swept to make sure your flue is clear before using the chimney.

3. To Avoid Smoke Damage

fireplace smoke stains

When a chimney is not regularly cleaned, soot will accumulate around the flue. This makes it difficult for the flue to draw the smoke upwards and can cause the smoke to enter your room. This soot will leave a black film around your hearth and soil any furniture, carpeting or decorations nearby. Sometimes, smoke can even cause black staining around your chimney, which can be difficult or impossible to remove.

When you cut corners with chimney and fireplace maintenance, you are literally playing with fire. The good news is that the risks described above are completely preventable. Be sure to have your chimney cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney professional at least once a year so you can enjoy safe use of your fireplace for years to come.

How to Reduce your Chimney and Fireplace Pollution

Heating with Wood and the Environment – part 5: 7 Ways to Reduce your Chimney and Fireplace Pollution

Earlier on in our series, “Heating with Wood and the Environment”, we discussed the environmental issues of burning wood. We also discussed how what firewood you burn and how you operate a fire affect the environment. Last time, we compared the pollution rates of wood stoves and other wood burning appliances. In this article, we conclude the series by discussing why your fireplace and chimney may be polluting more than it should.

Chimney

Source: daviddarling.info

In general, the more efficiently you burn a fuel, like wood, the less smoke is produced per unit of energy. Since smoke contains the polluting gasses and fine particulate matter we want to reduce, it makes sense to ensure that your fireplace and chimney is setup to conserve heat and burn wood more efficiently. As a bonus, this also saves you money. In addition, an improperly functioning chimney may burn so inefficiently as to cause your firewood to not combust completely; poisonous gas like carbon monoxide is the possible consequence of incomplete combustion.

Since increasing the efficiency of your fireplace and chimney decreases pollution, there are actually a ton of ways you can reduce the pollution coming from your chimney. Below are 7.

1.     Ensure proper installation

Improper fireplace insert installation, chimney liner installation, factory chimney installation, masonry chimney construction, or venting configuration will decrease efficiency, increase fire hazard, and increase indoor and outdoor pollution. The number of things that can be done wrong is quite a lengthy list. For example, if the outlet on a fireplace insert is larger than the flue in your chimney, an airflow imbalance may result and the insert may not receive adequate air to combust at full efficiency. Similar chimney airflow problems might occur with other installation errors like improperly sized chimney liners or chimneys that are not tall enough. If you are getting any installations done, make sure you use an experienced, certified technician, and make sure they follow code, standards, and manufacturer’s instructions. Getting a thorough inspection of your chimney and fireplace by a qualified technician will ensure that installations have been done correctly.

2.     Make sure the damper is fully open during use

Many homeowners forget to open the damper to allow air to flow out of the chimney. It is also common for dampers to stop opening fully because buildup or damage; a partially open damper only allows partial airflow and may decrease fireplace efficiency.

3.     Don’t tolerate indoor smoke

In a properly functioning fireplace, smoke should only go in one direction: up. Indoor smoke is generally cause by the fact that air is being pulled away from the chimney and force of smoke’s naturally tendency to rise straight up through the chimney is not strong enough to pull air into the chimney to counteract the forces pulling air away from the chimney.  If you are getting house smoke, indoor pollution is your first concern — you do not want your family breathing in smoke. Your secondary concern is that the fireplace is likely not receiving enough incoming air (due to competing airflows) to burn efficiently, thus also increasing outdoor pollution. Always remember that indoor smoke is a fixable problem that must be solved.

4.     Get your chimney cleaned

The natural buildup of soot over time decreases chimney performance. According to the CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America), a ½ inch buildup will restrict air flow by 17% for a typical masonry chimney and 30% for the average prefabricate chimney. A clean chimney burns more efficiently.

5.     Have a good liner

A chimney liner has a number of benefits in pollution reduction. A properly sized liner can make up for a flue that is too big for your fireplace insert. A chimney liner also helps keep the air inside the flue hot, to keep air moving up along as it should. In addition, the liner helps keep the cold out; a chimney (especially external masonry chimneys in northern climates) can get rather cold and will make the air inside the flue colder, restricting airflow and efficiency. A good liner will also help things dry inside the flue and fireplace, to the benefit of efficiency. These benefits are all in addition to the benefit the liner has of decreasing fire hazard. Thus, it pays to have an undamaged, properly sized, solid performing liner.

6.     Cover up well

Make sure you have the right kind of cover on the top of your chimney keep out rain and pests out. Pests such as nesting birds can really block airflow. A flue that is wet inside will always produce more smoke. Masonry chimneys will probably need a crown and cap; factory chimneys will probably need a chase cover. Your chimney may alternatively use a top sealing damper. Make sure your chimney has a cover, particularly one that best makes sense for your situation.

7.     Get Inspected

We mentioned already that a chimney inspection by a qualified and certified technician will ensure you chimney and fireplace are installed as they should be. An annual inspection is also a very important way to ensure your chimney is being properly maintained. A poorly maintained chimney is an inefficient and overly-polluting chimney.

Why You Should Not Remove 3rd Degree Creosote from Tile Liners

In part 1 of this series, we explained the three stages of creosote buildup. In part 2, we explained how to remove creosote.

Now for the case for not removing 3rd degree creosote from tile chimney liners.

In tile-lined chimneys, it’s the exceptional chimney that has good mortar joints.  In fact, if I were to blindly bet ten people $10 that their chimneys have poorly sealed mortar joints and then we investigated with a closed circuit chimney inspection camera, I stand a good chance of making $100.  I might lose one or two $10 bets, but that’s about all.

The problem with having openings in the system is that liquid creosote can and does go through the joints and/or cracks and accumulates outside of the flue tile.  This is a very serious problem because in a chimney fire this creosote ignites as well and becomes a slow-burning creosote fire not contained inside of a liner.  A house fire becomes a much greater possibility.

It is probably best to consider unsafe any chimney that has had 3rd degree creosote in it, especially if there has been a chimney fire.  Frankly, even if servicemen remove as much creosote as possible, the cleaning does not yield as much safety you’d hope for.

In short, it’s probably best to remove the old tiles completely (getting rid of creosote on the outside of the tiles as well) and replace the liner with a new insulated stainless steel liner.  Here’s why.

The reasons there are bad mortar joints or cracks in chimneys are numerous, including:

  • Some masons “work too fast” and don’t think it’s actually important to seal the joints.
  • The wrong mortar is very often used, or dries too quickly and falls out after construction.
  • The earth is always shifting and the stack of tiles moves over time.  This can open mortar joints and sometimes even crack the tiles.  No matter how good the original job may have been, no one can protect against this.
  • Flue tiles that have contained a chimney fire almost always crack.  They protect the home from fire, but the tiles themselves usually break and mortar is demolished.  This is actually to be expected; it’s the exception if it doesn’t happen.

Before the 1970’s wood heating appliances had lower heating efficiencies.  This was partly because the wood was not as fully consumed, but also because a lot more heat went up the chimney.  This combination usually produced 2nd degree creosote, which is manageable.  Today’s wood burning stoves are very well engineered to get more heat from less wood, and houses are tighter than ever.  Chimneys routinely create 3rd degree creosote (because of the lack of combustion air and the low flue gas temperatures.)

This is why you see so much stainless steel chimney lining done these days.  The chimneys of America are undergoing change as they are being properly sized to their appliances, either by upgrade or by repair.  The stainless steel liners are:

  • The right size for whatever appliance they serve.
  • Flexible enough to shift with the earth.
  • Able to withstand chimney fires without breaking.

Installing Chimney LiningOne reason why more people don’t reline is that reline jobs may cost more than people were planning for; another reason is that many folks just don’t understand the need.  It’s going to take a long time to convert America’s chimneys if either insurance companies or building codes don’t speed up the process by insisting that people change over to a stainless steel liner (or not be allowed to burn wood).

How to Remove Creosote – About Creosote Part 2

As mentioned before in this series’ first post about creosote, there are three degrees, or stages, of creosote buildup. Chimney brushes are the standard method for removing first and second degree creosote.

chimney brush

However, sometimes second degree creosote will be hard enough to remove that other methods would work better:

  • There are flat wire brushes which are pretty effective.  They are expensive.  If there’s a very thin coat of creosote on the chimney wall a flat wire brush will do a fair job of removing that too.
  • There is special equipment for just this type of creosote.  A rotary loop which is a stainless steel cable fixed to a hub that is put on special metal rods turned by a powerful drill (this process burns up regular drills) This method is quite effective.
  • There are chemical creosote removers.  They come in two kinds: the ones that take time and the ones that work fast.  So said, “fast” still means a couple days.  Fast chemicals definitely work, but they are not used much just because of the safety considerations and the expense of the return trip involved.  They are very caustic and they can make a very big mess.
  • Other chemicals, such as ACS or CreAway are effective over time, but are most useful as good maintenance.  CreAway can actually reverse many problems given some time (weeks to months) provided one changes his burning habits.  Continuing to burn the same way as you did to develop the problem in the first place has to stop if you want your chimney to clean up.  (Consult your chimney sweep or the stove’s owner’s manual for best burning practices)

Third degree creosote removal is the most challenging of all.  And sometimes it’s not worth removing the creosote- there’s often a very good case to be made for taking out the old chimney liner and putting in a new and different one.  But first the removal options:

  • The chemicals mentioned above can work if the creosote hasn’t been on fire.  If the chimney walls just look like they have been coated with tar, the chemicals can work.  The caustic chemicals, if used at all, are usually reserved for this type of problem.
  • The flat wire brush and the rotary loop don’t stand a chance.
  • If the creosote is hard there is a rotary head with chains that will do a rather effective job.  Contrary to intuition, the chains will not break flue tiles.  However, in chimneys that have been abused so that there is 3rd degree creosote the tiles are very often already broken.  As a general statement it’s hard to find a sweep that will do rotary-chain-cleaning because he’ll get blamed for breaking the tiles.  Even so, this is an option, and probably the most effective immediate-removal option.
  • And sadly, you should probably have low expectations for how clean the chimney can ever be again.  Once it’s been full of 3rd degree creosote, even specialized removal tools can get the chimney only so-clean.

In Part 3 we’ll discuss why it’s not a good idea to try to remove 3rd degree creosote from a tile chimney and then reuse it.

About Chimney Creosote – Part 1: The 3 Stages of Creosote

What is Creosote?

Creosote is actually just one of the components in the stuff (aside from the ash) that’s left over when wood is burned.  The whole mix of tar and creosote and soot is commonly called creosote.  The term is almost exclusively used when talking about burning wood.  If discussing soot resulting from burning oil, or even gas, this is just soot and it’s just called soot.  Though the black residue in the chimney from burning wood is called creosote, it is in fact mostly tar.

There are, generally speaking, three types of creosote are found in chimneys and they are usually called ‘stages’ or ‘degrees.’  All three forms are all combustible and should be removed.

First Degree Creosote Buildup

First degree creosote has a high percentage of soot and can be removed from a chimney effectively with a chimney brush.  First degree creosote develops when there is a relatively good combustion of the wood and/or relatively high flue gas temperatures.

This describes an open fireplace.  The burning wood had lots of air for the combustion process and the heat flies up the chimney.  These are best conditions for a chimney.

Second Degree Creosote Buildup

Second degree creosote is a bit trickier.  This creosote buildup is generally in shiny black flakes.  Imagine dry, hard tar corn flakes, and in greater volume than first degree creosote.  It’s not as easy to brush away, but still fairly removable.  It would be difficult to describe all the situations where 2nd degree creosote develops, but suffice to say it will occur where the incoming air is restricted.   This describes woodstoves and fireplaces with glass doors.

Third Degree Creosote Buildup

Third degree creosote buildup is the worst of them all.  This occurs when the flue temperatures are low and/or combustion is incomplete.  This is common when any of, or a combination of, these conditions exist:

  • On woodstoves with the air controls turned way down
  • Un-insulated chimneys (or any other reason the chimney is cold)
  • When using unseasoned wood
  • If the flue is oversized for the appliance
  • When the house is tight and can’t draw sufficient combustion air

Third degree creosote looks like tar coating or running down the inside of the chimney.  It is extremely concentrated fuel.  It can get very thick as it hardens and is recoated over and over.  An inch thick would be unusual, but it’s not unheard of.

And worse yet is third degree creosote that fills up “chimney fire fluff.”  If creosote buildup catches fire in a chimney, maybe it burns away completely but more often it does not.  More frequently the creosote partly boils, partly burns and leaves a dried out light-weight “sponge,” often more than 2” thick which is actually very easy to remove.  But if it is not removed, new third degree creosote fills that sponge you can have well in excess of 100 pounds of creosote in a chimney.

The first chimney fire may not have damaged the house, but that next chimney fire will be fiercer than the first and exceptionally dangerous.  The really tough part is that third degree creosote, in any form, is very hard to remove.

We’ll discuss ways to remove creosote in Part Two.