Category Archives: General Chimney Information

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

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.” 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

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!

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

Closing Out Your Fireplace and Chimney for the Season

At the beginning of February, Punxsutawney Phil made the prediction that spring was well on its way when he failed to see his shadow on Groundhog Day. Whether that adorable critter is entirely accurate is up for debate, but Spring is finally coming. It appears last weeks’ snowfall will more than likely be the last the Washington DC area will see for a few months.

As fireplace season is starting to wind down, home owners should learn how to close down the fireplace and chimney for the year. There are a few quick steps that should be taken to close out the cozy season:

  • clean the fireplace,
  • perform a chimney inspection,
  • shut the fireplace damper,
  • turn off the pilot light on gas fireplace units

Clean It Up

Prior to closing the fireplace for the year entirely, you will want to clean up whatever you can your own.  This includes dusting off any soot or ash deposits from the base of the unit.  You can accomplish this with the handy-dandy Shop Vac.  Additionally, remember that the chimney should be swept annually by a certified chimney sweep to remove any soot and creosote in the body of the chimney.  Most sweeps, including us, feel that Spring is the best time to hire a sweep to get your chimney cleaned and inspected. When the weather gets significantly damp during the spring months, any leftover gunk in these areas will moisten and give off unpleasant odors inside your home.  As an added guard against odors, various deodorants designed for chimneys can be put inside of the firebox.

Inspect

While you have a chimney sweep there to do the cleaning, you might as well have an overall inspection completed too.  In addition to looking for residue buildup, a sweep can check the condition of various components, inspecting them for cracks and leaks.  Two key components that may prove troublesome in the spring are the flashing system and rain cap.  Each of these items works to protect the chimney from water leakage, which is more likely during the spring rainy season.  A chimney sweep will ensure that these parts are intact and undamaged, keeping your home safe from flooding.

The inspector will check all other key items, including chimney piping, which could have become corroded from prolonged heat exposure, and replace it if needed.  To further guard your home, the chimney damper/cap should be securely closed too, which will keep out pesky animals that like to invade your chimney, like chimney swifts or raccoons.

Shut the Damper

When your fireplace goes unused for a length of time, the damper should be closed.  Why?  Because it’s just one more way that air and odors come in and out of the house.  So, at the end of this fireplace season, be sure to shut the fireplace damper near the firebox.  Even better, if air is escaping from your home and into the fireplace unit, glass doors can be installed and work together with the closed damper, creating a tighter seal.  Please note, however, that this is only for wood-burning units, as gas fireplaces should always have an open damper.

Turn Off the Light

Gas fireplaces are equipped with what is called a pilot light.  Essentially, this is a small flame that remains lit at all times while the fireplace unit is connected.  What are the odds that you’re going to light a fire in the next several months?  The pilot light, while it isn’t very strong, uses up plenty of energy over a period of time, costing you money.  So, turn off the pilot light on a gas fireplace in the springtime.

Taking these steps now will ensure that your fireplace is in tip-top shape for the next burn season, which means you will have one less thing to worry about next winter!  There’s nothing worse than being left in the cold, so oil your fireplace components so they function correctly, take the necessary cleaning and corrective steps, close and turn off components that need not be used and relish in the fact that you’re in good shape for next year!

Chimney Health Hazards: Things You Should Know

Our chimneys, in conjunction with the fireplaces they support, help to provide us with much warmth during the colder months.  They can, however, have various adverse effects on our health.  Of course, one shouldn’t live in fear of this, though it is wise to have a working knowledge of chimney and fireplace health hazards.  Let’s look at some ways in which your chimney may be more foe than friend.

creosoteCreosote Exposure

Creosote is an oily black substance that can potentially build up inside your chimney flue because of incomplete wood combustion.  Not only does this stuff sound nasty, but it can also produce some undesirable health effects, such as:

  • Skin Irritation. Physical contact with creosote buildup can cause rashes and other major skin issues.
  • Eye Irritation. Creosote debris that gets on/in the eyes will irritate them, sometimes to the point of feeling burning sensations or actual chemical burns.  Sensitivity to light is also possible.
  • Respiratory Problems. Breathing in creosote particles for a length of time often catches up with the person exposed, as lung and other respiratory issues may develop.
  • Abdominal Issues. Creosote carries with it the potential to irritate both one’s kidneys and liver.
  • Mental Problems. Serious exposure to creosote will cause seizures and confusion in some people.
  • Cancer. Though this greatest health effect has not occurred often from chimney use, creosote exposure does have the potential to cause skin cancer.

"Soot" covered youngster

No children were harmed in this photo. (Source: www.amberdusick.com)

Chimney Soot Inhalation

Chimney soot is another contaminant resulting from incomplete combustion, and it forms when wood does not burn hot enough (less than 284 degrees).  This powdery brown or black dust sticks to the inside of chimneys (sometimes escaping into the air) and carries a few risks similar to creosote, such as:

  • Lung Hazard. Like creosote, if chimney soot is inhaled in great enough amounts, it has the potential to either irritate the lungs or cause lung diseases.
  • Respiratory Risks. In conjunction with lung problems, general respiratory infections may crop up due to soot inhalation.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a hazardous gas that is odorless, colorless and tasteless, making it notoriously hard to detect.  The gas is a result of incomplete combustion due to insufficient oxygen to finish oxidation.  In this case, it doesn’t make it to the carbon dioxide form.  When Carbon monoxide makes it into the air, several health problems may emerge:

  • Flu-like Symptoms. Carbon monoxide taken into the body in small amounts may mirror flu characteristics, including fatigue, nausea, confusion or headache.
  • Organ Troubles. The more carbon monoxide you inhale, the worse the impacts on your health.  Breathing in large quantities (At once or over time) of this gas may result in brain damage or heart problems, and at its worst even death.

chimney swift nestChimney Swifts and Histoplasmosis

Chimney swifts are small, brownish black birds with an affinity for taking up residence inside residential chimneys.  The birds themselves are little more than annoying, though what they leave behind may cause problems.  Their droppings may cause histoplasmosis, a respiratory infection caused by histplasma capsulatum, a fungus.  Symptoms generally look like a mild illness or flu, and include:

  • Chronic Cough. Coughing a lot?  It might be a sign of a larger problem from your chimney.
  • Chest Pain. Chest pain is never something to ignore, and if you knowingly have chimney swifts, it may be worth it to mention to the doctor.
  • Fever, Chills or Sweats. Though usually associated with the flu, these symptoms may be the result of extreme buildup of histplasma capsulatum in your chimney.
  • Lack of Appetite and Weight Loss. While you may simply be under the weather when this happens, if this or any of the above symptoms have joined forces, those chimney swifts may be to blame.

None of these things are particularly enjoyable to cope with.  So, the underlying message is simple: take precautions and clean your chimney.  Chimney sweeps can determine if any internal structures of your chimney are damaged, contributing to buildup problems.  Additionally, chimney sweeps will remove creosote, soot and chimney swift deposits, resulting in decreased health risks.  You may also consider having your home checked for carbon monoxide and also install a carbon monoxide detector.  With a better knowledge of chimney risks, you can now enjoy wintertime fires more responsibly!

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.

Animals and Birds Inside Your Chimney

racoon in chimneyA number of factors go into maintaining both the safety and overall condition of your chimney.  We know that hazards like residue buildup can cause problems, but many of us don’t remember the smaller nuisances—chimney pests.  A number of unwanted critters can find their way into your chimney, so let’s talk about what those are and how to rid yourself of them.

Birds in the Chimney

chimney swiftIf there is an opening in your chimney, birds often find it tempting to make their way inside.  One notable pest affecting residents in the Washington DC area is the chimney swift.  Chimney swifts are little brownish black birds with a penchant for building nests the chimney.  Unfortunately, once a swift makes its way into your chimney, you’ll likely be stuck with it for a few weeks, as chimney swift chicks hang about the nest for 14-18 days.  Having these birds in the chimney can be quite annoying—they’re vocal little buggers!

When you find yourself plagued by chimney swifts, which are classified as a Threatened species, there isn’t much that you may legally do about it.  The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal regulation, prevents removal of chimney swift eggs and chicks.  To remove the birds by means chemical or otherwise would require a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The best you can do with swifts is to clean up after they’ve gone.  Technicians can be called in later to clean up and remove nest remnants from the chimney. Chimney swifts and most other birds are less likely to return to a nesting location if the nest has been removed.

Animals in the Chimney

Several animals can get into your chimney, including squirrels and bats.  A particularly pesky intruder in the DC area is the raccoon.  Raccoons, usually females, make their way into chimneys to birth and care for pups.  Crafty as they are, mother raccoons sometimes succeed in not only getting inside the chimney, but passing through the smoke shelf or chimney damper right above the fireplace.  If they’ve gotten this far, there’s a good chance of eventually making their way into your home.  If not, you’ll likely have to at least contend with various animal odors.

raccoons in chimneyA raccoon is an animal you never want to have hanging around, as they are notorious for carrying a variety of diseases.  Raccoons are home to bugs like fleas and ticks, which you or your pets can get, and also diseases like rabies and roundworm.

raccoon in trapLuckily, there are ways to remove mama and her babies from the chimney.  If you don’t mind the smell, items like predator urine may get rid of raccoons.  A humane method of removal is the live trap. Raccoon trapping is legal in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and several services are available. You’ll likely want to trap the mother while she passes through the chimney liner or even attempt to scare her out in some manner.  The babies don’t put up much of a fight quite yet, so it’s pretty simple to reach up the fireplaces and grab them.

The Ultimate Protection

The absolute best way to protect your chimney, fireplace, and ultimately your home from pest intrusion is to make sure you have a chimney cap.  If the top of the chimney is not closed off, you’re just asking for something to get inside it.  The best bet is to install a chimney cap that has an attached wire netting that will act as an additional barrier between pests and the chimney.

Obviously several chimney animals wish to invade your home, and they can be quite a nuisance. From loud chirping to unpleasant odors, these pests can create huge problems.  Take proper measures to protect your home.  Doing this will ensure that you won’t have to deal with birds or raccoons in the first place!

Image sources: mainstreetj.com, birdspix.com, and humanesociety.org

Winter Chimney Checklist

winter chimney checklist

Before 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.

In 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!