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Read some of the most popular articles by High’s Chimney Service.

Fireplace and Chimney Parts: Diagram and Anatomy

Anatomy of a Chimney

There’s far more to chimneys than meets the eye. While the average home owner is only vaguely familiar with the contents that extend beyond the hearth and the chimney, your fireplace and chimney could consist of up to 22 parts. Knowing about these parts and their functions can be useful in general maintenance, troubleshooting, or even talking with a fireplace and chimney expert about your service. Use the following guide to understand the various parts of your chimney, and be prepared for your annual chimney inspection!

chimney flue liner chimney crown/wash definition chimney flue definition chimney smoke chamber definition chimney mantle definition chimney throat damper definition chimney throat definition chimney lintel definition chimney hearth definition chimney smoke shelf definition chimney hearth extension definition chimney firebox definition chimney ash dump definition chimney ash pit definition chimney foundation definition chimney cleanout door definition chimney footing definition Image Map

1. Chimney Crown – Your chimney crown protects your chimney from water damage entering through small cracks. Without a proper chimney crown- or if you have a cracked one, rain water seeps into the bricks and mortar of your chimney structure. Even minute amounts of water can result in brick flaking, mortar deterioration, and unsightly salt deposits on your chimney. Without a good crown that has been sealed your chimney does not have any protection. Eventually, the bricks and mortar break up enough that the chimney is no longer structurally sound. You can read more about chimney crowns here.

2. Flue – A flue is simply a passage for conveying exhaust gases from an appliance to the outdoors. A flue may be a duct, pipe, vent, or chimney. An unlined chimney is technically a flue, even though an unlined chimney is a fire hazard.

3. Flue Lining – For a safe flue, a lining must be used to ensure minimal accumulation of flammable debris. This lining should be stainless steel or specially formulated lining tile. In our all about chimneys article we talk further about the importance of the flue lining and problems you may be facing with your flue lining.

4. Smoke Chamber – The purpose of the smoke chamber is to gently compress the byproducts of combustion into a smaller space (the chimney) without causing back draft. The use of sloping walls, in conjunction with good fireplace design and maintenance, helps facilitate this.

5. Chimney Damper – Chimney Dampers are lever or pulley activated doors within your chimney. They can be closed to prevent energy loss when your fireplace isn’t being used. They also help prevent rain water or animals from entering your home if your chimney cap doesn’t restrict this. Wondering how this relates to a chimney cap? This article explains.

6. Smoke Shelf – This shelf is just behind the chimney damper. Flat, it catches falling debris and rain water, and helps with the transition of large volumes of smoke into the small chimney.

Chimney Chase – This generally refers to a factory made case used around factory made chimneys. This function is taken by masonry chimneys in homes that have them.

Anatomy of a Fireplace

7. Mantle – Also known as mantel piece or mantel shelf, this piece of hardware is more than a surface to display family photos and hang stockings. It’s primary use was to help catch smoke and prevent it from entering the home, but as fireplaces have evolved its use isn’t as important as it once was.

8. Lintel – This piece is place just above the fireplace opening. Lintels are used in archway, door and window openings to help bear the load created by opening such spaces.

9. Throat – This is the space just below the damper and just above the firebox, where the fire first passes through.

10. Firebox – The firebox is the section of the chimney system in which a person builds a fire. A proper firebox is lined with firebrick, a substance of refractory ceramic, which can become cracked or weakened after years of use. This area of the chimney is often in need of repair. It is recommended to have a thorough inspection of the firebox every five years or so depending on fireplace usage.

11. Hearth Extension – This is the space that occupies the floor just outside of the firebox. It’s made of heat resistant material such as tile or brick to reduce the chance of fires.

12. Hearth – This is the space on which the fire actually burns. As with the firebrick, it must be able to handle both the potential corrosiveness of the burned material and the high heats it can be subjected to.

13. Ash Dump – Lies directly below the ash door dump, this is the space ash falls through once the ash dump door is opened.

14. Ash Pit – Below the ash dump, this serves as a collection space for dumped ash. It should be emptied frequently to prevent excess accumulation of flammable byproducts.

15. Clean Out Door – This door is used to clean out the ash dump. It frequently is located outside or in the basement to make ash removal easy.

16. Footing – This is the horizontal surface under the ash pit. Generally made of concrete, the chimney should be securely placed in relationship to the footing to prevent problems later on.

17. Foundation – The lowest part of the chimney walls, this is made of heavy duty brick or cinder block. It’s used as structural support for the rest of the chimney, and is exposed to potentially hot ash. As such, it should be sturdy.

Fireplace Face – This is the area between the mantel and the fireplace itself. Traditionally brick, it must be sturdy enough to handle the heat of the fireplace below it.

Ash Dump Door – This door allows you to easily remove ash from your firebox. Placed in the middle of your firebox, it can opened to dump the ash into the ash dump.

Wood Stove Heat Shields: An Overview

 

Do I Need A Heat Shield?

Source: cottageontheedge.com

Wood stoves require heat shields both under and behind them to protect your home from heat damage. While many wood stoves include heat shields in their design, some do not. Refer to your wood stove to determine if external heat shields are necessary. Installing these heat shields as instructed is important for keeping your wood stove safe and efficient. Taking the time to understand the heat shield needs of your wood stove is important for your safety, and will give you ease of mind when you need to leave your house unattended.

Shields protect your home from heat damage and fire one of two ways. Understanding how they work is important to deciding which heat shield is right for you, and ensuring you install the shield correctly.

How Heat Shields Protect Your Home

Safety Spacing

One technique heat shields use to protect your wall is by allowing space between the shield and the wall. These shields are hung with an inch gap between the shield and the wall. This allows air circulation behind the shield, which helps relieve the heat radiating from the shield. With these types of shields, it is important that nothing blocks the air flow behind the shield, as this could be a fire hazard. This type of shield strategy is most commonly seen with metal shields, but the same method can be used with concrete sheets and other shields.

Insulation

The second method heat shields use is insulation. These types of shield rest directly against the walls or floor, and have heavy insulation behind the fireproof exterior. Just placing fireproof materials, such as tile or concrete, against the wall or floor does not adequately protect your home from fire. These materials might absorb some of the heat, but much more of it will radiate into your wall. This clearly is a fire hazard. Behind the fireproof material, you may need several layers of heat shield insulation to ensure proper safety. The amount of insulation you need is highly dependant on the type of woodstove you have, how close it is set to the wall or floor, and the type of insulation purchased. Please refer to your wood stove manufacturer or wood stove specialist for more information.

Heat Shield Specifications & Considerations

Manufacturer Specs

Wood stoves come in a variety of styles and designs. For this reason, appropriate safety measures vary. It is important to read any literature that came with your wood stove and refer to any certification information listed on the stove. This information will cover the distance necessary between the wood stove and the wall, as well as the suggested width and height of the heat shield.

Insurance Standards

Many insurance companies have standards about how a wood stove heat shield needs to be installed. These might be beyond the standards set by the wood stove company. As such, it is important to discuss your wood stove with your insurance company before installing anything.

Interior Design

Just because the basis of these shields is boring doesn’t mean that heat shields must be an eyesore. There are many heat resistant decorations that can add life to a dull shield. Many people add decorative ceramic tiles or gathered stones to their shields to increase the beauty of the necessary piece. Just be sure that the products you use to affix the decorations are safe to use in instances of high heat.

Do you need a quality wood stove installed the Washington DC area?  High’s provides expert wood stove sales, service, and installation.

How Many Things Can You Put On One Chimney? Or Multiple Appliance Venting

Let’s start with a few definitions.

chimney flue ventingAppliances include fireplaces, woodstoves, furnaces, boilers, pellet stoves, hot water heaters, etc. They’re all individual appliances.

A chimney is a structure that has one or more flues in it.

A flue is simply the chimney passageway that vents the fumes from whatever is attached to it. (A flue is not the same as a damper either; a damper is something that can block the flue.)is simply the chimney passageway that vents the fumes from whatever is attached to it. (A flue is not the same as a damper either; a damper is something that can block the flue.)

How many appliances can you have per chimney?

And even though the question always comes across as “how many on one chimney?” let’s make sure to discuss “how many on one flue?” The answer to the question is: “It Depends”.

The rules are found in various NFPA standards and in the IRC (International Residential Code.) This article is general in nature but for those who want to drill down into the details, most of the information can be found in IRC chapters 10, 13, 18 and 24.

Solid fuel burning appliances.

Solid fuel includes coal or corn or cherry pits, but for most of us that means cord wood or pellets. The rule here is easy and clear.

IRC M1801.12 (PDF Here) Multiple solid fuel prohibited. A solid-fuel-burning appliance or fireplace shall not connect to a chimney passageway venting another appliance.

In other words, only one appliance per flue, period. It goes without saying, I hope, that gas or oil appliances cannot be vented into a flue which also vents a solid fuel appliance. EVERY SOLID FUEL APPLANCE GETS ITS OWN VENT!

How about hooking up a woodstove into an existing masonry fireplace flue?

That’s OK as long as:

  • The fireplace has been blocked off. Remember, only one appliance per flue!
  • The liner for the woodstove has to be properly sized, which generally means the same size as the collar-size coming from the appliance.
  • Make sure the chimney is clear of combustible materials before inserting the smaller liner.

Gas and Oil Appliance Venting

Gas fireplaces are factory-built systems. The manufacturer’s listing and instructions will preclude attaching any other appliances to it.

Multiple gas or oil furnaces or boilers, as well as hot water heaters, can be vented into one flue. There are a few rules to mention:

  • The rules apply to listed appliances. While I have never seen an unlisted gas or oil furnace in my life, if you have one, you are referred back to the rules for solid fuel burning appliances- one per flue.
  • If venting two or more appliances on the same flue, you have to know the flue can handle it, as determined but the BTU input and other factors.
  • Both or all appliances have to be on the same floor. So, no furnaces in the basement or room heaters on the second level of your home.
  • The connectors for the appliances have to be offset. They can’t come into the flue at the same height, and especially never directly across from each other.
  • The smaller of the two connectors go into the flue above the larger one (usually meaning the hot water heater).
  • As a general rule, don’t mix “natural draft” appliances and “fan assisted” appliances on the same flue. This rule is more complicated than this, but if this is your case, be sure you refer to the manufacturer’s instructions. Call an HVAC company and make them show you to your satisfaction it’s right. Don’t take anyone’s word for it, see it in writing.

The NFPA 54 (Gas) and the NFPA 31 (Oil) show diagrams in great detail, and cover sizing the connectors as well (connectors are the smoke pipes that carry the fumes from the appliance to the chimney flue.)

Read another helpful article by the American Society of Home Inspectors.

Five Reasons for Chimney Leaks and What to Do About Them

Causes of leaking chimneys can usually be narrowed down to five reasons. If your problem isn’t solved from addressing the items on this list, your leak probably isn’t from the chimney!

common masonry chimney leak fixes

1. The Simplest Cause of Chimney Leaking: Rain Going Straight In from the Top

Capless Chimney

Capless Chimney (source: hersheychimneycleaning.com)

It’s not hard to picture that. Chimneys without covers get a lot of rain falling straight down into them. A chimney cover makes sense to most people. Not only does it keep the rain out, but keeps birds, animals and debris out. The greatest value of the chimney cover is really keeping these out because when chimneys get blocked at the bottom, people get sick (or even die) from CO poisoning. While it’s true that sometimes an uncovered flue is the source of water problems, most often this reason for a leak is only when the liner is metal.

How to fix it

Get a chimney cover and have a professional make sure it’s not this simple.

2. Many Chimney Leaks are from Cracks in the Chimney Crown

cracked chimney crown

Cracked Chimney Crown

The chimney crown is the cement part on top of the chimney. The bricks go up around the tile flue liners, but at the top you need something to stop the rain and snow from just falling in around the tiles. You can see that the very purpose of the chimney crown is to keep rain out. Cracks in the chimney crown can occur from shifting of the structure or from shrinkage dating back to the first day the crown was put on. When your crown has cracks, the water goes right through those cracks.

How to fix it

How to fix a cracked crown depends upon how bad the damage is. Most crowns have small cracks. Even small ones need to be fixed because all big cracks started out as small ones. Water freezes and thaws in the cracks all winter long, year after year, forcing small cracks to eventually become big cracks. There are excellent crown coating materials such as Chimney Saver Crown Coat which cover the masonry and prevent small cracks from becoming a real problem.

Once chimney crown damage is significant, though, the only fix it is to remove and relay the masonry. You can’t put a band aid on a gushing wound and you can’t coat a structurally ruined chimney crown and expect it to work. Best to coat your crown now with Crown Coat and avoid the big hassle and expense later.


chimney inspectionLeaky Chimney? We can fix that! If you believe that your chimney is causing damage to your home please give us a call or schedule an appointment online. We’ll be happy to help you.


3. Chimneys Leaking From the Inside Out from Condensation

damage from chimney condensation

Damage from Chimney Condensation

I remember a lady whose wallpaper peeled where the chimney ran through the house. She knew it was the chimney because this is the only place with wallpaper peeling. She had tried everything- a chimney cover, flashing, even rebuilt the entire top of the chimney. By the time I met her she’d spent thousands of dollars but nothing fixed it.

This was an older house with an unlined brick chimney. In 1900 when it was built that chimney carried wood or coal smoke I’m sure. Someplace along the way a gas furnace was installed, but the chimney was not lined with a properly sized liner.

How to fix it

Gas fumes are very low temperature and have a lot of moisture in them. These fumes were condensing on the inside of this too-large, too-cold old chimney, literally soaking the bricks and keeping them moist all the time. All it took was a chimney liner and we solved the problem.

4. Chimney Flashing Causes Leaks

bad chimney flashing

Chimney Flashing Leaks

The flashing is what keeps water from going into the place where the brick structure comes through the roof (or otherwise comes close to the roof.) There’s a fairly large gap between the bricks and the roof and water will pour through that hole if it’s not sealed up. Flashing is often aluminum that goes in between a couple bricks and bends to go on top of the shingles. Some sort of water proof “stuff” seals those spots. Though it’s far from the best choice, the “stuff” is often tar. In any event, flashing doesn’t last forever and the tar lasts even less time.

How to fix it

There are better materials for sealing the flashing now. If you get a chimney sweep to fix your flashing, tell him you want Flash Seal by Saver Systems. (As you can see, I like Saver Systems products; but they just work well, so you can’t go wrong!) It seals better and lasts longer.

5. Chimney Leaks Caused by Leaking Bricks

leaky bricks

Leaky Bricks; Source: doityourself.com

Bricks and mortar both pass water, and often lots of it. The problem here is the same as with the crown- the freezing and thawing all winter long with the resulting damage which causes leaks in the house.

You have probably heard of waterproofing a chimney, but you have to be careful about what waterproofing material to use. When water is absorbed into a brick or a mortar joint in the summer time, the water probably dries out after a while. The exceptions might be for a surface in the shade or on the side of the house where the sun never shines; those walls just stay wet. That water does try to escape by “falling” i.e. the water weight (or head pressure) carries it toward the ground where it forces its way out of the bricks either inside or outside of the house.

If you apply a waterproofing material that physically blocks the pores of the brick or mortar, the water is trapped inside the brick. Some bricks actually get soggy, though it’s more likely that the water will just seep to the inside of the house. To the point, using silicone based water sealants may trap water and cause more damage than you started with. Use polysiloxane type waterproofing agents, such as Chimney Saver by Saver Systems.

How to fix it

To find out if your chimney leaks through the masonry surface, have your sweep do a Masonry Absorption Test (MAT) This is a simple test where a special test tube is attached to the side of the chimney and you record the time it takes for water to be absorbed into the wall. This tells you if you should waterproof the chimney.

Bonus: Chimney Leaks That Aren’t Chimney Leaks

Humid Days That Cause The Chimney To Weep

The question comes up now and again about chimneys that weep on humid days and not related to rain events.  As always, anything can be caused by lots of things, but this is probably one of two things or possibly a combination of both.

The most likely scenario is that there’s humid air, probably in the attic coming into contact with the cooler surface if the chimney masonry or tile.  Assuming this, the air inside the house is probably cool and dry (from air conditioning) so there’s some gradation from cool and dry to warmer and moister in the attic.  Where the coolness meets the humidity, there’s the spot for condensation.  Once it’s water it can run, soak, weep – whatever water might do.

If so, the solution is probably to make sure the attic is properly ventilated.

A second possibility: make sure there is sufficient replacement air to the house in general.  If your house is quite tight, condensation is a likely result.  We’re discussing humid days here, but a tight house (particularly if there are any fans at work as well) could well exacerbate the problem.  The attic can’t be properly ventilated if there’s on replacement air to the house.

While you’re at it, check the CO level in your house.  Even though we said the problem is on humid days, and maybe a tight house has nothing to do with it, since there is condensation and a tight house you’ll want to be on the lookout for spillage from a gas fired unit (presumably the hot water heater) as well.  Probably not part of the problem, but check anyway.  It’s not out of reason and CO poisoning is so common now.

Other Potential Reasons

non chimney leak

source: www.orionrestoration.com

Sometimes, a leak starts in a different place but finds its way to the chimney, and then visibly enters the inside of a room at the point of the chimney.

For example, your roof might have a leak through the attic vent or roof shingle at the top.  Water could get into the attic or above your ceiling and either drip to the floor or roll along the stringer (the long piece of wood that spaces out the roof trusses and runs the length of your house). If the stringer is un-level, water can travel a ways – and even wind up at the chimney. It has happened, and usually isn’t discovered until people have spent a terrible sum fixing everything else.

Another event that could happen (although I have never heard of it actually happening) is that you could get so much moisture in your attic that it could condense and roll down the stringer onto your chimney.  This could happen if there were some reason your attic was getting a lot of humidity in it – for example, if your dryer vented into the attic instead of out of a vent perhaps, or if your gas furnace were vented by B Vent but just dumped into the attic (which would be a severe carbon monoxide risk, incidentally).

 

–Need help with your chimney leak repair in Maryland, DC, or North Virginia? Call High’s!

This Old Chimney Part 1

Common Issues Found In the Chimneys of Old Houses

Old Masonry Chimney

An Old Masonry Chimney

If you own an old house or at least an older house, you will have different considerations than those who own newer homes. Newer homes are more likely to be built following modern codes and with materials that conform to modern published standards.

This means newer homes are more likely to be safe. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your old home is unsafe, however. You just have to know what you’re looking for and bring certain conditions up to proper safety standards. This article will guide you through the considerations specific to your chimney and educate you about your options.

Types of Fireplaces in Older Homes

By “old” we mean houses more than 60 years old. The fireplaces and chimneys in older homes are almost certainly masonry based. The metal, factory built hearth systems are found mostly in houses built after the 1950s. Most masonry chimneys are made with bricks, though there are also block chimneys.

Why You need To Improve Your Old Chimney Before Using It

Lack of lining is one of the most common issues that we see in older chimneys. As a flat statement, any chimney that is not lined should not be used for any purpose. You may say, “Well, it’s been there for 80 years, so why change it now?” and that’s a reasonable question. In some cases the answer is that nothing has changed – the situation has always gotten worse! The reason why your chimney’s condition has gotten worse is because most things wear out over time and a chimney is certainly no exception to that rule.

Additionally, the fact that furnaces and stoves of 2011 require a more capable chimney to support them makes unimproved, older chimneys more or less obsolete.

Why Chimney Linings Are So Important

Installing Chimney Lining

Installing Flexible Chimney Lining

Here are a few reasons why chimney linings are so important:

  • Unlined chimneys have bad draft characteristics. These bad draft characteristics cause the appliances they serve to work less than optimally.
  • Unlined Chimneys may leak noxious gases into the living space.
  • If used for gas, modern appliances have such low-temperature flue gasses that they produce huge amounts of condensation. With an unlined chimney, the condensation is allowed to adhere to the actual masonry. This ruins wall paper in the house, and the freeze-thaw cycles in the winter slowly demolish the masonry chimney.
  • If the chimney is used for wood burning, the condensation can also help form tar and creosote, which is flammable. In this case, they pose an unnecessary fire danger.
  • When you make a change to the construction of a structure, the system must come up to building code standards. So if you have a new furnace or boiler, a woodstove or insert, the chimney must be lined at that time.
  • You may find yourself without insurance if you make changes without improving the chimney. Check with your insurance company if you intend to disregard the advice here or consult a certified chimney sweep.

Basically, have your chimney lined as soon as possible.

Block Chimneys in Old Houses

Block chimneys do work, but as a general statement they are less than desirable. Block chimneys are really meant to be surrounded with bricks. They are more subject to cracking, leaning and leaking; most any problem you can imagine. As a general statement, if you have a block chimney built right against the house it’s probably not legal and if you have a wood-frame house you probably ought to just tear it down. However, if you can build brick around all four sides, unlikely in most situations, you can get the clearance to combustibles called for in the codes, the chimney can be serviceable.

Old Brick and Mortar Chimneys

Old brick chimneys have their own set of problems. Fortunately, older bricks are often actually better than newer bricks. It’s the way they were fired that makes the biggest difference. That’s why you see some houses from the 1800s or even 1700s where the bricks are still in great condition. Yet you’ve also probably seen modern houses with the faces of the bricks popping off. So if you have an old house, you probably have pretty good bricks!

Shifting Ground and your Old Chimney

The ground is always moving a little bit. Fortunately houses are actually a bit elastic, or at least allow enough give that they don’t split in half when the ground heaves an inch. But over time, those stresses can break bricks. If you have that problem in your chimney or walls of the house, it’s probably visible. Broken bricks are just a fact of life sometimes. You might need to replace them eventually.

Old Masonry Chimney Degradation Due to Weather

Sun, wind and rain are hard on any masonry work, especially the mortar. There are so many different types of mortar and concoctions of mortar cement that there’s no guessing how long your mortar is supposed to last, but suffice to say 60 years on a chimney is a long time.

When the mortar wears out it’s either time to rebuild or re-point. Re-pointing is the process of grinding out about an inch of the old and broken up mortar and putting in new mortar without removing the bricks. Unless your chimney is quite large, it may be just as easy to dismantle it and rebuild using the same bricks.

Waterproofing Your Old Chimney

One thing about those great old bricks is that they soak up water from the rain. On the sunny or windy side of the house that’s probably not a problem because they dry quickly. However, in shady areas the bricks can hold water and in the winter that water can freeze. This type of problem is usually visible. There are good water-proofing materials such as ChimneySaver by Saver Systems which do not block the pores of the masonry. Whatever you do, don’t use silicone, such as Thompson’s, because silicone blocks the pores and it has a shorter life due to UV light breaking down the silicone.

Your Old Chimney Crown (Or Lack Thereof?)

There’s another aspect of the chimney that’s almost always lacking on older homes, and that’s the chimney crown. The crown is the cement part on top of the chimney that keeps the rain from going into the structure below. The crown catches more sun, wind and rain than all the rest of the chimney, and it is usually not as thick as a brick. Crowns are almost always cracked. I can’t think of one crown I ever seen that wasn’t cracked. If the crown is bad enough, it needs to be taken off and re-laid. If it is cracked but still structurally sound there are good materials to coat the crown, which will save money.

Regardless, you should have the crown coated with CrownCoat by Saver Systems or some similar product. If you put up a brand new crown, coat it so it doesn’t break up again.

How to Deal with Lack of Clearance to Combustibles

Clearances to combustibles is something they didn’t worry about in the old days. It is quite common to see wood beams or 2x4s right against the masonry of a chimney. When there are fires in old homes, it’s also common to find that some of this wood ignited. Oddly enough, the process of pyrolization takes place over many, many years. The unscientific definition of that is that the ignition temperature of wood gets lower over time. In other words, it takes less heat to catch it on fire 50 or 100 years later than when it was new.

Chimney Insulation

The way to deal with that is to make sure you have a liner installed to zero-clearance (insulated). The only alternative is to tear out the walls and cut away the wood. Practically speaking, nobody is going to do that, and even if you do, there’s no guarantee you’d get it far enough away. Take a look in the attic and remove wood you find against the chimney up there. That’s not so hard to do.

Removing Debris and Blockages From Your Chimney

At the base of an old heater flue, usually in the basement, there can be all kinds of debris. Sticks and leaves, dead birds, or maybe a lot of soot. Old oil furnaces may have released sulfuric acid in the chimney for years and worn the chimney out from the inside. Aside from that though, the bases are often just blocked by debris. Just be sure to have a chimney sweep come out to make sure it’s open. If you have a flue that was converted from oil to gas, you would be venting carbon monoxide into the house. Be sure to have this checked, and especially if you or your family have a lot of colds or headaches because this could very well be carbon monoxide poisoning.

With regards to that debris in the chimney, many older homes are “finer homes” that are surround by trees or perhaps in a semi-rural setting with lots of animals and leaves. That being said, a chimney chase cover is smart to prevent debris from building up as well as protection from harsh weather conditions.

Read Part 2 for more on old chimney problems!

Gas Log Fireplaces vs. Wood Burning Fireplaces

The gas log fireplace has a number of advantages over a traditional wood burning fireplace. While some of the reasons might appear to be obvious others might turn a few curious glances. Gas fireplaces do not have the same amount of realism and the impact of a wood burning fireplace, but with added features gas fireplaces are widely considered realistic and beneficial enough to exceed the expectations of the hearth design. Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape for gas vs. wood fireplaces.

fireplace table

Ambiance

Nothing mimics a wood burning fireplace. The natural crackling and popping and sizzling of sap and the sweet, harsh olfactory effect of a wood fire triggers a physical sensation and psychological relaxation similar to the sounds and smells of the ocean. However, fumes can become toxic, crackling sap sends arcs of sparks off in random directions and a slowly dying fire leaves embers pulsing for hours waiting for an incendiary mistake. While gas fireplaces lack many of the features that create the allure of a wood burning fireplace, the gas fireplace is safer, easier to use and more attractive than most wood stoves and wood burning fireplaces.

Wood & Gas Logs

gas logs

Artificial logs in a gas fireplace.

A gas fireplace offers a level of realism that doesn’t take away from the effects that its traditional counterpart offers. Because of the advancement in technology gas fireplaces offer an authentic looking hand painted ceramic log that comes complete with texture and charring. Well designed gas fireplaces have been commonly mistaken for wood burning fires. Although a wood burning fireplace has burning wood and a gas fireplace burner emits flames from just below the logs the design mimics real flames more reliably than wood logs that often burn inconsistently.

Different gas log manufacturers create gas logs with varying processes and materials. Gas fireplace logs are manufactured of ceramic that has been treated for flame, reinforced with steel supports, hand painted for realistic textures and molded from casts of wood logs. Some gas fireplace logs are also made of a heat resistant foam similar to the architectural foam used for the decorative exterior of homes. Foam refractory logs are lighter and easier to remove to clean and much less expensive but it is also easier to crack the external shell.

The Fire

fireplace screen

A screen protects your home from flying embers.

Because a gas fireplace doesn’t operate on electricity gas burns at a reduced cost compared to a standard home heater. While fireplace wood can be expensive, wood can also be found free. A gas fire will burn until it is turned off and will simply cool down until the next time it is used. In comparison, a wood burning fireplace has to burn down and go out, before it will be safe to leave it unattended with glowing embers dangerously hot several hours after flames have burned out.

A gas fireplace also offers more flexibility in temperature and the appearance of the flames. The fire level is easily adjusted to deliver the amount of warmth and aesthetic appeal that a home needs. When it gets too hot a gas fire can be instantly lowered or be increased when the room gets too hot. With a wood burning fireplace a fire cannot be adjusted in a matter of moments to get the room the temperature to a comfortable place. While a talented use of the poker and flue can affect the heat of a wood burning fireplace it is certainly easier and more reliable to simply push a button and adjust flame height.

Maintenance

dirty fireplace

The remains of a wood fire.

There are also dangers and headaches associated with a wood burning stove. For example, a wood burning stove needs to be cleaned after each use or at least often enough to remove fine silt ash. Ash build up can be messy and difficult if cleaned poorly or left unattended and the fine ash can ruin clothing, air conditioners and get everywhere. Burning wood fireplaces also generate creosote and a chimney must be cleaned on a regular basis to ensure that no chimney fires occur. A gas fireplace will only need to be checked periodically for carbon soot or a leak after a forceful storm, there is no cause for alarm when setting it up for operation.

Ease of Use

gas fireplace

A glimpse at the wiring hidden beneath a gas fireplace.

Ease of use should be noted as well. Many gas fireplaces keep a standing pilot like gas stoves and heater. When the gas fireplace is used a button pushed or knob rotated will have flames at a perfectly selected height and heat emitting from the hearth almost instantly. With any gas fireplace a manual control valve is operated like a barbecue. However, remote control options provide transmitters that function like a hand-held remote, wall switch, automatic thermostat and with a timer.

Building a Fire

wood pile in the snow

It’s a cold trip to the woodpile in the snow!

The wood burning fireplace must be built with lighter kindling setup around and below wood chunks stacked below the logs that will be burned. A wood fire must begin with a single flame nursed to the point that kindling burns and grows to burn chunks that burn to ignite actual heat producing logs. Wood fires are never easy to start and a poorly stacked fireplace can ignite, and go out only to be rebuilt until it burns properly to ignite the fireplace logs.

In the winter, a person will need to go out and pick up wood and kindling to build a fire and keep it going. While that might not be too bad in 50 degrees, when it is snowing or a blizzard outside it might become a problem. With a gas fireplace there is no need to worry about tracking down wood as long as gas is running into the home.

Ventilation

chimney

Wood burning fireplaces and vented gas log fireplaces both require a chimney or similar ventilation to remove dangerous chemicals created by burning fuels.

Wood burning fireplaces and vented gas log fireplaces both require a chimney or similar ventilation to remove dangerous chemicals created by burning fuels. Direct vent and B-vent gas fireplaces are capable of safely venting through horizontal ventilation flues that offer interior design versatility unavailable with wood burning fireplaces that can only vent vertically. Ventless gas fireplaces are capable of burning in a reduced vent or vent-free environment by minimizing carbon emissions and detecting oxygen levels within the control valve.

While wood burning fireplaces were a great item in their time they don’t hold up to the efficiency that a gas fireplace can offer. If your having either type of fireplace installed, consider a stress-free remodeling company to help improve the entire room from floor to ceiling.

Guide To Buying Chimney Chase Covers

What’s a Chimney Chase Cover and Why Do I Need It?

First: a word on what a chase cover is not:  Chase covers are not for masonry chimneys, rather they are for the boxes (chases) that house a factory built chimney.  This is the top of the box that runs up the side or through the middle of the house and above the roof.

Buying a chimney chase cover is important and necessary to the life and maintenance of your chimney and your home. A chimney chase cover is a metal covering designed to keep precipitation, debris and animals out.  It is not an option it is a necessity.

Fitting over the top, outer opening of your chimney chase, it is important to buy a cover that fits perfectly and is made to last. Chase covers are custom made to fit your chase perfectly.  It’s up to you to decide what type of material to use.

Chase Cover Material Choices

Rusted Galvanized Steel Chimney Chase Cover

Rusted Galvanized Steel Chase Cover

When it comes to chimney chase covers, the materials used and quality of the design matters. Made from aluminum, stainless and galvanized steel and copper, each of these types has something different to offer.

  • Galvanized steel, which is  always the lowest cost, will rust quickly and need to be replaced very soon after installation so it is usually best not to invest in this choice.
  • Aluminum will not rust, but is generally too soft for the purpose.  It’s often not readily available in the sizes necessary either.  As a practical matter it’s not a good choice.
  • Stainless steel is the strongest of all your choices. It costs more than galvanized steel but will last virtually forever.  Stainless steel is generally considered to be the sensible choice.  It’s certainly the value proposition.
  • Copper is truly the top quality choice, but the price tag will reflect it.  Copper chase covers are generally so expensive that only very expensive houses warrant getting them, and the wealthy owners don’t like the price tag either.

Chase Cover Design/Spec Considerations

Ensuring that your chase cover is made to exact specifications is also very important.  You should allow about ¼ to ½ inch all the way around, and the cover should be spaced off the chase by about 1/8 to ¼ of an inch.  This ensures the cover isn’t too tight to install but protects the entire top of your chimney from small animals while leaving enough space to allow for a little ventilation.  (A chase cover that’s too tight traps moisture which can rot away the house.)

Chimney Chase Cover

Chase Cover Design with Cross Breaks

You’ll also want cross-breaks in your cover,  These look like a big X from corner to corner and keep the cover from catering and collecting water (which is in fact why most galvanized chase covers need to be replaced.)  There’s also the side drop and collar to consider.  The sides usually range between two and six inches, while three or four inches is pretty standard.  While a top collar (around the hole that the chimney comes up through) isn’t actually required, it’s a nice feature of a good chase cover; they’re usually 2 inches tall.

Aesthetics

Finally, the last thing you should consider when buying your chase cover is how you want it to look. Most home owners shop only for utility when it comes to these pieces, and stainless steel is usually acceptable.  However, more and more companies are offering customization. After you have decided on the type, it may be possible to choose a specific color finish so that it matches or coordinates with your home. This can be done tastefully and make your home more attractive, but it will also add to the cost so be sure to ask about the additional cost upfront.  Also, realize that painted surfaces need maintenance you’ll have to repaint every now and again if you want color. You could even hire a chimney sweep to complete such upkeep for you and your family.

Summary:

Good Stainless Steel Chimney Chase Cover

Excellent Choice, Sir

To recap, High’s recommendations are:

  • All factory-built chimneys need a chase cover.
  • Material best buy: stainless steel chase cover
  • Sizing: allow about ¼ to ½ inch extra all the way around
  • Cross breaks (“x” ridges) are essential

Remember that it is smarter and more cost effective to buy a quality piece now. When purchased wisely and installed correctly, a chimney cover will last for a very long time.

Are you in Maryland, D.C. or Northern Virginia and in need of a quality chimney chase cover installion? High’s Chimney has you… covered:)