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4 Interior and Exterior Chimney Problems & How to Solve Them

deteriorating chimney bricksA chimney that’s in good repair is a chimney that does its job safely and efficiently. When damage or other problems develop within the chimney system, the best move is to arrange for a professional inspection and then chimney repair or chimney sweep services to restore soundness to the structure.

Here are four fairly common issues that chimney service techs see on a regular basis.

  1. Leaky chimney

When addressing leaks in a chimney, the first step is to determine exactly where the leak is coming from. We know that water is getting into the system somewhere, and we need to know where. Many things can be responsible for a chimney leak including:

  • A damaged or missing chimney cap
  • Cracking in the chimney crown
  • Warped flashing
  • Spalling bricks
  • Internal masonry damage due to a faulty chimney liner

If left unattended, a chimney leak can lead to widespread rot and decay within the chimney structure and the house itself.

  1. Damaged chimney masonry

white stained chimney exteriorExternal damage to the bricks and mortar of a chimney is fairly easy to spot: cracks are obvious, bricks are loose, often there are patches of crumbling scattered around on the roof. Various approaches can be used to repair damaged masonry such as:

Tuckpointing: A strong, new compound is added to areas where bricks are missing.

Partial chimney rebuilding: Depending on where the masonry damage is and the extent of it, it may be necessary to rebuild sections of the chimney.

Complete chimney rebuilding: For chimneys with extensive damage that makes them unsafe to use or live around, a total chimney rebuild can restore safety to the home and your family.

Chimney waterproofing: In cases of minor cracking in the mortar, a waterproof sealant can be applied to the chimney to prevent damage caused by incoming water.

  1. Efflorescence on exterior chimney bricks

Efflorescence is the white staining sometimes seen on the outside of chimneys. When this is present, it means that moisture is getting into the bricks and pushing out the naturally occurring salt within the bricks, leading to the unsightly stain.

If efflorescence is the only problem you have with your chimney, you’re fortunate. By scheduling a certified chimney inspection to assess the extent of the water-infiltration and then having the reason for the problem repaired, you can save a lot of money on expensive chimney restoration projects down the line.

  1. Creosote/obstruction buildup in the flue

Wood-burning fireplaces cause the smoke byproduct creosote to form and build up on the inside of the chimney liner. Creosote is flammable and can easily ignite and start a chimney or house fire. Professional chimney sweeps certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America have the equipment and training to safely and thoroughly remove creosote and soot from your flue. Once-a-year cleaning is recommended.

If your chimney cap is severely damaged – or if you don’t have a cap at all – various debris can get into the flue and cause smoke-draft blockages. This debris includes leaves and twigs from nearby trees and small animals and their nests. One of a chimney sweep’s jobs is cleaning obstructions from your chimney to ensure smooth and efficient drafting of smoke and gasses.

When your chimney needs repair or proper cleaning, High’s Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, is standing by to exceed your expectations. Whether it’s chimney sweep, chimney inspection, chimney repair or chimney rebuilding services, we’re ready to go to work. Call us at (301) 519-3500.


Fireplace Safety: Why Regular Chimney Cleaning Matters

Professional Chimney SweepThe safest fireplaces and chimneys are those that receive regular cleaning, repair and maintenance by certified technicians. If this service is neglected, it won’t take long for your chimney to experience a dangerous buildup of creosote and soot. Smoke-drafting obstructions, a common problem if you use your chimney without a chimney cap, also can lead to dangerous operating conditions.

Here are the primary reasons regular chimney sweep services are so important.

First, can you do the job yourself?

Some homeowners think they can clean their own chimneys, but rarely is this the case. Professional chimney sweeps have special tools like rotating brushes, hand brushes, vacuums, scrapers and powerful cleaning solvents that work together to rid your flue of flammable creosote and soot. It’s unlikely the average homeowner has this equipment or the skill and training to use it.

Creosote removal

Creosote is a byproduct of smoke and may appear as a flakey, sticky or solid substance. It’s the cause of the majority of chimney fires in the U.S. each year. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends annual chimney sweeping for chimneys connected to wood-burning appliances, because even less than an inch of this compound is enough to start a potentially fatal chimney fire.

Signs of a chimney fire

Not all chimney fires are obvious. Some are small and extinguish on their own. But even small fires can damage the chimney liner and the interior masonry, which leaves combustible materials of your home vulnerable.

Common signs of a chimney fire include:

  • An unusually large amount of smoke pouring from the top of the chimney or flowing into the room
  • A ticking or tapping sound
  • The sound of rumbling, like a distant train

Removal of obstructions

Creosote in ChimneyIn addition to removing creosote, chimney sweeps also remove obstructions in the flue caused by an accumulation of leaves, twigs, small-animal nests and the like. These obstructions will make smoke draft improperly and back up into the home, carrying with it deadly carbon monoxide.

You can keep all debris out of your flue by having a quality chimney cap installed. Chimney caps cover the flue opening to prevent water intrusion (and subsequent water damage), and the sides are made of a material that allows smoke to move through them while keeping outside junk outside where it belongs.

What you can do to ensure the safety of your chimney

Where creosote is concerned, the less smoke your fireplace produces, the less creosote buildup you’ll have to deal with. Here’s how to create less smoke:

  • Burn only dry (seasoned) wood
  • Don’t stack logs tightly together – they need space to gather oxygen
  • Ensure sufficient air within the home is getting to the fireplace (crack a window, if necessary)
  • Keep your flue clean so smoke can travel up it smoothly
  • Make sure your flue opening isn’t too small for the fireplace
  • Make sure your chimney is tall enough (minimum 10 feet high and extending at least two feet from the roof)

By you doing your part and letting a certified chimney sweep do his or her part, you can rest easy, knowing your chimney is clean, safe and working at peak performance.

High’s Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, is ready to help with all your chimney cleaning, chimney inspection and chimney repair needs. We’re certified by the CSIA and guarantee workmanship and customer service that’s unmatched in our region. Call (301) 519-3500 today with questions or to schedule an appointment.


Effects Temperature Changes Can Have On Your chimney

chimney caps The weather here in the Washington DC metro area can change quickly. Mild autumn temperatures can turn bitterly cold overnight and then back to normal. During the winter, the temperature often rises above freezing. These big temperature shifts are hard on your home’s chimney. The freezing and thawing cycle they cause can weaken its structural integrity. There are steps that you can take to prevent your chimney from being damaged by the wear-and-tear of our winter weather.

Why Freezing and Thawing Damages Chimneys

Bricks and mortar are naturally porous. They absorb moisture—from rain and melting snow—much like a sponge. When temperatures dip below freezing, the water that’s seeped into the masonry expands as it freezes. When the temperatures rise, the masonry contracts as the water thaws. This process of expanding and contracting weakens the bricks and mortar causing it to crack, splinter or break. If failing bricks aren’t replaced and broke mortar isn’t repaired, your chimney can begin to tilt or lean. It could, eventually, collapse if too much of the masonry is weak and damaged.

How to Prevent Weather Damage

There are three ways that you can prevent your chimney from being damaged by the freezing and thawing cycle.

  1. Invest in a Chimney Cap

chimney dampersA chimney cap is an affordable investment in your chimney that you’ll benefit from for years. The primary purpose of a chimney cap is to prevent rain, sleet, and snow from falling down the chimney. It acts like an umbrella, covering the chimney’s opening. It prevents water from running down the chimney and seeping into the masonry from the inside. An added benefit is that it has metal mesh around the sides. The mesh barrier prevents stray sparks from landing on the chimney and animals from flying in or making a nest inside.  

  1. Have the Masonry Waterproofed

Treating the exterior of the chimney with a waterproofing sealant prevents water from seeping into the masonry from the outside. It’s important to choose a waterproofing sealant that’s designed for chimneys. It should be 100% vapor permeable so that condensation produced by the fire can pass through the masonry instead of accumulating inside the chimney.

  1. Schedule Annual Chimney Inspections

The National Fire Protection Association recommends a professional inspection of the chimney every year to prevent a house fire and carbon monoxide exposure. Another benefit of a chimney inspection is that a certified chimney technician will look for signs of water intrusion and water damage. During their inspection, they will notice cracked bricks or broken mortar that have been damaged by the freeze-thaw cycle. They will determine how the water go in. After the inspection, they will recommend the best solution to repair the damage and prevent future water damage. The sooner water damage is discovered, and future damage is prevented, the more money you will save.

Repairing a crumbling chimney is expensive. You can avoid that cost by taking these steps to protect your chimney from our erratic weather. The CSIA- and CCP-certified chimney technicians on our team are experts at chimney maintenance and repair. We are trusted by residents throughout Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland.

6 Ways to Get Your Fireplace & Chimney Ready for Winter

Summer and early fall are ideal times to start prepping your fireplace and chimney for another winter season. Here are some preparation tips that will allow you to enjoy all the benefits of your fireplace and know that it and your chimney are safe and in top condition.

  1. Have your chimney cleaned

chimney sweepChimney cleaning is important, especially if you use your fireplace a lot. When wood burns, creosote forms within the flue. Creosote is highly flammable and can easily start a chimney fire. Additionally, chimney sweep service also will remove obstruction-causing debris such as leaves, twigs and small-animal nests that can hinder the proper drafting of smoke and toxins.

  1. Check out the system yourself

A good self-inspection of your fireplace/chimney system can turn up early signs of a leaky chimney or other damage. Look for:

  • Debris from crumbling bricks and mortar near the chimney on the roof
  • Water or mold inside the firebox
  • The smell of natural gas/propane
  • Dampness on the walls and ceiling near the fireplace
  • Warped flashing
  • Strong odors coming from the fireplace
  • White staining on chimney bricks

These signs tell you that your system should be looked at by a chimney professional before you operate the fireplace again.

  1. Arrange for a chimney inspection

chimney inspectionThe above signs of damage and many other signs should be evaluated by a certified chimney inspector. Even if you don’t notice any symptoms of damage, a qualified inspector can see things you can’t. It’s always a good idea to have your entire fireplace/chimney system inspected before you start using your fireplace for the winter.

  1. Check the seal on fireplace door gaskets

With age, gaskets begin to lose their ability to create a tight seal. Faulty seals can be caused by gasket issues or damage to the fireplace doors themselves. In some cases, an improper gasket seal can allow excess air into the fireplace and lead to an over-aggressive fire.

  1. Check the damper

Dampers can become rusted because of a chimney leak or fall into disrepair for other reasons. Damper operation should be smooth, and the flap should fully open and tightly close. A faulty damper can lead to drafting problems when using the fireplace and can allow insects and tiny animals to get into the house in the off-season if the damper won’t close tightly.

  1. Have a chimney cap installed

If you’ve been running your chimney without a quality chimney cap, you could be asking for trouble. Chimney caps block rain and snow, which can cause serious water damage to the chimney and its components. A good cap also prevents tree debris and the aforementioned small animals from creating a drafting obstruction. All chimneys need a secure chimney cap.

These six tips for getting your fireplace and chimney ready for the cold season are good places to start. But remember – there’s no substitute for a professional chimney inspection performed by a skilled, certified chimney technician.

Get your chimney and fireplace in top shape for the coming winter by calling High’s Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, at (301) 519-3500.


What is a Chimney Inspection

Summer is winding down. Chilly autumn weather will be here soon. Before you light up your fireplace this fall, it’s important to ensure that your chimney is clean and working properly. Around 24,500 residential fires, causing more than $121 million in property damage, occur every year due to solid-fuel heating appliances like fireplaces and stoves. Many of these fires begin in the chimney. A chimney inspection is an important annual checkup to ensure your home’s fireplace and chimney are safe to use.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) developed three standardized inspection levels based on the National Fire Protection Agency’s recommendations for chimney safety. The level of chimney inspection your home requires depends on the health of your chimney system. In most cases, a Level I inspection is appropriate.

Level I Chimney Inspection

chimney inspectionA Level I chimney inspection is an assessment of the overall health of your chimney system. It includes a visual assessment of all accessible components of the fireplace and chimney. During this inspection, a CSIA-certified technician will examine the exterior masonry and look inside the flue for indicators of damage or wear-and-tear. They will test out chimney components like the damper to ensure they are working properly. They will also measure the level of creosote in the chimney and use the best method to remove it.

If your fireplace has been functioning properly and you haven’t noticed any issues with the chimney or changed the fireplace’s fuel type, a Level I inspection is all your chimney needs. It is the standard for annual chimney maintenance. If the chimney technician finds signs of damage, a Level II or Level III inspection may be recommended.

Level II Chimney Inspection

A Level II chimney inspection is more in-depth. It is a comprehensive assessment of the chimney system and its structural integrity that often requires the use of a closed-circuit camera to get an intimate look inside the chimney. The CSIA-certified technician may also go into your attic or crawl space to access hidden parts of the chimney.

chimney inspectionsThe CSIA recommends Level II chimney inspections after a chimney fire or natural disasters like a tornado or earthquake.  This is also the type of inspection that you should schedule if you notice a problem with the chimney, change the fuel source for your fireplace or have a new chimney liner installed. You may be required to schedule a Level II inspection of the chimney if you plan to put your home on the market.

Level III Chimney Inspection

A Level III chimney inspection is an invasive, in-depth assessment of the chimney that is only necessary for certain circumstances. During a Level III inspection, parts of your chimney will be removed so that a CSIA-certified technician has direct access to problematic parts of the chimney.

The CSIA only recommends Level III chimney inspections when severe structural damage has been discovered.

Chimney inspections can uncover missing or broken chimney components, improper flue lining, structural damage, and water intrusion. Catching problems like these early on can save you hundreds of dollars and protect you from a house fire or carbon monoxide exposure. If you haven’t scheduled a chimney inspection this year, give High’s Chimney Service a call before the busy season starts! We serve residents from Prince George’s County, MD to Fairfax County, VA.

What is Glazed Creosote?

glazed creosoteSoot isn’t all that builds up in the chimney from your woodburning fireplace. Creosote is a chemical compound that’s created when condensation interacts with smoke. It also builds up in the chimney. It can become a major hazard if it hardens into glazed creosote.

What is Glazed Creosote?

When wood burns, the smoke produced contains many different gases and particles like carbon monoxide and ash. As they move up through the chimney, condensation interacts with these byproducts producing creosote which builds up along the chimney walls. In the early stage of creosote build-up, it is flaky and easy to remove like soot. If it isn’t removed, it can progress to the second stage when it becomes sticky and tar-like. The third and final stage of creosote buildup is glazed creosote. It reaches this stage when there is enough creosote built up in the chimney to reduce airflow through the flue.

Creosote is flammable during all three stages, but glazed creosote is the most dangerous. If a stray spark ignites glazed creosote deposits, the fire can burn at high temperatures for a long time. This can cause serious structural damage to your chimney or spread to your home.

How to Remove Glazed Creosote

Glazed creosote is tough to remove. We have seen amateurs try to get rid of it with chains, chisels, and other heavy-duty tools that damage the chimney liner in the process. Using a fireplace with a damaged chimney liner can be as dangerous as a chimney lined with glazed creosote. Professionals get rid of glazed creosote by using industrial-grade creosote remover that will not damage the chimney liner. They spray or brush the remover onto the glazed creosote. Once it is absorbed, the creosote will begin to soften and flake until all of it can be brushed off and vacuumed out.

How to Prevent Glazed Creosote

Even though glazed creosote can be removed by a professional, stopping creosote from getting to that stage is the best way to prevent a chimney fire. There are two steps you can take to avoid third stage creosote:

Step 1: Only burn seasoned firewood.Chimney sweep in Middletown MD

Burning paper, cardboard, trash, or other flammable materials besides wood will accelerate creosote buildup because they produce more chemical byproducts as they burn. Green or unseasoned firewood also produces more chemical byproducts when burned. If you only burn seasoned firewood, less creosote will build up in the chimney during burning season.

Step 2: Schedule annual chimney cleanings.

Scheduling a chimney cleaning every spring, after using the fireplace in the winter, will prevent creosote from building up year after year. If you schedule a cleaning once a year, it is unlikely the creosote in your chimney will reach the third stage. It will also open up the airway in your chimney so that your fireplace functions properly next winter.


Need to schedule a chimney cleaning this year? Give High’s Chimney Service a call! Our team of CSIA- and CCP-certified chimney technicians serve residents throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC. Call 703-550-5115 or 301-519-3500


Chimney Anatomy: What You Need to Know

To look at a chimney, it doesn’t appear that very much is going on. It’s just a vent system that allows smoke to leave the firebox and be sent into the outside air. This is a good description of how chimneys work. But for them to work efficiently and safely, many components must conspire and work together correctly. Here is an overview of basic chimney anatomy.

Chimney damper

Chimney dampers are located just above the firebox and have an open and closed function to regulate air flow. There are also top-sealing dampers that go on the top of the chimney. Dampers must be fully open during a fire to produce the correct amount of air flow and drafting. When the fireplace is not in use, chimney dampers should be sealed tightly shut to prevent the transfer between interior and exterior air as well as to keep possible debris and small animals from entering the home.

Smoke shelf

Located between the firebox and smoke chamber (see below), the smoke shelf’s job is to collect any rainwater or debris that may have entered the chimney. The smoke shelf also helps to prevent downdrafts from sending smoke and toxins into your home.

Smoke chamber

The smoke chamber is found just above the damper and smoke shelf and acts as a conduit for taking smoke from the firebox up into the chimney. The surfaces of the smoke chamber should be smooth to allow efficient drafting. If surfaces become rough with age, drafting can be impaired and excess flammable creosote can begin to build up, further hampering drafting. It is estimated that about 60% of chimney fires start in the smoke chamber.

Chimney flue

The flue is the inside of the chimney, the narrow vent path running from the smoke chamber to the outside of the home. For safety, many flues contain chimney liners, or flue liners, to channel smoke out of the home and protect the masonry of the chimney from dampness, acids and intense heat.

Chimney liner

The majority of chimney liners are made from aluminum, stainless steel, clay tiles or poured-in-place masonry. A clean liner that’s in good repair will efficiently vent smoke and toxins out of your firebox and into the outside air. Damaged liners can lead to a chimney fire and the decomposition of the bricks and mortar that make up the chimney. Damaged liners also are more likely to hold buildups of creosote, which can ignite and start a fire.

Chimney chase top

Chase tops serve as a protection against rain and moisture. These components usually are standard equipment for factory-built chimneys and are rarely seen on masonry chimneys.

Chimney Repair in Germantown MDChimney crown

Chimney crowns are cement structures that serve as a top covering for masonry chimneys, sealing off the entire area except for the flue pipes. Chimney crowns protect the chimney’s bricks and mortar from rain damage.

Chimney cap

The chimney cap sits atop the chimney and acts as a guard against rainwater as well as infiltration by various debris including twigs and leaves from nearby trees as well as small animals like squirrels and rodents, who like to build nests inside chimneys. Chimney caps have mesh sides, which allow smoke to draft while keeping outside elements outside where they belong.

As you can see, chimneys and their components all work together to allow you to operate your fireplace safely and confidently year after year. The only way to ensure that your chimney is in tip-top shape is to schedule yearly inspections and cleaning from a CSIA-certified chimney sweep.

If it’s time for a thorough inspection or cleaning for your chimney, contact Highs Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, at (301) 519-3500. Our only goal is your complete satisfaction and safety.


Common Issues When Connecting New Gas Appliances to Older Chimneys

gas applianceCommon Issues When Connecting New Gas Appliances to Older Chimneys
Home-heating appliances like means a chimney or vent pipe.
For drafting to work right, the problems are bound to occur. This is all very relevant when connecting gas heating appliances such as stoves and fireplaces to older, existing chimneys. Just because a chimney is a “vent system” doesn’t mean it’s ideal for the new appliance.Incompatibility in this hookup sluggishly. Let’s look at both problems.

Dangerous chemicals within the flue

When the connector pipe on the new gas appliance is too small for the chimney flue, every time combustion happens, overproduction of acids and other chemicals will occur. Once example is the creation of hydrochloric acid that happens when chlorides in the air come into contact with condensation inside the flue. The result – either sooner or later – will be erosion of the chimney liner and areas of the masonry.

It’s bad enough to have this environment inside the flue. Worse is when hampered air flow causes combustion chemicals including deadly carbon monoxide (CO) to backdraft down into the home. CO is invisible and odorless, which means people can be poisoned by it before they realize they’re breathing it in.

Problems with air flowgas stove

A proper draft system will pull smoke and toxins up away from the firebox and channel them to the outside. When a gas appliance and existing chimney are improperly sized for one another, as noted, toxins produced through fuel combustion can flow backwards into the home.

The reason this happens, ironically, is because of the high efficiency of modern gas appliances. For example, gas fireplaces and stoves send the majority of their heat into the home, rather than up the chimney. If the flue is too large for the gas appliance, not enough heat will move up it to warm (lighten) the denser cold air high in the chimney. This makes it difficult for the lower volume of lighter combustion air to move up and out of the flue.

For these reasons, it’s very important to have your new gas appliance installed only by a certified chimney professional. This individual will thoroughly inspect the existing chimney and make any necessary modifications to ensure that proper drafting is achieved. Connecting a new gas-fueled appliance to a chimney designed to draft wood smoke is never a job for a novice.

Chimney damage signs

If you’ve been running a gas appliance through an existing chimney not specifically built for the appliance, signs of chimney damage you may notice include:

• Exterior chimney masonry that is discolored

• Blistering/bubbling paint on interior walls of the home

• Crumbling chimney bricks and mortar

Ceiling staining

• Interior or exterior walls that are damp or wet to the touch

• Peeling wallpaper

Any of these signs of chimney damage warrant immediate service from a certified chimney technician before you use your gas appliance again. High’s Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, is ready to help with inspection and installation of your new gas appliance, no matter what type of vent system you’re connecting it to. Count on us to do the job right and ensure the safety of you and your family. Call (301) 519-3500 to arrange a service call or to get your questions answered.


Preventative Maintenance Cuts Chimney Repair Costs

fireplace draft issues in Chevy Chase MDLiving in a home with a fireplace is a big perk especially here on the east coast. On dark winter evenings, it’s a pleasure to relax next to a crackling fire in the hearth. Unfortunately, your fireplace’s chimney could become a costly expense if it isn’t maintained. Investing a little now in preventative chimney maintenance can save you thousands of dollars in future repairs.

Your home’s chimney is battered by high winds, heavy rainfall, and driving snow. Even though it’s built to last for decades, it is still vulnerable to damage, especially from water intrusion. A leaking chimney is one of the most common problems that chimney sweeps are requested to fix. Repairing water damage to your chimney and surrounding walls, ceilings, and support beams can be extremely expensive.

Critter problems in the chimney are almost as common as water problems. Many animals love to make their homes in them increasing the likelihood of a chimney fire. They can also attract other pests like insects to your home or bring in diseases.

There are 4 inexpensive preventative maintenance steps that you can take to avoid costly chimney repairs.

#1 – Waterproof the Masonry & Seal the Chimney Crown

Water is the leading cause of chimney damage. It can lead to structural damage to the chimney and ruined drywall, ceilings, floorings or structural beams in your home. One of the ways that water gets in is by seeping into the masonry or through cracks in the chimney crown.

Bricks, mortar, and concrete that haven’t been treated with a waterproofing sealant absorb water. When the water in the masonry freezes and thaws, during chilly months, it expands and contracts. This can cause cracks and breaks. Eventually, it can weaken the structure of the chimney. You can prevent this by treating the masonry with a waterproofing sealant and the chimney crown with a waterproofing sealant that also fills in any small cracks.

#2 – Treat the Chimney Flashing

Flashing is the metal seal that bridges the gap between the chimney and the roof. It prevents precipitation from slipping in between the two structures. Most chimney leaks are caused by deteriorated flashing. Treating the flashing with waterproofing sealant prevents deterioration and extends its life.

chimney maintenance maryland

#3 – Have a Chimney Cap Installed

A chimney cap has two important jobs: prevent animals and precipitation from getting into the chimney. It is a metal cap that covers the opening at the top of the chimney so that rain, sleet, and snow can’t fall straight down the chimney. It typically has wire mesh around the side to prevent critters from crawling or flying into the mouth of the chimney.

#4 – Schedule an Annual Inspection & Cleaning

Creosote is a dangerously flammable chemical compound that builds up in chimneys. It’s the result of condensation in the chimney that mixes with soot and other combustion byproducts. It is the leading cause of chimney fires. Removing it yourself, without experience and specialized equipment, is difficult. CSIA-certified chimney sweeps have the training, experience, and equipment to clean it out and prevent the risk of a house fire.

Fire safety and chimney experts agree that an annual chimney cleaning is the most important step you can take to prevent a house fire sparked by your fireplace. During the cleaning, a professional chimney sweep will also perform an annual inspection. Their training and experience equip them to notice potential chimney problems that you could easily overlook. Diagnosing and fixing small problems found early during an annual inspection is the best way to prevent them from becoming big, expensive issues.

Are you ready to protect your chimney? Give us a call to learn more about the preventative maintenance services that we can provide! Our CSIA- and CCP-certified chimney technicians are experts in chimney maintenance, cleaning, and inspections.

High’s Chimney / (301) 519-3500

Why and How to Minimize Creosote Buildup in your Chimney

House FireChimney fires can be deadly. Even though chimneys are designed to withstand high temperatures and stop a fire from spreading to your home, they can fail if creosote in your chimney catches fire. Creosote is a highly flammable chemical compound that builds up in your chimney. A stray spark or high temperature in your chimney can ignite it. Chimney fires fueled by creosote can get to up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This can cause the chimney liner to crack and allow flames to spread to your home.

What is Creosote?

Smoke from a wood burning fire contains wood particles, gases, and other chemical compounds. As these combustion byproducts cool on their way up the chimney, they condense along the chimney walls. This condensation is what turns into creosote.

Creosote is extremely flammable. As it builds up, it passes through three stages. Each progressive stage is harder to remove than the last.

First Stage Creosote

When creosote forms, in the first stage, it is flaky and easy to remove. Professionals can quickly get rid of it with a basic chimney brush.

Second Stage Creosote

As more creosote builds up, it changes. It thickens and hardens into a shiny, glass-like compound that can’t be removed with a brush. Second stage creosote requires professional removal. CSIA-certified chimney sweeps typically use a power drill with a rotary loop to remove it.

Third Stage Creosote

If creosote continues to build up in a chimney, it moves on to a third stage. Third stage creosote is a thick, sticky tar-like substance. It is the most flammable at this point. It is practically a concentrated fuel. Third stage creosote also required professional removal by a CSIA-certified chimney sweep. In most cases, professional grade chemicals will be used to remove it. In severe cases of extreme buildup, it may be necessary to remove and replace the chimney liner.

You can prevent creosote buildup from reaching the third stage or causing a chimney fire by following the best practices recommended by the NFPA.

Creosote in ChimneyHow to Minimize Creosote Buildup & Prevent a Chimney Fire

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1896 to help prevent house fires. They develop safety codes and best practices to reduce fires based off of their research. They are an authority on how to minimize creosote buildup and prevent chimney fires. Here are there top recommendations:

  1. Only burn dry, seasoned firewood.
    Freshly cut wood is packed with moisture that makes it difficult to burn and produces dense black smoke filled with combustion byproducts. Allowing firewood to season, or dry out for at least six months, helps it to burn completely and produce less smoke.
  2. Never burn artificial logs.
    Artificial logs produce more combustion byproducts than regular wood which significantly increases creosote buildup.
  3. Build hot, clean burning fires.
    Stacking firewood with enough space between the logs for oxygen to circulate will produce a hotter, cleaner burning fire. If you consistently build efficient fires like this, less creosote will build up in your chimney because your fires will produce less smoke.
  4. Make sure the fire gets enough oxygen.
    Open the damper in your fireplace before you light a fire to ensure it will get enough oxygen. If your fireplace has glass doors, it is a good idea to leave them cracked open slightly so that air can circulate.
  5. Reduce condensation by warming up a cold flue.
    If your chimney isn’t well insulated, the flue can reach low temperatures. Lighting up your fireplace when the flue is cold will create more condensation and larger creosote deposits. You can easily warm up the chimney by rolling newspaper up to make a torch, lighting it and holding it up in the chimney. When you notice the smoke from the torch rising straight up, you’ll know that the flue is warm enough.
  6. Schedule an annual chimney cleaning and inspection.
    The NFPA recommends an annual chimney inspection and cleaning because they have found that it is the most effective way to reduce the risk of a chimney fire. Professional chimney sweeps are trained to spot issues in your chimney that may pose a safety risk or increase creosote buildup. We also have the tools and training to safely and efficiently remove creosote.

Following these six recommendations will help you protect your home from a dangerous chimney fire. If you are looking for professional chimney cleaners that you can trust, give us a call at High’s Chimney Service. Our CSIA- and CCP-certified chimney technicians serve residents in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC.