Chimney Sweeps vs. DIY for Chimney Cleaning & Service

Chimney Inspection in Fulton, MDWithin the fireplace and chimney services industry, the 2016 scuffle between the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and Angie’s List is fairly well-known. For those of you not familiar with the issue, here’s the thumbnail version.

Angie’s List, a popular article mill, posted a piece that implied that homeowners could properly clean their own chimneys. Knowing this was false, misleading and dangerous information, the CSIA got to work and forced Angie’s List to remove the article titled “How to Clean Your Chimney.”


In a letter to the president of Angie’s List, shown here on the CSIA blog, CSIA President Mark A. Stoner wrote:

“Encouraging the average homeowner, who does not meet the (National Fire Protection Association’s) definition of a ‘qualified agency’, to perform his or her own chimney service [. . .] is not only irresponsible and negligent but could lead directly to the loss of life or property due to a chimney fire or carbon monoxide intrusion into the residence.”

Stoner continued: “By posting this article to its website and promoting it via social media, Angie’s List has effectively endorsed this content and it should be held liable for any and all damages ensuing from a homeowner’s adherence to instructions therein.”

Why DIY chimney cleaning is not recommended

Mark Stoner of the CSIA was right in pulling out all the stops to get Angie’s List to remove that article. While there are some fireplace and chimney maintenance tasks the average homeowner can perform safely and effectively (cleaning the firebox; doing a general inspection of chimney masonry or some of the chimney’s components), cleaning creosote out of a chimney is not one of them.

Professional chimney sweeps go through a rigorous process to obtain valued certifications from the CSIA and other hearth-industry agencies. These include:

  • Certified Chimney Professional
  • Certified Master Chimney Technician
  • Certified Chimney Sweep
  • Certified Chimney Reliner

Chimney Sweep in Poolesville, MDIndividuals who hold these and other high-level certifications have demonstrated that they understand the multiple elements of a chimney’s operation and structure and have shown specific expertise in using the tools and equipment that are industry-standard in cleaning chimneys.

Don’t let a “handyman” work on your chimney

When you allow an untrained individual to clean or do other work on your chimney, you’re setting yourself up for some potentially serious problems.

Creosote, which forms in a chimney every time wood burns, is highly flammable and is the cause of most chimney fires in the U.S. each year. Cleaning creosote out of a chimney often is a challenging job – even for a professional. Creosote can present as a flakey, sticky or solid substance. Each form requires specific actions for effective removal.

Certified chimney sweeps make use of electric and hand brushes, specialized solvents, scrapers, vacuums and other equipment to safely remove creosote without damaging the chimney’s interior masonry or liner.

Just as you would only go to a qualified physician to perform an important medical procedure, you should only hire a qualified, certified chimney sweep to clean your chimney. This professional will know a lot more about the cleaning process and chimneys in general than any “average” person.

High’s Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, is staffed with trained, experienced, certified chimney professionals. When we clean your chimney, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing it was done correctly and in accord with all safety precautions. Give us a call at (301) 519-3500 for your next professional chimney service.


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

The 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

Chimney repair in Germantown MDIf 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.