What to Yaba-Daba-DO to Light a Fire in a Fireplace

Welcome to the end of your frustration over not being able to light good fires in your fireplace! We have the answers–and you are certainly not alone if this situation applies to you. Here we are in a high-tech, instant-everything society and yet lighting a fire is quite literally a prehistoric activity. The actual same three principles cavemen had to use are still in effect today. In caveman terms, “Fire good! All fire need: Air, fuel, heat!” Well, there’s a bit more to it than that. Let’s get started. As caveman Fred Flintstone might say, the following is all you need to yaba-daba-DO to start a fire in your fireplace.

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Air is needed in the firebox. If there is a stingy supply of air, it is usually caused by negative air pressure. One of the most common causes of negative air pressure is that a home is tightly sealed and may also have an exhaust fan running in the house. Opening a window nearby can solve the problem of lack of oxygen.

The draft is another factor. The flow of warm air coming from a fire needs to go up the chimney, not into your home. If your attempts at fires have failed because the fire wouldn’t catch on or the combustion fumes went into your home, the following steps can help to ensure a draft:

  • Open the damper.
  • Light a match, blow it out, and hold it up to the damper. If the curl of smoke doesn’t go up the chimney, a good draft needs to be established. 
  • If you open the glass doors to your modern fireplace as well as the damper at least 30 minutes before you light a fire, it will help to change the temperature inside the appliance. The draft has to do with temperature differentials. 
  • Warm air will rise but if there is too much cold air in the firebox and/or chimney, the smoke from the beginnings of a fire can’t go up the chimney. What people usually do about this is create a newspaper torch and carefully light it and hold it up toward the damper. The fire from the torch will displace the cold air after one or more attempts.
  • If there still isn’t a draft, after you’ve tried these things, there may be an obstruction in your chimney. It is likely necessary to stop using your fireplace until a chimney professional can come out and conduct a chimney inspection. Any blockage will be identified and can be removed. Once it’s fixed, you should be set for building fires. However, it’s not always that simple. A wide range of issues could be preventing a fireplace from having a good draft, all of which chimney experts are familiar with and can help with.


Use only seasoned wood for your fires. Seasoned wood is low in moisture. After logs are cut, they need to dry out for 6 to 12 months or longer before they’re dried out enough for a good fire. Logs filled with moisture create excessive smoke as the fire’s heat first goes to burn out moisture. Inexpensive moisture meters for firewood are widely available. If you are unsure about your firewood, test it and make sure there is less than 20% moisture before using it in your fireplace. 

Getting a fire started usually requires tinder and kindling. Tinder is something like dried moss or wadded-up newspaper that will quickly burn to get things going. Kindling is basically small sticks of dry wood.

There are different approaches to building fires. Some people build a loose stack of medium logs over kindling and slowly add larger logs. Others put the kindling on top of the logs to get them started burning. 

Make sure air can get between the logs, especially when you’re trying to get the fire going. 

fireplace experts in Mclean VAHEAT

Ignition is all that’s needed once you have air and fuel. You can use a match or long lighter. The cavemen no doubt rubbed wood together, as Tom Hanks did in Cast Away. Please note: Never use flammable liquids in your fireplace. Doing so is highly dangerous.

When you’re ready for chimney sweep professionals to provide chimney services, contact the great team of chimney specialists at High’s Chimney Service. We’re based out of Gaithersburg, MD, and customer service is our chief priority. Call us today at (301) 519-3500, whether you need help getting a fire started in your fireplace like an experienced caveman or for any of our comprehensive chimney services.

Why Is Cold Air Coming from My Fireplace?

The question about cold air coming from the fireplace is a question many homeowners have. Fortunately, there are only a few possible causes and several very effective remedies.

chimney cap installFireplace and chimney basics

The basic structure and operation of a fireplace and chimney is something most homeowners readily understand. There’s a firebox, where fires burn, and a chimney, up which go smoke and combustion gasses. The path for smoke also is a path for air. When a fireplace isn’t in use, cold air from outside can come down the chimney into the home, and warm interior air can escape up through the flue.

Ways to prevent cold air entering your home through your fireplace

Keeping your home warmer in the winter can involve a couple steps. Step one is stopping the cold-air draft.

Fireplace damper:

The damper that sits above the firebox should be able to close fully and make a tight seal. Remembering to keep the damper closed when the fireplace isn’t being used will block the cold air that wants to enter your home.

Over years of use, dampers can become rusted or warped. If you suspect this may be a problem, have your damper inspected by a certified fireplace/chimney inspector.

Chimney plug:

Also known as a chimney balloon, this product fits up in the chimney and is inflated, creating a solid barrier against incoming air. Chimney plugs can be used any time you’re not burning a fire as an extra layer of protection. If you forget about the plug and light a fire, it will deflate on its own to allow smoke to exit up the chimney.

Fireplace doors:

Another way to keep cold air out of your room is to install a set of fireplace doors. Quality fireplace doors will create a strong seal at the mouth of the firebox and prevent air circulation when you’re not using your fireplace. Not only will doors keep your home warmer, they look fantastic, too.

gas chimney

Consider an upgrade with a fireplace insert or ZC fireplace

If you’re using a traditional open masonry fireplace, drafts of cold air are something you’re going to have to deal with, like it or not. However, you can completely eliminate these drafts by adding a powerful new fireplace insert to your existing firebox.

Inserts are built in a factory and run on wood, gas or pellets. They work on a closed-combustion system that produces and retains much larger amounts of heat than a masonry fireplace. They have their own vent pipe, which goes right up the chimney.

Zero-clearance, or ZC fireplaces, also are factory built, but unlike inserts, they’re installed into a new area in a wall within your home. These appliances are powerful heat producers and never allow the cold-air drafts that keep your home chilly.

Wood, gas and pellet ZC fireplaces, like inserts, have heat-efficiency ratings of 80% and higher. Compare that to ratings of 10% or 20% common with traditional masonry fireplaces. This means the majority of the heat the unit produces will be available as heat for the home.

As you can see, cold air entering your home through your fireplace is a problem that can be addressed. High’s Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, can help with inspections, repair and the installation of components, fireplace inserts and ZC fireplaces. Get on the road to more warmth by calling us today at (301) 519-3500.

Warning Signs Your Wood Stove Needs Replacing

Damaged Wood Burning Stove in Fulton, MDMany homeowners depend on wood-burning stoves for heat. And if your heating stove is more than 15 years old, you are probably wondering when it will need to be replaced. Keep an eye out for one or more of the following warn signs that indicate it’s time to replace your wood stove.

It was manufactured before 1995

If you have a wood stove that was manufactured before 1995, its time to consider a replacement, older wood stoves are not as efficient and produce a lot more pollution than newer models.

In 2015, the EPA made the most significant changes since 1988 with the introduction of Step 1 of the revised performance standards. The new rule requires manufacturers of wood-burning stoves and heaters to emit no more than 4.5g of smoke per hour.

It was a significant reduction in pollution compared to old stoves that release up to 30 grams of smoke per hour.

And to meet these strict new government standards, wood stove manufacturers made significant changes to its internal design. As a result, more modern EPA-certified wood stoves are more efficient, burn cleaner, and are easier and safer to use.

Signs of warping or cracking

Many wood stoves are built to perform for decades. But the lifespan of your wood stove will largely depend on the quality of materials. While most woods stoves are made from steel or iron, the grade of these materials and quality of workmanship will largely determine the life expectancy of your model. In the last 20 years, imports have flooded the market. Many of these imports use lower grade materials. Although wood stoves that are made from iron or steel are designed to withstand a regular wood-burning operation, the repeated heating and cooling can eventually cause warping. Also, excessive creosote inside the stove can cause a fire. The extremely high temperatures can also cause the stove to warp, and you may notice some cracks near the bolts or welding.

If your wood stove is showing signs of warping or cracking, it is no longer safe to use and should be replaced.

Wood Stove Installation in Poolesville, MDIt produces a lot of smoke

A small amount of smoke is reasonable, especially when starting a fire. But if your wood stove is producing more smoke than normal, your stove may have problems that need a total replacement. The baffle plate or catalytic combustion may be damaged, and there could be water leaks or other damages. A smoky stove is also very inefficient to operate and produces much less heat. Since smoke also causes excessive pollution, including creosote, it’s a sign that it’s time to replace your heating appliance.

 excessive creosote

Older wood stoves are not clean burning devices and require frequent cleaning to prevent the accumulation of creosote and other residues. And if it’s been quite some time since your last stove cleaning, there may be an excessive accumulation of creosote, soot, and other debris in the stove, stovepipe, and vent. Creosote is the primary cause of residential fires. A fire that starts in your stove can quickly spread to your stove pipe and other combustibles throughout your home. So, if you have a lot of creosote in your stove, it’s time to switch to a cleaner-burning EPA-certified wood stove.

You need to use more wood fuel than in the past to get the same level of heat

If your stove is consuming more wood fuel than before to maintain the desired heat, then there may be issues with its heating efficiency. The performance of your wood stove can degrade over time due to warping, air and water leaks, and other problems. Replacing an inefficient wood stove with a newer model will reduce your energy costs. Newer EPA-certified models produce up to 50 percent more heat while consuming 1/3 less fuel.

Clean-Burning & Long-Lasting Fires

Chopped Seasoned FirewoodA lot of times when fires in a fireplace are less than spectacular – when they’re too smoky, don’t last very long, produce excess soot and creosote – it’s not the fault of the fireplace. Often, the only problem is the wood that’s being used.

Not all firewood logs are the same. They look pretty similar, but it’s what’s underneath the patterned bark that makes all the difference. Here are a few things to know when choosing firewood for clean-burning, long-lasting fires.

  1. Select dry wood

Seasoned, or dry, wood logs burn hotter and more efficiently while creating less smoke than wet, unseasoned wood. Plus, they ignite easier and hold their flames longer.

Fires that produce tons of smoke also produce quite a bit of flammable creosote, which sticks to the walls of the flue and can lead to a chimney fire. In fact, most chimney fires happen because homeowners neglect to have their chimneys properly cleaned and inspected on an annual basis.

Dry wood logs have certain characteristics:

  • Grayish or dark color
  • A hollow sound when you bang two logs together
  • Lightweight, not too heavy
  • Cracks/splits at the ends of the logs
  • Bark that easily flakes away .

Store your logs the right way

    Beautiful Wood Burning Fireplace In Fulton, MDLogs stored outside should be set on some kind of small riser/pallet to keep them off the damp ground. Cover the stack with a waterproof tarp, but leave the ends open so air can circulate within the logs and aid in the drying process.

    1. Give your fire what it needs: air

    Air (oxygen) is a key component in creating fire. For a fire to build to roaring proportions, a sufficient amount of air is required. Accomplish this by not stacking logs too tightly together in the firebox.


    Additionally, make sure the house has some circulation (crack a window, if necessary), and keep your chimney free of obstructions and built-up creosote to ensure plenty of draft.

    Important note: Chimney cleaning is not a job for the average homeowner. The best choice for this work is a professional chimney sweep who is licensed, insured and certified through the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). This ensures that the job will be done right and safely.

    1. Choose the right logs for the desired burn time

    Logs from hardwood trees will burn longer and hotter than logs from softwood trees.

    Hardwoods include:

    • Maple
    • Oak
    • Beech
    • Hickory
    • Alder
    • Walnut

    Softwoods include:

    • Douglas fir
    • Cedar
    • Redwood
    • Juniper
    • Pine
    • Spruce

    If you chop your own firewood . . .

    After chopping your own wood, exercise patience in the drying process. Depending on the density and moisture, freshly chopped wood can take between six months and a year to fully dry out. Plan accordingly as you build up your supply from season to season.

    High’s Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, believes every home should have a stunning fireplace to enjoy during the cold weather and at other times. Part of that enjoyment comes from a fireplace and chimney that are clean and in tip-top shape. Let us help you keep your fireplace or stove working right. We offer certified chimney sweep, chimney inspection, fireplace, stove and chimney repair and all related services. Give us a call today at (301) 519-3500.




    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.

    Fireplace Cleaning Tips for Your Spring Cleaning Chore List

    Fireplace and chimney cleaning are very important in keeping your appliance looking good, running safely and operating at peak efficiency. You can do some cleaning tasks yourself; others are best handled by a professional chimney sweep. Let’s take a look.

    Do it yourself

    Glass fireplace doors: If your fireplace doors are smudgy and unsightly, you can use a household window cleaning solution and paper towels to remove the buildup and make the glass shine again.

    Fireplace Spring CleaningInside the firebox: This is a two-step process: first, shovel or vacuum out the ashes and small wood chips, then use a mixture of warm water and dish soap with cleaning rags to remove soot buildup on the inner surfaces of the firebox. Gas-burning fireplaces require only basic cleaning and wiping down with soapy water.

    Cleaning the surround: If you have a surround made of brick, tile, rock or other material, you may notice some discoloration proximal to the opening of the fireplace. This is normal smoke stain and can be cleaned with soap and water. For all surface cleaning in and around the fireplace, you can purchase specially formulated cleaners at your local hearth store or most hardware stores.

    Chimney sweep services

    When you get deeper into your fireplace and chimney system, most cleaning tasks are best performed by chimney sweeps, who have the training and tools to do the job safely and correctly.

    Fireplace damper: Over time, dampers become coated with soot and smoke byproducts and can stop functioning properly. When a certified chimney technician cleans your damper, a thorough inspection of the device also will be performed to spot signs of damage and ensure the seal is tight.

    Cleaning the flue: Wood-burning fireplaces create a substance known as creosote when in operation. Creosote is sicky and flammable. If regular chimney cleaning isn’t performed, it can build up in the flue and lead to two serious problems:

    1. Chimney fire
    2. Air-flow obstructions

    Both problems should always be avoided and, fortunately, with annual chimney inspections and cleanings, they will be.

    Once inside a chimney, creosote can present as a soft, sticky substance, but it also can turn hard and slate-like, making it very difficult for the average homeowner to remove. Professional chimney technicians have special tools to break up solid creosote and thoroughly remove it from your flue without damaging the chimney.

    Inspection during cleaning

    Not only do chimney pros have the tools and skills required to clean creosote and obstructions (twigs, leaves, animal nests, etc.) from your chimney, they also have the expertise to inspect your fireplace system for early signs of damage. Areas and components covered during an annual inspection include:

    Chimney Damage and RepairChimney crown – check for cracking/deterioration

    Chimney cap – make sure mesh is intact and the device is securely mounted

    Exterior masonry – inspect for cracks in bricks and mortar and areas of decomposition

    Chimney flashing – check for warped or missing sections

    Chimney liner – ensure the liner is sound and undamaged

    Interior masonry – make sure no damage exists from chimney fires or long-term moisture

    These and other parts of your chimney can be repaired, rebuilt or replaced, as needed.

    Spring is a great time to work together with a chimney services professional to get your fireplace and chimney in clean, tip-top shape for the coming season. High’s Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, is ready to help with all chimney cleaning, inspection and repair tasks. Schedule an appointment, or get your questions answered at (301) 519-3500.