While we may be in the middle of summer, it’s never too early to start thinking about your chimney. In fact, now is the perfect time to get moving on that chimney sweep you’ve been putting off hiring. Your chimney isn’t in use right now, so there’s no need to sacrifice on heating to have it done. It may seem like a long way away, but we’ll be back to bundling up and starting up fires sooner than you think.
Here is everything you need to know about chimneys and getting your chimney swept:
The Skinny on Chimneys
Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces have been fixtures of human society since the dawn of civilization. They keep us cozy, warm, and even provide a sense of safety. Unfortunately, when you fail to properly maintain your chimney, these same fires can become a major hazard.
Remember: In essence, your chimney is a vent. It pushes the warm air into the home and lets out the unwanted byproducts and stale, stuffy air. This includes ash, soot, gasses, and smoke. Over time, these things will build up in your chimney; the longer you let it stay and accumulate, the greater the risk is to you and your family. Creosote is one of the most dangerous results of a cozy hearth. It is a thick, gooey substance that will constantly build in your chimney, and it must be cleaned out periodically.
In some cases, the resultant fires are explosive and obvious. They’ll damage or destroy the home and possibly harm the occupants. These are often accompanied with very obvious indicators that something is wrong. Signs of these fires include rumbling noises, cool chimney temperatures, and flames shooting from the chimney.
As scary as that is, what’s even more frightening is that the majority of chimney fires aren’t detected until it’s too late! These insidious, sneaky foes smolder, quietly eating up the fuel in your chimney. As they incubate, they heat up. This can result in anything from damage to the chimney structure to burning through the walls and into the wood framing.
If you’ve had a chimney fire, you may not even know it until it’s time for an inspection. At that point, you may be facing massive repair bills for broken mortar and cracked and crumbling supports. Some signs that your chimney may have been on fire include:
- Cracked flue tiles, perhaps even completely broken tiles
- Damaged or cracked exterior masonry
- And evidence of soot and smoke coming from unwelcome parts of the home
- Creosote forming in strange patterns, often described as “puffy”
- Warped metal casing or supports on your chimney
- If you have an antennae, you may be getting worse reception due to warping
Regardless of whether the fire was enormous and noticeable or small and undetected, you will likely still have damages to address. Unchecked chimney fires can engulf a home in minutes. It’s a huge risk to not only your valuables, but also your family and pets. The devastation caused by chimney fires is estimated to be around $200 million every year!
Once a fire has occurred, it will invariably happen again until the problem is resolved. Every repeated blaze heightens your risk for damage. Aside from the structure problems and aforementioned issues, embers from these fires can eat through existing cracks in the structure. If they manage to find their way to the wooden frame of the home, then you’re looking at a tragedy.
Fortunately, all of this heartache and expense can be avoided by hiring a chimney sweep.
Common Chimney Conundrums
Aside from creosote buildup and fires, chimneys, like everything else, sometimes run into other problems. Many of these can be fixed on your own, but others require a bit of professional help.
A simple, common problem is a fire that mainly puts out smoke. This is a sign that improper wood has been used. Always be sure to make sure that your wood is well seasoned before burning. Well-seasoned wood is defined as any non-treated wood that has been split and allowed to dry for at least six months. It should be kept covered and should have no contact with the ground.
If you’re having the above problem even after using properly seasoned wood, you may have forgotten to open the damper. In some cases, dirt and buildup may seal the damper shut. If this is the case, it’s time to call a chimney sweep; they’ll come and fix the issue.
Your helpful local chimney sweep can also fix a whole array of issues that could plague your chimney.
If, for example, you find that your chimney is incredibly smelly, especially in the summer, it’s likely due to creosote buildup. We can fix that! It may also need a bit of deodorizing, something that is sold both industrially and to consumers. While you may opt to do this yourself, we can also do this while we’re there to clean your chimney.
You may also find that your chimney has become clogged. This may be due to our theme-of-the-day, creosote. However, it may also be due to critters in your chimney; the problem is especially common in uncapped chimneys. These unwelcome guests can range from bugs (bees, moths, hornets, and so on) to bats and squirrels. Similarly, your uncapped chimney may be packed with fallen debris, such as twigs and leaves.
How to Maintain Your Chimney
By now, you’ve probably either realized that it’s time to call a sweep or you’re wondering if there’s anything that you can do to keep your chimney going strong. Perhaps it’s a bit of both! First and foremost, the best thing you can do is to get your chimney inspected yearly. This applies to all chimneys, not just wood burning ones. Even gas-burning fireplaces can get dirty; therefore, they also need to be cleaned to prevent overheating and damage to your home.
Even if you don’t use your fireplace much, you may still be facing problems that you cannot see. This may be creosote buildup, fallen debris, or another clog. The structure may also have been damaged. In either case, it only takes a single use for a damaged chimney to cause smoke damage or even a fire.
You can always inspect parts of your chimney yourself, too. While this is no replacement for expert opinion, it’s a good start when it comes to making sure that everything is ready for winter. Any problems that you spot can also help speed up the process when you hire a chimney sweep, as we’ll be able to quickly fix these issues.
- Evidence of issues in the firebox, such as excessive amounts of loose debris or creosote buildup, may indicate a blockage. Cracks and crevices in your mortar are also something to watch out for, and can be easily repaired.
- Check for any cracks, breaks, or defects in your flue. This can easily be done by laying on your back in a clean firebox and using a high-powered flashlight. The inside should be smooth and free of excessive debris.
- Try out your damper. If it doesn’t open easily, is rusty, or is visibly damaged, it’s time to get a new one. We can help you take out the old one and install a new, fresh one in its place.
Self-inspection is not a replacement for a yearly professional evaluation, however! This is especially true for people with tall chimneys or steep roofs, where trying to inspect it yourself comes with a high risk of injury. Chimney sweeps are not only trained to spot problems before they become tragedies, they also come with essential safety gear that you don’t have at home.
In addition to these steps, you should practice common-sense fire safety. When you light fires, always make sure that anything flammable is removed from the area around it; examples of commonly ignited items include furniture (especially upholstered furniture), toys, and décor. Avoid using anything other than treated, seasoned wood as fuel. This includes wrapping paper, which may be tossed into the fire after the holidays. While it may seem innocuous, the shiny material may float upward on the draft, subsequently igniting any existing debris deposits.
Above all, if you suspect something is wrong with your fireplace, do not use it! Call us, and we will come to inspect it.
When to Schedule Chimney Sweeping and Maintenance
While it has been stated before in this article, it should be stressed that both the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) and the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommend that inspections be done yearly on all chimneys. Yes! That means the ones attached to stoves and gas-burning fireplaces, too.
Skilled inspectors can spot issues and problems that you may miss, and they save you the hassle of risking your own safety by climbing onto your roof. During these inspections, many of which are classified as level one (under the NFPA standard), we will inspect every aspect of your chimney. This includes both the flue and the actual chimney, as well as the structural portions.
After our preliminary inspection, we will provide any necessary maintenance. This may range from fixing small cracks or crevices to simply cleaning your chimney and removing debris.
When you count on us to inspect and repair your chimney, we will also notify you of things that may become major issues in the future. If this is the case, we elevate the inspection to a level three. This means that we have seen something that may cause catastrophic damage in the event of a major storm, lightning strike, earthquake, or any other natural disaster. We will then work with you to help resolve this issue so that, when the unthinkable happens, your chimney is the last thing you worry about.
When it comes to the precise times to schedule your inspections, we also have a few pointers for that.
Right now—namely the summer and early fall—is the perfect time to get your chimney inspected, cleaned, and fixed. Most people aren’t thinking about chimneys when it’s hot out, and that’s the secret. You’ll beat the rush of people who, upon building their first fire of the year, realize something is amiss.
Beyond convenience, scheduling your sweep in summer means that you have plenty of time to fix any issues that may arise. If you were to schedule your maintenance in the winter, you’d likely have to bundle up for at least a day. If we found an issue, that freeze would last longer. This is especially true if wood-burning heat is how you primarily warm your home.
Celebrate Chimney Safety Week with Us!
Chimney Safety Week occurs annually on the week before Fire Safety Week. In 2021, it falls between Sunday, September 26 and Saturday, October 2. This is an extremely busy time for chimney sweeps, but it’s also a great reminder to get your chimney’s yearly inspection completed if it hasn’t already been done.
These days were picked for a reason, as they fall just before many home fires begin to flare up. In fact, many house fires happen over the holidays, between Christmas and New Year’s. While a catastrophic blaze is bad at any time of the year, you don’t want to associate these joyous days with the time your house burnt down! Moreover, since people are often gathering in large groups for these holidays, fires at this time of the year pose an even greater threat to lives.
The risks to your home, your belongings, and the people you love are all reasons to act now. When it comes to inspections, we promise to be meticulous and thorough. Our livelihood is your wellbeing. Inspections often only run a few hundred dollars, even with mild maintenance included; that really beats the thousands you’d shell out for damages.
You can ensure the safety of your family with just one call, and we will send someone to make sure your chimney is in working order as soon as possible!