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How Do I Find a Chimney Sweep?

How to Choose a Chimney Sweep

A responsible homeowner knows that they should have their chimney inspected and cleaned by a chimney sweep at least once a year. However, the problem often comes when they need to choose a chimney sweep to get the job done. How do you know who to trust to ensure the safety and efficiency of your heating system? There are a few guidelines that anyone can follow to make sure the job is done right.

Chimney Sweep - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney

Chimney Sweep – Baton Rouge LA – Basic Chimney

The best place to start when looking for a chimney sweep is with friends and family members who also have chimneys in their homes. Ask them which company they use to maintain their chimney and how they felt about the experience. These people will not be invested in the company and will therefore have no problem giving their unbiased opinion. They will be able to speak to the chimney sweep’s ability but also to their professionalism and customer service.  If no one has a good recommendation, consider contacting the Better Business Bureau for a recommendation of a reputable company.

Even after speaking with someone who can make an informed recommendation, it is important to do some independent research before making a decision. When speaking with the company for the first time, be sure to ask if they have contact information for recent customer references. It is important to make sure that references are current in order to get the most accurate information. A less recent client may have dealt with someone who is no longer with the company and is not indicative of the service they provide now.

Another thing to consider is that many chimney sweep companies get a great deal of their business through word of mouth. For this reason, it is important to ask for how long the company has been in business. If a company has been providing consistent, sub par service in a community, it is unlikely that they will stay in business for very long. This will also give an indication of how experienced the individual chimney sweeps are likely to be.

Many people do not realize that it takes a special certification to become a chimney sweep. All reputable chimney sweeps are certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. However, this does not mean that every technician working for a given company is certified. Before making an appointment, make sure the company can ensure a certified technician will actually be the one to do the job.

After doing all of this legwork, it is reasonable to expect that the chimney cleaning will go off without a hitch. However, even the most experienced and reliable chimney sweeps have been known to have accidents from time to time. It is necessary to choose a company that can provide proof of insurance for all workers. This will ensure that everyone is protected in the event of an injury or if there is any damage to the chimney and fireplace.

Finding a reliable chimney sweep is an important task because the chimney and fireplace are such vital parts of the home. After asking friends and relatives for recommendations, do not forget to ask the company themselves for recent references. Make sure that the chosen company is insured and can guarantee a chimney sweep that is certified by the CSIA. Taking all of these steps will ensure that the home has a clean and safe chimney.

Chimney Mold and Its Dangers

Water always finds a way. And when that water gets into your chimney, it can cause real damage. In addition to damage of your chimney, water also produces mold – and those dangers can spread to your physical health. Never touch mold anywhere in your home without first protecting yourself with gloves and a ‘surgical mask’.

Chimney Mold - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

Mold can cause reactions that range from irritation of eyes and skin to severe infections and if not treated, long-term health issues. Common indicators of mold exposure are congestion, cough and headache. Since these indicate so many other things, avoiding contact is recommended. Sometimes mold in your chimney produces a musty smell, but regular chimney maintenance can remove and prevent mold.

Keeping Mold Out

Homeowners can contribute greatly to its prevention with some really simple measures that make systems maintenance easier. Before you paint, use a mold-killing primer, especially on ceilings, bathroom walls.  Outer interior walls around deck doors and windows are also key areas to monitor. Mold grows fastest in dark damp places, like water-compromised chimneys or ductwork, but “damp” is all it really needs.

Dehumidifiers can help to reduce the dampness in the air.  Check with certified HVAC professionals to see whether this might work for you. Do not carpet damp areas like bathrooms and laundry rooms, as the moisture in this area is a tempting breeding ground for mold. Keep your supply registers and return vents vacuumed out and free of obstruction.  Resist the urge to hide baseboard registers with furniture; give them room to breathe and keep them clean. All of these measure are particularly helpful in areas of high humidity.

Removing mold from your chimney is a job best left to a professional chimney sweep. Where there is mold, there is water, so the system needs cleaning, inspection, and repair. Wherever water and fire meet, chimney sweeps go. Mold is a danger for you and your pets. Protect those you love by securing annual chimney maintenance.

By Ronald Caillais on June 15th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Avoiding the Dangers of Creosote

When most people burn wood or other combustibles in their fireplace, they do not even realize that they are exposing their families to the dangers of creosote. Creosote is a chemical compound that is left behind after these materials burn in the fireplace. They can pose serious health and safety risks once they accumulate, but there are a few ways to avoid those risks.

Burning Combustibles - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

The most important way to avoid the dangers of creosote is to have the chimney and fireplace professionally cleaned. This should be done at least once a year, typically when the fireplace is done being used for the year. A professional cleaning is necessary as opposed to do it yourself because a chimney sweep will have the proper tools and training to do the job properly.

Another option available for those who want to thoroughly rid their homes of creosote is chemical cleaning. This involves a chemical cleaner that is put in the chimney and works while the fire is burning. It is a very effective method of cleaning the fireplace and chimney, but it should be implemented by a professional since it involves hazardous chemicals.

Some people think that, because they have not noticed any strange smells or excess smoke, there is no buildup of creosote in their chimney or fireplace. The truth is that anyone burning wood in his or her fireplace will more than likely have some level of creosote buildup in the chimney. That is why an annual cleaning is necessary, even with the lack of signs that there is a problem.

If creosote is allowed to build up and remain in the chimney, it can pose serious risks. It could start a dangerous chimney fire and may put everyone in the home at risk for an array of diseases. The best way to avoid this is to make sure the chimney is cleaned each year by a professional.

By Ronald Caillais on June 8th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Off-Season Repairs

Off-seasons are great seasons to undertake repairs to anything that is not in use. In spring and summer, that is every system that needs to air out and dry! The “off season” presents some significant opportunities for consumers looking to have their chimney swept. Days are ‘longer’ and some of the certified professionals you need to involve are easier to schedule during their off seasons.

Off Season Repairs - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

Ultra wide-angle shot of a newly-completed chimney.

Because certified sweeps are specifically trained to comprehend the whole chimney system, their range of expertise is surprisingly broad. This presents an opportunity to have your chimney sweep inspect a variety of areas to see if they need to be addressed. This can actually save a homeowner significant funds in yearly repairs and maintenance.

Early spring is an “off season” for cooling systems and, not surprisingly, rainy months are slower ones for roofing and gutter repairs. Late spring is the right time to make sure your home’s fireplace system is clean and in good repair. In fact, any time in spring is a good time to check everything vulnerable to rain, heat, and critters.

It is also the best time to discover you need repairs, because you have time to do something about it. Summer is perfect for repointing and major repairs to masonry chimneys, which may mean scheduling city inspections well in advance. They will follow the certified sweep’s inspection that the city inspector relies on, so best keep that in mind.

With a little planning and luck, you might be able to coordinate cleanings and inspections for repairs with annually scheduled maintenance. You could have your dryer vent cleaned and checked the same day your fireplace system is inspected. “Off seasons” are more convenient, more practical, and usually more economical for cleanings, maintenance, and repairs to systems that are off.

By Ronald Caillais on May 20th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Dryer Vents and When to Clean

Properly maintained dryer vents are as crucial to home safety as properly maintained chimneys. When to clean them also depends on a myriad of variables such as amount of use, what is going through them, and other house-specific circumstances. The best advice anyone can offer is to consult a professional about the frequency of safety cleanings given your individual situation.

Clean Dryer Vents - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

Important Variables

That said, variables of critical importance are:

  •  length
  • number of turns and jointed corners
  • shared venting with other appliances
  • exterior caps
  • what you put in the dryer

The last is why spring always brings a reminder from venting professionals to include dryer vents in your seasonal house cleaning. Considerably more bedding is typically put in dryers, along with sweaters being packed away until fall. That means more lint is going into the vent, if it is functioning properly to begin with, and that lint is dangerous.

A Seasonal Reminder

We believe no home owner is unaware at this point that dryer vents are the source of many house fires. You would literally need to live under a rock to remain oblivious to the constant news reports and public service messages in this regard. We also believe that every homeowner has a lot going on in spring and forgetting to clean the dryer vent is completely understandable.

So we remind you now: If you do not have short straight dryer venting — unshared with other appliances — that you can access completely, call a pro. If you do not have an exterior cap on venting you know to be clean and in good condition, cap it.

If your venting does meet those requirements, please exercise care appropriate to the venting material. Flexible aluminum venting is more easily damaged, but even metal vents can sustain damage if cleaned improperly. Remember, too, that more baby animals are looking for a nice hiding place in spring, so do not leave your vents open to the great outdoors.

By Ronald Caillais on May 12th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Renovating Your Firebox

“Renovating your firebox” is taking on more meaning as the range of decorative choices expands. The insertion of them into the realm of interior decor is also increasing their popularity with homeowners. These days, your fireplace can have the look of a masonry fireplace without the hassles of a chimney. You can also replace the panels of  your firebox… or you can undertake the traditional renovation of a masonry fireplace and do some repointing.

Firebox Renovation - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

As more pre-fabricated units reach the natural ends of their lives, their replacement offers a great opportunity for renovation. Furthermore, with so many options available, even people with masonry fireplaces are choosing inserts for their fireboxes. Some homeowners are realizing that what they love is a warm glow, not a roaring fire and the masonry chimney it requires.

Redecorating with Firebox Renovation

The result of all that is an explosion of ‘firebox renovation’, and manufacturers respond with more and more options. What can sometimes be forgotten in all the ‘redecorating’ is that most of these pre-fab units are “decorative appliances”! Whether it is a plug-in electric fireplace, a vent-less gas fireplace, or an insert, it is not designed or constructed for a roaring fire!

Another important thing to remember about fireplace inserts — to make it a safe renovation — is that proper installation is required. Basically, the firebox has to fit the flue, which is why pre-fabricated fireplaces come with pre-fabricated chimneys. They are designed as a system. They are interdependent, if you will.

That does not mean you cannot put a pre-fabricated fireplace system under a masonry chimney. It just means that much more is involved than plugging in a portable fireplace, and the ‘renovation’ needs inspection. A good idea might be to ask the certified sweep who does your annual chimney inspections how the two can be organized to coincide!

By Ronald Caillais on May 4th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

The Chimney Sweep: A History

The chimney sweep appeared when people found they needed to vent their indoor fireplaces. Those same people could afford to pay someone else to keep those vents clean, and a profession was born. By the time the majority could afford the first, the profession had completely changed because of the reduced vent sizes necessitated by their popularity.

Chimney Sweep History - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

Adults could no longer fit into chimneys to remove debris and clean them with special brushes. The profession was now only ‘supervised’ by an adult, and instead, performed by a child, typically an orphan or from a very poor family. Those children were the ones sent up into chimneys, and – because of whom they were – little attention was paid to their safety.

As injuries and deaths of children began to rise in the performance of their jobs, some took heed and laws were passed. Although children were the first ‘professional’ sweeps, the real profession in its modern form was shaped at this point. Recognized dangers to both sweeps and homeowners — due to a lack of ongoing inspection of their chimneys — gave rise to present-day certifying institutions.

True For All Time

It was clear that even children could be trained to brush soot off the flue liner without causing damage. The problem, obviously, was that they were not trained to inspect the chimney either before or after cleaning it. Quickly in and out, they failed to detect cracks in flue tiles or evidence of water damage.

Even if they saw it, these easily trainable ‘sweeps’ had no idea what it might mean and, frankly, did not care. They were earning their porridge and mat and it is, no doubt, that basic need to survive that motivates uncertified sweeps today. Homeowners, however, also have a basic right to survive, which is why you should always choose a CSIA certified sweep.

By Ronald Caillais on April 26th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , | Leave a Comment

WHAT is that Smell Coming From the Chimney?

It could be a number of things, and it is good that you are not taking it lightly because it signals an unsafe fireplace system. A chimney should remove smells from the home, not introduce them, so something is interfering with proper draft. Whatever it is needs to be corrected and the chimney needs to be inspected before you can safely build a fire.

Smells Bad - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

Damp and Musty

If it is a stale, damp smell, check around the fireplace carefully for other signs of water entry. Look for stains on the ceiling and walls around it, and feel the walls of the fireplace, to check for obvious dampness. Make sure your chimney cap is still up there and if you are up to it, inspect the mortar and flashing for cracks or gaps.

Smoky and Acrid

This could be either creosote deposits heating up or a nest obstructing the chimney and sending smoke back into the house. Either one of these really needs to be checked by a certified chimney sweep to ensure it is done properly and safely. Some nests are protected by law and can only be removed with a permit, and the dangers of creosote are well known.

Rotting and Foul

A critter probably got stuck in the chimney. Even if it is within reach, you probably do not want to deal with this yourself either. Since its being there indicates a real problem with the chimney, you can let the professional that checks it do the dirty work. A different kind of “rotting and foul” might be the smell of mold, and you are back to water damage.

Whatever It Is, It’s Bad

Regardless of what accounts for the smell, the chimney is not drafting properly and the fireplace cannot be used. Furthermore, whatever its cause, more serious ramifications have to be prevented by a professional inspection of the chimney. As a result, that smell coming from your chimney is an announcement that you need a CSIA certified sweep.

By Ronald Caillais on April 19th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Camera Investigation for Chimney Cleaning

The best way to approach cleaning anything is to know with what you are actually dealing. Grass stains are different than mechanical grease, and that is a different thing than cooking grease. The situation is the same inside your chimney, so a camera-assisted inspection by a certified sweep before and after cleaning is a really good idea.

Chimney Inspections with Cameras - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney

Try This At Home….

What exists in the flue that cannot be seen from above or below determines how the chimney needs to be cleaned. Soot is different than later stage creosote, and they indicate different things as well, at least to professionals who understand them. The condition of mortar is important not only on the roof but within the chimney too, as is the ability to see and assess it.

Homeowners instinctively get this, but tend to trust in the uniformity of the chimney’s condition, which just should not be blindly relied upon. The safety of the whole house and family is at stake, so assumptions and risks just are not worth it. Once a year, the whole chimney needs to be visually inspected by a CSIA certified sweep who knows what he is looking at.

But Not By Yourself!

Routinely performed as part of cleanings and inspections by certified chimney sweeps, the practiced lowering of specially designed cameras reveals more than the obvious. Please note important words of caution here: If you do not know what you are doing, you can damage your flue. Even if you are lucky enough not to, your untrained eyes are likely to miss what could be early, cost-saving, warnings.

To spell it out a little more clearly, no homeowner should be lowering a cell phone on a string into a flue. This is serious work with serious consequences and it really needs to be handled by professionals. Knowing what you are getting out of the chimney is a great idea, but you should be using your phone to call a certified sweep.

By Ronald Caillais on April 12th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , | Leave a Comment

Keeping Your Chimney Operating Year Round

Whether or not the fireplace is in use, the chimney needs to be maintained in good working order year round. There are a number of reasons for this, but they all come down to safety in good air quality. The chimney can provide a continuous air-replacement system or a trap for air that is downright dangerous.

Chimney Maintenance - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

Clear the Air

If all is well with a chimney, it draws air from the fireplace up and out, continually pulling ‘new’ air through the system. That helps to remove toxic gases from the home even when generated elsewhere, emitted by a leaky furnace perhaps. It also helps to clear the air of dust particles that otherwise settle back down and aggravate allergies.

In addition, the sooner problems with a chimney are caught, the less expensive they are to correct. Some do not even need to be problems, such as creosote accumulation, which can be completely avoided with regular professional inspections and cleanings. Other relatively inexpensive improvements, like caps and waterproofing for chimneys in good condition, may eliminate costly damage to the flue by rain or birds.

Protect Family and Investment

Neither inadequate drafting nor creosote buildup stops when the last fire is out beneath the chimney. If either exists, it persists, and it either presents the same stale air or it actually gets worse, true for both creosote- and water-caused damage. The importance of well-maintained fireplace systems cannot be stressed enough, since they are essential to home safety whether used or not.

Just as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should not be taken down because the fireplace is not in use, the home’s chimney should not be neglected either. Organizations, like the CSIA, are responsible for the certification of professional sweeps make sure they are qualified to keep every chimney operating safely. All homeowners really need to do is remember to call them and schedule twice-yearly inspections.

By Ronald Caillais on April 4th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , , , | Leave a Comment
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