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Basic Chimney Sweep & Repair Blog

Safely Using Heaters in Your Home

“Heaters” can be all kinds of things but, from fireplace inserts to electric space heaters, they present a fire hazard and need to be safely used. If they can warm you up quickly, they do the same for other things, so space heaters need to be carefully positioned. If cozy fires can heat the room, even a little, imagine what they can do to the chimney above them, so fireplaces need clean chimneys.

Heater Safety - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

Otherwise, it does not take long for the space heater to catch the drapes on fire and the fireplace to ignite the creosote. There are safety concerns with the use of every type of heater, whether inside or outside the home. Portable fire pits carry their own dangers and outdoor ovens get just as dirty as the ones inside.

Heating Up More than the Den

Obviously, heat from fireplaces raises enormous risks, hopefully up the chimney and out of the house. When chimneys are not kept clean and in good working condition by CSIA certified sweeps, those risks remain in both your chimney and your home. If obstructions block updrafts or creosote accumulates unnoticed, the “family room heater” can become a deadly weapon.

In addition to risks of fire with improper use, even space heaters can stir things to life in air you do not want to breathe. This gets compounded when apparent vents in bathrooms and kitchens actually go nowhere except the crawl space above them. Those need to be checked by venting professionals when they clean your other air ducts and vents.

Remember All Your Heaters

From mere conveniences to basic, built-in parts of your house, “heaters” pose many of the risks of fire whether or not they involve it. Their portability increases the likelihood that small heaters will end up too close to the wrong thing and bring on real heat. The big guys, from gas furnaces to wood fireplaces, are especially dangerous “heaters” – because too often we forget the danger they can bring.

By Ronald Caillais on March 27th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , , | Leave a Comment

Safety Around Fire Pits

It is that time of year! – when warmer weather draws us outdoors and keeps us there for barbeques in the still chilly evenings. This almost universal love of eating and relaxing outdoors with friends explains the soaring popularity of fire pits. Warm and attractive, they make perfect portable outdoor heaters…but they do not come without some fire dangers.

Fire Pit Safety - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

Long at the center of outdoor gatherings, fire has always brought people together, whether around bonfires or wood stoves. Now fire comes in pretty outdoor packaging, with a huge array of choices for consumers, including full-on outdoor fireplaces. Far cheaper and simpler fire pits are the ones stealing the home show, raging with popularity and small, controlled fires.

There’s the Rub

That “small, controlled” part is essential to safety around fire pits, since the last thing you want is to start a much bigger fire. That can happen for several reasons:

  • placement too close to flammables
  • too much fuel for the fire in the pit
  • failure to put the lid on it
  • sudden gusts of wind that lift sparks through screens
  • pit fires left burning unattended

As much as we like to think that we are careful when we build fires outdoors, entertaining our friends distracts us from lots of things. We start the fire and run indoors to spice-rub the steaks, forgetting to specifically ask someone to keep an eye on the pit. Our friends, however, are playing darts and shooting hoops and nobody is really minding the fire.

Slings and Arrows

It only takes a spark to start the fire you did not intend, so never walk away from an unattended fire. Run the risk of a few verbal barbs and designate a pit minder if you are busy. ‘Tis nobler to be a drag than completely irresponsible, so put up with the ribbing you might get and play it safe. When the fire is no longer small and controlled within your pit, your risks rise with the flames.

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

Tips for Hiring a Chimney Sweep

Lovable Bert, who forever left us with an impression of chimney sweeps as soot faced rooftop dancers, was in some ways a fitting caricature. He was, after all, a jack of all trades, selling kites one minute, cleaning chimneys the next. That can be what you get these days if you do not ask the right question when you choose a chimney sweep.

Professional Fitness for a Changing Job

It is important to remember that this profession began with less than scrupulous simple vent cleaners who were no longer a good fit for modernized chimneys. That pretty well describes some of the “chimney sweeps” who completed a quick training in the use of specialized brushes and got a business license. They may be equipped to clean a modern chimney, but they are a bad fit for modern fireplace systems and they are not really into them.

CSIA Certification - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

Bert was not the guy to handle an inspection of the chimney to assess its condition, safety, and performance. He was the type to tap dance around clearances without ever knowing they were there. You may love him, but Bert is far from a CSIA certified chimney sweep, and not the guy you want to entrust with your home safety.

One Tip Is All You Need

The ability to professionally inspect your chimney is the primary thing for which you should be looking. That is what takes years of training and ongoing education, and that is what results in chimney sweep certification. Young boys living in orphanages were quickly taught to clean chimneys, but nobody relied on them to do more than that.

The most important tip we have for you is really the only one you need…to make a good choice. Ask the sweep you called if they have proof of industry certification in addition to a license and insurance. If he is not a certified sweep, simply look elsewhere to find someone that is truly qualified to clean your chimney.

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

Creosote Buildup is Dangerous

Creosote is an unavoidable result of fireplace use so, if the fireplace is more than just a decorative feature, creosote will be in the chimney. It can be there in any or all of three forms, or stages, of development, and the sooner it is gone, the better. In addition to being traps for many of those horrible smells that linger in fireplaces, creosote is also extremely corrosive.

Stage 3 Creosote - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

Stage 3 Creosote – Image Courtesy of The Mad Hatter Chimney Service in Indianapolis, IN.

Danger in All Three Forms of Creosote

Every time smoke goes up the chimney, it carries what will become creosote with it, which is commonly known as soot. This is the first stage of creosote development, and the easiest for chimney sweeps to deal with. When the fire goes out and the chimney cools, the tars in soot condense on the walls of the flue liner.

Enter stage two, when creosote is a sticky, tar-like, corrosive substance on the chimney walls. This gooey gunk eats away at the flue liner, exposing it to moisture which then completely compromises the chimney’s integrity. The primary danger that creosote poses in spring and summer is the steady corrosion of the flue by the stage two goo dried into porous chunks of gunk.

Stage three unfolds when the gunk solidifies into a hard shiny buildup, known as chimney glaze, which is extremely difficult to remove. Under no circumstances can a fire be lit in a fireplace with stage-three creosote in the chimney, unless you are trying to burn the house down. Indeed, another danger of creosote buildup is a chimney fire, with its loud roar and menacing shake of the structure.

Time to Go

As the seasons change, and we get ready to do our spring cleaning and yard work, it is important to remember to schedule a chimney cleaning and inspection. Not only will our homes smell fresher, but our chimneys will be ready to handle the showers and downpours and steady drumbeats of rain that are coming. With corrosive creosote removed, their dangers are a thing of the past, until the next time the fireplace is used.

By Ronald Caillais on March 6th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Your Chimney and Water Damage

Depending on the type of material it is made from, your chimney may be more susceptible to damage by water than by fire. Certainly true for masonry chimneys, that is counter-intuitive, with no one really thinking about water damaging chimneys. Generally, the worry with chimneys in the minds of homeowners is all about sparks and fires.

Water: Love It or Leave It

Water, however, is often the original source of the explosive chimney fire of which responsible homeowners are rightfully worried. Allowed to seep in, it expands and contracts with the freezes and thaws of changing seasons. It does not sound that bad; it sounds almost poetic. However, it seriously threatens the integrity of chimneys.

Chimney & Water Damage - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney

That perfectly natural characteristic of water stretches and shrinks the material it is in, further deteriorating your chimney’s mortar. Water also, perfectly naturally, rots wood and erodes even rock, in a process that can probably be made to sound enchanting. Look around a canyon, however, to fully grasp what water can do to brick with the simple passage of time.

Let the River Flow Somewhere Else

It is not a pretty sight when it is your chimney that is crumbling, and a river in your fireplace is not exactly the interior decorating you had in mind. Leaks are usually a pretty clear sign that a roof-top canyon is developing, but hopefully homeowners do not let things go that far these days. Protecting chimneys from water damage is as easy as scheduling a certified sweep to get up there and see how they are doing.

It is a good idea, by the way, to do this in spring, when chimney sweeps are easier to schedule and before the rains come. If repairs or replacements are necessary, you have plenty of time to finish the job before a chimney in good condition becomes even more critical. Fire is definitely dangerous and mandates routine chimney inspections; but when it comes to chimneys, it is important not to play with water either.

By Ronald Caillais on February 27th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

How Your Home’s Chimney Works

Hot air rises; that basic principle is the underpinning of your home’s chimney, which is there to channel fireplace smoke out of the house. It does so with proper up-drafting, but that depends on correct sizing and installation. Flue liners have to be sized for the fireplaces they vent and chimneys need to be of the right height for them to work efficiently.

Fireplace Anatomy - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

The Right Height Needs To Be De-Coded

The construction of your home’s chimney also has to protect the house from the heat it carries. That means proper clearances have to be provided, so that the chimney does not transfer heat to the home’s flammable structural elements. Local codes govern both clearances and chimney height, but heights that meet code do not necessarily leave the chimney top where it needs to be.

Your chimney works best when its top is high enough to leave it in low-density air. That is what creates the ambient up-draft that can be felt in a well functioning fireplace system. Local codes may be satisfied with lower tops, but – raised to the height that is actually right for your fireplace, your chimney works better.

Drink Up! The Way Your Chimney Works

Warm air rises until it meets air that is either less dense or hotter than itself. It is drawn by – and into – that absence of air, if you will, like soda being sucked through a straw. If that straw is too big, too small, or extends too far above the rim of the glass, it is going to prove more frustrating than helpful.

Unless you are content for it to take ages to drain that glass, you need a proper straw. That means a flue liner sized for your fireplace and a properly constructed chimney of the right height. Explaining how it works is easy enough, but installing and correctly capping a chimney, we will leave to chimney professionals.

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

Reasons Your Fire Won’t Light in Your Fireplace

The reasons you cannot get a fire started in your fireplace are obviously different for different kinds of fireplaces. If it is a gas fireplace, check to see that the valve is open and that gas is being supplied to the fireplace. If it is a wood burner, problems can vary from unseasoned wood to insufficient kindling to an improperly built fire.

Starting a Fire - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

Obviously, a gas fireplace will not light if it is not receiving any gas, so confirming the gas supply is the first thing to do. There is usually a valve either at the bottom of the fireplace or on a wall switch that turns the gas on and off. This allows gas to flow from the main line through the pipe into the fireplace and should be turned off when the fireplace is not in use.

Another thing to check is the pilot light, which may have been blown out by wind or a sudden downdraft. If that is the case, restart it by turning the control knob counter-clockwise to the Pilot position. Click the red button until the pilot lights, hold it in for a minute, and then turn the knob to its “ON” position. Pilots are generally left on throughout the winter season but shut off when the fireplace is not in use to avoid their unnecessary expense.

If the pilot ignites but will not stay on, there may be a problem with the thermo coupling, which senses whether a pilot flame is present. If the pilot stays on but the fire will not start, thermo piling may be to blame. Thermo piling uses the pilot flame to produce an electric spark that opens the gas valve. As this is a tiny spark, it is also important for the fireplace and gas logs to be clean, as even a little dust can block the valve.

If your fireplace is wood burning and the wood is dry, you may simply need to rebuild the fire. Newspaper, plenty of kindling, sticks and wood pieces, all topped with larger logs, should be placed on the grate in that order. It needs to be possible for air to flow through and around the pile since fire needs oxygen to burn, so do not pack it too tight.

By Ronald Caillais on February 11th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Converting Your Wood Burning Fireplace to Gas

Tired of sweeping out ash, and conscious of the added expense of wood burning fireplaces, many homeowners are choosing to convert to gas. More efficient and less trouble, glass fronted gas fireplaces keep warm air in the house and cold air out when they are not in use. Cleaner, safer, and more economical, gas fireplaces can be a better option, and can provide the same ambience as a wood fire without the smelly smoke and combustible by-products.

Wood Fireplace to Gas Logs - Baton Rouge LA - Basic Chimney Sweep

Definitely a job to be handled by chimney professionals, perhaps the most difficult part of a fireplace conversion is getting gas to it. A separate gas line has to run from the meter to the fireplace, with flex line, cutoffs, and a sealer at junctions. Furthermore, air has to be bled from the lines and the natural gas has to be pressurized to state-dictated levels. The farther the fireplace is from the gas source, the more complicated the task.

Prior to the conversion, the chimney should also be cleaned by a professional chimney sweep. He can insure that nothing is blocking the chimney and deal with any creosote that has accumulated inside the flue. Maintenance will be much easier with gas logs than with a wood fire, but the usual concerns about nesting birds and critters still apply.

The most important decision for homeowners to make is the type of gas fireplace they wish to install. Both vented and vent less gas fireplaces are available, each with drawbacks and advantages. Municipalities may regulate this choice, sometimes requiring vented fireplaces, which reduce the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning.

An unvented gas fireplace does not lose heated air up the chimney so it does a better job of warming the room. However, an unvented gas fire can only burn for a few hours at a time, since both moisture and exhaust gases are given off and build up. Although they are more costly, vented fireplaces produce prettier fires and are still energy efficient, sealing heat behind glass doors and often blowing it into the room.

By Ronald Caillais on February 3rd, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Living In an Apartment or Condo? Better Get Your Dryer Vent Cleaned

Because less square footage is available for appliances, washers and dryers in apartments and condominiums are often the small, stackable variety. Unfortunately, these are inefficient blowers to begin with and are usually connected to complicated venting systems. Lacking the force to expel heated air through these long vents making right-angle turns, these stacked appliances have no hope of performing efficiently.

Dryer vents in apartments and condos

Clear signs that there are blockages in the system are clothes that take excessively long to dry, moisture in the laundry closet, dryers that feel too hot, and lint screens that are always clean. Beyond the waste of energy required to run the dryer again and again in order to dry your clothes, the lint that is likely to account for the blockage is cause for concern. Highly flammable, lint that has built up in the elbows joining vent ducts is easily set on fire.

The bottom line is that, if you are living in an apartment or a condominium, your dryer vent needs to be checked and cleaned by a professional. This should be done on a regular basis and will include a check of the vent pipe inside the dryer as well. Since it is unlikely that it will be possible to re-route the vent ducts, it will be necessary for these to be properly cleaned.

That requires special brushes and equipment and the knowledge of how best to sweep out the lint that has accumulated in the vent ducts. This explains why the job is often done by professional chimney sweeps, whose history would suggest another environment altogether. The important thing is that someone whose training and skill are certified be scheduled to perform the cleaning.

Trained to clean vent ducts without damaging them, as often happens when homeowners try to tackle the job themselves, professionals leave you with clean vents and peace of mind. Especially where flexible aluminum ducting is present, the ability to clean it without causing small tears in it is essential. If the aluminum is torn, at least that section of the vent duct has to be replaced, which is far more expensive than a routine cleaning.

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

Requirements Necessary to Get an NCSG Membership

The NCSG, National Chimney Sweep Guild, is a trade association that promotes the success of members, who are part of the chimney and venting industry. Established as a 501(c)(6) association, the NCSG uses public awareness to advance the industry. It also provides progressive services and encourages the ethical accountability and professionalism of its membership.

NCSG Member Chimney Sweep

Membership in the NCSG is available to various players within the industry. Chimney service companies can become voting members for NCSG election purposes. Companies that manufacture and supply goods or services to the chimney service industry may become supplier members. A combination membership is available to a chimney service-supplier company. Individuals or organizations who are not engaged in the chimney service industry but have an interest in it may join as affiliate members.

Chimney service companies based outside of the U.S. are entitled to non-voting international memberships. Retired owners of chimney sweep companies may apply to be senior members. A separate paper and online membership application is provided for each membership category. When a company joins NCSG, membership benefits are available to all of its employees.

Annual dues for a chimney service company voting membership are currently $459. A chimney inspection company that does not sweep may become a voting member. When a company first joins NCSG, its representative must acknowledge and agree to the NCSG Code of Ethics. If membership is renewed without a lapse, the acknowledgement need not be signed again unless the Code changes.

By joining the NCSG, a chimney service company receives access to services that assist in its growth and success. These include technical support, product discounts, networking opportunities, and discounted educational offerings. Members are expected to conform to the NCSG Code of Ethics and failure to do so could result in disciplinary action. Chimney professionals can learn more about the Code and NCSG membership benefits on the NCSG website.

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