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Why You Should Only Burn Local Wood

In many areas, there is an abundance of firewood because local forests are repopulated to help with the environment. This means that there is an abundance of local wood that can be burned without worrying about the local ecology. Some people think that it is better to buy wood that has come from other areas, but this is wrong for many reasons.

You should use local firewood in your chimney

First, even dried wood that is collected for fires can have bugs and parasites that may not be native to the area. If these invasive creatures get into the local trees, they can do a great deal of damage and can actually wipe out forests. This can have a devastating effect to the local ecology that can take decades if not centuries to repair.

Next, local firewood can actually be much cheaper than purchasing firewood that has been imported from another area. Some also prefer to cut down their own wood and replant from their own land because that is the least expensive form of heat. It is always a good idea to support the local economy and if a few dollars are saved in the bargain, it just makes sense.

Finally, when you buy local wood, you will know whether there been any chemicals or paints that were used in proximity of the wood. It is not safe to burn wood in a fireplace or wood stove that has been treated with any type of chemical. These chemicals can cause poisoning of the people who are in the home when the wood is being burned.

Protecting the environment is very important to just about everyone, which is why it is important to use local wood. Burning woods that have been brought in from other areas means that you may not know where it comes from. It could contain parasites or even chemicals that are harmful to local trees or those who are around when the wood is burning.

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

Reasons Your Fireplace Might Not Work

When a fire is started, the air in the chimney warms and becomes less dense than air outside this area. The thinner air naturally begins to rise and cooler air flows into the firebox from the room, fanning the fire and creating more heat. However, there are many reasons that a fireplace may not operate correctly.

Is your fireplace not working properly?

A closed damper is one of the most common reasons for fireplace failure. The user may forget to open the damper or soot buildup or water damage may prevent this component from opening fully, making professional cleaning necessary. Soot also accumulates in the chimney and if deposits become thick enough, the flue may be restricted, preventing the fireplace from venting properly, which can also be resolved through professional cleaning.

Firewood that is wet or is not well-seasoned will create more smoke than heat, preventing the chimney from functioning correctly. Keep firewood as dry as possible, protecting it from moisture like snow and rain. While wood can be kept outside, a chimney located on an outside wall may not operate as efficiently as one in the interior of the home.

Chimney construction may inhibit fireplace operation. A chimney should be ten to 12 feet high or higher and project at least three feet above the roof and two feet higher than anything that is within ten feet. Another problem may be that the flue is too small (more than ten times smaller than the chimney opening) because it may send smoke back into the room.

If the home leaks too much air, a draft effect may overpower the chimney. If it is too tightly constructed, the air exiting the home may not be replenished with new air to feed the fire. In either case, the fireplace may smoke and burn sluggishly. Have the fireplace inspected to diagnose whether these or other issues are preventing it from working.

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

Be Sure To Have a Chimney Cap

The weather is changing, and this means your chimney will once again be put to use. Before lighting that first fire, look at your chimney and make sure you have a chimney cap installed. If not, you should seriously consider getting one before the winter really kicks in and you are using your fireplace every day.

Be sure to have a chimney cap

A chimney cap is relatively inexpensive to have installed. In fact, its preventative value may exceed the installation costs. There are multiple benefits, as you will soon see, in having a chimney cap installed on your chimney.

  1. Prevents Animals from Entering Chimney – while birds are probably the most common, there are other animals that can find their way into the chimney. This can cause problems with the interior of the lining as well as leave your chimney inoperable for fear of killing the animal that has found its way inside. In the worst-case scenario, chimney swifts, a bird protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty, will find a home in your chimney and you will not be able to remove it until the birds migrate for the summer.
  2. Rain Water – rainwater is a definitive problem for homeowners that have not had a chimney cap installed. Heavy storms can cause water to literally pour down into your chimney, which is dangerous on several levels. Firstly, it can put out the fire and cause massive amounts of smoke to enter the home. Secondly, it can cause structural problem with the liner and end up creating mold inside the chimney, resulting in expensive repairs.
  3. Debris – winter is known for high winds in many areas. With wind often comes a large amount of dust, dirt, and debris. Without a chimney cap, this debris can find its way into your chimney.
  4. Inadvertent Fires – while enjoying your fire, have you ever noticed the embers that fly up in the chimney flue? Well, guess what the leading cause of external fires related to fireplace use is? The cap will prevent the embers from ever leaving the flue, therefore, avoiding any chance of a fire starting outside your home from stray embers.
By Ronald Caillais on December 27th, 2012 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Why Your Gas Fireplace Needs Regular Inspection Too

If you have a gas fireplace, one of the considerations for purchase was more than likely the low maintenance factor. Compared to a wood burning fireplace, there is hardly the daily and yearly maintenance required. However, like wood burning fireplaces, gas fireplaces should be inspected on a yearly basis.

Be sure to have your gas burning fireplace regularly maintained

Just like a wood burning fireplace, your gas fireplace can have a buildup, even if it is a ventless fireplace. Even though the logs inside are ceramic, they can create debris on the bottom of the fireplace as well as clog any vents. These are just a couple of areas of concern for owners of gas fireplaces.

Depending upon the service requested, your inspection may vary from a simple test of all working parts and connections to a complete cleaning and refinishing (if necessary) of your fireplace. So, what are some of the basics you can expect from your gas fireplace inspection?

  • All hearth equipment should be checked for proper working condition.
  • Connections and valves should be checked for leaks and proper working condition.
  • Thermocouple and thermopile is checked for cleanliness and wear.
  • Glass should be cleaned, both inside and out.
  • Logs will be checked for placement and proper working condition.
  • If necessary, embers will be replaced.
  • Entire inside of the fireplace should be cleaned and ready for use.

Some additional safety facts unrelated to the fireplace inspection but very important are:

  • It generally takes about 45 minutes for a gas fire to cool to the point the doors and glass are cool enough to touch. This is especially important for homes with small children, as they may be curious about the fireplace and want to examine it.
  • Glass on a gas fireplace door can reach temperatures as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If young children are around, create some type of barrier around the fireplace to prevent them from having access. You can find fireplace screens and childproof barriers at most home improvement stores.
By Ronald Caillais on December 18th, 2012 | Tagged with: Tags: , | Leave a Comment

The NFPA Is a Good Resource for Fire Prevention

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA, www.NFPA.org) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fire safety awareness. The association was formed in 1896 with the mission to “reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life.” This organization regularly holds demonstrations regarding fire safety and its website provides a wealth of information.

National Fire Protection Association

Setting Codes and Standards
There are over 300 codes and standards established by the NFPA. These codes and standards are meant to minimize the danger and tragic effects of fires. The codes and standards board is comprised of over 6,000 volunteers. These volunteers establish and vote on all new standards and revisions to existing standards.

Public Safety Education
The NFPA is extremely active in local communities regarding public safety education as it pertains to fire. For instance, the organization has sponsored Fire Prevention Week since 1922. Programs such as Remembering When, Learn Not To Burn, and Risk Watch are also sponsored by the organization. It also tries to make education fun and relevant to children and has used Sparky the Fire Dog as its official mascot as a way to promote education.

Public Advocacy
There are numerous advocacy programs in place that look to the NFPA for guidance. For example, the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes, which has backed fire-safe cigarette legislation, and the Alliance to Stop Consume Fireworks, which urges citizens to avoid purchasing and using fireworks, are both affiliated with the NFPA.

Educational Resource
One quick glance on the website and you have easy access to virtually every type of educational resource needed in regard to fire safety. The organization has various self-published journals and guides that can be used as a resource as well as links to external sources to provide even more fire safety education. The site is constantly updated with the latest codes and standards for fire prevention and safety.

By Ronald Caillais on December 10th, 2012 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

The Different Types of Chimneys

The fireplace chimney is the component of the system that pulls hot air through the firebox and out of the house. It also provides the fire with air. There are many types of chimneys and masonry and manufactured are the most common. Each type has unique advantages and homeowners should review these prior to selecting a new chimney for the house.

The different types of chimneys for your home

A masonry chimney is made from brick, stone, or a similar material and lined with clay tile to hold these materials together. A flue lining made from baked clay increases safety and makes cleaning an easy process for a qualified chimney sweep. A manufactured chimney is created in a factory and transported to the installation location. It is usually made from metal, must be used with solid fuel heat, and does not require a liner.

A mass-insulated, double-walled chimney features insulation between two metal layers. Heat is absorbed by the insulation and the metal layers contain the heat that is not absorbed by the insulating material. An air-cooled chimney contains nothing but air between the two layers of metal. Circulation of air helps to dissipate the heat. An air-insulated chimney looks similar, but it restricts air movement and insulates the heat.

Some chimneys incorporate different aspects of each type of manufactured chimney, resulting in a hybrid design. Manufactured chimneys are less expensive than masonry versions but they require use of factory-built fireplaces. Most fireplaces typically work with only one type of chimney. To learn more about this, the homeowner should consult with a professional chimney sweep.

Installing the wrong type of chimney can break the fireplace or cause a house fire. It is better to rely on expert guidance than to guess during chimney selection or installation. Whether the chimney is being replaced or a new chimney is being installed during new construction, consult with a professional prior to making any decisions.

By Ronald Caillais on December 4th, 2012 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Why You Can’t Move Chimney Swifts

Chimney swifts are birds that nest in chimneys in eastern North American during summer and migrate to South America in the winter. Swifts are not capable of perching, so they must cling to vertical surfaces. They prefer nesting in large, open chimneys, where they present a nuisance for homeowners. However, moving the swifts is not permitted because these birds are protected by law.

Chimney Swifts are protected birds

The chimney swift is an amazing bird because since it cannot perch, it must do everything in flight. Tasks performed while flying range from catching food to breaking off twigs to create a nest. Swifts dine on insects and stop flying only long enough to roost or provide food to their young. Flights follow a distinctive path of rapid, angular turns.

When farmers clear trees from land, they remove the traditional habitat for chimney swifts. Mortared brick and stone chimneys represent a suitable replacement to hollow trees. More homeowners are installing slippery metal flue pipes and chimney caps, presenting dangers or deterrents for these harmless birds. A swift is unable to cling to a metal flue pipe and may fall into the fireplace, causing death.

The small nests that swifts build for their young are not fire hazards. However, they should be removed once the birds fly south in the fall. If the nest is removed before the young have vacated, these tiny birds are likely to die. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects swifts so an individual can be subject to penalties or fines for knowingly destroying birds or their nests that could contain eggs or young birds.

To keep swifts safe, metal-lined chimneys should be capped. Chimney caps will prevent Swifts from nesting there in the first place. A chimney should not be swept until fall if a swift occupies it. The North American Chimney Swift Nest Site Research Project is currently designing and testing alternate nesting structures for swifts. Until then, homeowners should live in harmony with these attractive birds.

By Ronald Caillais on November 28th, 2012 | Tagged with: Tags: , | Leave a Comment

Safety Tips for Your Clothes Dryer

Did you know that clothes dryers are one of the leading causes of home fires? Did you know that one of the main culprits for these fires is simply that the vents are not properly cleaned? Here are some basic tips to help keep your home and family safe.

Basic Chimney Sweep - Safely Operating Your Clothes Dryer

  • Clean the lint filter – make it a habit of cleaning the lint filter after each use. If the kids are doing laundry, make sure you show them how to properly remove the filter, clean it, and replace it before using the dryer.
  • Clean the dryer vent – cleaning the dryer vent on a regular basis should become habit. In addition, you should also have it professionally cleaned throughout the year. This is especially important for homes that have significant venting for their dryer. A regular household vacuum simply does not have the power required to completely clean out a lengthy dryer vent system.
  • Proper Installation – if you are purchasing a new dryer, make sure it is installed by a professional. Most stores will offer this service as part of the purchase. Even if there is small fee for the installation, you are better safe than sorry. A professional can check all electrical connections as well as make sure the ventilation system is properly hooked up.
  • Regular Maintenance – your should perform regular preventative maintenance on the dryer to keep it in good working order at all times. Manuals will provide a trouble-shooting guide for the owner but if you come across something that is beyond your expertise, you should call in a professional. If the dryer is still under warranty, the service call may actually be covered and not cost you a penny.
  • Do not overload the dryer – this is self-explanatory. Putting too many clothes in the dryer is not only unsafe, it is a waste of energy as it will take longer for the clothes to dry.
  • Never run the dryer unattended – it can be tempting to run the dryer right before bed or when you are heading out the door for errands or to go to work. However, if there is a problem, who will be there to recognize and address it? Be safe, only run it when you are awake and in the home.
By Ronald Caillais on November 21st, 2012 | Tagged with: Tags: , , , | Leave a Comment

Chimney Sweeping: It’s Not Just for Cold Weather

Your chimney is an important and beautiful feature of your home. Even if you don’t light a fire in it very often, most of us still think of our fireplace hearth as the “heart” of our homes. Certainly, most people don’t even think about cleaning their chimney unless the weather is really cold and you’re using the chimney often. But, what many people don’t realize is that even in climate zones (like the Southeast) that experience mild winters, it’s still important to clean the chimney—even if you don’t fire it up very often.

Basic Chimney Sweep - Even during mild winters, your chimney needs to be regularly swept

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that you have your chimney cleaned at least once a year. The reason for this is the simple science of how soot and dirt collects in your chimney. When the weather is warm, the air flowing through your chimney slows down. When the airflow is stifled, it means that the dirt, dust and creosote stay in your chimney longer. So, even if you aren’t using your chimney the way you do when the weather is really cold, the chimney is still getting dirty. Any time you have a build up of creosote in your chimney, you are at risk for a chimney fire. This build up can also cause a terrible odor in your home. If you have a leak in your chimney, the odor will worsen and the damp mix can cause mold, causing upper respiratory issues. A dirty chimney will also give off an unpleasant odor.

So, even though you live in a warmer climate and you don’t really think chimney cleaning and maintenance should be high on your priority list, you should remember that reduced airflow in warmer weather means even more buildup of creosote. It’s a good idea think about chimney maintenance all year long—for your health and safety.

By Ronald Caillais on November 13th, 2012 | Tagged with: Tags: , , , | Leave a Comment

Eco-friendly Habits in Fireplace Use

–Article contributed by High’s Chimney Service, a company which performs chimney maintenance and chimney repair in Maryland and North Virginia.

Generally speaking, using your fireplace is safe.  However, there are ways to make your fireplace use even safer.  Check out the following tips for some green fireplace habits to get into.

Eco-friendly habits for fireplace use

Install the Fireplace Correctly

Having a fireplace installed incorrectly can create a whole host of problems, including increased chimney fire hazards and air pollution.  Chimney airflow problems may arise if improperly sized chimney liners or inadequately sized chimneys are installed as well.

Have the Chimney and Fireplace Inspected

Fireplaces, especially chimneys, accumulate lots of gunk over time if not properly cared for.  Deposits like creosote and soot each call your chimney their home, and too much of either one can restrict airflow (17% restriction in a masonry chimney, 30% in a prefabricate chimney).

Burn the Smoke

Lots of fireplaces can reduce their own pollution these days.  The reason this is possible is because the gas and smoke burns up in addition to the wood inside your unit.  If your fireplace does this, the smoke won’t even escape through the chimney.  Many fireplace units do this automatically, though if yours doesn’t, consider installing what is called a catalyst.

Burn Hardwood or Wood Alternatives

Some woods are better than others.  Birches, cherry, maple and others are more efficient in that they burn hotter and longer, and they also burn cleaner than their pine, spruce and fir counterparts.  Unseasoned wood (wood that is not left out to dry for several months) will also produce more smoke and pollutants.  While units manage smoke well, the less they have to deal with in the first place, the better.

If you’re truly concerned about using wood in your fireplace, consider burning alternative items.  Several stoves are specially designed to burn pellets, which are made of compressed sawdust, and produce less waste.  Also think about using non-wood kindling like Java Logs.  These are all-natural, being made entirely out of coffee grounds, and release 66% less creosote and 78% less carbon monoxide than wood.

Never Burn Contaminated Items

Oftentimes we use various items to help kindle the fire.  A common tactic is to crumple up newspaper.  There are some items you don’t want to burn, though.  Old books, magazines with colored ink and cardboard are at the top of the list.  Anything that is chemically-treated is a no-no as well.  Varnished or painted wood, plastic and materials with glue should never be put into the fireplace.  All of these items contain toxins, which if they escape with the smoke will hurt the environment.

These are all great eco-friendly and safe habits to get into when using your fireplace.  Building a responsible fire requires many considerations, and these should help you get on the right track.  With so many other pollutants in our world, let’s reduce our environmental footprint by building clean fires!

By Ronald Caillais on November 6th, 2012 | Tagged with: Tags: , | Leave a Comment
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