This a tougher question than it sounds. The simple answer is: The National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 says, "Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary." This is the national safety standard and is the correct way to approach the problem. It takes into account the fact that even if you don't use your chimney much, animals may build nests in the flue or there may be other types of deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use. The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be swept at 1/8" of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. This is considered to be enough fuel buildup to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or spreading to the home. Factory-built fireplaces should be swept when any appreciable buildup occurs. The logic is that the deposit is quite acidic and can shorten the life of the fireplace.
Q. My fireplace stinks, especially in the summer. What can I do?
The smell is due to creosote deposits in the chimney, a natural byproduct of woodburning. The odor is usually worse in the summer when the humidity is high and the air conditioner is turned on. A good sweeping will help but usually won't solve the problem completely. There are commercial chimney deodorants that work pretty well, and many people have good results with baking soda or even kitty litter set in the fireplace. The real problem is the air being drawn down the chimney, a symptom of overall pressure problems in the house. Some make-up air should be introduced somewhere else in the house. A tight sealing, top mounted damper will also reduce this air flow coming down the chimney.
Q. When I build a fire in my upstairs fireplace, I get smoke from the basement fireplace.
This has become quite a common problem in modern air tight houses where weather-proofing has sealed up the usual air infiltration routes. The fireplace in use exhausts household air until a negative pressure situation exists. If the house is fairly tight, the simplest route for makeup air to enter the structure is often the unused fireplace chimney. As air is drawn down this unused flue, it picks up smoke that is exiting nearby from the fireplace in use and delivers the smoke to the living area. The best solution is to provide makeup air to the house so the negative pressure problem no longer exists, thus eliminating not only the smoke problem, but also the potential for carbon monoxide to be drawn back down the furnace chimney. A secondary solution is to install a top mount damper on the fireplace that is used the least.
Q. I heat with gas. Should this chimney be checked too?
Without a doubt! Although gas is generally a clean burning fuel, the chimney can become non-functional from bird nests or other debris blocking the flue. Modern furnaces can also cause many problems with the average flues intended to vent the older generation of furnaces. We suggest you check the areas on gas and carbon monoxide for more information.
Q: What is level 3 creosote?
I have an 80 year old home that was a longtime rental house. I have lived here five years and have been using the fireplace for four of those years. I do not know how long it has been since my chimney was swept (potentially decades, if ever). I just had a chimney sweep at my house and he informed me that the creosote in my chimney was quite thick (he used the term "level 3" creosote). He also said that in the smoke chamber, the brick is stepped (instead of smooth) and that there is a lot of dangerous buildup in there. He recommended two applications of an acid cleaning (which he said are not entirely foolproof, and work better above 45°F) and that we use a chemical when we burn our fire to help "chalkify" the creosote buildup. He showed me the buildup inside with a light and everything he said seemed to make sense. Does this sound like it's on the up and up? I can't find any info on this acid cleaning and I would like to know if this sounds like it is the proper course of action in a case like mine.
What you have described sounds pretty typical. In addition to the chemical treatment that you mentioned, professional-grade chemicals, usually in the form of a powder, can be applied by chimney sweeps to help change the nature of the glazed creosote to a form that can be removed by a professional with a brush Both forms of these products require some heat such as you would find in a small fire in the fireplace. If the creosote is gummy, about the only way to deal with the creosote is with a chemical treatment or with an acid application. Acid applications are not as commonly used since they are harder to apply and have to be neutralized a few days after application. If the creosote is crusty or fractures when hit (as opposed to gummy) a rotary cleaning can be helpful. Read our position statement on chemical chimney cleaning products here.
Q: How do I know if he really cleaned my chimney?
In the past, sweeps we’ve hired have always gone on the roof, checked the flashing, the mortar and all the workings of the chimney and then cleaned the chimney from the top of the house. Today, this sweep came in, looked into my fireplace from the bottom and said we don’t need it cleaned because he can still see the bricks. I asked to have it cleaned anyway. He then grabbed a wire brush and simply rubbed away any buildup from the main opening to the fireplace without even going up into the chimney to clean anything. Am I way off base, or did the sweep charge me without cleaning my chimney?
Your past experiences with chimney sweeps sound as though the sweep did the job he was hired to do. However, your most recent experience sounds a bit odd. If the sweep agreed to do a complete sweeping and only cleaned the brick in the fireplace firebox, you did not get the service that you paid for. A complete chimney sweeping includes the chimney flue and smoke chamber. In the future you could ask for a Level 1 chimney inspection and a chimney sweeping. If the sweep doesn’t know what a Level 1 inspection is, find one that does. A Level 1 inspection is detailed in the National Fire Protection Association 211: Standard on Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents and Solid Fuel-Burning Appliances.
Q: How common is it that chimney liners cannot be seen from inside the fireplace using only a flashlight?
Is there some standard building requirement for the flue and the fireplace that you can't just look up from the fireplace and see the sky or chimney cap at the top of the chimney?
Flues are allowed to have up to 30 degree offsets. In most cases this will make a direct visual observation of the flue impossible. A video scan would be required to evaluate the flue condition. The height of the chimney flue is not a factor. There is a big difference in what is observed between a visual inspection and a video inspection, even in short flues.
Q: What stainless steel liners require insulation?
Liners for gas and oil-fired appliances do not require insulation to meet the manufacturers’ installation and warranty requirements. Because of the lower flue gas temperatures and lesser heat transfer they are less likely to catch surrounding combustible material on fire. Those that are used with solid fuel-burning appliances do, however. If combustible materials are in contact with the chimney there are provisions that allow the liner to be installed in what is defined as a zero/zero install. That means there may be zero clearance to the interior of the chimney and zero clearance to the exterior of the chimney . The insulation may be of the blanket type or an expanded mica or masonry insulation. There are some manufacturers that will list a liner for use without insulation if it conforms to the NFPA 211 construction requirements. The problem is that it is almost impossible to determine that without destroying the chimney. It makes much more sense to insulate every liner serving a wood burning appliance. Even gas and oil-fired appliances that are vented into an exterior chimney will benefit from insulating the liner.
Q: What's safe to burn in the fireplace? A: Only well-seasoned wood.
Watch the video below to see what happens when you burn holiday wrapping paper, a pizza box, and foam packaging. Q: I'm unsure how to work my damper. Can you should me how?
This is a common question. If the damper is not functioning correctly or if it’s closed, you’ve got a situation on your hands that may lead to a smoky room at best and a fire hazard at worst. The damper is a hinged metal plate or valve used to seal the fireplace when not in use. You want the damper to be fully open, and you want it to be in the open position before you light your fire, for obvious safety reasons."
Q: What is your position on chemical chimney cleaners?
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), a non-profit, educational institution focused on the prevention of chimney and venting hazards, is concerned about the consumer use of chemical chimney cleaning products to the exclusion of conventional chimney inspections and cleaning. These products often are promoted for their ability to remove a portion of the creosote from a masonry or metal chimney interior through catalytic action when burned in a fireplace or wood stove. The CSIA believes that the use of these products alone is not an adequate substitute for mechanical chimney cleaning and inspection because it does not provide the same level of protection to the chimney system. Current promotional claims for some of the products may be creating a false sense of security among consumers.
It is the consensus of qualified experts that chimney maintenance is best achieved through annual inspections, and mechanical sweeping, by trained professional chimney sweeps as frequently as needed. Chimney inspections often reveal hidden problems with a chimney structure that could be potentially hazardous. Mechanical sweeping of chimneys not only removes layers of creosote from the chimney surface, it removes the resulting loose soot and creosote from the chimney, fireplace, or wood stove. A substantial percentage of fireplace and wood stove chimneys do not provide a straight path from the firebox to the outside. If chemical chimney cleaning products perform as claimed and cause debris in the chimney to fall, that debris still needs to be removed from the smoke shelf, baffle, catalytic combustor, or offset in order to ensure a properly functioning chimney.
Chemical products that claim to clean or assist in cleaning chimneys are not new. Indeed some of these chemical products are used successfully by professional chimney sweeps in conjunction with the mechanical cleaning of a chimney. In some situations a chimney can develop a hard or tacky layer of creosote in the chimney that cannot be removed by normal mechanical brushing. Under the supervision of a qualified chimney professional certain chemical cleaners may be used to change the chemical composition of the hard or tacky layer of creosote into a brittle or powdery condition to facilitate its removal. CSIA believes that the optimal method for cleaning a chimney is by a mechanical brushing of the chimney in conjunction with a complete evaluation of the system by a qualified chimney professional. The CSIA and the National Fire Protection Association recommend annual inspections
Clothes dryer venting
Imagine waking up to see that your house is on fire—and then to find out later that the fire could have been easily prevented. The culprit: Your clothes dryer! According to the National Fire Protection Association, this common household appliance was the cause of more than 15,500 U.S. home fires in 2010. Lint and other debris can build up in your dryer hose and vent duct, reducing air flow, backing up exhaust gases and eventually creating a fire. These hazards can be avoided by thoroughly inspecting and cleaning your dryer vent every year. (This is particularly true if your dryer vent duct was not designed or installed properly.) Not only are you reducing the risk of fire, you’re also putting money back into your wallet by improving the dryer’s efficiency. 5 Warning Signs that it’s Time to Clean Your Clothes Dryer Vent.
1. Drying time for clothes takes longer and longer.When a dryer vent is clogged, the drying cycle can double or triple in time. You’ll notice that clothes are not completely dry at the end of a regular cycle. A dryer is designed to push out the hot moist air for clothing to dry. If your vent is blocked by lint, the air will stay in your dryer keeping your clothes hot and moist. And when it takes twice as long to dry clothes, your dryer runs longer, putting more wear and tear on it and therefore cutting the machine’s life in half.
2. Your clothing and the outside of the dryer are very hot.Do you notice that your clothing is very hot at the end of a cycle or the dryer is hot to touch? This warning sign means the vent is not exhausting properly. If your system is clogged, it not only wastes energy, but can cause the heating element and blower in the dryer to wear out faster.
3. You notice a burning smell.When you run your dryer do you smell a burning odor? Lint, which is very flammable, can build up in the exhaust tube, lint trap and even in the drum casing. If it gets too hot, it can catch on fire, causing a burning smell. (Remember to empty the lint trap often). Discontinue use of your dryer and have it inspected as soon as possible. 4. The vent hood flap doesn’t open properly.Another visual red flag that you’re due for a cleaning: You can see lint or debris around the dryer hose or outside vent opening: or the duct hood flap does not open as it is designed to do. An outside vent that doesn’t open when the dryer is running means air flow has been restricted due to lint buildup.
5. It’s been longer than a year since your last inspection.Dryer vent ducts should be inspected at least once a year to reduce the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. If you hire a professional to clean your vent, expect to pay between $75 to $150, depending on the length and location of the vent. If the exterior exhaust vent is easily accessible, you can try cleaning it yourself with a brush kit.
Some of the DIY cleaning kits do not always properly clean the vent duct. One advantage to hiring an experienced professional is he or she has likely seen just about every make and model of dryer and has the appropriate brush and equipment to effectively do the job.
If you’ve tried cleaning your vent system and still have the above issues, then it could mean you need to have your vent rebuilt or repaired. Lint should not build up in your dryer if your duct system is properly designed and installed. If you haven’t had your system inspected and cleaned for several years, be proactive and get it done today!
Serving All Of Madison And The Surrounding Area For 24 Year