Welcome to our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page! It’s our goal to educate our past, current, and future customers on the importance of a healthy chimney, so we’ve compiled some of the most commonly asked questions right here in one place. Feel free to browse through and, if you don’t see your particular question asked and answered here, please feel free to call us or reach out to us here on our website.
How often should I get my chimney cleaned?
This is usually the number one question we get asked, and it can be quite a loaded question. According to the National Fire Protection Agency code 211, “all chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year,” and “chimney cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.” There are many different types of heating systems and types of wood, as well as different burning habits, so it’s safe to say that no two chimneys will be the same. We have some customers who have their chimneys cleaned once a year, some who have their chimneys cleaned once every two years, and others who need theirs cleaned twice each year! The safest bet is to call for an inspection once the winter has ended, or at the very latest before the next winter begins. Based on what we find, we’ll be able to better tell you how often you’ll need to clean your chimney.
What if I don’t use my chimney?
Unused chimneys have the greatest potential for problems. Most often, homeowners tell us they haven’t had their chimneys inspected because they haven’t been used and, therefore, don’t need to be cleaned. But that’s not actually true. You should always have your chimney inspected, regardless of use.
Most chimneys vent the exhaust for the home’s heating furnace or boiler, which produces gases that are highly acidic and can corrode the chimney from the inside out if left unchecked.
Additionally, chimney brick and mortar are porous and tend to soak up all the water produced by heavy rain and snow. Once the temperature drops, the moisture freezes inside of the brick, and the freeze/thaw cycle begins. This process can force the brick and mortar to pop, crack, and fall apart, leading to costly masonry repairs.
If masonry damage goes unchecked because inspections aren’t scheduled annually, more water will continue to make its way into the chimney, flue, and even the home. And since it’s high above, most homeowners won’t call until they see evidence of damage from the ground. By then, problems usually require more substantial and costly repairs. So, the safest bet is to have your chimney inspected each and every year to ensure it’s structurally sound and free of moisture and damage.
What is creosote?
Creosote is one of the byproducts of burning wood. It forms when the smoke from the fire cools and sticks to the side of the chimney flue. It can take several different forms. The first type of creosote is a fine, ashy powder. The second is a harder, flaky deposit. And the third and final form is a thick, inky, tar-like substance. This third type, called “glazed creosote,” is the most dangerous.
What is a slow burn?
Creosote buildup depends on the following main factors: the density of the smoke, how quickly the smoke can exit the flue, and the temperature of the flue. Basically, a hotter fire that’s built of seasoned wood and receives plenty of air will result in less creosote. The problem is, many homeowners get the fire very hot, but then close the air intake, essentially choking the fire. The thought behind this is that the fire will burn slower, releasing more heat.
While this may be true, it’s extremely dangerous! A choked fire creates denser smoke, and since the air flow into the stove or fireplace has been cut off, the exit of that smoke is slowed. The result is a lot of thick, glazed creosote, and in some cases, a chimney fire.
It’s better and safer to start smaller and allow your fire to breathe. Never close the air intake more than halfway, and always make sure the damper is wide open.
What type of wood should I burn?
When buying wood, make sure you’re buying seasoned hardwood. “Seasoned” simply means that the wood was cut over a year ago and was allowed to dry out in that time. Green, or wet wood, is wood that was cut down recently and has not yet dried adequately. Wet wood is harder to light, and once lit, it will sizzle and pop. Wet or green wood will also cause more creosote to build up in the flue.
The best types of trees to use for firewood are maple, oak, and birch. Pine should never be used as a primary firewood, as it is a softer wood, and contains more sap.
How big of a problem is water?
Water is the most dangerous enemy your masonry chimney has. Water gets absorbed into the bricks and mortar, weakening the chimney, and causing the brick and mortar to crack, pop, and fall apart when the temperatures drop. Apart from solid masonry, every chimney should have three major defenses against water:
- A chimney cap — A properly fitted chimney cap will cover not just the flue, but the entire top of the chimney crown, and extend past the edge of the brick. This will keep the flue dry, but will also prevent water from soaking into the cement crown, the brick of the chimney, or the flashing below. Caps also serve to keep animals, birds, and debris from falling down into the flue.
- FlashSeal — Every chimney is tied to the roof with lead or copper flashing. Over time, that flashing can develop issues related to water and weather, animal chewing and scratching, and being stepped on. When damaged, the flashing can allow water to enter this vulnerable area, but FlashSeal can prevent these types of leaks. FlashSeal is an elastomeric sealant that is specifically formulated for permanent adhesion to asphalt shingles, aluminum flashing, brick, and other chimney and roofing materials. When professionally applied, the product carries a 7-year warranty.
- Masonry waterproofing — When water is absorbed by the brick and mortar of the chimney, it can lead to numerous issues and expensive repairs. The best way to prevent this altogether is to seal your masonry chimney with ChimneySaver Water Repellent. Once applied, this waterproof membrane stops the bricks from soaking up any more water while allowing the chimney to breathe out water vapors while it’s in use. This product comes with an industry-best 10-year warranty.
Once your chimney has been properly fitted with a cap, sealed with flashing and FlashSeal, and waterproofed, you can rest assured that water will not cause any chimney issues for you any time soon!
Why would I need a new liner?
Most chimneys rely on clay flue tile liners to vent the gases from the attached oil or wood-burning appliance. But unfortunately, these tiles wear down over time and crack or fall apart. Once a flue has cracked, it can allow smoke or fumes to escape the flue system and enter the home. The best way to repair this issue is to slide a brand new stainless steel liner down inside of the chimney flue.
Here at Ceaser Chimney Service, we use a continuous liner, not sections spliced together. Only stainless steel parts are used, so we know our liners will last a lifetime. Once the liner has been connected at the top and bottom of your chimney, you can heat your home with complete peace of mind!
I had a chimney fire! Now what?
A chimney fire can be terrifying, but the first thing you should do is get out of the home and call the fire department. They’ll come out to extinguish the fire and assess the damage. The next thing you should do is call a Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA)-certified chimney sweep to inspect the flue. When we inspect a chimney that has had a fire, we run a camera down into the flue to visually check every inch of the clay tiles. When clay tiles are exposed to extreme heat, they typically crack. If we find that the tile flue liner is cracked and damaged, a stainless steel liner can be installed so the chimney can be used again.
When I burn a fire in my living room, why do I get smoke in the basement?
During the winter, we commonly get calls because of smoke in the home. If the smoke is coming from the appliance, the cause is usually simple: something is wrong with the flue. But sometimes, the smoke will come from somewhere else in the house, like another fireplace or stove, or the basement. In this case, you’re experiencing something called cross-draft. This occurs when the appliance is looking for air to feed the fire, which we call make-up air.
Since houses are built air-tight and the windows and doors are all typically shut during the winter, the appliance will pull make-up air from any open source, typically another flue. As the appliance is pumping smoke out of one flue, the flue beside it begins to act like a vacuum and suck outside air, including the surrounding smoke, down into the home. There are several solutions for correcting cross-draft, but a complete inspection is needed to diagnose which is best.
What do I do about animals in my chimney?
During the cold winter months, many different animals seek warmth and find it in a chimney flue. Squirrels, birds, raccoons, and others tend to scamper down into the flue, only to become trapped. During the warmer months of the year, while the chimney is not being used, those same animals use chimney flues to build nests or start a home.
Unfortunately, we do not remove animals from chimneys, so you will need to contact animal control, and have them come out to escort them from your premises. Once the animals are gone, give us a call, and we’ll come out and inspect and/or clean the chimney. We can also install a chimney cap, which will prevent the animals from returning.
If you have birds chirping from your chimney in the spring and summer months, they could be Chimney Swifts. These birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and no one can disturb them from their nests. Once they leave of their own accord (when they migrate in the Fall), you’ll want to have your chimney swept and a new cap installed.