A number of factors go into maintaining both the safety and overall condition of your chimney.
We know that hazards like residue buildup can cause problems, but many of us don’t remember the smaller nuisances—chimney pests. A number of unwanted critters can find their way into your chimney, so let’s talk about what those are and how to rid yourself of them.
Birds in the Chimney
If there is an opening in your chimney, birds often find it tempting to make their way inside. One notable pest affecting residents in the Charlotte NC area is the chimney swift. Chimney swifts are little brownish black birds with a penchant for building nests the chimney. Unfortunately, once a swift makes its way into your chimney, you’ll likely be stuck with it for a few weeks, as chimney swift chicks hang about the nest for 14-18 days. Having these birds in the chimney can be quite annoying—they’re vocal little buggers!
When you find yourself
plagued by chimney swifts, which are classified as a Threatened species, there isn’t much that you may legally do about it. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal regulation, prevents removal of chimney swift eggs and chicks. To remove the birds by means chemical or otherwise would require a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The best you can do with swifts is to clean up after they’ve gone. Technicians can be called in later to clean up and remove nest remnants from the chimney. Chimney swifts and most other birds are less likely to return to a nesting location if the nest has been removed.
Animals in the Chimney
Several animals can get into your chimney, including squirrels and bats. A particularly pesky intruder in the Charlotte area is the raccoon. Raccoons, usually females, make their way into chimneys to birth and care for pups. Crafty as they are, mother raccoons sometimes succeed in not only getting inside the chimney, but passing through the smoke shelf or right above the fireplace. If they’ve gotten this far, there’s a good chance of eventually making their way into your home. If not, you’ll likely have to at least contend with various animal odors.
A raccoon is an animal
you never want to have hanging around, as they are notorious for carrying a variety of diseases. Raccoons are home to bugs like fleas and ticks, which you or your pets can get, and also diseases like rabies and roundworm.
Luckily, there are ways to remove mama and her babies from the chimney. If you don’t mind the smell, items like predator urine may get rid of raccoons. A humane method of removal is the live trap. Raccoon trapping must be done by a professional in North Carolina. You’ll likely want to trap the mother while she passes through the chimney liner or even attempt to scare her out in some manner. The babies don’t put up much of a fight quite yet, so it’s pretty simple to reach up the fireplaces and grab them.
The Ultimate Protection
The absolute best way to protect your chimney, fireplace, and ultimately your home from pest intrusion is to make sure you have a chimney cap. If the top of the chimney is not closed off, you’re just asking for something to get inside it. The best bet is to install a chimney cap that has an attached wire netting that will act as an additional barrier between pests and the chimney.
Obviously several chimney animals wish to invade your home, and they can be quite a nuisance. From loud chirping to unpleasant odors, these pests can create huge problems. Take proper measures to protect your home. Doing this will ensure that you won’t have to deal with birds or raccoons in the first place!
Here is the most recent trick that chimney companies are using to sell chimney liners. The chimney technician video inspects your chimney. While he’s out there, he takes “still photos” of your chimney liners. The technician returns to his office and they send you a report that states you have severe chimney liner damage. The problem is that the photograph they send you may be from a completely different chimney! A good chimney sweep company will discuss your chimney problems with you while they are performing the inspection. Buyer beware!
How do you know that you need a chimney liner?
Many homeowners may have had a chimney sweep recommend to have a chimney liner installed. The truth to the matter is that sometimes, chimney sweeps push liners on home owners. They may use scare tactics or automatically perform video inspections on every chimney. NFPA 211 recommends video inspections if the chimney has experienced chimney malfunctions (chimney fire), changing of appliances or on the sale of the home. There have been cases where chimney sweeps have manipulate cameras to illuminate “water marks” to look like cracked flue tiles. Make sure that you are watching the chimney camera monitor while the sweep is performing the inspection. The inspection of a chimney is common sense. If it looks like a crack, it’s likely a crack.
Getting to Know the Parts of Your Chimney is a Good Idea.
A fireplace is a great feature in your home, and it’s one that you don’t want to take any chances with on safety. Are you familiar with all the parts of your chimney? There’s more to a chimney than what you may think. It’s a good idea to become familiar with your chimney’s anatomy; that way you can troubleshoot if any problematic issues come up. Not only that, but you’ll understand the importance of
hiring a professional chimney sweep. NC/SC Certified Chimney Sweeps are thoroughly familiar with all the parts of your chimney, and you can trust them with the care and maintenance of every internal and external component.
Chimney Damper– The part of your fireplace that you use to close it off when it isn’t being used is called the “chimney damper.” These doors inside your chimney are either pulley-activated or lever-activated. Closing the doors serves several good purposes, such as preventing the air conditioning or heating inside your home from escaping and stopping rainwater from getting inside. Sometimes the chimney damper is the only line of defense to stop animals and birds from getting into your home when the fireplace isn’t in use. Even more important than closing the chimney damper when the fireplace isn’t being used is opening it before starting a fire. If you don’t open the chimney damper, smoke from the fireplace will billow into your home.
Smoke Chamber– An important aspect of the anatomy of a chimney is the smoke chamber. This feature gently compresses smoke from your fireplace into the flue passage while at the same time not creating backdraft. The smoke chamber is typically created with a sloping wall just above the fireplace. A well-designed smoke chamber will essentially evacuate combustion byproducts smoothly and efficiently.
Smoke Shelf– The smoke shelf is located behind the chimney damper. Its purpose is to catch falling debris and any water that may seep down into your chimney. The smoke shelf helps with the important job of transitioning large billows of smoke from the fireplace into the narrower space in the flue of your chimney. It also assists with preventing downdrafts.
Chimney Flue– Moving on up the chimney, the flue is the primary passage through which the combustion gases are vented to the out-of-doors.
Chimney Flue Lining– A flue liner is important in that it protects the chimney’s masonry and the wood surrounding the home. It does this partly by minimizing the amount of flammable debris which attaches to the walls. A flue liner is typically constructed of clay tile, ceramic, or stainless steel. Wood burning fireplaces often have ceramic flue liners because the ceramic resists corrosion, is easy to clean, and it provides excellent insulation. Over time, debris does attach to the flue lining and creosote (natural byproduct of burning) build up occurs, which is one of the reasons to hire a professional chimney sweep on a regular basis.
Chimney Chase– A chimney chase is the factory-made metal casing through which a factory-made chimney pipe is run.
Chimney Crown– The top of your chimney is called the “chimney crown.” It is designed to protect the chimney’s bricks from impairment such as water damage. Chimney crowns are usually constructed of cement.We posted a video of a cement chimney crown being finished up and a brand new custom chimney cap being installed in the wet cement here.
Chimney Cap– The chimney cap is, in effect, a metal roof above your chimney. The number one function of the cap is to prevent water from going down your chimney. Caps often include screens, which are helpful in stopping birds and small animals from being able to nest in your chimney.
As you can see from this partial list, chimney systems are a bit complicated. That means there are also a lot of things that can go wrong too. Call Chris Brown (704)526-6348 for your annual chimney inspections to be sure that everything keeps running smoothly and safely throughout the year.
Hearing something in your chimney? Birds and squirrels are a common occurrence in an uncapped chimney. In Charlotte North Carolina, this time of year is Chimney Swift season and more than likely what you are hearing are swifts. Unfortunately, removing a Chimney Swift or its nest from your chimney isn’t as easy as you may think.
Unfortunately, Chimney Swifts are a federally protected bird and we are not allowed to disturb them while they are nesting. As long as you have regularly maintained your chimney, a Chimney Swift poses no health hazard to you because unlike other birds, they do not spread histoplasmosis.
Chimney Swifts make their nests in masonry chimneys that don’t have a stainless steel liner. They are not able to perch themselves horizontally on tree branches like other birds. They instead use their claws to grab hallow surfaces. The noise you are hearing this time of year is more than likely the parents feeding the babies. The parents are usually quiet, it’s the babies that you hear chirping and once they are loud enough to hear they are about 2 weeks from leaving the nest. Once you notice the noise is gone (usually around mid August), we will be more than happy to come out and remove the nest. While we are there, we’ll install a cap for you so you don’t have an issue again. Until then, make sure your damper is closed all the way (or close the hole where the pipe enters the chimney). If the noise is too loud for you to ignore, you may want to try putting a piece of foam or insulation up against the damper.
Time For A Chimney Cap
Swifts usually come back to the same nesting place each year and mate with the same partner. A new cap will not only keep Chimney Swifts from returning, it also keeps the elements from entering your flue and prolongs the life of your chimney.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is slightly lighter than air, so carbon monoxide alarms are effective when placed on the ceiling or high up on a wall.
There’s a myth that all carbon monoxide alarms should be installed lower on the wall because carbon monoxide is heavier than air. In fact, carbon monoxide is slightly lighter than air and diffuses evenly throughout the room.
According to the carbon monoxide guidelines of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 720, 2005 edition), all carbon monoxide alarms “shall be centrally located outside of each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms,” and each alarm “shall be located on the wall, ceiling or other location as specified in the installation instructions that accompany the unit.”
Standalone carbon monoxide alarms are often placed low on the wall, but it’s not because they’re more effective at that height. It’s usually because they need to be plugged into an outlet near the floor or have a digital readout that can be easily read.
Also keep in mind not to install carbon monoxide detectors directly above or beside fuel-burning appliances, as appliances may emit a small amount of carbon monoxide upon start-up. A carbon monoxide detector should not be placed within fifteen feet of heating or cooking appliances or in or near very humid areas such as bathrooms. –Chris Brown, Master Chimney Sweep
Many people complain about an odor that comes from their chimneys even when a fire is not burning or has not been for a long period of time. All fireplaces have some type of odor, but a normal working fireplace will send the smell up and out of the chimney with the draft before it seeps into the home. If you have a smell coming in from your fireplace, it means that air from the outside is being sucked into the room. There are two fixes for this problem, one is to not allow the smelly air to come into the home and the other is to get rid of the smell in the first place.
A fireplace inspection and sweep is a good first step to any smell issue, as it will remove excess creosote and rule out other common problems that may have caused the smell. Fallen leaves and rotting animals or animal scat will be found and removed with a chimney cleaning thus eliminating these options as a cause for the smell. While a thorough cleaning and inspection are helpful, they do not always take care of the problem. For issues with creosote, it is difficult to completely remove the build up as it seeps into the stone masonry. Also, moisture problems and air pressure issues may still remain. Therefore other actions must be taken to rid the home of the smell all together. If your fireplace and chimney has not been cleaned in some time, the built up creosote and soot when combined with humid, summer heat and moisture from rain will produce an unpleasant odor as well. Annual chimney sweeping will prevent this build up from occuring.The two most common causes of fireplace odors are water seeping into the chimney and negative air pressure in the home causing the smells to enter the room rather than leave the chimney through the roof. To first ensure that water is not the problem, check and make sure you have a rain cap covering the top of the chimney flue. Ideally you want the exterior of the chimney to be as waterproof as possible and not allow moisture or humidity into the chimney shaft. Adding a rain cap to the chimney not only prevents against excess moisture in the chimney, but it also provides a barrier to prevent animals and debris from falling into the chimney. While the water issue has a relatively easy fix, solving the negative air pressure problem is slightly more complex.
This negative air pressure can cause odors to enter the home, no matter what the cause. To resolve this issue, you must compensate for what is causing the negative pressure in your home. This problem is more prominent during the warmer months after weatherizing has been done to the home or venting changes and improvements have been made. These all change the air pressure in the home and may cause the negative air pressure that creates the need for additional air to be brought through the fireplace and into the home.The change in pressure inside the home could come from new furnace installation; windows, dryers, new roofing, bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans, or other similar home improvements. When the home has negative air pressure, more air must come into the home to make up for this and the path with the least resistance is most commonly through the fireplace.
To correct the negative air pressure problem, start by following these simple steps. There are many different ways to do this, but the most effective method is a combination of a couple of the steps until you reach the right balance that stops the smell from being drawn out into the house. Start with the simple solutions.
1. Close the fire damper when the fireplace is not in use. While this will sometimes solve the problem, most dampers are not perfectly sealed, so they problem may still occur.
2. Have a glass fire screen installed to keep the warm air from escaping when there is a fire in the fireplace.
3. A top sealing damper installed onto the top of the chimney that is controlled by a metal chain that hangs down the chimney to the hearth. These can be a huge help in monitoring the airflow.
4. Provide outside combustion air to combustion appliances that cause the unbalance in the air pressure.On a cold winter day, the smell of burning logs and the heat from a hot crackling fire creates the perfect combination, but any other day of the year, the fireplace should simply be a fixture to be seen and nothing else. Don’t let an obtrusive smell draw unnecessary attention to your fireplace. Call Chris Brown at Affordable Chimney Service for more information.
It is one of the most valued features in our homes. And all too often, the fireplace is labeled “non-working” and sits unused, because the homeowner doesn’t know what to do about a smoking problem. Here I will show how most smoking problems can be handled relatively easily, with little or no expense. We’ll cover:
Smoky fireplace startups
The most common smoking troubles occur when the fire is first lit. If your fireplace smokes only during startup, but is okay after that, here are some possibilities:
The purpose of the fireplace damper is to prevent heat loss when the fireplace is not being used. Don’t forget to open it before you start a fire. But when the fire is completely out (usually sometime the following day), don’t forget to close it. An open damper is like an open window, allowing huge amounts of heated air to escape. When you are ready to light a fire, open the damper completely. Some people try to operate the fireplace with the damper closed partially, in an effort to get more heat into the room. But you won’t gain much, if anything, by closing it partially, and you might gain a house full of smoke! No matter how you operate it, a standard open fireplace is not an efficient heater. Its purpose is atmosphere and entertainment. So forget about efficiency. Open that damper, and leave it open until the fire is out.
The flue will be cold when you first open the damper. This is especially true in fireplace chimneys built on the outside of the house, rather than up the middle of the house. A tall column of cold air in the flue will tend to sink, causing air to move down the chimney and into the house. So if you open the damper and feel cold air coming down the chimney, don’t light the fire! If you do, smoke might be forced back into the house. What you need is a tall column of warm air in the chimney. So first, prime the flue.
How to prime the fireplace flue
Roll up a piece of newspaper, light one end, and hold it way up in the damper opening. You might need to burn two rolls of paper. In a minute or so, you will feel the draft reverse, as the warm flue gasses start to move up the flue. Once you have primed the flue, you can light the fire. If you have a severe cold-chimney problem, and the newspaper trick doesn’t seem to be working, try leaving the damper open for half an hour or so, allowing heated room air to gradually reverse the flow. Yeah, that’s a lot of cold air coming down. But remember, this thing is for entertainment, not heat. Right? You can use the half hour to chill a nice bottle of champagne…
Sometimes a smoking problem is caused by a partial or complete blockage of the flue. Animal nests, leaves and debris, or internal collapse of chimney brickwork can cause blockages. If you think your chimney may be blocked, or if you haven’t had it checked by a chimney professional within the past year, make an appointment for achimney check. Your chimney professional is qualified to identify and correct chimney blockages, and to check your chimney for other hazards as well. replace without it, before you start changing things. But a cap’s important, so make necessary corrections and re-install it promptly.
Fireplaces and wood-stoves are designed to safely contain wood fueled fires, while providing heat for a home. The chimneys that serve them have the job of expelling the by-products of combustion (substances given off when the wood burns). These substances include smoke, water vapor, gases, unburned wood particles, hydrocarbon volatiles, tar fog and assorted minerals. As these substances exit the fireplace, wood-stove, or furnace and flow up into the relatively cooler chimney, condensation occurs. The resulting residue that sticks to the inner walls of the chimney is called creosote.
The buildup of creosote in your fireplace, wood-stove, and chimney is unavoidable. A natural byproduct of the wood burning process, creosote forms a black/brown crusty, powdery, flaky, tar like, drippy and sticky or hard and shiny glazed coating on the inside of your chimney. It is not uncommon to see all forms of creosote in one flue system. What ever form it presents itself, creosote is highly combustible and a potential fire hazard: it’s the primary fuel in most chimney fires.
During a chimney fire, the outside surface of the chimney can become hot enough to ignite the surrounding walls, floor joists, rafters, insulation, or roofing materials. Suddenly, this can develop into an uncontrolled structure fire.
Even without a chimney fire, creosote and soot can reduce the draft and diminish the efficiency of your heating system.
Certain conditions encourage the buildup of creosote. Restricted air supply, unseasoned/wet wood and cooler than normal chimney temperatures are all factors that can accelerate the buildup of creosote on flue walls. Air supply on fireplaces may be restricted by closed glass doors or by failure to open the damper wide enough to move heated smoke up the chimney rapidly. [The longer the smoke lingers in the chimney, the more likely it is that creosote will build up in the flue]
Burning dry, seasoned, wood allows for higher burning temperatures. If the wood is not seasoned, energy is used to initially drive off the water trapped in the cells of the (unseasoned) logs, which also results in cooler smoke temperatures.
Burning hot fires with dry, seasoned, wood can ultimately help lower the amounts of creosote accumulation.
Look at the joint between the house siding and an exterior chimney. If a gap has opened up, it’s a pretty sure sign the chimney has begun to lean. Previous owners may have filled the gap with mortar, caulk, or foam insulation, but these measures only mask the problem. You may also see metal straps that have been used to fasten the chimney in place. If your chimney runs through the interior of the house, look in the attic to see if it is centered in its framed opening. If it’s pressing against the opening to one side or another, that means it is leaning.
Leaks due to dislodged flashing are another sign that a chimney has
settled. You may also use a long level to check whether the chimney is plumb (vertical in two planes). Alternatively, check the horizontal mortar joints for level.
Be aware, however, that some chimneys are designed to “tilt”. If the fireplace is not centered, the builder may have chosen to offset the brick courses so the chimney could exit at the roof ridge, giving the house a more symmetrical appearance. In some cases, the offset is slight and it looks like tilting, but as long as the horizontal mortar joints are level, you can rest assured that the chimney was built that way.
Masonry chimneys weigh many tons, and that weight is concentrated on a small area. So a chimney needs to be built on a concrete footing, sometimes called a chimney pad, in order to keep from sinking. (A chimney may be attached to the house for stability as well, but that’s not what’s holding it up.) The footing may be poured at the same time as the foundation or afterwards, as would be the case if the chimney were an add-on.
A number of things can cause a footing to fail and undermine a chimney. They include:
– Undersized footing. To ensure stability, the footing should be at least one-foot-thick and project six inches beyond the chimney on all sides.
– Poor soil. Loose soil and soils that expand and contract with changing water content (called expansive soils) will not bear the load of the chimney. Erosion and placement on backfilled soil may also weaken support.
– Shallow footing. If the ground beneath a footing freezes and expands, the resulting heaving will weaken the footing.
– Deteriorated footing. Concrete may crack due to water infiltration and repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Poor concrete quality, lack of reinforcement (rebar), or improperly installed rebar may also cause footings to crack.
– Missing footing. In such cases, the chimney will need to be stabilized, so a footing can be poured beneath it.
Foundation repair companies often use steel helical piers to stabilize and sometimes straighten leaning chimneys without dismantling them.
Helical piers look a little like giant screws and can be installed with hydraulic rotary drive equipment. The piers are driven deep under your chimney until they reach a firm, load-bearing soil strata. Brackets are then placed on the piers and slipped under the chimney footing.
Once in place, hydraulic jacks are used to slowly lift the chimney back into its original position. The bracket is then secured to the pier and the jacks are removed. Because helical piers do not require excavation and bring up nothing in the way of spoils (stone and soil), your yard is virtually undisturbed.