Total Chimney Care's Blog

The Best Time to Sweep the Chimney

Fall is almost halfway over with the recent start of November. The cold weather has officially set in, with some parts of the country having already experienced snowfall. Everyone is looking to stay warm, especially with the upcoming winter forecasted to be frigid again like last year. For homeowners with fireplaces, keeping warm this winter might involve stoking a few indoor fires. A popular question among homeowners looking to take proper care of their fireplace or wood-burning stove and chimney is when the best time is to schedule a chimney cleaning. While this cannot be answered as simply as listing a month or season, the question of when to sweep the chimney does have some answers.

Sweep the Chimney - New Haven CT - Total Chimney

The first factor to deciding when to clean the chimney is safety. If the chimney is too dirty to use safely, it should be swept prior to the first fire at all costs. A chimney becomes dirty after burning wood in the fireplace. Burning wood creates a tarlike product called creosote that condenses and builds up along the flue lining inside the chimney. Burning wet wood or burning with inadequate oxygen supply can lead to higher creosote production. The problem with creosote is its high flammability, which can lead to chimney fires if the creosote is left to build up. A quick way to test the safeness of creosote buildup is to scratch a small area of creosote from the surface of the flue. If the buildup looks to be an 1/8 inch or thicker, a chimney sweep should be scheduled very soon. If the buildup is a ¼ inch or thicker, no fire should be lit until the chimney has been swept. If there is any question over the safety of the creosote levels, a chimney specialist should be consulted.

Another factor to consider is convenience. Most people only use the fireplace in the fall, winter, and early spring, so the most convenient time to clean normally occurs at the beginning of fall or the end of summer – just prior to needing the fireplace. However, chimney sweeps often offer an incentive to have the sweep done at the end of fire season, in the early spring, by reducing prices. This price differential may win some homeowners over in spite of the convenience.

The determining reason for when to sweep the chimney should be the safety of burning a fire with the chimney in its current condition. While money and convenience deserve some consideration, the wellbeing of the home and family always comes first. If you need to have your chimney swept before the upcoming fireplace season, get in touch with a chimney specialist near you. In the New Haven or Fairfield, Connecticut areas, you can contact Total Care Chimney for a professional consultation.

By Steve Sobczak on November 9th, 2014 | Tagged with: Tags: , , , | Leave a Comment

Stinky Fireplace?

Annoying Fireplace and Chimney Odor

Summer means warm weather and lots of outdoor fun. However, it also means that many of our customers begin to have a foul-smelling fireplace. Why? Because when your fireplace is out of use, all the accumulation from last winter can begin to cause odors.

There can be many reasons for a smelly fireplace. Regardless of the cause, call us and let us schedule a cleaning and inspection.

There can be many reasons for a smelly fireplace. Regardless of the cause, call us and let us schedule a cleaning and inspection.

To answer their questions and to provide useful information for the future use and reference of other homeowners, here are a few information regarding chimney odors:

What are fireplace and chimney odors?

Some of you may not be able to distinguish the smell right away. Chimney or fireplace odors, sometimes also referred to as smoke odors, basically have a characteristic campfire-like smell, but it’s not only limited to that kind of smell. The distinct smell may also vary depending on the severity of the problem in your chimney and on the cause and actual source of the smell.

What causes these odors?

One source of these odors stem from creosote deposits. Put simply, creosote is a chemical byproduct from the process of burning wood. And since the chimney is a place where wood burning is normal, you should expect creosote to be part of the package.

So basically, these creosote deposits stick in your chimney walls and in your flue. During rainy and humid weathers, or even when we turn the air conditioner on, it promotes the accumulation of moisture inside your chimney. Moisture mixed with the creosote deposits produces a musky odor that would intensify depending on the level of creosote accumulation in your chimney and on the moisture content in the room.

Another cause could be attributed to chimney molds that grow due to the damp environment of your chimney when water or moisture gets inside. It could also be because of blockages caused not only by creosote, but also by debris, animals, and other natural elements.

How can we remedy this predicament?

Since creosote formation is unavoidable as much as the weather is beyond our control, there is only one possible solution to our problems – prevention. How can we prevent this? It’s easy. We just need to look for a chimney professional certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America and schedule regular inspections and sweeping. We also have the option to have a chimney cap installed so that nothing can go inside. Not only are we able to keep our chimneys clean and odor-free, we are also well updated when it comes to our chimney’s current status. So whenever there are damages, we can have them fixed before the situation goes out of hand.

Creosote F.A.Q.

Fireplaces are designed to safely contain a wood-fueled fire, while, at the same time, heating your home.  Chimneys are designed to expel the substances—smoke, water vapor, gases, etc.—produced from your wood fire.  As these substances are ushered up and out of your house, another substance is formed in the process; that substance is known as creosote.

Do you have questions about creosote removal? Feel free to call us with any chimney-related concerns.

Do you have questions about creosote removal? Feel free to call us with any chimney-related concerns.

You’re probably asking yourself, “what exactly is creosote, and why is it dangerous to allow it to accumulate inside your chimney?”  It’s fairly easy to explain.  Creosote is a sticky chemical residue—somewhat similar to watery tar—that is formed when wood is burned at lower-than-optimal temperatures and is capable of building up within your chimney, thereby decreasing the amount of open space through which exhaust gases and smoke can pass.

Increased amounts of creosote are formed from burning unseasoned softwoods in your fireplace than properly seasoned hardwoods as well.  The residue begins as unburned oil in the form of gas.  As this gas exits the fireplace and flows up into the relatively cooler chimney, condensation occurs.  When the condensation dries, it gradually hardens, taking the following forms: Stage 1 creosote (velvety soot), Stage 2 creosote (porous and crunchy), and Stage 3 creosote (shiny, rock-hard glaze).  This buildup is a definite fire hazard.

Fresh layers of creosote can build up rapidly, accumulating quickly when previously deposited layers of creosote don’t dry completely.  These newly formed layers insulate the older layers from the heat of the rising wood exhaust, which eventually dries them and creates a heavy buildup of sticky creosote that eventually solidifies completely; this results in a rock-solid layer of creosote is often referred to as glaze.

Depending on the internal dimensions of your chimney, this buildup can seriously restrict the flow of air, which can lead to smoke buildup in the fireplace as well as in your house.  This reduced airflow can also cause your fires to burn cooler, as they’re not able to get the necessary amount of oxygen for increased combustion; all of this results in additional creosote buildup inside your chimney.

Creosote becomes dangerous when it is allowed to accumulate in your chimney because it turns into a fuel source for a possible deadly chimney fire.  The build up of creosote can never be avoided completely; however, burning small, hot fires and using dry, seasoned wood can minimize the buildup.

Sooner or later, every chimney needs to be cleaned, as this is the only way to truly remove dangerous creosote buildup.  It is highly recommended that you leave this task to a CSIA Certified chimney sweep to ensure that the job is done properly.  The frequency for your cleanings will depend on the amount of use your fireplace receives, but it should never be any longer than a year between cleanings.

Remember: a clean chimney is far less likely to catch fire than a dirty one.  So what are you waiting for?  Call Total Chimney Care today to schedule an appointment to have your chimney cleaned so you can enjoy the cold-weather months with a little additional peace of mind.

Burning the Right Kind of Wood

A burning question for many homeowners with fireplaces is which types of wood are okay to burn and which are not.  There is no simple answer to this question, as the options available to you are quite numerous.  Nevertheless, they type of wood you burn has a direct effect on how quickly your chimney will need a cleaning.

Make sure that once you have the right firewood, you are storing it in a way that keeps in dry.

Make sure that once you have the right firewood, you are storing it in a way that keeps in dry.

There are two basic types of firewood, softwood and hardwood.  Softwoods—pines, spruces and firs—start burning easily.  Typically, these woods have less potential BTU [British Thermal Unit] energy than hardwoods.  Softwoods also smoke much more than their hardwood counterparts.  The one true advantage softwood has is that it lights very quickly because it’s less dense; this quality makes it an excellent choice for kindling for any fire.  Hardwoods—oaks, maples and cedars—on the other hand, don’t start burning quite as easily but burn for a long time.  Per square inch, when compared to softwoods, they have much more BTU potential than other types of wood and, therefore, burn hotter and more steadily.

The easiest and best fire is built by using a mixture of both softwoods and hardwoods.  A bed of ashes underneath the grate produces steady heat and aids in igniting new fuel as it‘s added.  This will ensure that the fire will continue burning as long as small amounts of wood are added at regular intervals.  As a matter of fact, more efficient wood burning results from burning small loads of wood with sufficient air than from burning large loads of wood with minimal air.

It’s also important to season your firewood, whether it’s hard or soft, as all of it contains moisture.  Seasoning takes place when the moisture content in the wood reaches equilibrium with that of the surrounding air.  A common method of seasoning wood is simply stacking it outdoors in a spot that allows for good air circulation and is dry, sunny and open for approximately six months out of the year.  Seasoning in this manner will produce wood that is dry enough to support efficient combustion and has a higher heating value than unseasoned wood.

It is far more important that your firewood be dry and seasoned as compared to what type of wood you’re burning.  Having both soft and hardwood on hand is a good idea.  You can use the softer woods for kindling and for fires during cooler months when only a small amount of heat output is desired and save the harder woods for the coldest months.  Keeping these things in mind will make you a much happier homeowner and will make the cold months of the year much more enjoyable for you and your family.

By Steve Sobczak on September 29th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment

Identifying the Dangers of Creosote

After wood or coal has burned in a fireplace over a period of time, the family is likely to be exposed to the dangers of creosote. Creosote is a chemical that is left behind on the fireplace and in the chimney after these materials have been burned. It is important for homeowners to be aware of this potential problem and to maintain their fireplaces accordingly.

Creosote Buildup - New Haven CT - Total Chimney Care

Image courtesy of Dennis Lamb of The Mad Hatter Chimney Service in Indianapolis IN

If there is a possibility that the dangers of creosote are present, the first step is to look inside the chimney. It is easy to see an accumulation of this dangerous chemical inside of the chimney and the fireplace. If it appears to have built up to an amount of more than one eighth of an inch, it may be time for a good cleaning.

Of course, getting a good look inside of the chimney requires the inspector to climb up into the roof. The majority of creosote accumulation is going to be found near the top of the chimney, not at the base near the fireplace. For safety and convenience reasons, it is a good idea for homeowners to hire professional chimney and fireplace inspectors to handle this for them.

If the inspection shows that there is, in fact, a dangerous amount of creosote  in the fireplace, this is not a cleaning job that homeowners should take on themselves. Cleaning a chimney is a complicated task and should be left to someone who is specifically trained for the job. An inexperienced person may not only put themselves and the chimney at risk, but they will most likely end up having to call a professional anyway.

The presence of creosote in a chimney or fireplace can pose a significant risk to the health and well-being of the family. A homeowner who is unsure as to whether or not they are at risk should call a professional to inspect their chimney. When taking care of a creosote problem, it is best to hire a certified chimney sweep.

By Steve Sobczak on May 28th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment