Total Chimney Care's Blog

Avoid Late-Season Chimney Fires

The fire-burning season is largely over, but check your chimney before you light one last fire for the season. While you might worry about chimney fires when your fireplace is in full force for the season, you actually run the biggest risk for chimney fires late in the season. Here’s why late-season chimney fires are fairly common.

Why Chimney Fires are More Common in the Late Season

The saying goes that clean chimneys don’t catch fire. After a season’s worth of house-warming fires, your chimney isn’t clean anymore. Every time you burn a fire, the smoke from the fire cools as it travels up the chimney. This forms condensation on the walls of the chimney. That condensation hardens into creosote. Creosote is a highly flammable substance. If creosote has built up on your chimney thicker than 1/8 of an inch, it can ignite due to extreme heat from your fireplace or from a stray ember that makes its way up your chimney. You can check the level of creosote in your chimney by reaching inside and scraping off a small piece of creosote. If the depth of your scratch or the thickness of the piece of creosote is greater than 1/8 of an inch, call your chimney sweep.

How to Prevent Late-Season Chimney Fires

The key to preventing late-season chimney fires, or any chimney fire, is to keep your chimney clean. Most homeowners clean their chimney once per year in the fall. If you use your chimney heavily throughout the winter months, you might consider having a mid- or late-season chimney sweeping. This ensures that the creosote within your chimney hasn’t built up to potentially dangerous levels. A late-season chimney sweeping is especially wise if you tend to burn fires into the spring if temperatures warrant the additional heat.

You also can work throughout the winter to minimize the amount of creosote that builds up within your chimney. The hotter your fire burns, the less creosote will build up in your chimney with each fire. A hot fire needs dry wood and plenty of oxygen. Only burn hardwoods that have been allowed to dry for at least six months. In addition, always operate your fireplace with the fireplace doors and damper completely open, unless you have heavy-duty fireplace doors that are designed to be closed when the fireplace is in use.

Call Total Chimney Care to Help You Prevent a Late-Season Chimney Fire!

If you’ve been burning fires in your fireplace all season long, call Total Chimney Care to clean your chimney before you light another fire! A late-season chimney sweeping will help you to prevent a late-season chimney fire, and it will help prepare your chimney for the start of the next fire-burning season.

By Steve Sobczak on May 14th, 2018 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Reduce Fire Hazards in Your Home

Fireplaces and chimneys result in more than 22,000 home fires, on average, each year, according to statistics from the Chimney Safety Institute of America. More often than not, a dirty chimney is to blame for a chimney fire. To avoid becoming another statistic, and to reduce the fire hazard in your home, have your chimney swept and inspected before you use your fireplace this fall.

Dirty Chimneys Spark Fires

Every time you burn a fire in your fireplace, creosote builds up within the chimney. As smoke travels up the chimney and cools, condensation forms on the walls of your chimney flue and then hardens into creosote. Creosote is a flammable substance, which means that if a burning ember makes its way into your chimney. If the temperature within the chimney suddenly spikes, the creosote can ignite and start a chimney fire. The longer creosote remains within the chimney, the more it builds up. Creosote can even boil and bubble, forming a layer several inches thick that can ignite or prevent smoke and carbon monoxide from exiting your chimney.

Your annual chimney sweeping removes creosote from your chimney flue before it can pose a danger. To lower your risk of a chimney fire, the National Fire Protection Association calls for having your chimney swept and inspected at least once per year, between fire-burning seasons. If you burn an excessive amount of wood each season — think four cords or more — you should have your chimney swept more often.

Why Your Chimney Inspection Matters

Your annual chimney sweeping isn’t just about removing hazardous creosote from your chimney flue. It should also include an inspection. Your annual inspection spots any problems in your chimney or fireplace that could pose a fire hazard. Cracks or weaknesses in the chimney liner can let the heat, smoke, and fire from your chimney to access the wooden structure of your home, which can lead to a fire. Your inspection also will spot any signs of a previous chimney fire. Often, an initial chimney fire smolders and goes undetected. It does, however, damage the chimney, opening the door for a second, more severe chimney fire that can spread to the rest of your home.

If you have gas logs or a gas fireplace insert, your chimney sweeping and inspection is still important to prevent a house fire! The sweeping removes corrosive soot from the chimney and dust or debris from the burners and blowers in your fireplace. The inspection verifies that the chimney is in good condition and that all working components of the fireplace or logs are operating properly and safe for use.

Schedule Your Chimney Maintenace Now!

If you haven’t had your chimney swept and inspected yet this fall, don’t wait any longer! You should not light your fireplace for the season before the entire system has been swept and inspected. Doing so puts your home and your family at risk of a dangerous house fire! Reduce your risk of a chimney fire by calling Total Chimney Care to schedule your annual chimney sweeping and inspection today.

By Steve Sobczak on November 15th, 2017 | 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.

Common Causes of Chimney and Fireplace Odors

When it comes to smelly chimneys and fireplaces, a common culprit is creosote. Caused by the burning of fuel, such as wood, creosote will build up over time, and must be cleaned. It is important to remember, however, that there are other potential causes of foul odor. Things like water and excess chimney draft can cause these smells, so it is important to have a chimney inspection to determine the exact cause of the odor.

Picture of : Woman holding nose

Chimney odors are signals to have your annual inspection.

If the problem turns out to be creosote, make sure a CSIA certified chimney sweep conducts a thorough inspection and       cleaning. You’ll want to make sure no creosote is left behind on the chimney liner due to its extreme flammability. The CSIA certification will help you ensure that a competent and professional sweep is on the job. A chimney sweep that performs non-compliant work can cause an unnecessary tragedy.

If water ends up being the source of the smell, it is likely a problem with your damper. Chimney dampers that are old and corroded will often allow rainwater to get into the chimney. Improperly installed dampers will do the same. This isn’t the end of the world, however. A new damper can be installed to properly keep water out. Remember, if water was the source of the foul odor, make sure your sweep checks for structural damage. Brick and mortar chimneys are prone to water damage.

Chimney odors are not just unpleasant to smell. These odors can have noxious fumes that can hurt you, your family, and your pets. Don’t put off necessary cleaning and maintenance of your chimneys. Standards for maintenance have been developed over the course of many years, and exist to keep everyone in your home safe. Don’t hesitate to give us a call if you or someone you know is experiencing foul odors coming from their fireplace and chimney.