earthquake facts for homeowners, bay area chimney sweep

Normally, it’s not the shaking ground itself that claims lives during an earthquake. It’s the associated destruction of man-made structures and the other natural disasters earthquakes cause such as tsunamis, avalanches and landslides. In a city, your biggest earthquake threat is often the safety of your own home.

Chimney Danger

One structural engineer told the SF Gate: “Masonry chimneys are perhaps the most urgent earthquake hazard in older homes. The problem is that they’re likely to fall in even a modest shake. A rule of thumb is that brick chimneys extending more than 1 1/2 times their least width above the roof pose a hazard of collapsing above the roof, not to mention any possible hazard they may pose below the roof level. That’s less than 2 feet for a typical 14-inch-wide chimney.”

Be sure your chimney is safe, or have it removed. Simple as that.

Gas Lines

After an earthquake, damage to your gas lines can mean a gas leak on your property. Which you won’t detect, because you’ll have evacuated! Best case scenario, your home stinks and you have to air it out. Worst case scenario, it goes up in a fireball. To avoid the whole problem, consider having an earthquake gas shut off valve installed, if you don’t already have one.

Earthquakes Aren’t Just For Humans

Most of us know to have a first aid kit, supplies, and an emergency plan for the humans in the house. Do you have an appropriate first aid kit for your parrot, ferret, or dog? What about emergency food set aside? Do you have a “save our pets” decal in your window, just in case? Be sure to include pets in your emergency planning.

FEMA has a Preparedness Checklist

Many families try to make their own checklist or plan for earthquake preparedness. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s extremely unlikely you’ll come up with a more thorough and useful document than this: FEMA Earthquake Preparedness Checklist (download link). Compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, this is more than a list. It includes diagrams that teach helpful skills, and much more.

Drop, Cover, and Hold

The old wisdom was that doorways were the safest place to be indoors during an earthquake. That is no longer true in most buildings, especially buildings in earthquake prone areas, or new construction. Now Your safest place to be is near the ground, under something solid. The new mantra is drop, cover, hold. Drop to the ground, gain cover by going under a table or other furniture, and hold onto your protective cover with one hand, protect your neck with the other.

routine chimney care, fireplace care, routine maintenance, firebox

 

Do you know how to care for your chimney? If you’re wondering what I mean by that, you probably don’t. Which is why you need to learn basic chimney care! As your go-to heating option in the colder months, you’ll want to make sure it’s ready to warm up your home when the weather starts to get chilly. The truth is, not many people think about their chimney much, which is why problems arise when they want to use it. To avoid these problems, here are some basic tips on home chimney care:

 

1.     Always Leave Some Ash

Although you’ll want to clean the firebox monthly when it’s in use, a clean firebox retains about an inch of ash. This allows your fires to stay strong and retain heat easier.

 

2.     Hire A Chimney Sweep

For safety, you’ll want to call a chimney sweep to not only clean it, but also provide an inspection of the fireplace and chimney. They’ll look for any damage or evidence of creosote, which is a tar-like buildup. Do this at least once a year before you begin using the fireplace again.

 

3.     Clear The Area

As part of basic fire safety, you’ll want to keep the fireplace area clear for the entire fire burning season. Not just while a fire is burning. Any furniture should be at least 36” away from the fireplace to avoid any sparks igniting it, which can be a fire hazard. No flammable decor or plants near the fire.

 

4.     Ensure There’s A Chimney Cap

You’ll want to make sure that your chimney has a cap to prevent any birds from building nests inside or any animals from climbing it. Most importantly, it keeps the flue and fireplace dry, which prevents the breakdown of the materials your chimney is made of.

 

5.     Make Sure That The Damper Is Closed

The damper is the hinged flap that’s above the fireplace and it controls how much air passes through the chimney. You’ll want to leave it open when a fire is on, but close it when it’s out to prevent any heat loss inside your home.

 

replacement chimney, chimney repair and maintenance, chimney safety

 

When you think about home improvements, your chimney may not be something you think about. However, like many other things in you home, it can break down and need replacement. But how do you know when you should replace your chimney since it’s usually not something on your repair list? Well, it all depends on the condition of your chimney.

Chimneys are very sturdy, but they still need some TLC every now and then to functional properly. And if your chimney is in really bad shape, it might be time for a chimney replacement. To see if your chimney needs fixing or replacement, it’s recommended that you do an annual check, usually in a season that you won’t be using your fireplace. You’ll also want to check it out after any severe weather like hail storms or hurricanes.

We’ve rounded up a few obvious signs to check for yourself, right after you schedule a professional chimney inspection.

 

1. A Damaged Chimney Crown

The crown of your chimney is a vital piece of masonry as it protects the chimney from anything that might fall into it (expect for directly above the flue). It keeps out water and weather damage and takes a beating. If it’s injured, the damage can spread down the chimney, resulting in a complete rebuild. It can also degrade and crack due to age, which can be a disaster for the chimney.

 

2. White Salts on Bricks

White bricks can mean water damage inside the bricks, which pulls out the natural salts and minerals to the surface of the bricks. The white staining can wash off easily, but if comes back, you’ll definitely need to call a professional to come in and help.

 

3. Spalling or Shaling

Spalling is the result of water entering brick, concrete, or natural stone. It forces the surface to peel, pop out, or flake off. Spalling can eventually cause crumbling and destruction of a structure. If you have spalling bricks, it means your chimney is damaged and will need to be rebuilt. You’ll want to call a professional ASAP.

Shaling is also caused by water, but describes what happens to affected tiles. If you notice that tiles or pieces of tiles fall into your fireplace, this is shaling. You’ll definitely need a chimney replacement if you see this!

 

4. No Chimney Cap

The chimney cap is like a little hat worn by the flue, to keep debris and water out. Some chimneys don’t have a cap and the ones that do can lose them from time to time. If your chimney doesn’t have one, it’s because it’s most likely sustained some damage at one point. The cap acts as the first line of defense and you’ll want to call a professional for an inspection before any damage gets worse, needing a full chimney replacement.

metal chimneys, learning about chimneys, masonry chimneys, chimney sweep service

 

If you’re looking to replace or rebuild your chimney soon, you’ll have to decide whether you want masonry or metal chimneys. Not many people really know the difference between the two and can be quite confused as to which option to choose. While both are common options and can be used for a variety of different chimneys, there are some important differences that homeowners should be aware of to make an informed decision. Here are a few differences between masonry and metal chimneys:

 

Weight

When it comes to weight, a masonry chimney is much heavier than metal. Because of their weight, there may even be restrictions about where you can place a masonry chimney in your home. They’re generally used on the first floor of a building. Metal Chimneys can weigh much less and are better suited to multi-floor buildings.

 

Ability to Work Around Obstruction

Generally, metal chimneys are more flexible with complex buildings than masonry options. Depending on the layout of the home and where you want your fireplace, there may be an offset between the chimney and fireplace. This is when your chimney can’t go straight up because of an obstruction, and it’ll need to go around something. Masonry chimneys only function well with a small off-set, whereas metal chimneys can move around most things no problem.

 

Heat Reflection Performance

When it comes to providing high heat reflection, masonry chimneys really earn their keep. The higher the heat reflection there is in a fireplace, the better heat circulation you have in your home. You want increased heat circulation because it keeps the area around the fireplace warmer and strengthens the smoke removing updrafts of the chimney at the same time. Usually, metal chimneys don’t do as well here, so if that matters, go with a masonry chimney.

Taking these three considerations into account will help you decide on a masonry or metal chimney for your home!

 

make a fire, making a fire, fireplace fire, building a fire

 

There’s nothing quite like relaxing with a warm fire at home. Whether you’re snuggling with someone special or just chillin with the family, a warm and cozy fire makes chilly winter nights so much more comfortable. But there’s an art to creating a great wood fire in your fireplace. And no, we’re not talking about electric fireplaces, either! We’re talking about the real thing, so if you’re wondering how to build a great wood fire in your fireplace, here’s how to do it:

 

Have a Clean Chimney

You’ve had your chimney cleaned each year so there are no blockages, right? Without a clean chimney you may end up with a smoky house, or even a chimney  fire. Having creosote buildup and any blockages removed is an important safety step, so if you’re behind on maintenance, schedule a cleaning before you build a wood fire.

 

Always Open the Damper

Don’t forget to open your chimney damper so smoke can exit the home. Smoke inhalation is dangerous, and can be deadly. Your damper is probably closed when not in use, to prevent heat loss from the home.

 

Prime the Chimney Flue

When you start, your flue will be cold. After opening the flue, cold air from outside will sink into the chimney. If you light the fire during this air sink, you’ll end up with smoke inside your home.

If you have a fireplace that uses a gas pipe to supplement the fire, turn it on and light the pilot without any wood in there. Let the flue warm up before adding the wood. To prime it, light a roll of newspaper and then hold it up the opening for a few minutes. When you feel the draft is now going up, the flue is primed!

 

Create an Ash Bed

You’ll want a 1” to 2” ash bed in the fireplace to help insulate it for a hotter fire. If you don’t use your fireplace often enough to have an ash bed already, you can use ashes from your outdoor grill.

 

Make a Fire Upside Down

An “upside down fire” will burn longer than other fire structures. Don’t put the tinder and smaller kindling on bottom and the bigger fuel logs in a teepee shape on top like you’ve seen on tv. Create a square layer of big logs on the bottom, and then a layer of medium logs perpendicular to those, and smaller ones across the top. Finish it off with bunched up newspaper or other tinder and light with a match from the top. This fire needs very little maintenance and may also burn cleaner since smoke won’t need to pass through logs.

Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy your cozy and comfy fire!