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.

chimney waterproofing waterproof chimney fireplace inspection

 

While this winter has not been too wet, many are predicting some rain over the next couple months. We don’t anticipate it reaching last year’s levels, but it’s still important that you waterproof your chimney. Water can seep into a chimney and leaks may form. But how does this potentially expensive problem even happen?

What causes chimney leaks?

Chimneys are beautiful, complex structures. The simplistic bricks or stucco columns are filled with a machine of moving parts and instruments to keep you safe and warm. It is also regularly exposed to nature’s elements. Thus, the likelihood of damage occurring and leaks forming is quite possible. However, with all of the nuances of a chimney, it can often be challenging to find the leak. The following are three of the most common sources for chimney leaks.

Chimney Cap

This piece covers the top of the flue. It covers the flue and fireplace so water, animals, and debris do not go in. Should the cap be damaged or missing, this leaves most areas of the fireplace exposed. Thus, a rain shower could cause substantial water damage.

Flashing

Around the chimney and roofline, there is flashing to protect the area against water. Over time, flashing may lose its seal or it could have been improperly installed. Similar to the cap, damaged or missing flashing may dramatically damage your chimney. However, the lack of proper flashing could also harm walls, ceilings, and structures.

Masonry

As you can already tell, water can be very harmful. Bricks are no exception. Water can have a dramatic impact on masonry around chimneys. This can lead to cracks and bricks falling apart. The problem can then get exponentially worse. Damaged bricks absorb greater amounts of water, leading to further harm.

Numerous signs exist to show leaks in chimneys. The easiest way to notice is if you see water dripping in the firebox after a storm. If you hear dripping, then you’ve got issues. At the same time, do not be surprised for there to be a musty smell. Another sign could be damaged bricks around the chimney. If you see this, you should have your chimney inspected.

Prevention

While harm may arise, a homeowner can take proactive measures to prevent damage. First, make sure to do an annual chimney inspection. Second, we recommend sealing your bricks on a regular basis.

Should you have any questions or need your annual inspection done by our certified expert, contact Sal at the Irish Sweep.

As winter approaches, you may be looking forward to cozy days around the fire. If you are lucky enough to have a wood burning fireplace, it can be easy to neglect through most of the year up until time to set up that first winter fire. Wood burning fireplaces do require chimney cleaning, inspections, and maintenance. Now you may be wondering, why should I have my chimney cleaned and when?

Advantages of Regular Chimney Cleaning

As wood burns in your fireplace it releases smoke and ash, and over time, creosote can build up. If you have not heard of creosote, it is a flammable substance that builds up like a glaze, coating the interior of your chimney. Creosote needs to be removed regularly so it doesn’t build up and prevent the flow of smoke leaving the chimney. Also, because creosote is flammable, it needs to be removed to prevent chimney fires.

You should have your chimney inspected at least yearly and cleaned as needed. If you recently purchased a home, have the chimney inspected before using the fireplace. Regular maintenance and cleaning help to prevent larger problems and more expensive repairs. Having your chimney inspected, cleaned, and maintained each year will help keep your home and family safe.

When professionals clean your chimney, they remove soot and dangerous creosote built up on the interior. They will also check for any blockages, which could cause smoke to build up in your home if not removed. A professional will make sure everything is in working order for safe and effective operation.

chimney cleaning, the right time to clean your chimney, get your chimney swept.Advantages of Spring or Early Summer Chimney Cleaning

Some say that spring is the best time to have your chimney inspected and cleaned. This is because winter weather might have damaged the masonry, which you would want to catch and repair right away during warm summer months. Additionally, a spring cleaning will get you ready for fall and winter fires, well ahead of the peak cleaning season, so you can avoid waitlists and have it done quickly.

Advantages of Late Summer or Fall Cleaning for your Chimney

Others would argue that fall is the better time to have your chimney cleaned. This is because when your fireplace has not been used in a while, such as during the spring and summer months, pests can enter and set up their homes. Rodents and birds can build nests that clog the chimney. This could be dangerous as smoke is then unable to flow through, and additional creosote could build up, increasing flammability.

Contracting a chimney cleaning company that will provide regular inspections and cleaning is your easiest option. They will remind you when it is time for your inspections. Given the advantage of both spring and fall cleanings, you may opt to have them both in order to maintain your fireplace if you use it often. During inspections, the professionals will look for any problems, clean as needed, and perform or recommend necessary maintenance on your chimney. This can all help to prevent more serious operational issues and maintain a healthy, efficient function of your fireplace all year round.

Earthquake preparedness, chimney inspection and reinforcement

The devastation of the recent Earthquake in Mexico is a reminder that the same could, and has, happened in California. Long term California residents will remember several damaging and in some cases lethal earthquakes in their lifetime. Earthquake preparedness experts warn that the likelihood California will experience another serious quake in the next 20 years is very high, with the San Francisco Bay Area expected to be the worst hit.

And yet despite these risks, homeowners neglect the one thing that could prevent the most common form of damage in an earthquake: chimney repair.

Chimney Collapse is The Most Common Form of Earthquake Damage

Historically, chimney collapse is the most common form of damage due to earthquakes across the country. And yet chimney repair and reinforcement is the most commonly ignored effort for earthquake preparation.

Chimney masonry repair or even chimney removal is likely to slip your mind if you no longer use your masonry chimney. But simply leaving your chimney standing with no reinforcement or maintenance is a recipe for earthquake disaster.

Even with low-level ground shaking, chimneys start to fail and bricks fall. This is particularly common in masonry chimneys built before 1980 where the mortar may be already worn down and the structure of the chimney is brittle. But even in younger chimneys the mortar can become weak or cracked due to weather and time, leaving masonry chimneys vulnerable to collapse even with a small earthquake.

Collapsing Chimneys Extremely Hazardous

Structural engineers say that masonry chimneys are usually the first thing to go  in a quake of any size, and can rapidly cause damage to surrounding buildings, cars, and people. At least 15,000 brick chimneys were damaged in Los Angeles during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, while in Napa, about half of the residential buildings damaged were due to brick chimneys.

Several deaths and injuries have also been caused by falling chimney bricks in the last significant California earthquakes, many of them involving children. When chimneys start to collapse, even during a relatively minor earthquake, bricks become deadly projectiles capable of causing severe damage.

Earthquake Preparedness To Prevent Chimney Damage

When quake-proofing your home, don’t overlook your chimney. If you have a masonry chimney in your home, it is essential you call a chimney professional for an inspection and analysis of the chimney strength. This is very difficult to assess with an untrained eye. But if you can see visible cracks or gaps in the mortar of your chimney, it’s a clear sign your chimney needs urgent repair.

Masonry chimneys can be repaired and retrofitted to increase their strength, which prevents the likelihood of collapse in the event of an earthquake. Chimney repointing can help to replace masonry chimney mortar, but may not be enough earthquake preparedness on it’s own to reinforce a chimney. Retrofitting is the minimum step you should take to keep your home and your family safe from chimney damage during an earthquake. You can also discuss other options, such as chimney removal or replacement, after an inspection and consultation with a chimney professional.

Ensuring your chimney is safe and secure is essential for earthquake preparation, and shouldn’t be put off any longer. Call your local chimney professional today to book an inspection and discuss the best solution to keep your chimney earthquake safe.

 

 

Proposal to phase out wood burning fireplaces in the Bay Area ended.  Full article available at Contra Costa Times – CLICK HERE.