SIGNS OF AN OBSTRUCTED CHIMNEY – CHIMNEY FLUE REPAIR

A chimney is designed to safely and effectively remove dangerous fire byproducts produced within the fireplace. When it becomes clogged, it can’t properly perform this important role. Birds’ nests, tree foliage, trash, and other debris can clog your home chimney, making it dangerous to use. Soot and crumbling bricks are also hazardous; if the chimney’s flue is not kept clean, your home is at risk every time you kindle the fireplace. Your home’s structure and age may also play a part in the overall health of its chimney. Determine if there is a blockage in your chimney, or if it needs flue repair, by looking at it yourself or hiring a professional maintenance company.

WARNING SIGNS OF A BLOCKED CHIMNEY

A blocked chimney may be hard to diagnose on your own but there are some telltale signs to watch for. These warning signs include:

• A smoky smell when burning a fire

• Falling debris inside the hearth

• Water streaks inside the flue

• Excessive soot

• White residue on the flue walls

WHAT CAN CAUSE A CHIMNEY BLOCKAGE?

There are three main causes of chimney blockages:

• An excessive build-up of soot or creosote (tar)

• Birds, squirrels, or other small animals nesting in the chimney

• The collapse of the internal chimney bricks

INSPECTING THE CHIMNEY

1. Wear a safety mask or goggles for eye protection. Don a pair of gloves and place a handkerchief over your mouth and nose to keep you from inhaling loose, falling soot. Wear a hard hat to protect your head. Chimneys that have not been periodically cleaned may have a lot of debris.

2. Open the chimney’s maintenance door. Typically, it is located outside the house, but check your home’s blueprints for the exact location. Hold the mirror through the maintenance door, facing upward. With your other hand, shine the flashlight on the mirror. Adjust the angle to allow you to see up into the chimney.

3. Inspect the chimney flue from the outside of the building and again from the inside of the fireplace. Open the damper, and shine the flashlight up the walls with the mirror. See if you can insert a broom handle or long stick through the fireplace opening.

4. Feel the heat. When a clogged fireplace is operating, heat and moisture will back up into the home. When the chimney is unused, during summertime, for example, soot from a wood-burning fireplace or rust debris from the metal hood of a gas fireplace can amass. 

CHIMNEY FLUE REPAIR

Clearing a blocked chimney is a job best left for a professional. They have the tools necessary to reach and remove the debris clogging the flue. How quickly and easily the chimney is cleared will depend on how compact the blockage is. To prevent clogs in the future, an annual chimney cleaning is recommended. Regular cleanings will keep your flue clear while also warning you of any potential problems before they turn into costly chimney flue repairs. Installing a chimney cap onto the flue can also help limit the number of clogs your chimney experiences. Stopping debris from entering the system in the first place, caps can provide a proactive approach to chimney maintenance.

If you suspect a blocked chimney, contact a professional for assistance. We can diagnose and treat common chimney ailments both large and small. 

EARTHQUAKE PREPAREDNESS: A GUIDE TO HOME SAFETY

Earthquake preparedness is a Californian duty. We don’t know when earthquakes will happen, but we do know we live in an area where they do happen with some regularity.

It’s easy to let years slip by since the last time you evaluated your earthquake kit. Or maybe you don’t have one? Some things to consider about earthquake kits is that they are not evacuation bags or “bug out bags”. You can assume that in an Earthquake you can stay in your home, or at least not have to go far. What you need to plan for is possibly long periods of time without electricity, and possibly without working plumbing or natural gas, as sewage systems may be damaged, or gas may be turned off for safety.

HERE’S WHAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER FOR EARTHQUAKE PREPAREDNESS:

FRESH WATER

Store enough unopened jugs of water for about a gallon per person per day according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three days is usually considered generous. Don’t forget, we don’t just drink water, we cook with it, wash dishes and ourselve with it, and more. Even though bottled water generally has a one to two year expiration date on the package, there’s no reason for it to become unusable unless the package is opened or damaged. Do not drink distilled water unless there is no other option, and not for long periods. Purified, filtered or spring water is fine.

FOOD SUPPLIES

Having fresh food it the refrigerator does you no good when the fridge has no power. For the special occasion of feeding your family after a sizeable earthquake, you’ll want to have non-perishable food set aside. You can pack cans of tuna and boxes of crackers, but you’ll likely be happier with dehydrated meals that can be rehydrated. They tend to taste a lot better than the dry goods and canned meats.

FIRST AID KIT

A well-stocked first aid kit can be bought in many stores, and the pre-stocked variety like this works just fine. No need to put together your own selection of bandages and medications. When selecting your first aid kit, do consider how many people it needs to serve. And make sure to periodically remove expired items and replace them with fresh ones.

LIGHTING

After an earthquake, power is often out. Flashlights or headlamps for everyone in the home, plus one lantern is usually a good amount of lighting. Even if you only spend one night without electricity, it’s hard to enjoy your evening in a completely dark home.

A RADIO

Either a transistor radio or a hand-crank powered radio is a good choice. In an emergency, your internet router will likely be down, and the radio is a reliable way to access news and information. This can help you know where to get supplies if needed, prepare for the weather, or know how when to expect power to come back on.

EXTRA BATTERIES

Extra batteries will serve you well, but don’t just put aside an hodge-podge of options. Choose the specific type of batteries needed for each other item in your Earthquake Kit: your radio, headlamps, lantern, flashlights, and anything else in the group. Have a larger amount of the batteries you expect to go through fastest.

STRUCTURAL SAFETY

Chimneys that are either known to be damaged, or whose structural integrity is unknown, are dangerous in an earthquake. This is because they can fall and hurt or kill people either indoors or outdoors. Don’t take this risk, have your chimney inspected by a professional with a camera to view its interior. If structural flaws are found, reduce risk by having them repaired immediately.

FAMILY PLAN

This is extremely useful in earthquakes as well as other emergencies. To create your family plan, gather everyone who lives with you and agree on what you’ll do after an emergency. This should include when, where, or how to meet up if you’re not together. Also who’s responsible for accounting for pets or young kids, who’s going to check on older relatives near by, or anything else. A great start is declaring a physical place to meet in an emergency that is outdoors and not under power lines or tall buildings.

With the right preparation, the hours and days after a large earthquake can be safe and even organized. You’ll be glad you had taken steps to create order and minimize risk in advance.

WHY YOU NEED FIREPLACE CHIMNEY CLEANING EVEN IF YOU DON’T USE IT

Chimneys need to be swept to remove residue that can block the flue and prevent proper drafting. This also removes flammable deposits which can cause a chimney fire. All types of appliances which burn fuel and vent to the outdoors should be inspected annually and cleaned when needed.

Plenty of homeowners assume they don’t have to clean their chimneys out if they don’t use them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that way. If you don’t use your chimney, nature will. If you infrequently use your chimney, it can start to look like a great place for a nest to birds, squirrels, or raccoons. Their nesting debris, along with any sticks or leaves blown in, need to be removed to ensure that your chimney isn’t a fire hazard. Have a professional inspect and sweep your chimney to make sure it’s safe.

Have chimneys cleaned at least once a year, usually before cold weather sets in. Scheduling a fall cleaning will also clear out anything that might have fallen into the chimney during the summer.

SIGNS YOU NEED A FIREPLACE CHIMNEY CLEANING EVEN IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN USING YOUR FIREPLACE:

STRONG ODORS

If you had strong odors coming from your chimney the last time you used it, you probably have an issue with your chimney. Fires should produce a pleasant odor from the burning wood rather than from the soot that is stuck within your chimney. A drafting problem can easily cause smoke to gather in your home rather than going up through the chimney. Avoid smoke damage by paying attention to strong smells when burning a fire.

CREOSOTE BUILD UP IN FIREPLACES

Creosote is a flammable substance that builds up in fireplaces and needs regular cleaning to prevent chimney fires. If the last time you had your chimney cleaned was before the previous burning season, then you have creosote in your chimney. Especially if you haven’t had the chimney cleaned since moving into a new place, you can’t know how much creosote is in there, waiting to light at the next fire. The only safe choice is to start a new fall/winter season with a clean chimney.

HEARING ANIMALS INSIDE

Chimneys that are not in use are warm, dry places for animals and birds to call home. Chimneys are notorious for hiding birds nesting spots, and this can be a safety hazard. Nests can block the exit point of a chimney and cause smoke to back up into your home. Nests can also cause a fire on top of your home. If you hear animals or birds inside your wall or chimney you’ll need help clearing them out.

A YEAR HAS PASSED SINCE YOUR LAST CLEANING

As we noted above, you don’t know who’s been nesting in there, or what’s fallen or blown in from the outdoors. That alone creates enough risk to have a fireplace chimney cleaning before you start using your fireplace again.

Look for a chimney sweep credentialed by the National Chimney Sweep Guild or the Chimney Safety Institute of America, like the Irish Sweep.

Annual cleaning and inspections are very important to the safe and efficient operation of your home’s fireplace. The chimney sweeping process averages 45 minutes to one hour.

HAVE YOU HAD A CHIMNEY FIRE?

What many homeowners don’t know is that chimney fires can happen without anyone’s awareness. When you become aware that a chimney fire has been eating your home from  inside the walls, it may not be the first time. This is part of why prevention is so important!

SOME SIGNS THAT THERE HAS ALREADY BEEN A CHIMNEY FIRE:

♦ ‘Puffy’ creosote, that’s cloud shaped and expanded beyond its normal form

♦ Creosote build up with rainbow colored streaks

♦ Any metal components that show warping (discoloring and distortion): the damper, metal smoke chamber, connector pipe or metal chimney, rain cap

♦ Flue tiles with large chunks missing, or that have cracks or evidence of collapse

♦ Flakes and pieces of creosote on the roof or ground nearby

♦ Burn marks on roofing material damaged by hot creosote

♦ Cracks in exterior masonry

♦ Evidence of smoke escaping through mortar joints of masonry or tile liners

If your home has already had a chimney fire, there is a reason it’s happened, and you’re in danger of it happening again until the cause is identified and addressed. Causes of chimney fires all have to do with structural safety and blockages or build-up in the chimney. The only way to be sure your fireplace is safe to use is to have regular chimney cleaning services.

HOW CAN CHIMNEY CLEANING SERVICES PREVENT THESE FIRES?

There are two main tasks chimney cleaning services can do for you: a chimney inspection and sweeping/cleaning your chimney. If you have concerns about fire safety, it’s best to do both. While inspection is important to identify evidence of previous fires and risk for future fires, it’s the cleaning that removes fuel for fires: creosote and debris.

Always be sure that you have working smoke alarms in appropriate places throughout your home, and that their batteries are fresh. With a little diligence and annual chimney cleaning services, you can minimize your risk for chimney fires.

ROUTINE HOME FIREPLACE & CHIMNEY CARE

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.

EARTHQUAKE FACTS HOMEOWNERS SHOULD KNOW

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.