Buying A Home? Why you Need a Chimney Inspection

Before you buy your dream home, it’s important to get a full home inspection. Home inspections can uncover potentially life-threatening problems like toxic mold, faulty wiring that could cause a significant fire, or unstable structures just months away from collapsing. Often as buyers, we expect a professional inspection to cover all aspects of the property, but the chimney needs a separate qualified evaluation for many safety reasons. 

The health and safety of your family could depend on your decision to go through with a chimney inspection. Here’s some important information you need to know about why chimney inspections are crucial when it comes to purchasing new homes. 

What a chimney inspection could uncover:

Potential Water Damage

Did you know that  the foundation of a chimney is typically only 12 inches deep? That means that with earth movement from summer to winter, water damage from sprinklers, downspouts, and weather conditions could render your chimney foundation dangerous. 

Neglected Spaces

 Most inspections are carried out for the purpose of the loan lender or negotiations, and they may not always serve the buyer. Make sure that your home inspection includes often-forgotten spaces like the crawl space, basement, attics, chimney, fireplace, and loft area. A smart buyer can even use details from the full home inspection to negotiate with the seller.

Shifting from New Construction

Has the space around the chimney been newly landscaped, subject to digging, or under construction? Have there been significant earthquakes since the last chimney inspection? Shifting of the earth underneath or around the chimney could cause instability, which is why it’s important to make sure the inspection includes outdoor areas surrounding the chimney. 

Instability from Cold Weather

With the drought and hotter weather, the hard soil can stabilize a chimney to some degree, but only temporarily. As cold weather moves in, dampness and moisture soften the soil around the base of the chimney, allowing movement in the structure which could render the chimney unstable. Even if the house is on a concrete slab and the chimney is surrounded by concrete, the concrete still absorbs the moisture and the chimney can still move. If your area experiences high winds, wet weather, and earthquakes, instability can be particularly dangerous. 

Fireplace Inserts: Extra Credit

Once your fireplace and chimney have been thoroughly inspected and cleaned, you may be looking for ways to enjoy the ambience of a crackling fire. A fireplace insert is a fuel-efficient, heat-efficient method of doing just that. The closed combustion system of a fireplace insert can be 60% to 80% heat efficient, contrasting with traditional or older fireplaces that only convert 5% to 20% of fuel into usable heat. You can enjoy watching the flames through the glass doors of the fireplace insert while needing less firewood to keep them stoked. 

Schedule a Chimney Inspection Now 

Our services at The Irish Sweep can help you safely maintain and enjoy your wood-burning fireplace and chimney for years to come. To schedule an appointment with an expert, call us at (510)521-4088, or use this simple contact form by clicking here.

Is the Height of Your Chimney a Seismic Liability?

When was the last time you took a good look at your chimney? If you’re like most homeowners, it’s probably been a while since you gave it any thought. But a word of warning from a Lafayette chimney cleaner, the height of your chimney can actually become an earthquake liability, especially here in California. Should you reduce the height of your chimney?

Bay Area Chimneys

Chimney height reduction or seismic liability reduction are the same thing. In the Bay Area, we get most of our wet weather coming in from the south. What this ultimately means for homeowners is that south-facing chimneys deteriorate faster than they would if they were built on any other side of the house. Remember, the mortar that holds them together is water soluble. As a Lafayette chimney cleaner, this is one of the most dangerous things we see.

Reasons to Reduce Your Chimney’s Height

Over time, chimneys in our area become unsupported masonry structures that were exposed to the elements for a hundred years. Just think of what you would look like if you stood outside for decades in the rain and the sun!

A good reason to reduce the height of your chimney is to lower the risk of earthquake damage. More than a couple significant fault lines cross through the Bay Area, including the San Andreas Fault and 6 others that pose considerable risk. Just imagine the destruction of your chimney crashing into the yard, or in the direction of your neighbor’s home. Any Lafayette chimney cleaner will tell you what a serious hazard a leaning or broken chimney is.

Note that an unlined chimney is more susceptible to seismic activity, meaning it’s more likely to break during an earthquake. This is a good reason to reduce your chimney’s height and install a gas burning fireplace insert.

When Mortar Turns to Sand

Lafayette chimney cleaner

Here’s an example of a broken chimney that had become a worrisome seismic liability. As you can see in the photo, this is an issue of poor water management around the perimeter foundation of the house. Because mortar is water soluble, chimneys wick up groundwater. So, if there are downspouts dumping water near the base of the chimney, it draws in the water, turning the mortar into sand. Of course, this process doesn’t occur overnight, but given enough time, it creates a dangerous situation that needs to be taken care of.

Bear in mind that the chimney is the heaviest part of any house, so this would be problematic even in states where earthquakes are uncommon. When the soil around the base of the chimney gets wet, that soft soil allows the chimney to sink. This is something most homeowners aren’t aware of, but it’s common knowledge if you’re a Lafayette chimney cleaner. It’s a glacially-slow process, but after enough rainy seasons have passed, it can weaken the entire structure. This creates a chimney that is more vulnerable to seismic activity. In fact, the chimney can be pulled apart from the fireplace fascia.

Talk to a Lafayette Chimney Cleaner

Gas burning fireplace inserts don’t need a lot of height for venting, so you might consider installing one if you choose to reduce the height of your chimney. To schedule an appointment with The Irish Sweep, call us at (510)521-4088, or use this simple contact form by clicking here. Your safety is our number one priority. That’s why our team is taking special precautions during the pandemic. We look forward to hearing from you.

Can a Wood Burning Fireplace Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

If you have a wood burning chimney, it’s essential to understand what carbon monoxide poisoning is and how to protect your household. Here are the main things you need to know about this deadly gas and the importance of scheduling chimney cleaning services.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is responsible for most poisoning fatalities in the United States, but CO poisoning is completely preventable. Awareness is key for homeowners with a wood burning chimney. The main reason CO is so dangerous is that it’s a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that can’t be detected through your senses. In contrast, most of us have smelled the rotten egg stink of propane. But unfortunately, there’s no way to recognize this silent killer by scent alone.

What happens on an anatomical level? Carbon monoxide can actually replace the oxygen (O2) in your blood because red blood cells pick up CO more readily than O2. Without enough oxygen, permanent tissue damage can occur, including injury to your organs, nervous system, and respiratory system. At high enough levels, CO poisoning can quickly result in death, sometimes within minutes. This is especially dangerous for children, the elderly, pregnant women, or anyone with underlying health conditions.

According to the Center for Disease Control, close to 500 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year in the US, and an average of 50,000 seek critical emergency services. Most of these incidents occur from December through February, during the cold winter months when people are trying to stay warm in their homes, only to accidentally poison themselves with fuel-burning appliances. Bear in mind that symptoms of exposure can initially be mistaken for a sudden onset of flu.

Let’s review what causes CO emissions so you know how to spot potential risks and prevent them from becoming a danger to you or your loved ones.

What Produces Carbon Monoxide?

CO occurs whenever a fuel source is burned, such as wood, oil, charcoal, or gas. Several things can produce carbon monoxide. For example, turning on a gas oven for warmth when the power goes out, using a charcoal barbeque grill inside your home, or not having your wood burning chimney cleaned on a regular basis. In fact, CO can even pose a risk on larger boats that have generators.

Wood Burning Chimney

An obstruction in your wood burning chimney can lead to a buildup of CO, as well as a broken connector pipe, backdrafting in the chimney, or a rusted heat exchanger. Scheduling regular maintenance with a professional chimney sweep helps to prevent dangerous situations like these. An experienced specialist will be able to point out any area of concern with your wood burning chimney and advise you on the best solution. This is another reason why DIY chimney cleaning can be so dangerous to attempt. It’s just not worth the risk.

Gas Fireplace

If you have a gas fireplace instead of a wood burning chimney, note that it can also be a hazard without proper chimney maintenance. A poorly maintained or ventilated gas fireplace can result in a dangerous buildup of toxic gas.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Even with precautions in place, it’s useful to know the main symptoms that someone has been exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Knowledge is power, as they say. The most common signs of CO poisoning include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • Clumsiness
  • Weakness

Again, many of these symptoms can, at first, be mistaken for flu. Fresh air and immediate medical attention are vital to anyone suffering from CO exposure.

Safety Precautions

Preventative measures help to protect your household from CO buildup. Here are some basic precautions you can take in order to ensure that your home is safeguarded from this silent killer.

  1. Be sure to fully open the dampers before using your wood burning chimney. This will allow the smoke to escape.
  2. Schedule maintenance with a professional chimney sweep at least a minimum of once a year. It’s important to also have a specialist look over your wood burning chimney to make sure everything is in order and functioning properly. It’s better to discover the need for chimney repair sooner rather than later. Although, depending on how often you use your fireplace, you may need more than one chimney cleaning a year if you love to cozy up by the fire.
  3. Install carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home, as well as smoke alarms. They are designed to emit a loud, high-pitched sound if they sense levels of CO in your home. There are different brands on the market, but they’re all affordably priced. Remember, it’s important to have a battery-operated backup, just in case the power ever goes out. Be sure to place them in bedrooms because you’re more vulnerable while you’re asleep.
  4. Additionally, verify that the models you select comply with the latest safety standards.
  5. Only use fuel-burning appliances outside or in fully ventilated areas.
  6. Never leave a vehicle, lawnmower, or generator, etc. running in a  closed garage. Carbon monoxide can enter your home, not to mention it creates a dangerous environment in your garage.
  7. Paint remover contains methylene chloride and shouldn’t be used in the presence of children or in spaces that lack proper ventilation. It’s best to use paint remover outside because methylene chloride is actually converted to carbon monoxide within our bodies.

Schedule a Professional Chimney Inspection

A chimney professional can check to make sure that your fireplace is properly vented. If it’s been a while since your last chimney inspection, give us a call at The Irish Sweep. Your well-being is our number one priority. We’re committed to educating our communities on fireplace safety, so if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to reach out. We’re happy to help in any way that we can. If you’re in the Alameda area, contact our team of experts by phoning (510) 521-4088. You can also email us your questions by clicking here.

Why You Need Chimney Cleaning Before Starting a Fire

Do you love your fireplace? Us too. There’s nothing better than curling up by a crackling fire on a cold night. But unless you schedule regular chimney cleaning, your fireplace is actually a safety concern. The primary reason to clean a chimney before use is to avoid the risk of starting a house fire. But a fire may also go undetected by home occupants. Here’s how it works…

Creosote? What’s That?

The majority of people burn wood in their fireplace, which means they’re at risk of creosote buildup. With use, this compound known as creosote can line the inside of your chimney. This becomes a problem over time because it’s highly flammable.

There are multiple factors that influence how much creosote will stick to the sides of your chimney. These factors can include things like the amount of air inside the chimney, whether or not you burn unseasoned wood, as well as how many times a year you enjoy your fireplace.

The only reliable way to fully remove creosote from the walls of your chimney is to hire a pro. You need someone who has the right equipment and knowledge to get the job done. Most professional chimney sweeps recommend that you schedule an annual inspection and chimney cleaning—at the bare minimum. Otherwise, you’re putting your home and household at risk.

Avoiding a House Fire

Historically, most homes were heated by a fireplace, so it was standard knowledge that chimneys needed to be cleaned by chimney sweeps. During this period of time, it was a well-known fact that chimneys required regular maintenance. But now a fireplace is more like a cozy novelty for the majority of homeowners. And, since very few people rely on a fireplace to heat their house these days, knowing how to properly care for a chimney is something homeowners need to relearn.

Although times have changed and we now enjoy the benefits of modern comfort, chimney cleaning is still necessary in order to prevent house fires. Without regular maintenance, your house runs the risk of becoming a fire statistic. In fact, this costs homeowners over a million dollars in property damage each year, not to mention the number of injuries or deaths. Unfortunately, house fires are still a serious concern.

More specifically, the Chimney Safety Institute of America indicates that chimney fires continue to be a frequent problem. They report that there are an estimated 25,000 chimney fires each year that cause a total of $125 million in damages. If the fire spreads to areas inside the home, injuries and deaths are possible as well.

Recognizing a Chimney Fire

It’s likely that you might not notice a chimney fire. They are slow burns and hardly make a noise. But you may hear loud popping or cracking noises, or see thick, dark smoke coming into the fireplace, or out through the top of the chimney. Flames can also rise out of the top of the chimney, where neighbors sometimes notice them before the problem becomes worse. Some homeowners have reported chimney fires that sound like a jet engine in the house or even a train. But, hopefully, a grimy chimney would never get to that point.

Structural Damage

Chimney fires are especially dangerous since they can burn at temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Although the fire may not seem to be a problem because it burns off the creosote and is extinguished, these extreme temperatures can cause other problems. For example, 2,000 degrees is more than enough heat to crack tiles and melt mortar. It will weaken the masonry chimney structure.

Without proper chimney cleaning services, the creosote that builds up inside your chimney can contribute to the strength and heat of a fire. This is because it’s a fuel source that allows for rapid combustion. The end result is that the chimney can become damaged by these occurrences. But you may not even realize it without regularly scheduled chimney maintenance. Even if it doesn’t result in a more dangerous fire, you’re in for some costly repairs.

How Often Do You Need Chimney Cleaning?

Since the average homeowner probably won’t be able to tell if their chimney and fireplace need a little extra TLC, it’s best to plan for an annual inspection. These appointments can save you money in the long run, and also help protect your home. But how often do you actually need chimney cleaning services?

Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable that when you use your fireplace to burn wood, residue is going to accumulate on the walls. Although the frequency of chimney cleaning may vary (depending on how often you use your fireplace), once a year is usually enough.

rELATED cONTENT: Frequently Asked Questions About Chimney Cleaning

Preventative Maintenance

It’s always easier to prevent a problem than it is to fix the resulting damage. The best way to make sure that your chimney stays in good shape is to have annual maintenance and cleaning performed.

But some homeowners also want to learn how they can keep their house safer between professional chimney cleanings. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions that you can use if you want to do more:

  • Instead of letting ashes accumulate inside the firebox, regularly clean them out.
  • Only burn wood that has been properly seasoned. If you’re using wood that you’ve gathered yourself, allow it to season for at least a year (or more) before burning it. If you purchase wood from a vendor, make sure the company only offers seasoned wood.
  • Check to see if the damper is entirely open before starting a fire.
  • Never use painted or pressure-treated wood in the fireplace. This will increase the rate of creosote buildup, or possibly create toxic fumes.
  • Put the biggest logs on the bottom of the firebox and the smaller ones on top. The fire will burn hotter this way, and produce less smoke.
  • Schedule an annual chimney cleaning with a qualified professional. Hire an experienced Alameda chimney cleaning company to remove tar and creosote buildup.

Related Content: When and How Often Should You Get a Chimney Inspection?

Hiring a Chimney Cleaning Company

When hiring a chimney sweep, it’s best to choose a certified and insured professional. A certified chimney sweep will have the educational background and experience to get the job done right. Contact our friendly team at The Irish Sweep by calling (510) 521-4088.

Do Chimney Cleaning Logs Work?

Many homeowners in the Bay Area depend on heat from their fireplaces and wood stoves to stay warm during the rainy months. But regardless of how cozy and efficient your fireplace is, there comes a time when you have to make sure it’s properly cleaned. Bay Area chimney cleaning is an important maintenance service that helps to keep your home and family safe. But you may be questioning why you need to call a professional if you’ve seen chimney cleaning logs in the store.

So, what are chimney cleaning logs and do they work? Here’s what you need to know.

What are Chimney Cleaning Logs?

Unfortunately, homeowners often buy chimney cleaning logs believing that they will help loosen up that thick layer of dirty creosote. Creosote is the byproduct that occurs from burning wood in your fireplace. It lines the inside of your chimney. While this may seem like a quick, cheap fix that’s more convenient than a Bay Area chimney sweep, that’s just not the case. The reality is that these logs aren’t an effective option, or a safe replacement.

How They’re Supposed to Work

What may have made chimney sweeping logs more popular over the years is the supposed ease of their use. You just unwrap the log from its package and light it in the fireplace.

When these logs are lit, the smoke is supposed to rise into the chimney, loosening the creosote and causing it to fall down into the fireplace. In theory, you can then remove the buildup. The general idea is that it should be a simple, tidy process, so you won’t need to spend the whole day scraping the inside of your chimney.

Related Content: How Long Does a Chimney Sweep Take?

The Reality

The bad news? Chimney sweeping logs can create an even bigger mess than you started out with. Often, chimneys aren’t designed with perfectly straight flues. What this means is that you can actually end up with trapped creosote in the bends of your fireplace’s flue.

The Risk of Fire

It’s important to note that creosote is highly flammable, so you can imagine the dilemma these homeowners find themselves in. Not only do they run the risk of a chimney fires, but blockages are also a problem. Further, a chimney that can’t properly vent gas and smoke is a hazard to your health as well.  If it sounds too good to be true, it often is.

Safety, of course, is a top priority for homeowners. Not only is your house a huge financial investment, but we all want to feel safe in our homes. In fact, that’s the number one reason why it’s so important to schedule Bay Area chimney cleaning services. Burning these logs can also create fumes that you can’t avoid breathing.

The Mess

When you hire a Bay Area chimney cleaner, you don’t need to worry about a mess. This is because they take special precautions to protect your carpets and furniture. On the other hand, if you attempt to DIY your chimney sweep, you will most likely end up with soot, ash, and creosote all over your house, and yourself.

Related Content: Is it a Risky Idea to DIY Chimney Sweep?

Hiring a Chimney Cleaner is the Best Solution

It’s clear to see that professional chimney cleaners provide essential services. Here’s a little more information on what they have to offer homeowners…

1) Chimney Inspection

If you’re a new homeowner, you may not realize it’s important to have your chimney inspected from time to time. This is even true if you rarely use your fireplace. Scheduling regular chimney and fireplace maintenance can help you save money on repair costs because it’s best to correct minor issues before they become a problem. A pro can inspect your chimney for things like water damage and nesting animals.

2) Effective Cleaning

Since we’ve learned that chimney cleaning logs are no substitute for professional services, it’s a good idea to schedule your appointment once every 75 fires or per every cord of wood burned. Hiring a Bay Area chimney cleaner will guarantee that all the flammable buildup is removed from your chimney. Your house won’t be covered in soot. And, it will be safe to use your fireplace all year long.

3) Reduce Repair Costs

Again, chimney sweeping is also the best way to reduce the need for costly chimney repairs. There could be structural issues with your fireplace or chimney that you’re completely unaware of. It’s important to check for seismic and structural safety, especially in California due to the likelihood of earthquakes. All in all, regular chimney maintenance can provide you with greater peace of mind.

The Takeaway

Even if you are able to remove some buildup from your chimney with commercial creosote logs, it’s just not worth the risk they pose to your home or your family.

When you hire a licensed chimney cleaner, you won’t need to worry if there’s any flammable material left inside your chimney. Peace of mind is money well spent. In fact, it’s priceless.

Schedule an Appointment Today

We hope you found this blog post helpful and learned something new along the way. Part of our mission is to educate Bay Area residents in order to reduce the fire risk in our communities. We also adhere to national standards, such as the National Fire Protection Association. Chimney cleaning is actually considered an essential service, and you can rest assured that your safety is our top priority. Special precautions are being taken during the pandemic to protect the health of our customers as well as our team.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment. Questions are always welcome. You can call our office at (510) 521-4088, or feel free to fill out a contact form by clicking this link.

How to Spot Water Chimney Water Damage

Did you know that rain can cause crucial damage to your chimney? Erosion is a natural process that happens over time, even to the structures on our houses, not to mention that mortar, the substance that bonds the bricks together in a chimney, is water soluble. If you’re a homeowner, you’re probably wondering how to tell if your chimney has already been affected by water. If so, here are some common ways that rain can cause chimney water damage.

Cracked Masonry

If you have a leak in your fireplace, it may be due to a crack in your chimney’s masonry. It’s important to have this taken care of as soon as possible, otherwise the issue can become worse. When masonry cracks aren’t taken care of, chimney repairs only become more expensive. Similarly, cracks in the chimney crown allow rainwater to leak into the flue lining.

Damaged Chimney Flue

Chimneys look strong, so it’s easy to forget they need maintenance just like the rest of your home. It’s important to schedule regular inspections in order to spot things like chimney water damage. Because the flue is on the inside of your chimney, it’s probably not something you’d ever notice on your own until it became a real issue. One sign there’s a problem is if thin tile shards begin to drop from the flue. As mortar joints age and deteriorate, they can allow moisture to seep into the chimney structure.

Rust or Moss

Rust is another red flag that chimney repairs are needed. Take note if you spot rust forming on the fireplace doors, the damper, or other accessories.

Or, is moss growing on the masonry? This can be another indication of chimney water damage. Moss will trap water and speed up the process of degradation.

Warped Flooring

Watch out for warped flooring and baseboards in the area surrounding your fireplace. In most cases, this is a clear sign of chimney water damage. Additionally, homeowners should look for efflorescence, a white, powdery mineral deposit that is left after water evaporates.

Other Water Sources

Other water sources are downspouts that terminate at the base of the chimney (or uphill of the chimney), as well as gutters that haven’t been  properly cleaned, or that are canted in the wrong direction. This allows roof water to flow into the chimney. On a rainy day, every homeowner should go outside and look at the flow of water in order to see where the moisture travels.

Schedule Today

To schedule an appointment with The Irish Sweep, call us at (510) 521-4088, or use this simple contact form by clicking here. Your safety is our number one priority. That’s why our team is taking special precautions during this time. We look forward to hearing from you.