Summer Tips for Maintaining Your Wood Burning Fireplace

A wood-burning fireplace is a cozy addition to any home. Perfect for warming up or just roasting marshmallows, wood-burning fireplaces are designed to retain heat in your home. Remember: proper safety measures are necessary to prevent chimney fires, structural fragility, carbon monoxide intrusion, and poor indoor air quality. Regularly scheduled maintenance and cleaning keeps a wood burning chimney and fireplace safe, functional, and beautiful.

Your fireplace may not be getting much use during the hottest months of summer, which is exactly why it’s an ideal time to schedule maintenance and cleaning. Here’s how to maintain your wood burning chimney and fireplace this summer:

  1. Cover the fireplace. Fireplace covers can keep a fireplace safe during the summer. When the weather is hot and humid, a low pressure system sucks warm air down your chimney. This can draw trapped, stagnant air back into your living space along with unpleasant smoky odors. It’s a commonly experienced phenomenon known as the reversal of the stack effect. The stack effect is when warm air is at a higher pressure than the cool air outside, which makes it want to rise and escape the house through the chimney and other openings. To maintain the pressure balance, low-pressure cool air from downstairs areas or the lowest floor rush up to replace the rising air, creating an upwards current of air.

In hot weather, the stack phenomenon reverses, causing warm air to flow downward through the chimney and into the home. Several measures can counteract this issue, including closing the fireplace damper during summer, using a glass door fireplace enclosure or cover, and removing debris from the chimney cap if applicable.  

2. Get your chimney checked. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends having chimneys inspected annually by a qualified professional chimney service technician. Annual checks reduce the risk of carbon monoxide buildup and chimney fires. Additionally, having chimneys cleaned annually is recommended to reduce creosote buildup and obstructions in chimneys (these pose several health and safety risks).

After a winter of lovely wood fires, with a long hot summer ahead, it’s the perfect time for a cleaning and an inspection of your wood-burning chimney and fireplace. 

3. Choose the right fuel. Best wood-burning practices are especially important during fire season. Mandatory no-burn days begin on November 1st of any given year and end on the last day of February the following year. All other no-burn days are not mandatory. Choose well-seasoned wood (wood that has been split and properly stored for at least six months so it has a low moisture content). Though softwood is usually the cheapest option, hardwood will give a hotter and longer burn. Choosing the right wood also reduces your chimney’s exposure to harmful acids, moisture, and chemicals from green or treated wood.

Schedule a Chimney Inspection Now

Our services at The Irish Sweep can help you maintain and enjoy your wood-burning fireplace 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 There Flammable Debris Inside Your Chimney?

Whether you have a wood burning chimney or a fireplace with a gas log lighter, flammable debris can build up on the inside—where it’s out of sight and out of mind. Let’s take a look at the top offenders when it comes to fireplace safety.

Soot

Soot is a natural byproduct that accumulates from burning wood. If you have a wood burning chimney in your home, you can be sure you’ve got soot too. Not only is soot flammable, but it’s also fine enough to inhale and contains toxic elements. Be sure to have it removed from your chimney at least once a year.

Creosote

Creosote is a tar-like material that you can find inside a wood burning chimney that hasn’t been cleaned in a while. This substance is highly flammable, so it’s essential to have it removed by a professional chimney sweep. Although, there are a couple ways you can cut back on creosote buildup, such as only burning seasoned wood. Not only does green wood not burn as well, but it also produces more smoke and creosote deposits.

You definitely don’t want to allow creosote and soot to build up inside your chimney. It can spark into a chimney fire that puts your home at risk, but you might not even notice until it’s too late. Another important issue to highlight is that if enough creosote builds up, it can even block toxic gases from exiting the chimney, causing them to remain indoors.

Mold

Did you know that mold can grow inside your chimney as well? If there’s moisture in your chimney system, it can lead to unchecked mold growth. This can be caused by things like deteriorating mortar, poorly maintained roof gutters or a faulty chimney cap, so be sure to have a professional chimney sweep look for any chimney damage that could result in this health hazard.

Chimney Flue Damage

In order for your fireplace and wood burning chimney to function properly, the flue needs to be in tip-top shape. But without a professional chimney inspection, it’s tough for homeowners to discover this kind of damage on their own. That’s because a special camera is often needed to really see inside your chimney. If the flue isn’t intact, combustible parts of your home can be exposed to extreme heat, making this scenario a hidden fire hazard.

Animal Nests

Unfortunately, animals sometimes climb into a chimney and become trapped and unable to find their way back out. Another common situation we see is birds or rodents looking for a warm, dry place to build their nests. Nesting materials are flammable, not to mention the mess you’ll find the next time you want to build a fire.

If your wood burning chimney doesn’t have a cap to protect it, don’t be surprised if you’ve had some unexpected visitors, such as bats, raccoons, squirrels, or birds. Even snakes have been found in chimneys from time to time.

Schedule an Inspection

Has it been a while since your last chimney inspection? 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, so we’re always happy to answer any questions you have. 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.

10 Dangerous Dryer Vent Warning Signs

Under normal conditions, a dryer vent is supposed to direct the heat away from your dryer, but sometimes dryers stop functioning properly. This is when they can break down, or even become a fire hazard. Keep in mind that regular dryer vent cleaning helps to prevent these issues. With that said, here are 10 warning signs that you may have a dangerous dryer vent problem on your hands.

1) Longer Drying Times

If you’ve noticed that drying times are becoming increasingly longer than usual, this is a sure sign that your vents are getting clogged. What happens is that lint fiber gradually collects in these vents and slowly builds up over time. When the air is restricted by this buildup of debris, it will cause your machine to trap more moisture on the inside. These vents will need a professional cleaning in order for the drying time to return to normal. Without proper maintenance, this can lead to the need for an expensive replacement.

2) Heating Issues

Heating issues can also be a problem if you don’t schedule regular dryer vent cleaning. This can cause your machine to become so hot while it’s in use that it can damage your clothes. As a result, synthetic fabrics, like nylon, acrylic, and polyester, can even start to melt. But the biggest danger comes from a dryer that overheats so much that it causes a fire. Issues with the heating element can also result in the eventual failure of your machine.

Of course, another concern is pulling clothes out of a dryer that are still hot to the touch. Often they can feel slightly damp and can cause steam burns if they’re too hot to handle. This is a serious sign that tells you it’s time to book a professional dryer vent cleaning.

3) Overheating Shutdown Problems

Clothing dryers are designed to have a built-in switch that is triggered if the motor senses it’s becoming overheated. A blocked dryer vent limits the airflow to the point that it will start tripping the machine, making it stop so it has enough time to cool down. If you don’t know this, there can be a bigger issue when you simply restart the appliance before it’s cool enough to safely operate. If the dryer continues to overheat, there’s a risk for an electrical fire, caused by the motor becoming too hot. As you can imagine, this is a dangerous situation.

4) Mold or Mildew Smells

Since lint is mostly cotton fiber, it will act as a sponge for moisture. The levels can become higher as hot, moist air tries to push through a blockage. This moisture isn’t able to effectively dry out and can become a hidden, moldy mess. The smell of mold and mildew can spread inside your venting tube and cause odors that get into the clothes you place in the dryer. Laundry should smell clean and fresh, so this moldy odor can be confusing.

5) A Burnt Smell

If you notice a burnt smell from your dryer, this is a warning sign that you need dryer vent cleaning. When too much lint builds up inside the dryer, it will give off a weird burnt smell. Of course, it can also be a sign of a failing motor or belt. Be sure to remove your laundry from the machine and call a professional who can troubleshoot the source of the problem.

6) Crushed Dryer Hose

If you haven’t checked behind your dryer in a while—or ever, take a peek and make sure that the hoses between the wall and the dryer aren’t being pinched. This is an issue because the restricted airflow is a hazard. The company that handles your dryer vent cleaning can help resolve this situation.

7) Can Dryer Sheets Cause a Fire?

There have been some claims that fabric softener sheets can cause the heating element to fail in your dryer, increasing the threat of a fire. But is this really true? While there isn’t any evidence to back up this claim, liquid fabric softener can add to the flammability of certain fabrics.

8) Bird Nests

While it may not happen very often, birds sometimes are able to build a nest in termination hoods that are left uncovered. This is a problem that needs a quick fix. A professional can inspect your dryer as well as its setup to make sure everything is secure from wildlife using it as a nesting site.

9) Lack of Lint in the Trap

Dryers have a special trap that’s designed to collect the lint on your laundry. We all know that it needs to be cleaned out after each cycle, but what if there’s never any lint in the trap anymore? In this case, an obstruction is probably causing lint to become trapped in your machine. This can cause a fire, so be sure to call a specialist for a dryer vent cleaning as soon as possible.

10) Higher Electricity Bills

A rising utility bill is an unpleasant surprise. If you notice that your electricity costs are going up, your dryer may be to blame for the hike. When this appliance isn’t functioning properly, it has to work harder and use more wattage to dry your laundry. If there are blocks, the motor needs to  try harder to make up for those air blockages. You’ll likely need to put your laundry through more than once to get it truly dry. The result is an unexpected increase in your monthly electric bill. Dryer maintenance will actually save you money in the long run.

Schedule a Dryer Vent Cleaning

If you notice any of these warning signs, your safest option is always to call a professional who can make sure your dryer isn’t a fire hazard. Carbon monoxide poisoning is also a risk if a dryer isn’t installed correctly, or maintained over the years. At The Irish Sweep, we have the experience you need for such an important job. If you’re in the Alameda area, give us a call at (510) 521-4088. We’re available to answer any questions you have about dryer or fireplace safety in your home. You can also view our customer testimonials by clicking this link.

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.

Dryer Vent Cleaning – What is C-DET?

If you’ve ever had your dryer vents professionally cleaned, you’ve most likely come across the phrase “C-DET certified.” In this guide, we explore the relationship between C-DET and dryer vents cleaning and explain exactly what C-DET means.

What is C-DET?

C-DET is the only nationally recognized certification for dryer vent cleaning. A C-DET, or Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician, is certified by the CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America). So, a C-DET is a specially trained technician that is qualified to recognize safety issues and potential problems with your dryer. C-DET and dryer vent cleaning are essential to ensure dryers in your home operate safely. Otherwise, your dryer poses a risk for house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

What Does a C-DET do?

C-DETs do a lot more than simply cleaning out a dryer vent – they have other responsibilities too, such as checking the dyer system and making sure it’s in compliance with all relevant codes and regulations. A C-DET takes into account the age of your dryer, and how frequently it’s used. This information helps to eliminate possible safety hazards.

Why Use a C-DET?

If you choose to hire a technician without a C-DET certification, you could be trusting your dryer vent cleaning and analysis service to someone who is unqualified and inexperienced. When you work with a C-DET, you can have complete confidence that you hired someone with an expansive knowledge of dryers, as well as all the relevant codes and regulations. To become a CSIA C-DET, you must pass an extensive exam that covers everything from dryer maintenance to codes and regulations.

Why is C-DET Dryer Vents Cleaning Important?

• Improve the efficiency of your dryer

A clean dryer vent keeps your dryer functioning properly. When it’s clogged, it causes your appliance to work overtime. Clothes stay damp for longer, and your dryer deteriorates at a much faster rate than usual.

• Fire Safety

If your dryer is taking longer than usual to dry clothes, it may be running at a higher temperature. This can cause the heating element of your dryer to burn out. Not to mention this is one of the most common causes of house fires! Regular dryer maintenance by a C-DET ensures your dryer runs at a safe temperature.

C-DET and Dryer Vents Cleaning for You

Our mission is to educate and bring awareness to our customers regarding home safety. Maintain the optimum performance of your dryer, and secure your peace of mind, with a professional C-DET dryer vent cleaning from The Irish Sweep. Give us a call at (510) 521-4088.