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 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.

WHAT ARE “NO BURN DAYS”?

Spare the Air was formed in 1991 by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to inform residents when the air quality is forecast to be harmful and to share information on ways to decrease air pollution. No Burn Days are also called “Winter Spare the Air” days.

In 2008, the Air District approved a rule that makes it illegal to burn firewood on days once a Winter Spare the Air alert is in effect. This guideline was adopted to protect public health.

During winter months, wood smoke is the major source of air pollution in the Bay Area, accounting for more than one-third of fine particulate substance pollution. On cool, peaceful days when there is an inversion layer of warm air acting as a cover over a layer of cold air, wood smoke can build up at ground level to harmful concentrations.

There are numerous things residents can do to decrease their impact on air quality over the winter, when these weather conditions endure. The first line of protection is to limit usage of wood-burning stoves, and ideally switch over to a different heating method, such as gas, or EPA-certified wood stoves.

CHECK FOR ALERTS BEFORE YOU BURN

Never fail to spot an alert by signing up for Winter Spare the Air Alerts. Modify your alert for text, email, or phone call. Winter Spare the Air Alerts will as well be posted to the Spare the Air and Air District websites and social media.

KEEP IN COMPLIANCE

Besides avoiding burning wood on Winter Spare the Air Days, there are additional provisions in the wood-burning rule.

Wood-burning devices are forbidden in new buildings constructed in the Bay Area. Gas-fueled fireplace, gas inserts, and electrical fireplaces are acceptable.

We want you to stay warm this winter, but make sure you first check if that day is a “no burn day” by visiting the Spare the Air website.

WHAT MAKES AN ARTIFICIAL GAS LOG SET

First of all, let me be clear, artificial gas log sets can only be installed in a fireplace that is suitable for wood burning.  The only way we can determine the fireplace is fire safe is to clean the chimney and then look at the interior surfaces with our remote vision camera system.

These sets come in various sizes and include ceramic logs of your choice with a burn pan, decorative silica sand, volcanic cinders, dual effect embers, a pedestal grate and damper stop.

A plumbing contactor is required to install a gas valve on the floor or wall near the fireplace and a gas supply line into the firebox.

Vent-free artificial gas log sets are illegal in the State of California.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO DO CHIMNEY CLEANING?

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.

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