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Chimney Sweep FAQ's

Why should I have my chimney inspected?

According to the National Fire Protection Association, chimney’s should be inspected or cleaned annually. The chimney and fireplace / furnace system is quite complicated and an inspection can alert you to a potential problem before it becomes a costly repair or a safety issue. Many times homeowners are unaware of problems that may exist.

There are 3 levels of Chimney Inspections that can be done depending on each individual case. It is always a good idea to schedule your inspection and cleaning in the late summer or early fall, before you begin using the chimney or furnace during the heating season. Many of our customers request to be on a regular annual schedule for this work. Another important time to schedule an inspection is if you have changed to a new furnace or if you have just purchased the home and want to be sure about the condition of the chimney system.

How does a Chimney Sweep clean a chimney? Will it make a mess?

At Lehigh Valley Chimney Specialists, a chimney sweep means a CSIA certified chimney sweep. So every technician that conducts a chimney cleaning follows specific guidelines and procedures that guarantee a thorough and professional job. Our technician will be wearing our uniform and will have the CSIA badge with their name and registration number.  We put down clean floor coverings around your fireplace and always clean up all work areas. Our specialized tools and powerful vacuums will prevent any soot or dust from entering your home. The chimney is usually cleaned from the bottom, reaching the firebox, smoke chamber, damper, smoke shelf, and flue liner.

Our qualified technicians are more than just chimney sweeps they are fully trained at diagnosing potential problem areas in your chimney and venting System. If we see something that is not right, we will notify you and perform a more detailed inspection if necessary. We never do any repairs or work without the customers permission, but it is our duty to report on any deficiencies in the system.

What is Creosote, how does it get in the chimney and why is it dangerous?

The CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) recommends that masonry chimneys should be cleaned when 1/4 of sooty build-up and creosote is present. Factory built insert fireplaces can actually become a hazard with a much thinner build-up on the inside walls.  Either type can reach a dangerous level after burning as little as a cord of wood, so your cleaning schedule may end up being 1 or 2 times per year. Even if you don’t use your chimney much, there is always the chance that animals have built nests during the summer that can form a blockage or things like leaves can accumulate during the Fall.

Natural gas is cleaner than wood, but the fumes actually create more water vapor than wood burning fires. This means more condensation in the chloride containing fumes, which can create a hydrochloric acid coating on the furnace flues. This is a highly corrosive agent and these systems should be checked at least once a year.

How often should I have my chimney or furnace flues cleaned?

The answer to this question depends on what fuel you use. It also depends on the age of your home, the condition of your chimney, and the weather (mild winters cause more problems than cold ones). Generally, if you use wood, it’s good to have the chimney cleaned at least every 6-12 months (more often if you burn two or more cords of wood, or if you burn green wood). Oil flues -especially if there’s a ventilation problem- need to be inspected and cleaned each year in order to avoid chimney blockage. Problems in the furnace or boiler can cause highly sooty conditions in the chimney. Even though natural gas is a clean-burning fuel, today’s high-efficiency gas furnaces create special problems. The fumes they produce are cooler and produce higher levels of water vapor than previous models, and this vapor in turn produces more water condensation. These vapors also contain chlorides from house-supplied combustion air which combine to form hydrochloric acid. The acid-water condensates from these latest natural gas furnaces cause more flue deterioration than previous models. It’s important to check the chimneys that vent these systems at least once each year.

How long does chimney cleaning usually take?

Many of our chimney cleanings also include time to do a top to bottom, inside and outside level one inspection as well, so time on those appointments varies. A typical chimney cleaning alone usually lasts between 45 minutes to an hour.

I use a gas furnace, do I still need to clean my flue?

Yes. Gas does burn clean, but you may still run into issues with the cooler gases that condense quicker. This allows for the formation of hydrochloric acid and the potential for a corrosive coating to build up in your flue. There is also the common problem of animals and birds building nests in these smaller venting systems. If there is debris that blocks or partially blocks your flue, harmful gases can build up creating unsafe operating conditions for your furnace or stove.

The biggest problems come when a customer buys a new appliance and hooks it into an older venting system. The requirements may be much different for the newer stove or furnace, creating a serious mismatch with the older flue system. A professional needs to examine the total venting system to be sure everything is up to an acceptable standard. Don’t count on your furnace installer or heating man to do this, it is not their job or field of expertise.

Are all Chimney Sweeps basically the same?

No. Just because someone says that they are a Chimney Sweep it does not mean that they are qualified. The chimney industry is not regulated by the government, but we do have professional industry standards that are certified by the CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) and the NCSG (National Chimney Safety Guild). When we are talking about such a critical area of service to help keep your family and home safe, it does not make sense to take chances. Make sure you ask for proof of certification from the individual that is actually doing the work. At NEC, each one of our professional uniformed technicians always carries their certification credentials. Many less scrupulous companies may only have one certified person and advertise that their business is fully certified. Then they send out less qualified workers with insufficient training to your home to actually do the work. The chimney industry is plagued with these pretenders that offer extremely low prices, but actually deliver an inferior and unsafe quality of work.

The other obvious requirement to insist on is that the company that you hire is fully insured. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions of your chimney sweep company. With Lehigh Valley Chimney Specialists you will rest easier knowing that you invited a fully qualified, insured and certified sweep into your home.

How can a Sweep help me to maintain a safe home?

Take it from Ben Franklyn “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. That famous saying was actually in reference to fire safety. At the time, Franklin was forming the Philadelphia Union Fire Company, and wanted to help educate the public in order to protect them against the huge losses that families who experienced fires went through.
That adage applies today. The cost of a chimney sweep or inspection is insignificant when compared with the potential devastation that a chimney fire or carbon monoxide poisoning can cause. There is no doubt that the increase in proper chimney maintenance has saved many lives and billions in property damage.

Should I be concerned about Carbon Monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide is produced whenever gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. Higher levels can be produced when your chimney is not functioning properly. This odorless gas can accumulate to dangerous levels when a blocked chimney or flue prevents the gases from properly venting out and away from the home. Hundreds die needlessly every year because of undetected problems with fuel burning appliances, stoves or fireplaces. Flues should be inspected routinely for rust, blockage and defects that may allow gases to back draft into the home.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are headaches, nausea and fatigue. You should always have detectors installed in your home to guard against unsafe levels of this odorless, colorless gas. But don’t just rely on the detectors, make sure that your venting systems are inspected and in good working order at all times.

What is Chimney Relining? Do all chimneys need liners?

Traditionally, masonry chimneys had clay tiles that covered the inside of the chimney. These tiles were designed to seal the chimney structure and direct all the sparks, heat, gases and particles up and out of the home. The problem is that over time, the tiles crack or break due to weathering, heat and freeze cycles, and other factors. Once the break-down begins, your chimney can become dangerous to use and can require a new lining. Some older chimneys did not even have the tile liners, so they are a real hazard that needs immediate attention. Chimneys built before 1940 have a high likelihood that they were built without a clay liner. Every chimney needs a liner of some kind that is designed to fit the needs of the fireplace, stove or furnace that is venting through it.

There are many solutions to relining a chimney, the most popular being a stainless steel liner being installed in the chimney space from top to bottom. This flue can also be insulated to increase efficiency and needs to be fitted properly to the chimney using flexible or rigid flue piping.

Do I really need a Chimney Cap?

Your chimney cap helps to prevent excess water from entering your chimney and the damage that it causes. It also keeps out birds, squirrels, raccoons and other critters that may think your chimney looks like a nice  summer home. A very common problem is when raccoons, squirrels, birds and bats try to make their home in your chimney. They can block proper ventilation and even enter your home, potentially spreading disease and wreaking havoc. Our strong mesh and caps will keep even the most determined critters out.A cap also prevents leaves and other debris that storms and high winds may blow into your chimney from entering. Blockages that can occur from these issues are often the fuel for dangerous chimney fires. The chimney cap (or guard) protects the home of the risk that sparks and airborne embers will land on your roof, causing a fire hazard.

Prefab Fireplace Inserts – can they be repaired or replaced?

Many newer homes have a factory built fireplace that is installed in the wall with a framed wall outside the home that contains the venting system. These fireplaces are usually constructed using galvanized steel and last from 15 to 20 on average. If you see gaps or cracks in the walls of your firebox area, rust or warped panels – you need to have the system inspected and possibly repaired. If the prefab fireplace insert has reached its limit for use, we can also install a new fireplace insert that would fit into the existing space.

Why is water is leaking into and around my fireplace, or staining the ceilings?

Water is the major enemy of your fireplace system. It can seep in many places, cracking and corroding joints, mortar and brick. Excess condensation caused by improper operating flue systems adds water to your chimney. Cracks can let water in, un-capped chimneys invite water damage and defective flashing can allow roof leaks.

At the first sign of water, have an inspection! You will end up saving money and put an end to any potentially unsafe conditions. Many times if the problem is caught early – the cost to repair is much less than a future cost to replace.

My fireplace smokes, can anything be done about that?

Smoke coming into your home is certainly not enjoyable and indicates a problem with a poor draw up and out of the chimney. Smoke may also escape through leaks in your liner into other areas of the house. If you smell smoke in other rooms, your problem is likely with your liner. Remember, your liner must be the correct size for the fireplace, stove or furnace that your are venting – if it is not, the gases and smoke will not all escape the home. If your damper is not working properly or is closed you will also get smoke back drafting into the home. Many of today’s homes are built very tight, so the air that is taken out of the room during burning can’t be replaced. Outside air needs to be introduced in order to remedy the imbalance and allow the smoke to be drafted out of the chimney. If your smoking problem goes away when you crack open a window, this may be your problem. If you have smoke in your home when you use your fireplace, it is not a safe situation.

What is that whitish discoloration on the outside of my chimney?

This deposit is called efflorescence. When gases leak out through a defective liner and onto your brick interior wall they deposit salts on the surface of the masonry. Water then dissolves and transports these salts through the joints and mortar to the exterior of the chimney where you see the white deposits. So these are the telltale signs of leaks in your liner and water problems in your chimney system. Repairs should be made immediately to prevent further deterioration of your chimney.


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