Sunday, March 30, 2014

What's Creosote?

   If you have a fireplace or a wood stove, chances are you've heard the word Creosote, but what exactly is it?   

  In essence, creosote is condensed smoke. It comes from the incomplete combustion of the oils in the wood. As the smoke rises through the chimney, it cools, causing water, carbon, and volatiles to condense on the interior surfaces of the chimney flue.

   Creosote is black in appearance with an oily and gummy texture.

   Over time, creosote deposits can become several inches thick, creating a compound problem. The increasing accumulation can reduce the airflow through the chimney, which will prevent the fire from burning hot enough. It will send more smoke that will condensate throughout the flue adding another layer of creosote.

   The most important fact to remember about creosote is that it is highly combustible. 

   73% of heating fires and 25% of all residential fires in the United States are caused by failure to clean out creosote buildup.

   When creosote ignites, the result is a chimney fire that often spreads to the main building because the chimney gets so hot that it will ignite any combustible material in direct contact with it, such as wood framing around the chimney.

   As dangerous as creosote is, regular preventive maintenance in the form of sweepings done by a chimney professional to remove the buildup, goes a long way to ensure the safety of your home. Yearly checkups are a must when you own a fireplace or a wood stove in order to assess the condition of the system.

   In the event that a sweeping alone does not reduce the risk of a chimney fire adequately, chemical treatments come into play. Due to the strength of these chemicals, this is a job best left for chimney professionals, who have been trained in the proper safety procedures to handle the job.

   The treatments are applied on a weekly basis depending on the severity of accumulation, giving the chemicals time to breakup the buildup, which is then removed by sweeping the flue with scraping brushes.

  Creosote is an inevitable byproduct of burning wood, but by adhering to a solid maintenance schedule by chimney professionals, you and your family can enjoy the warmth of a fire, knowing someone who's versed on fire prevention is there to ensure your safety.

   Javier A. Robayo
   Copyright 2014© Advanced Chimney Service, LLC

Safe and Warm

On the way to an appointment, I felt it in the air. The unique scent of a wood fire, a staple of winter time in New England that never fails to elicit a smile.
Few things say welcome home like the glowing flames in the fireplace. We're inevitably drawn to bask in the warmth of a fire, in quiet communion with the snapping and crackling of the logs, and allowing our stress to flee our minds along with the smoke.
Some of the best nights I've ever spent in the company of my wife and daughters were those we shared sitting around the fireplace. We've shared stories. We've listened to our favorite shows on the radio like our grandparents did. We've even watched some great movies. And in many instances, our fireplace provided a sense of serenity and togetherness, the common background to any age.
Some fires have seen monumental events in our lives, from a first kiss to a wedding proposal; Thanksgivings and Christmases; even confessions and secrets in the making. They've bore witness to the giggling after a snowball fight, heard a baby's first word, and warmed loyal dogs while they slumber before the dancing glow. Fire has the power to give us comfort on days when the cold alone isn't the sole reason of our shivering. 
Preserving that comfort and peace of mind, by ensuring your safety is one of the most rewarding parts of our job as chimney sweeps.
Stay safe and warm this season.

   Javier A. Robayo

Why Should You Consider Relining Your Wood Stove Chimney Flue?

   Benjamin Franklin changed the method with which we heat our homes with his invention of the Franklin stove. Wood burning stoves heat up rapidly then radiate the heat into the room much more efficiently than a conventional fireplace. 
   The stove was the first major improvement of our home heating heat source. 
   During the energy crisis of the 1970's, wood stoves became quite popular at a time when fire safety codes were still developing. The installation of a wood stove was deceivingly easy and people drew a false sense of security from the stove venting through masonry chimneys. In short, monumental mistakes were made as illustrated above. 
   Today, each wood stove manufacturer has to clearly label their unit with the proper installation clearances. Insurance companies pay close attention to code compliance and are quick to refuse a claim due to a loss caused by an improper installation. 

   When a wood stove cools, the smoke will condensate and form layers of creosote, a flammable byproduct of incomplete combustion, creating an unsafe condition that led to many chimney and home fires.
   Some older installations consist of no more than a short smoke pipe venting into the smoke chamber of a fireplace, which is now unacceptable by new fire safety standards. 
   The safest way to vent a wood stove is through an insulated stainless steel liner that will keep the combustion fumes hot all the way into the atmosphere, therefore impeding the formation of creosote.
   Another benefit of a good quality stainless steel liner is that in the event of a fire, the liner will contain the heat better than masonry.
   This dangerous condition can be avoided with yearly inspections and servicing done by a chimney professional, trained to identify potential problems and experienced in properly relining a chimney up to the latest codes.
   Gain peace of mind by knowing exactly how your wood stove is installed and by having a professional check and service the system. 
Wood stoves are meant to heat up your home and there's no better way to enjoy its warmth than having the knowledge that your installation is safe and up to code.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Unlined Chimneys: What you need to know

unlined chimney in a home built before 1800
   Before we were able to use oil or gas to heat our homes, chimneys were simple structures with one simple directive: to provide a passage for smoke from a fireplace.
   Even though the use of clay flues was implemented to better contain exhaust fumes, older builders did not anticipate one day oil boilers and furnaces would become high efficiency units like the ones we see today.
   Most oil boiler's installation specifics call for a 6 inch round flue to properly vent combustion fumes. Quite a difference from passages like the one illustrated above.
   Bigger is not necessarily better in this case. One of the reasons newer appliances call for such smaller passages is to preserve the unit's efficiency.
    Another, perhaps more important factor, is to better control the condensation of the fumes.
    When exhaust fumes condense, they become solid and accumulate throughout the passage in the form of soot. In many cases, such as venting gas units, water vapor immediately cools in a large unlined chimney and allows for water to collect throughout the inside of the chimney. Given enough time, deterioration of the masonry will ensue, leading to costly repairs in order to avoid dangerous blockages.
    In the event of a chimney fire, smoke and fumes will transfer through the house since masonry is porous in nature. This is where a chimney liner makes the most sense. The stainless steel passage will effectively trap the fumes and safely conduct them outside of the house.
    Older homes, not originally designed to accommodate a boiler or a furnace, have been typically adapted poorly to vent combustion fumes. Often, boiler/furnace fumes are vented right into a smoke chamber of an existing fireplace. By today's building codes, this practice violates every safety measure established against carbon monoxide poisoning.
   A chimney liner installation in an unlined chimney can be quite simple in most cases. However, on a central common chimney that serves multiple fireplaces, and adapted to vent a heating appliance, the installation is far more complicated.
   Divider walls will most likely be less than solid and may collapse and block the passage. The demolition to open up the space for the chimney liner is involved, but necessary.
   Chimney liners are a sound investment into the safety of the home and its occupants. Liners safely contain toxic combustion fumes and guide them out of the home. Quality liners carry a lifetime warranty, typically built out of stainless steel that will not rust or sustain the type of water damage found in unprotected masonry.
   An installation is only as good as the installer, which is why professional chimney technicians undergo extensive training and adhere to manufacturer's standards.
   If you own a home built more than 80 years ago, it's likely your chimney is unlined. Consult with your chimney professional, and you'd be wise to explore the option of having a chimney liner installed for your heating appliance, or your wood stove, as discussed in an older post.
   Stay safe, informed, and warm.

   Javier A. Robayo

Copyright ©2013 Advanced Chimney Service, LLC.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Chimney Caps, A Good Investment

   Protecting the top of your chimney from rain or snow going down the flue only makes sense. It's why you will find some chimneys topped with a piece of slate, and why you'll find plenty topped off with a metal cage-like contraption. But what is the right way to go? And why are they really necessary? How do you choose a chimney cap?

   Chimney caps come in a variety of forms, but only a professional chimney technician knows exactly what a particular chimney system requires in terms of chimney caps.

   The first important aspect in choosing a chimney is the durability of its material. A chimney cap is supposed to withstand rain, snow, and wind. Water will cause galvanized steel to rust in a short time. Stone caps will erode given enough time, and cracks and crevices will only accelerate its deterioration as the freeze-and-thaw weathering cycles take a toll on its integrity. The best choice is

a chimney cap made of Stainless Steel or Copper if you want the more aesthetically pleasing look. Manufacturers of these caps offer a lifetime warranty so long as a professional chimney technician performs the installation.
   The second important aspect is design. Restrictive models will only add to the frustration of weak draft problems and smoking issues. Well-designed chimney are built with air flow in mind, but also to provide a solid defense against most critters.

   Spring time brings new life not only to the natural landscape, but also in the form of new broods of raccoons, squirrels, birds, bats, and other adventurous members of the Connecticut wildlife that have an eye for dormant chimneys. In some cases, nests will block the chimney flue and you won't know it until you start that first fire and all the smoke blows back into the house. In other cases, you may be surprised by a scampering family of squirrels leaving a stream of sooty pawprints as they try to find their way out. Most unfortunate critters won't be able to find their way out of the flue and they'll succumb for lack of food and water. No Febreze spray or Glade Aromatic Wicks will eliminate the stench of decomposition coming from the fireplace or flue.
   Besides protecting against animal intrusion, the mesh will also serve as a spark arrestor. Some fires have started from flying embers that managed to exit the flue only to land on the roof. A chimney cap's will go a long way in protecting your home.
   Didn't expect this topic to be so involved, did you?
   Well-designed chimney caps deflect downdrafts, allowing for smoke and fumes to exit the passage without being blocked by cooler air streams that sweep over the roof and into the flue.
   And finally, water protection. Water carved the Grand Canyon, so an exposed, aged masonry chimney and clay flue tiles are prone to deteriorate from water damage. In flues venting oil appliances, boilers, water heaters or furnaces, when water mixes with the residue in the chimney flue, the result is sulfuric acid, which will accelerate the deterioration process and pose a real danger in terms of blocking your flue. The acid will eat at the flue lining and cause flakes to accumulate at the bottom. Given enough time, the accumulation may indeed block the fumes from safely exiting your home and leaking back inside.
   Although no cap will keep every single water molecule out of the flue, it will undoubtedly prolong the life of your chimney systems.
   A chimney cap is only as good as its installation. As mentioned before, only a chimney professional has the training to determine the right cap for your chimney system. The technician will ensure the chimney cap allows for the proper clearances needed to preserve optimum air flow and maximum protection of your system. 
   If you take into account what it would cost to remove animals, hire a cleaning service to eradicate soot and smoke damage from blocked flues, repair a water-damaged chimney, which may involve relining an entire chimney flue, or heaven forbid, fire damage, a chimney cap is a sound investment no matter which way you look at it. 


The Chimney Crown. First Line of Defense, First Indicator of Trouble

“It’s all brick and mortar. It’s cement! It’ll be there forever. Right?”

Disintegrating crown leaving top of chimney
prone to water intrusion and deterioration.

   A chimney is as simple a structure as anyone will find. In essence, it’s a tower built of brick, block or stone that houses heating systems and fireplace flues, which provide a safe escape for toxic combustion fumes and smoke.

   A chimney is built with a solid footing at the bottom and a crown on top, the subject of our post. The chimney crown is a slab of cement that seals off the top of the chimney. The crown is supposed to protect the structure but it's the Achilles's heel of a chimney.

   Like any masonry structure, the chimney crown is subject to erosion, water intrusion, and deterioration, but as if that weren’t enough, homeowners often fall victim to poor or inadequate construction.

   In some cases, larger crowns were built over wood planks, which is dangerous enough. No part of a chimney should be built with flammable materials. Besides, Given enough time, bacteria will thrive and feed off the wood until it rots, and no longer supports the weight of the slab of cement. 
   How does that happen? 
Chimney walls blown out by wedging
effect of unsupported crown

   Despite their solid appearance, brick and mortar are porous and moisture will find its way to the wooden planks.  What happens next is similar to when you split wood with a steel wedge. The unsupported weight exerts downward pressure and 
causes the brick walls of the chimney to blow out. Once this happens, bricks can fall and if your roof is steep enough, pieces of your chimney could tumble all the way down.

   In other cases, the chimney crown is built so thin that it erodes at a faster rate, leaving the structure unprotected. As discussed in previews posts, water is the number one agent of deterioration for masonry structures. When temperatures drop below freezing, water collected in cracks on the crown and brickwork will turn to ice and expand, acting like a very effective chisel. Wind will take away the thin crown flakes and leave the interior of the chimney open to more water and its destructive 
Common evidence of water damage on a thin crown

   So, how do you determine the condition of your chimney crown?

   If you’re the do-it-yourself type, climbing the roof and examining the chimney is your best bet. But if you’re not into heights, your best option is to rely on your chimney professional, who will examine the condition of the crown during yearly visits. 

   Frequent inspections will save you money.

   The top of a chimney is not exactly at the top of the average homeowner’s list of concerns. As we often hear it, “It’s all brick and mortar. It’s cement! It’ll be there forever. Right?”


   Early detection of chimney crown deterioration can make the difference between a relatively inexpensive crown repair and a costly rebuild.

Ideal Chimney Crown further protected
by CrownCoat material.
   There are new ways available to protect your chimney crown against the abuse of the elements, such as CrownCoat, a vinyl-based material that’s flexible enough to “move” with the chimney but solid enough to keep water from inflicting its typical damage. If a problem is detected early enough, a CrownCoat repair may be all you need to prolong the life of your chimney crown.

   Installing a chimney cap to protect flues from water and animal intrusion is also a great investment for the protection of your chimney. Multi-flue style chimney caps are installed with adhesive materials and hardware that anchors into the chimney crown. It’s an effective way to ensure against high winds from knocking it down.
Eroding chimney crown caused
chimney cap to fall

   This season, there’s been many calls about fallen chimney caps thanks to the likes of Irene and Sandy. Single-flue style caps fall due to poor design or installation, and they have little to do with the condition of the chimney crown. But in cases where multi-flue style chimney caps fell, the culprit was not the hardware. It was the chimney crown. 

   A multi-flue style chimney cap installation is only as good as the 
Fallen Multi-Flue Style Chimney Cap
condition of the crown.

   Some caps installed with adhesive material blew off once that layer of cement peeled off the rest of the crown. Other caps fell because the anchoring points became loose after cracks in the crown expanded, rendering the anchor useless.
Adhesive Material. Note the sandy
residue from deteriorating crown.

   Honest, reliable chimney professionals will conduct a proper inspection of the condition of your structures, and can even provide you with detailed photographs to back up their observations.

   All masonry structures are prone to water damage and deterioration, and unless you were there with the mason who built your chimney, you never really know what’s beneath the surface. Don’t wait until it’s too late. The chimney crown is your first line of defense, and it will be one of the first indicators to alert you to potential problems. Call for an assessment of your structure and protect your chimney by making sure the crown is built well and further protected with a chimney cap and CrownCoat material. It's the best way to avoid expensive repairs and to gain peace of mind, knowing your chimney will stand the forces of nature for a long time to come. 

   Javier A. Robayo

Thursday, February 14, 2013


  Arguably the most powerful element in all of creation. Life emerged from water. One can go without food, but not without water, it's that essential. Water is part of every breathtaking landscape, like Arizona's Grand Canyon, which it carved centuries ago. Water continues to reshape the land even today.
  Water is also a masonry chimney's number one enemy. It will stain its exterior, erode mortar joints, cause the deterioration of crowns, bricks, and clay flue liners. It will also generate a horrible odor that will permeate a home when mixing with creosote in a wood burning chimney.
  *According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, each year unmaintained chimneys cause deaths and injuries, and account for more than $200 million in property losses.
  Every winter, water finds its way into small cracks and imperfections in the masonry only to expand when it freezes, widening these fractures and eventually destroying a chimney. Loose brick will allow water to run into the house, causing an entirely different set of problems. 
  Every spring and summer, we repair several chimneys, repointing joints or more than likely rebuilding a chimney.
Fortunately, reputable chimney services offer an array of solutions to correct and prevent water damage.
  An ideal rebuild will include a new, thick crown that will seal the top of the chimney, sloped to divert water away from the chimney, and also serving as an ideal base for a chimney cap made out of stainless steel or copper that will keep the flue dry.
In cases where the chimney needs rebuilt from the roof line, metal flashing is used to seal the gap between the roof and the chimney. Don't fall for anyone "sealing" the flashing with tar. Roof leaks are a hazard for the structure of the ceiling walls and rafters.
  Finally, the naturally porous masonry can be kept from absorbing water by applying a waterproofing agent, and layering the crown with a vinyl sealant.
  Chimneys are often neglected until a problem arises even though it's an important part of your home heating system. 
Most of us often think, "hey, it's made of brick. What could possibly happen to it?", but as discussed in this post, it only takes some water.