Your chimney may be the biggest system in your home besides the central air and heating unit and there’s a lot that can go wrong with it. Because it’s so big and can cause big problems for your home, it’s important to understand just what makes up the chimney system, how it works, and how it can go wrong.
Parts of the Chimney
From bottom to top, there are many parts and materials that make up a fireplace and chimney system. The terms ‘fireplace’ and ‘chimney’ are often used interchangeably, and they work together to get the job done. What we know as the fireplace is actually called the firebox, and what we know as the chimney is actually the flue. These are only two parts of a very large system that must be built and maintained properly. Only then will the system work efficiently and safely.
Foundation – Just as the house itself sits on a foundation that holds it up and prevents settlement and shifting as seasons and weather change the soil, the chimney requires a foundation. Oftentimes this foundation is built when the home is built, but not always.
Ash Dump – Some, but not all, chimneys have an ash dump. This is a space beneath the firebox where ashes can be pushed and stored to cool and collect over time. A chimney sweep can remove these ashes as needed through a cleanout door near the foundation—a service that usually isn’t required for several years.
Hearth – The hearth is the floor of the firebox which usually extends from the back of the fireplace out into the room a bit and is made of a particular firebrick and refractory mortar that protects against heat transfer from the fire.
Firebox – The space where the fire sits and burns is called the firebox. It endures the highest temperatures for the longest periods but receives the least attention. The firebox is constructed of firebricks and refractory mortar.
Damper – The damper is a mechanism, usually made of metal, installed at the top of the firebox and opens and closes the flue opening. When the damper is closed, very little air moves through the chimney system. When the flue is open, air flows freely.
Smoke Chamber – The space above the firebox is called the smoke chamber—so named because this is where the particles and gases mingle with the heat to rise up the chimney. It is shaped like an inverted funnel to direct smoke upward and into the flue. Beneath the smoke chamber, there is a shelf (called the smoke shelf) designed to prevent smoke from falling back into the firebox and into the home. The walls of the smoke chamber should be at certain angles and smooth.
Flue – The flue is the interior vent by which smoke and gases travel out of the home. The surface of the flue should be covered with a liner that keeps heat and corrosive chemicals from damaging or moving through the masonry and gives it a seamless, smooth surface for optimum airflow.
Masonry Crown – At the top of the chimney there is a ceiling that extends from the flue opening to the edge of the chimney. The crown is made out of durable material that can withstand harsh temperatures, sunlight, and precipitation. It is also made at a slant so that water runs away from the flow and onto a drip edge, where it drips down onto the flashing at the roof instead of running down the masonry.
Chimney Cap – The chimney cap is the roof of the chimney system. It keeps water, animals, wind, and weather out. The cap is necessary to prevent chimney water damage and animal intrusion. It is often made of copper or stainless steel.
Common Chimney Problems
Even a well-constructed chimney can become damaged over time—especially through particularly rough winters or when subjected to coastal air and moisture.
- Spalling masonry can be particularly devastating to chimneys that stand in coastal regions. This is when the mortar cracks and falls away, causing bricks to loosen and take on water.
- Leaky chimneys can lead to damaged parts of the chimney, but also water damage throughout the house. A chimney leak can occur in any season and cause damage year-round.
- Smoky fireplaces are usually caused by an obstruction, draft issue, or even the wrong firewood being burned in the fireplace! A smoky fireplace doesn’t always require a repair but should always be troubleshot and a professional should be called if the problem persists.
- Liner damage is most often due to an old clay tile liner becoming worn out and breaking apart. You might find pieces of clay tile in your firebox or notice problems like masonry that is hot to the touch. Liner damage can also be caused by a dirty flue or a flue fire.
Whether your system is old or new, whether you have a fireplace, a stove, or an insert, whether you burn wood, pellets, or gas, your chimney is important. It can be a great asset, but can also be very dangerous. Make sure you know the ins and outs of chimney function and maintenance. Make sure your chimney system is safe and efficient. It will work better and for longer.
Call and schedule services with Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep today by calling 617-469-4528
There are many issues that can arise during the winter months—things that affect the bills you pay and the safety of your home. The problems that affect your home this winter are not always caused by your fire appliance, your heater, or even neglect. Many problems arise because of weather, storms, damage, or other things entirely out of our control. In order for our customers to have the safest home possible this winter and every winter, we recommend these tips.
Gutters and Drains
Gutters and outside drains are great assets during freezing winters and wet springs. However, if they aren’t properly maintained, they can become a hazard. Leaves and debris left inside gutters and drains can cause a clog, allow your water flow to stall and freeze, and even lead to leaks and water damage outside the gutter system. A gutter problem doesn’t just affect the roof, eaves, and house. An overflowing or damaged gutter can lead to washout and damage to your landscaping and direct rainwater to your basement and foundation instead of designated drainage areas.
The only windows that do not need to be weatherized are those that are double-pane storm windows. There are specific models and brands of windows that will insulate your home despite the outside weather and temperature, but these windows are expensive and not usually in older homes. If you have a standard single-pane window, it should be properly winterized in order to save you money and prevent damage.
Screen Removal – If your windows have an outer screen, the screen should be removed during winter prep. Leaving the screens in the window can allow water to pass through the screen and then freeze against the window and the window sill. This not only leads to a temperature drop but also can ruin a wooden window frame and sill. Remove the screen and store upright in a storage closet, basement, or attic.
Storm Window Panes – If your single-pane windows have a screen, look around the basement and attic for replacement storm windows. These panes slip right into the space where the screen is removed. If your windows do not have storm window panes, remove the screen and plastic over your windows for insulation.
Window Insulation – Whether you have storm windows or simple single-pane windows, you can still add clear plastic insulation to your windows to help keep the cold out and keep your warm air in. You can hire someone to winterize your windows or purchase a window insulation kit at your local home improvement store to improve your home’s heat efficiency.
By the end of summer, we are excited to be finished with lawn care. We’re excited for the leaves to begin falling and celebrate as we put that weed trimmer and lawnmower in the shed for the winter. While we as homeowners are understandably finished with lawn care when autumn arrives, it’s important to trim your lawn before winter is in full force. Oftentimes, the grass stops growing, so we fail to cut it one last time. This makes raking more difficult when necessary and can hide hazards beneath high grass and then snow as fall turns to winter and winter to spring. Cutting your grass before winter arrives will mean a seamless transition back to spring and summer and will mean a healthier lawn and healthier microorganisms that help cultivate healthy soil.
Air Duct and Dryer Vent Maintenance
During winter months, we use air ducts and dryer vents more often than other times of the year. You may not even realize it, but you are likely spending more time than ever indoors, breathing recycled air that has been moving through your HVAC system over and over. You are also likely using the clothes dryer more often than in warmer months if you use a clothesline during the warmer months.
Whatever the reason, these systems are being used, and are oftentimes neglected. In order for a more efficient and safer central air and heating system, make sure you have your air ducts cleaned and sanitized as needed. When the system is maintained properly it will use less energy, will cycle and filter the air in your home better, and will last longer. Similarly, the clothes dryer vent will work better when it is cleaned annually. Not only will a clean dryer vent keep your family safe this winter, but it will help your dryer work better, work safely, use less energy, and last longer. Running your dryer multiple times for one load of clothes is a sign that there is a problem—and it’s a sign that costs you money! Schedule dryer maintenance now and see how much it saves you.
Chimney and Fireplace Maintenance
Homes that have a fireplace and chimney system are safer when they are maintained properly. Don’t take our word for it! The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) both agree that the safest and most efficient chimney systems are those that are cleaned regularly and inspected annually. Ideally, a homeowner would schedule these important services before the burn season, but it isn’t too late.
Residents in Boston, North Shore, and Portland area can call and schedule a sweep or inspection with Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep anytime, year-round. Our aim is to make safe homes and warm hearths. Dial 617-469-4528 or contact us online.
Whether you’ve had a harsh winter already this year, or your chimney sustained damage in the past, it’s important to diagnose and repair the damage as soon as possible. Winter-damaged masonry can lead to more serious problems and costs in the future, so the sooner you call a professional, the better.
Common Winter Damage
- Chimney Leaks – When water enters the chimney system it can be catastrophic, leading to water damage in the chimney system itself, the fireplace or appliance, and also the rest of the home. The water may enter by a faulty chimney cap, damaged crown, spalling masonry, or dislodged flashing, but the water may travel through the home and form a leak elsewhere, many rooms away from the chimney. Expert tip: have your chimney system inspected annually and waterproofed after repairs so that the masonry is protected from water penetration.
- Spalling Masonry – When the masonry becomes cracked, crumbles, and bricks and mortar pieces begin to fall, this is called spalling. Spalling masonry is extremely dangerous for the chimney and can cause bricks to fall onto and damage the roof and landscaping below as it becomes more serious. Expert tip: have your masonry waterproofed with a deep-penetrating water repellent by Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep to prevent water masonry damage. Schedule a professional to repair your masonry through a process called tuckpointing.
- Crown Damage – Winter weather can wreak havoc on a chimney crown that is old, poorly maintained, and improperly constructed. If a crown is too thin, flat, or made of the wrong materials, water can penetrate it during winter months and then freeze, causing more damage through what’s called the freeze-thaw cycle. Expert tip: ask your chimney professional specific questions about crown construction. It should be constructed with the right materials and design for a lasting crown.
- Dislodged Flashing – Harsh winter temperatures and storms can lead to dislodged flashing. Since the intersection of the chimney and roof is the most vulnerable part of your entire chimney system, dislodged flashing can have serious hazardous results. Expert tip: look at your flashing after strong winds or prolonged ice or snow exposure. Exposed nails, shifted metal, and missing flashing is reason to call a professional right away.
The Freeze-Thaw Cycle
Winter is the most common time for chimney damage that has nothing to do with the fire. Yes, you’re using your fireplace more, but winter damage is caused by outside forces—temperatures, pressures, precipitation, animals, and more. The worst thing that can happen to your chimney during winter months is water penetration. Because masonry is porous by nature, allowing water to penetrate beyond the surface, freezing temperatures can be devastating as the moisture trapped in the masonry freezes and thaws. Water fills the gaps and voids in the masonry, then freezes as temperatures fall. The water expands as it freezes, breaking apart the masonry. Then when a fire is lit or the sun warms the chimney again the water thaws and moves further into the damaged masonry. This process repeats all winter long, causing serious damage in a short time. If this damage isn’t repaired and the chimney waterproofed, the chimney may require a serious repair or rebuild. If the damage remains throughout the spring months, water will have a direct route into the chimney system to make more damage.
Chimney Repairs and Waterproofing in Boston, North Shore, and Portland
Home and business owners in and around Boston, North Shore, and Portland areas continue to depend on Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep for all their ongoing chimney needs, including repairs and waterproofing services. Our goal to keep our friends and neighbors in our service area safe and warm each winter is the reason why we offer expert services like crown repair, tuckpointing, chimney relining, rebuilds, renovations, and more. We also specialize in preventive services such as waterproofing, chimney sweeps, and CSIA inspections.
Our chimney experts are CSIA certified chimney sweeps, experienced master masons, and trained installers. When you hire a Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep you are depending on the best our service area has to offer. We show up with clear ID tags, clean uniforms, and branded company vehicles. You will never second guess your choice in companies or technicians. We keep your home clean of toxins and dirtiness while we work and hand you a written report when the service is complete. If your chimney requires repairs, we provide before and after footage for your own records and to present to your home-owners insurance or realtor. We use a camera system to get up-close-footage during each chimney sweep and inspection and offer a complimentary carbon monoxide test to insure hidden dangers aren’t present.
We are only just into winter, but damage can occur in a short time. Damage from previous years can go unnoticed, and all you notice as a homeowner is the repercussion. If your fireplace, stove, or chimney is suddenly working improperly, if you notice signs of water damage, or the system works differently in any way, it’s time to have it checked out.
Contact Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep now to schedule important diagnostic services. Call 617-469-4528 today.
So you think you have a gas fireplace? It is fairly simple to figure out whether your fireplace burns gas or not. First, there is not an empty space for logs and fire-building in your firebox. Instead, you’ll find logs—usually ceramic. Your system will be connected to a gas line of some kind and will have an ignitor and pilot light. This is a gas fireplace. What type of gas fireplace you have can be slightly more difficult to figure out. If you don’t have your owner’s manual, it is important to determine what type of system you have. Using the system according to its design is important for safety and efficiency as well as convenience.
Types of Gas Appliances
Gas is a fuel type that is always growing in popularity due to its convenience and versatility as well as efficiency and cost. You may be able to use gas in any room in your house, but your venting and your space will determine what type of appliance is best for you.
- Gas Stoves – Like all other types of stoves, a gas stove can be freestanding anywhere in a room. It can fit into a corner, in an existing firebox, on any story, and in any sized home or apartment. A professional can install a gas stove anywhere using appropriate refractory materials.
- Gas Fireplaces – A gas fireplace can be accomplished by installing a gas log set into an existing firebox, or installing a manufactured insert into a wall or firebox. Your professional chimney sweep can help you determine which type of gas fireplace is best for your home, your style, and your need.
Gas Inserts V. Gas Logs
Perhaps you don’t have the space for a gas stove or you simply like the appeal of a fireplace more, you can get the same benefits from a gas log set or insert. If your gas fireplace is set into a wall or hearth, it is likely one or the other. If it has glass doors, ceramic logs, and no visible ash or creosote residue, you’re looking at a gas insert or gas log set—not a wood-burning fireplace.
Identifying a Gas Insert
A gas insert is a closed unit, like a stove, but looks like a fireplace. It is retrofitted into an existing firebox or installed directly into a wall. A gas insert may have ventilation that is hidden. It may vent through the ceiling or wall and many draw air the same way, leaving the air in your home undisturbed. A direct vent insert, for instance, has a pipe that draws air in from the outside to help the fire burn. Inside this pipe is the actual flue that vents the toxins from the fire. This allows there to be only on vent and means the air inside the home is continuously cycled and heated and deposited back into the home.
- A gas insert is retrofitted into a traditional masonry fireplace
- A gas insert produces radiant heat and warm air
- A gas insert will often have doors or a closed glass front
- Logs in a gas insert are sometimes rearrangeable (for aesthetics)
- Gas inserts are made with a metal firebox
Identifying a Gas Log Set
A gas log set is convenient for people who would like a fireplace but don’t need it to produce a lot of heat. Gas logs use gas for fuel, but don’t cycle air from the room and continuously heat it. Some gas log sets feature detailed ceramic logs and others are very simple. Some require a vent and others do not. Gas log sets are cheaper than inserts and ideal for converting from a wood-burning fireplace without a lot of costs.
- A gas log set will sometimes have a blue flame
- Gas logs are removable (for cleaning) but have a specific order for optimal use
- Gas logs require an existing fireplace
- Gas logs are usually installed in a masonry fireplace with no special wall or floors
Know Your System for Safety
Part of knowing your system is identifying what type you have but also locating the model number so that you can use it properly. Generally, gas appliance work in the same way—using gas and an ignitor the fire lights, and continuous fuel and airflow allows it to maintain a flame. The toxins produced by the fire are then vented out a flue or if it is a vent-free log set or insert it will require no ventilation and all the heat and moisture from the fire comes into the living space. Using a vented fireplace with no vent is dangerous and can cause permanent injury or death.
If you’re not sure whether your fireplace should be vented or not, it is imperative that you locate the model number and user guide before lighting it. If you cannot locate your model number or user manual, a professional can do this during a standard gas service appointment.
Schedule a fireplace maintenance appointment with Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep and we can help you identify your fireplace. When one of our fireplace experts complete the job, you can rest assured you’re using your fireplace properly and safely.
Call us today at 617-469-4528 if you live in and around Boston.
Call our North Shore number: 781-593-2333.
Call our Portland area number: 207-773-7933.