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What is Creosote and How Does it Damage Your Chimney?

To say creosote is a minor problem would be an understatement. Creosote is neither rare nor harmless. Every wood-burning fire that you burn in your fireplace and chimney system produces smoke that rises up the chimney. The smoke is filled with hot gases, particles, soot, and creosote that covers the chimney interior. Though soot can be corrosive to the chimney liner and masonry, creosote presents a whole different set of problems.What is Creosote - Boston MA - Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep

Creosote Buildup

Soot is made up of carbon, but creosote is made up mostly of tar–a sticky substance that is also flammable. Because of the sticky nature of creosote, it collects easily in a chimney, covering parts, clogging the clean out area, and creating a fire hazard. As the creosote builds up, it can become a serious obstruction–and when it reaches stage 3 buildup it is also difficult to remove.

Stage 3 Creosote

Stage 3 creosote, also called glazed creosote becomes a problem only when the chimney isn’t cleaned regularly. When the creosote isn’t removed on a regular basis, it builds up. When it becomes heated, the creosote boils, causing all the moisture in it to evaporate, and leaves a hardened mass of condensed fuel in the flue. Once it reaches this stage, the creosote can’t be brushed away during a standard chimney sweep. It decreases the chimney’s efficiency, increases the amount of creosote produced by the inefficient fire, and raises the risk of flue fire.

Chimney Damage

Creosote will not damage the chimney when it is cleaned regularly and properly. Once creosote reaches stage 3 buildup it can be difficult to remove without damaging the liner. You cannot remove it with brushes and a homeowner or handyman attempting to do so with tools will cause damage. Additionally, if it isn’t removed, the glazed creosote can cause a creosote fire that damages the masonry, the liner, and even the structure of the chimney. If you suspect a flue fire, you should call a chimney professional for an assessment right away.

Prevent Creosote Buildup

You cannot stop creosote altogether, but you can prevent dangerous buildups.
Schedule Regular Chimney Sweeps Your chimney sweep  appointments will keep your chimney working properly and the chimney professional will assess it with each appointment.
Burn Properly Seasoned Wood – Burning wet or “green” wood that is freshly cut will drop the efficiency of your fireplace. Green wood is harder to light and burns with less heat, often burning incompletely. This leads to more creosote. Burn only properly seasoned firewood in your fireplace to keep your chimney system working properly.

When you do have a creosote buildup in your chimney, it’s important to call the professionals for proper and safe removal. Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep technicians use an industrial product to remove the creosote without damaging the liner and then we clean the entire flue.

Give us a call before you try to remove creosote yourself. It’s harmful to breathe, may irritate your skin, and can destroy your flue if it results in a fire.

Talk to a professional today at 617-469-4528.

The Parts of the Chimney System

Your chimney is a focal point for home decor and necessary for home heating. Without the chimney, your fireplace would not have proper airflow to burn well, and would allow harmful smoke and toxic gases into your living space. In order to work properly, it must be properly constructed from top to bottom. Understanding the anatomy of your chimney will help you notice changes, suspect damage, and maintain it properly.

Foundation

Like the house itself, the chimney must be properly supported from beneath. Without a proper foundation, the masonry can shift, leading to cracks, leaning, and eventually structural damage.
Look for: signs of settling or movement, especially inside the firebox.

Ash Dump

The ash dump leads from the firebox through a type of trap door which makes it easy for homeowners to clean ashes from their fireplace by scooping it into the space below. The ash dump is a safe place for the ashes to cool and collect until it is too full to use.
Look for: ashes spilling out of the outlet or clogging the door.

Firebox and Hearth

The firebox is the space where the fire burns. It endures the most abuse–the highest temperatures and often the least attention. The hearth is the floor of the firebox which extends out toward the room. It is durable and usually decorative.
Look for: stains or cracks that indicate water damage.

Chimney Damper

Installed at the base of the chimney or a top mount damper installed at the top of the flue, the damper is essential for proper chimney function. It allows for adequate airflow to light and maintain a fire. A top mount damper and a throat damper can also prevent airflow during the off season.
Look for: drafts that affect your heating or cooling, a smoky fireplace, and animals in the flue.

Smoke Chamber and Shelf

The smoke chamber is the space above the fireplace where the heat and gases mix before continuing up the flue. The slanted wall directs the smoke upward, and the smoke shelf keeps the smoke and gas from falling back into the fireplace.
Look for: a smoky fireplace, rough walls, and dripping noises within the chimney that aren’t visible.

Flue Liner

The flue liner extends up the entire chimney and is made of clay tile, stainless steel, slip casting, and even HeatShield cerfractory sealant. It helps to properly size the flue for optimum airflow, protects the home from heat and gases inside the chimney, and protects the masonry from corrosive chemical byproducts inside the chimney.
Look for: pieces of clay tile inside the fireplace, chimney hot to the touch.

Chimney Crown, Cap, and Flashing

In order to maintain the integrity of the chimney, it needs protection against water penetration year-round. The crown is a mortar ceiling placed on top of the chimney, extending outward from the flue. The cap protects the flue opening, and the flashing protects the vulnerable intersection of the chimney and roof.
Look for: signs of water damage.

Every part of the chimney is essential and should be intacted for the chimney to work properly. Schedule an annual inspection to make certain the chimney is in good shape.

Call Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep at 617-469-4528 or request an appointment online today.

How Cold Weather Can Damage Your Masonry

There are a few factors that can quickly destroy a chimney. Water can wreak havoc on a masonry chimney, penetrating it, causing rust and weakening the mortar. During cold weather the damage can be catastrophic.

Freeze/Thaw Cycle

The masonry of your chimney is especially sensitive to moisture penetration due to what is called the freeze/thaw cycle. First, water penetrates the chimney system by way of cracks in the chimney, damage to the crown, improper flashing, or a broken or missing cap. Once water is inside the system it is subject to the temperature of the chimney. When the chimney cools the water freezes, expands, and breaks the masonry further. The chimney warms and the water melts, flowing through the damaged masonry further until the water freezes and expands again. The process can repeat over and over throughout winter if leaks are not repaired.

Common Winter Damage

At Billy Sweet we often see leaks due to snow accumulation around the flashing and on top of the chimney crown. It’s also common to find spalling.

Repairing Winter Damage

You don’t have to wait until spring to have repairs completed. In fact, we recommend repairing damage sooner rather than later, so that the repairs will take less time and materials, and will cost you less money. Fixing the damage now prevents the freeze/thaw cycle during cold weather as well.

Replacing Parts

If your leak is due to a damaged or missing part like the chimney cap, flashing, or damage to the crown, these parts can all be repaired or replaced. A chimney cap is a fairly simple part to replace. The flashing is more tedious, but an experienced chimney sweep is able to get the job done quickly and satisfactorily. The chimney crown can be more complicated to replace, but if it only has some cracks or holes a certified chimney sweep can actually seal it with an industrial water proof sealant. Of course, it may be necessary to recast the chimney crown, replacing it completely. When done properly a new chimney crown should last the lite of your chimney and prevent water, debris, and more from entering the chimney.

Repairing the Damage

If water has penetrated your masonry, especially in winter, you probably have damage including spalling. Spalling is when mortar cracks and masonry crumbles, resulting in holes and structural problems. This can be repaired by tuck pointing, a procedure when the chimney technician removes the existing, damaged mortar, and replaces it with new, equally strong mortar, and replaces the bricks for a beautiful finished product. This process takes an experienced professional because if the new mortar doesn’t match in consistency and strength, the structure will be weakened. The mortar should also match in color so that the finished job looks like nothing every happened to the chimney.

During any time of the year it’s best to avoid and prevent damage. You can do this by scheduling chimney sweeps and inspections. The key is to prevent chimney leaks during winter especially.

You can schedule with a Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep today to discuss your winter damage and prevention.

Chimney water damage and the freeze-thaw cycle

You’re likely familiar with the damage the freeze-thaw cycle can do to the roadways; it’s what causes pot holes to appear each year! Water makes its way into the tiny cracks in concrete, asphalt, or stone. When the temperature drops, that water freezes and expands, causing the concrete, asphalt, or stone to crack or crumble. If you have a home with a masonry chimney, you should be aware that the freeze-thaw cycle can cause the same damage to your chimney’s bricks, concrete, and mortar.

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Water damage and your chimney

Water can cause many problems with your chimney. The freeze-thaw cycle can cause the mortar between your chimney to crumble; it can cause parts of your brick to flake off, which is referred to as spalling; and it can cause your chimney crown to crack and crumble. Over time, if water damage goes unaddressed, it can mean major problems for your chimney. Your chimney’s overall structure can fail, causing it to lean and become unsafe. A damaged chimney also will let water into the rest of your home, leading to water stains on your ceiling and walls, rotting wood on adjacent structures, collapsed hearth support, a damaged firebox, rusted fireplace accessories, and failing hearth structure.

Repairing water damage

The first step in repairing water damage is to find that damage. This is one reason your annual chimney inspection is so important. Your certified chimney technician can find signs of damage early, so that it can be repaired before minor water damage becomes major water damage. In many cases, it will take the work of expert masons, like those at Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep to repair your chimney’s water damage. We provide services such as tuckpointing, chimney crown repair and replacement, and removing and replacing spalling bricks.

Preventing water damage

When it comes to water damage and your chimney, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Taking steps to prevent chimney damage now can save you from costly repairs later. Having a chimney cap installed atop your flue can help keep water from running down the interior walls of your chimney. Repairing a damaged chimney crown will keep water from running down the exterior sides of your chimney. It’s important to make sure the flashing around your chimney is secure, and if your chimney is located on a part of your roof that experiences a lot of rainwater or snow, a cricket — a tent-shaped piece of metal — can be installed to divert water away from the chimney. There also are waterproofing sealants that can be applied to your chimney. Those sealants keep water from seeping into your chimney’s masonry while still allowing your chimney to expel the gases created by your fires.

Ultimately, the key to protecting your chimney from water damage is working with your certified chimney sweep to make sure that any problems are caught and addressed early before you have major chimney damage. If you’re overdue for an inspection, or if you’ve noticed cracking masonry on your chimney, call the experts at Billy Sweet today. We also can talk to you about waterproofing applications to protect your chimney.

Dangers of Neglecting Chimney Maintenance

At first glance, chimneys seem very robust. They live outside all year, exposed to the elements, and can withstand hundreds of degrees worth of heat, fire after fire. Despite all of this, however, chimneys do need some regular care to keep up with these high demands. Industry experts strongly recommend having the chimney swept and inspected at least once every year and for good reason. Failure to keep up with chimney maintenance can have some devastating consequences.

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For wood burning fireplaces and stoves, the chimney will contain a buildup of a material called creosote. This black, tarry material clings to the surface of the chimney and can build up to the point of blocking air flow. Creosote is also highly flammable and is the cause of many destructive chimney fires. It burns at a much higher temperature than wood or gas, and once burning, it can be very difficult to extinguish. To keep your home and family safe, having a chimney sweep remove the creosote is imperative.

Debris found in the chimney can also take the form of an obstruction that reduces or blocks the flow of air. A common obstruction in the chimney is an animal and its nest. Warm chimneys attract small animals like birds, squirrels and raccoons that need a cozy space to wait out the winter. Unfortunately, this means trouble for the home owner. When the toxic fumes from the fire cannot escape through the chimney, they end up in the house. Not only does the creosote and soot leave messy, black residue on walls and furniture, but this lack of ventilation can actually be dangerous. Carbon monoxide, a product of combustion, can cause death when inhaled in high enough concentrations. It also has no color, smell, or taste, making it impossible to detect without relying on a special detector. To avoid the dangers of carbon monoxide from the fireplace, have a chimney sweep out every year.

Chimney inspections should also be done every year. The inspector examines the chimney from inside the house and from the roof to determine its structural soundness. A common problem that inspectors uncover is water damage. In a masonry chimney, water can enter the brick and mortar and cause cracking or even collapse. In all types of chimneys, water can also cause damage to the interior. If the flue lining is made of metal, water exposure can lead to rusted cracks or holes, which then exposes the house to further water damage, carbon monoxide leaks, and potential house fires. A simple inspection could determine if the chimney cap needs to be replaced, which can prevent these problems most of the time.

All in all, failure to keep up with chimney maintenance could cost you money in repairs, your house, and even your life. Instead of risking it, just call to schedule your annual sweep and inspection today. If you live near Boston, Massachusetts or Portland, Maine, contact Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep to speak with a professional.