Keep Your Fire In Its Place This Winter

During the season of fuel and fires, ventilation and maintenance, it’s important to not cut corners. Cutting corners when it comes to your fireplace and chimney can result in serious damage to your home, costly services to your chimney system, and even injury and possible loss of life. In order for your chimney to work safely and efficiently all winter long and year after year, it must be maintained properly and used correctly. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) help to keep fire in its place by educating responsible homeowners to schedule routine chimney sweeps and annual chimney inspections. This ensures the safest and most efficient systems.

The Danger of Dirty Chimneys

Lit Masonry Fireplace - Boston MA - Billy Sweet Chimney SweepWhen a fire burns in your fireplace it constantly produces soot and creosote and deposits them into the chimney flue. Soot is merely carbon, harmless unless it’s allowed to buildup and cause an obstruction. Creosote is produced when organic materials are burned and is made up mostly of tar, a sticky, flammable substance. It builds upon itself until a significant buildup occurs, slowing the flow of air through the flue. As efficiency drops, the buildup worsens and hot air begins to stall in the system. As temperatures increase, the creosote boils and the water evaporates leaving a concentrated, hardened mass when the creosote cools. This buildup called “glazed creosote” is highly flammable, obstructs airflow, and is difficult to remove. Because of this, creosote should be removed before it reaches 1/8 inch in thickness. A standard chimney sweep can remove creosote, but glazed creosote requires a special industrial solvent that transforms the creosote as it’s absorbed.

Creosote buildup is not the only danger of a dirty chimney. If your chimney isn’t cleaned on a regular basis the creosote and soot can hide liner damage, allowing the heat to transfer through the masonry and onto the other building materials of the home. This can create a serious fire hazard. Additionally, without a routine sweep, you might have accumulated any number of things in your flue or fireplace. Animals, sticks and leaves, and unburned wood are all things that we find in neglected chimney systems—all contributing to unwelcome odors and ventilation problems.

The Importance of Inspections

It’s so important to have your chimney inspected as well as cleaned that most chimney companies include a basic level one inspection with every cleaning! An inspection will ensure that the system is safe and efficient for another year of use. However, who completes the inspection is vital. Only a certified chimney sweep should inspect your chimney system. An amateur won’t know where to look and a homeowner won’t recognize the signs of a problem until it’s too late. Every chimney should undergo a CSIA inspection annually. This is a complete diagnostic assessment of the chimney from top to bottom. Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep offers level one, two, and three CSIA inspections for homeowners in and around Boston, North Shore, and Portland. Not only do we inspect every chimney that we sweep, but we sweep every chimney we inspect.

If your chimney system hasn’t changed or shown any problems in the last year, our technician will complete a level one inspection. This is an inspection of all the readily accessible portions of the system. The video scan is usually only available for a level two inspection, but we check every chimney with video surveillance. We use a Chim-Scan camera system and Wohler Vis2000-Pro for an inside look at the flue.

A level two inspection is necessary in the following conditions; if there have been changes made to the chimney system, if it’s presented problems, and before the sale or transfer of the property. It includes everything from a level one inspection as well as everything accessible through doors and passageways.

A level three inspection is only necessary when a serious hazard is suspected, but at this point, it is the only thing to get your system up and going again.

Common Chimney Dangers

Besides creosote buildup, there are numerous problems that can arise when a chimney isn’t properly cleaned and maintained. At Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep we diagnose winter damage most often—masonry damage that results in a serious drop in efficiency and rise in fire risk. Another common hazard that we see quite often is a damaged firebox. The firebox is the space that holds the fire. It endures the highest temperatures for the longest amounts of time but gets very little attention. Though many focus only on flue fires, the fire hazard associated with a damaged firebox may be the most serious. Prolonged heat exposure through damaged firebricks can cause structural damage as support beams become brittle with heat damage. A similar danger can arise when the liner is damaged and heat transfers through the masonry. Insulation in walls and attics can ignite as heat moves from the chimney into the home.

As with most residential fires, chimney and fireplace fires can be prevented. It is our goal to help our customers, friends, and neighbors in our service area to stay safer and warmer this winter by offering services that prevent fires.

Schedule your services now by calling 617-469-4528 or schedule an appointment online today.

Spotting Masonry Damage

Masonry damage can be devastating to your chimney, especially during winter time. Minor damage becomes major damage when water gets into cracks and voids where it freezes and expands. It’s important for homeowners to not only schedule valuable services that can prevent and identify masonry problems, but also be aware of signs of damage.

Common Masonry Problems

Spalling—Spalling describes mortar that is cracking and crumbling. It no longer supports the bricks and they begin to flake and fall. Factors such as neglect and water damage cause spalling. A well-constructed and well-maintained chimney will not sustain this type of damage through normal wear and tear.

Spalling masonry is repaired through tuckpointing or repointing, in which a certified professional removes the mortar and replaces it with new of equal consistency, strength, and color. Incorrectly made mortar actually weakens the masonry instead of strengthening it. Failing to match it in color causes the exterior of the chimney to be mismatched, and this actually brings down your “curb appeal”.

Chimney Leaks—When water penetrates the chimney system it can cause all kinds of damage behind the scenes. Water damage can include rusted parts, deteriorated and stained walls and masonry, weakened supports, settlement, and collapse.

Chimney leaks can be caught and repaired through a simple chimney inspection each year. By the time a homeowner notices a chimney leak, it has caused unseen damage that takes time and money to repair. Scheduling routine maintenance gives a certified chimney sweep the opportunity to assess the system regularly as well as apply periodic waterproofing treatments that prevent leaks. Our sweeps at Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep quickly repair any discovered problems. Most water leaks start with missing or damaged flashing, caps, crowns, or masonry. We offer repairs year-round for the convenience and safety of our customers in the Boston area.

Signs to Look For

When it comes to masonry damage, you definitely want to catch it early so that repairs can be made before real damage can occur. Pay attention to how your chimney is working, and note changes. Chimney experts should address any persistent problems.
–A drop in efficiency can mean a problem with your masonry. Leaks, liner damage, damper malfunction and more can cause a drop in efficiency.
–Pieces of mortar and bricks strewn on the roof and onto the yard means spalling. A professional should address this type of extreme damage immediately.
–Dripping, staining, or wetness inside fireplace interior. This means there is water penetrating the chimney system, so there is a masonry problem.
–Mortar and brick pieces inside the fireplace means spalling masonry. Clay tile pieces inside the fireplace means a clay tile liner is deteriorating and the flue needs relined.

If properly built and maintained, your chimney will last for years. Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep can help your chimney last, and will do our job each time with the professionalism and expertise that keeps our customers safe and warm year after year.

Call Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep today at 800-248-4900!

Closing Out Your Fireplace and Chimney for the Season

When the weather turns warm and you only periodically burn a fire, you begin thinking about closing the fireplace or furnace down for the season. Spring can be stressful as you think about spring cleaning along with home, lawn, and auto maintenance, but you can’t overlook the chimney.

Have the Chimney Cleaned

A certified chimney sweep company will offer a thorough cleaning that includes the entire chimney system. Billy Sweet’s chimney sweeps can be scheduled year-round and include:

  • Assessment of accessible portions of chimney’s interior and exterior
  • Assessment of factory-build units for cracks
  • Sweep your chimney with special brushes
  • Check your chimney liner for cracks, gaps, and missing joints
  • Scrub yours chimney’s smoke chamber, smoke shelf, and damper with hand tools
  • Sweep the firebox and clear any ash
  • Remove and brush the grate
  • Check for any fire safety hazards

When your chimney is thoroughly cleaned of soot, creosote, and any leftover debris, you can rest assured knowing it won’t stink through the warm, humid days of summer. By having this sweep done in the spring you will also know it is ready when burn season returns in the fall.

Have the Chimney Inspected

As part of your chimney sweep appointment, you can also schedule a CSIA chimney inspection so that you are aware of major issues with your chimney. If your chimney is damaged it is susceptible to water damage as we enter the wettest months of the year—spring. Water is a nuisance through winter because of the freeze/thaw cycle that can damage your masonry. Water can also be a hazard through the warm months because it can cause mold which can affect the air quality in the house and cause respiratory illnesses.

Seal Off the Chimney

You can lose cool air up the chimney during the summer causing you to spend many times as much on utilities. The best way to prevent conditioned air loss via the chimney is to close the damper. The standard cast iron damper installed at the throat of the chimney doesn’t have a tight seal. Because of the money saved, many homeowners are opting for a top-sealing damper, also called an energy-saving damper. This damper is installed on the top of the chimney at the flue opening and acts as a chimney cap while open. When the damper is closed it has a rubber air-tight seal which closes the chimney off completely from the top. This doesn’t only save on utilities, but also prevents humidity and moisture in through the top of the chimney.

By scheduling routine maintenance now, you allow time to make necessary repairs before burning season. A chimney expert can get work done quickly, but if it’s put off until the “fall rush” it is hard to get an appointment. Avoid problems with your chimney this summer, and make sure it’s prepared for burn season by calling a chimney sweep today at 207-773-7933 or request an appointment online.

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.

Common Masonry Damage

There’s more to masonry than meets the eye. A masonry chimney is made up of masonry materials and metal materials, including brick, mortar, concrete, stone, flue tile, steel, and cast iron. These materials are damaged significantly by water penetration and other natural occurrences. This damage can range from cosmetic to structural, and all is better prevented than repaired.


Chimney leaks are preventable with routine inspections and maintenance. Home owners should make it a top priority to schedule these routine checks because a professional will see a problem long before it presents itself to the untrained eye. Often times, by the time a leak is noticed by the homeowner, it’s already caused extensive water damage. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) water penetration can cause serious damage, including: rusted damper assemblies, fireplace accessories, and glass doors; deteriorated metal or masonry firebox assemblies, and central heating system; rotted adjacent wood, ruined wall coverings, and decayed exterior mortar; water-stained walls and ceiling; clogged clean-out area; stained chimney exterior; cracked or damaged flue lining; collapsed hearth support; tilted or collapsed chimney structure; and chimney settlement. These problems can be avoided by scheduling your waterproofing appointment today.

Common Masonry Damage - Boston MA - Billy Sweet Chimney


Cracks are often due to expansion and structural settlement, but can also be due to issues with the mortar. When mortar is the problem a professional may need to repair the mortar joints, repoint, or tuck-point the masonry. Preventative measures for cracking would be to hire a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep® (CCS) during construction or remodel to insure the chimney is of proper proportions and standards.


Spalling means bricks are falling from your masonry, or they are missing. This is caused when water penetrates the masonry and worsens by a process of freezing and thawing. Spalling can also be caused by structural stress. It is a hazard when bricks fall from the chimney, as a falling brick can injure a person or damage the exterior of your home. There are other kinds of masonry damage that is more cosmetic than dangerous.


The most common cause of staining is water damage. Excessive amounts of water traveling through the masonry can cause staining on the exterior of the chimney. This can be undesirable, especially if a homeowner is interested in selling. A professional can correct these stains by refacing the bricks.


Displacement is a structural problem that is caused from inadequate anchors for lateral support, freezing action, and corrosion of steel support. Displacement causes the masonry to essentially shift. This can be a costly fix, as it is a structural problem, but like spalling, displacement can be prevented by working with a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep® (CCS) during construction. Extensive damage may call for a chimney rebuilt.

Your whole chimney system is made up largely of masonry. It’s an intricate system, dependent on a very specific science of gases and temperature. This wouldn’t work without an adequate masonry chimney. It’s important to get the most out of your chimney by keeping up with routine chimney sweeps and annual chimney inspections. Contact Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep for yours today.