Our Company Blog

The Dangers of Creosote

If you have a fireplace, you likely know that creosote can be a hazard to your home and family. You probably also have your fireplace swept by a certified chimney sweep each year to remove any creosote buildup from your chimney, and perhaps you even burn the occasional creosote sweeping log to help maintain your chimney. But how much do you know about creosote, how it forms, the dangers it poses and how you can keep it at bay? We’ve put together some basic information on creosote so you can better protect your home and family.

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What is creosote?

As smoke from your fireplace makes its way to the top of your chimney, it cools. As the smoke cools, it causes condensation of the chemicals and water vapor created when wood burns. The substance left sticking to your walls is creosote. All forms of creosote — whether black or brown, sticky or shiny, hard or tar like — can be found sticking to the insides of most chimneys.

Why is creosote dangerous?

As little as a quarter inch of creosote buildup on the walls of your chimney can be dangerous, putting your home at risk of a chimney fire. Highly combustible, creosote can burst into flames if it is touched by a stray spark from your fireplace, or if chimney temperatures exceed 1,000 degrees. If creosote builds up enough in your chimney, it also can prevent the gases created by the fireplace from exiting your home, which can force dangerous carbon monoxide back into your home.

How can I avoid the dangers of creosote?

Using the right wood in your fireplace can slow the buildup of creosote in your chimney. Only burn dry hardwoods that have been seasoned for a minimum of six months. When wood is improperly seasoned and contains moisture, it produces more water vapor when burned and burns at a cooler temperature, which causes the formation of creosote. Make sure that your fire is large enough for your fireplace. If your logs are too small, the fire won’t burn hot enough for your chimney. Your flue also should be fully opened when you’re burning a fire, as a partially closed flue will cause smoke to remain in your flue longer, encouraging creosote buildup.

Of course, the best way to keep your home safe from a creosote fire is to have your chimney swept and inspected each year by a certified chimney sweep. Your chimney sweep will make sure that your chimney is entirely creosote free. During the sweep’s inspection, he also will make sure your chimney does not show any signs of damage from a past creosote fire, which can weaken your chimney and put your home at danger for a future fire.

If you’re overdue for a chimney sweeping and inspection, don’t wait! Putting off your chimney sweeping puts your home and family in danger of a creosote-caused chimney fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Call the certified sweeps at Billy Sweet to have your chimney ready for the fire-burning season.

How to Prepare Your Fireplace for Dangerous Winter Storms

In Boston, we are used to heavy snowstorms and blizzards during the winter. In January and February of 2015, we experienced a blizzard that lasted over six weeks and dumped a record 108.6 inches of snow in our area. Even though long-time residents know how to be ready for these types of storms, Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep would like to remind you of how you can prepare your fireplace so that you will not have to worry about being without heat when the power goes out during a blizzard.

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Schedule a professional chimney sweeping and inspection before winter arrives.

This maintenance task will take care of removing all of the accumulated creosote from the inner walls of your chimney, which increases fireplace safety and reduces fire hazards. During the inspection, our Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA)-certified chimney sweeps will examine the condition of your fireplace and chimney to be sure everything is working safely. If we find any damage, we will make recommendations of the repairs that are necessary for you to use your fireplace safely.

Check the gaskets to see if they need to be repaired or replaced.

You want to ensure that the gaskets on your fireplace doors, damper, and ash dump are providing an effective seal. According to Cabin Living, without a proper seal, too much air can leak into the firebox and cause overfire and permanent damage to your fireplace.

Have the blower cleaned.

If your fireplace is equipped with a blower, you should clean off the dust and dirt from it to protect the balance of the blower. When the blower has too much dust accumulation on its blades, the balance can change and cause the bearings to wear out prematurely. Your fireplace blower typically will not have a filter to keep dust off, so you need to check it regularly to be sure it is clean.

Replace broken or deteriorated bricks in the lining.

When the brick lining is so damaged that it has deteriorated so much that the steel body of the firebox is exposed, the high temperatures can lead to permanent damage. Be sure the bricks are in good shape so you will not have to worry about damage occurring that could make your fireplace unsafe.

Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep is here to help you prepare your fireplace for dangerous storms this winter. Contact us to schedule an appointment for a chimney sweeping and inspection so that you can stay warm and safe this winter.

Preparing Your Fireplace for Cold Weather

There is nothing quite like the first cold snap to send us all unpacking our winter clothes and grabbing the blankets out of the attic. Preparing yourself mentally is the first step, taking the proper precautions to prepare your fireplace for the upcoming season is another. Getting it ready now will save you the hassle and pain of dealing with it when there are several feet of snow outside!

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The first step is the biggest:

Getting your fireplace professionally inspected and swept by our CSIA-certified sweeps will not only make sure that your fireplace is in the best shape possible to combat the degrading snow and water, as well as the smoke buildup that comes with use. The buildup, called creosote, is highly flammable, and could result in a chimney fire if you’re not careful. We not only clean the creosote off the inside of your chimney, we check for any loose or missing mortar so that your chimney is in tip-top shape before it takes on the winter.

Spic and span:

We want to inspect and sweep your chimney fireplace annually, but it is imperative that you do your part in keeping your fireplace clean as well. Disposing of the majority of ash and burnt timber in a wood-burning firebox will not only look more aesthetically pleasing and leave you more space for logs, but the chances of a flying ember catching your carpet on fire becomes a lot more slim. Just gently shovel the cooled ash into a bucket and dispose of it in the trash.

Putting a damper on it:

Your damper controls airflow in and out of your chimney. Check your damper for ease of use, making sure it opens and closes with no struggle. If the damper doesn’t close properly, there will be a cold draft that comes into the room when the fireplace isn’t in use. If the damper is hard to open, proper ventilation could keep carbon monoxide from exiting out the chimney, instead filling your room with the deadly chemical.

Fires of all kinds:

Weather you have a wood-burning fireplace or a gas stove, it is important to have enough fuel to keep you and your family warm for at least three days. Keep it in an easily accessible in case of a power outage. Also, make sure you have a supply of firefighting materials such as a fire extinguisher, a bucket of water, or baking soda readily available in case a fire gets out of hand or some buildup catches fire. Again, it’s always better to be over prepared.

Knowing that your fireplace and chimney are taken care of will give you peace of mind while the wind whistles through the trees outside. It’s not too late to schedule your annual inspection and sweeping. Call Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep today!

Common Masonry Repairs Before Winter

As summer begins to quickly fade away, it’s time now to bring attention to your chimney before winter is upon us. Among all the repairs and other activities associated with the warmer summer months, it is hard to think about preparing the upcoming winter. That feeling is completely understandable! However, there are a few reasons why you should focus some attention on your chimney at this time of the year.

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Why should I have to get it repaired?

Your chimney, built in the masonry style, is built of porous materials such as concrete, brick, mortar, and stone. Think of it similar to a sponge in the way they hold water. Though they appear to stand the test of time, without proper care they can begin to crack as the processes of freezing and thawing expands, and then contracts, the masonry. Over time this leads to bricks loosening, and eventually the entire chimney will collapse. As you can tell, winter can be very hard on your chimney. With the addition of intense use of your fireplace during those months, it can amass a variety of problems… that are then ignored over the summer months as it goes unused. It is a vicious cycle!

Besides the expansion and contraction that occurs when water freezes and then thaws in the masonry, water also causes a lot of damage and deterioration to any metal or wood materials that it accesses on the interior of your chimney and in your fireplace such as:

  • Dampers
  • Flue lining system
  • Proximal wood flooring and wall coverings
  • Fireplace accessories

What can I do about it?

Chimney Caps:

Preventing water from damaging your chimney is absolutely essential for the long life of your chimney. Well-designed chimney caps are made of enduring, reliable material that can resist corrosion as well as keep birds and other animals out and off of your chimney. Though there are options that only provide partial coverage, a full coverage chimney cap is an investment that will provide the most protection long-term.

Tuckpointing:

For masonry that does lose mortar during the hard winter months due to temperature fluctuation, tuckpointing is a relatively simple process of tucking mortar into damaged areas. Not only does it reinforce the structure of your chimney, but it is more aesthetically pleasing as well.

Chimney Crown Replacement/Repair:

The crown is absolutely essential in directing water away from the flue and to the edge of the chimney so that it won’t erode any mortar or brick. If your crown is cracked or damaged in any way, the rate of chimney degradation gets increasingly higher.

Chimney Waterproofing:

We have learned that water is very damaging to both the exterior and interior of your chimney. Using a waterproofing treatment is a preventative measure against many of the above issues, as well as allows your chimney to release water vapors that it contains in the masonry while keeping additional water out.

Make your appointment online with us and learn more about your chimney at billysweetchimneysweep.com.

The Importance of Maintaining Masonry Chimneys

There are masonry fireplaces and chimneys and there are pre-fab fireplaces and chimneys. Masonry fireplaces and chimneys are made for mortar and bricks, block, or stone, while pre-fab fireplaces are made of metal and steel. Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep has specialized in maintaining chimneys and fireplaces for over 30 years and reiterates the recommendations of the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and Hamon Corporation.

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The CSIA explains why proper maintenance of masonry chimney is so important. “All masonry chimney construction materials, except stone, will suffer accelerated deterioration as a result of prolonged contact with water. Masonry materials deteriorate quickly when exposed to the freeze/thaw process, in which moisture that has penetrated the materials periodically freezes and expands causing undue stress. Water in the chimney also causes rust in steel and cast iron, weakening or destroying the metal parts. Read more at the CSIA’s website.

Chimneys in New England are exposed to many months of constant freezing and thawing, along with exposure to rain, and intense heat, even lighting. Damage to your chimney structure means that the chimney cannot function properly and therefore exposes homeowners to fire risks, seepage of toxic gasses. Damaged masonry weakens the integrity of your home’s structure. Water causes more damages to chimneys than fires. It can cause both interior and exterior damage.

Out of Sight–Out of Mind

With such great risk caused by masonry damage, why is the proper maintenance of masonry chimneys so often overlooked by homeowners? Out of sight out of mind…until there is a problem.

Yearly inspections are the first step to maintaining your masonry chimney. During the inspection the chimney technician will look for cracks, missing bricks or blocks, water staining, and deterioration. If there are any signs of weakening, gaps, or damage, repairs can be made before small cracks become major issues.

During the inspection special attention will be paid to ensuring the chimney crown, also known as the chimney wash, is fully functional. As the CSIA explains in the homeowner’s resources section of their website, “Most masonry chimneys are built with an inadequate crown constructed from common mortar mix that is not designed for years of weather abuse without cracking, chipping or deteriorating. A proper chimney crown should be constructed of a Portland cement-based mixture and cast or formed so it provides an overhang projecting beyond all sides of the chimney by a minimum of two inches. The flue liner tile should also project above the crown a minimum of two inches.

When masonry issues are found, proper repairs should be done by a trained professional. The outside of the chimney needs to be thoroughly cleaned and all masonry repairs done before any waterproofing materials are used. Your chimney professional will know the best waterproofing agents to use to seal out water. Homeowners should not attempt to make the masonry or waterproofing repairs themselves and using paint or clear sealants instead of professional products will cause further damage by trapping the wetness rather than elevating it.

Commercial Masonry Chimneys Need Care Too.

From an industrial point of view, when it comes to maintenance, the chimney stacks at commercial and industrial sites are just as overlooked as they are on residential sites. Hamon Corporation is a group of international companies dedicated to providing “high quality innovative solutions to meet customer needs for energy efficiency and a clean environment”. Hamon urges plant and commercial maintenance teams to recognize that proper maintenance means “extended life for chimney and stacks. These passive structures are often over looked in maintenance schedules.” In an article by Arun K. Bhowmik from Hamon Custodis, Bhowmik cautions, “Chimneys are basically passive structures with few mechanical parts that require maintenance attention to keep them functional. Because of this, it is easy to overlook them – but doing so can be costly.” He goes on,” Chimneys and stacks have only one function: dispersing flue gas into the atmosphere. In the process of fulfilling that function, (chimneys) are exposed to harsh environments, both inside and outside. Flue gas, with its abrasive and corrosive characteristics, can damage the structural materials of the chimney or liner. Climatic conditions, ranging from high winds to extreme cold, place extreme stress on the structure.” To read his entire article on proper industrial chimney maintenance, click here.

When is the last time you had your masonry inspected? Are you guilty of the out of sight out of mind mentality? Don’t delay any longer; contact Bill Sweet Chimney Service today.