Chimney And Fireplace Care 101 - 27 East

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Chimney And Fireplace Care 101

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Creosote build-up in chimneys can lead to fires, which is why it's important to have chimney swept once a year.

Creosote build-up in chimneys can lead to fires, which is why it's important to have chimney swept once a year.

Creosote build-up in chimneys can lead to fires, which is why it's important to have chimney swept once a year.

Creosote build-up in chimneys can lead to fires, which is why it's important to have chimney swept once a year.

Creosote build-up in chimneys can lead to fires, which is why it's important to have chimney swept once a year.

Creosote build-up in chimneys can lead to fires, which is why it's important to have chimney swept once a year.

Creosote build-up in chimneys can lead to fires, which is why it's important to have chimney swept once a year.

Creosote build-up in chimneys can lead to fires, which is why it's important to have chimney swept once a year.

Chimney caps are important for keeping out animals, debris, and water.

Chimney caps are important for keeping out animals, debris, and water.

Chimney caps are important for keeping out animals, debris, and water.

Chimney caps are important for keeping out animals, debris, and water.

Wood stoves sometimes require glass cleaning as well, and it's important not to burn pine wood.

Wood stoves sometimes require glass cleaning as well, and it's important not to burn pine wood.

Most dry woods, with the exception of pine, are good to burn.

Most dry woods, with the exception of pine, are good to burn.

authorCailin Riley on Oct 12, 2021

When the fall weather arrives, many people are excited to bust out their favorite sweaters, go apple picking, or sip a pumpkin spice latte. For homeowners with fireplaces or wood-burning stoves, the first frost or chilly morning is also a reminder that they can look forward to the warmth and ambiance a crackling fire provides.

But in order to keep those fires burning safely, it’s important to keep up with proper maintenance.

How frequently chimneys, fireplaces, and wood stoves should be cleaned and inspected can vary depending on the type and how frequently they’re used. But a good rule of thumb for owners of wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, and even gas and electric models, is to have them checked out by a professional once a year.

Both Michael Scanlon, owner of Sag Harbor Fireplace, and Tony Confort, owner of Tony’s Clean Sweep in Aquebogue, agree that a yearly inspection and cleaning is a good call, especially if homeowners use their fireplace or wood stove up to three or four times a week. Those who use them less might be able to get away with not having the chimney swept every year, but an annual inspection is still a good idea, Scanlon said. Failure to take necessary precautions can result in a somewhat obvious problem.

“The main issue with not cleaning would be a chimney fire,” said Scanlon, whose company sells a variety of wood stoves, fireplaces and outdoor fire pits at its Sag Harbor showroom but also has a complete maintenance division. He explained that a chimney fire can, potentially, set the house on fire in two ways: either by sparks flying out of the chimney and landing on the roof or surrounding ground, or heat from the fire transferring through the chimney and setting the structure of the house on fire from within.

Close calls that people don’t even know about are something Scanlon said he sees in his line of work.

“You can have a chimney fire and not even know it,” he said. “I get to houses all the time and can see by the way the creosote is in the chimney that they’ve had a fire, and they had no idea.”

Creosote is unburnt carbon that builds up from smoke going up the chimney during a fire. It sticks to the walls, and if it is not removed, it can become highly flammable.

The way people use their fireplaces and wood stoves can affect how quickly creosote builds up.

“The hotter you burn the stove or fireplace, the more efficiently the wood burns,” Scanlon explained. “The more efficient the wood burns, the less smoke and unburnt carbon goes up the chimney, so that creates less debris in the chimney.”

People with wood stoves who frequently turn the damper down so the fire burns more slowly, will end up with more creosote buildup.

Burning wet, green, or unseasoned wood on a regular basis could also lead to increased creosote buildup and is generally not a good idea. The best kinds of wood to burn are hardwoods likes oak, locust, and birch, Confort said.

“The only thing I wouldn’t use in a wood stove is pine,” he added. “It creates a lot of creosote because it has a lot of sap. If you’re going to burn pine, burn it outside in an open fire pit.”

Frequent slow burns can also leave a sooty film on the glass, which is an added reason to have an annual chimney cleaning. A fire is always more enjoyable when it can be clearly seen.

For owners of gas fireplaces and stoves, fears of a chimney fire aren’t the main issue, but both Scanlon and Confort said an annual inspection is important for them as well.

“Anything that has mechanical parts needs to be serviced,” Scanlon said. “They create soot and there are parts that need to be cleaned off, and they should also be inspected for gas leaks.”

When it comes to chimneys for oil and natural gas burners, homeowners can typically go longer between cleanings and inspections, Confort and Scanlon said.

They also agreed that it’s vital to make sure all chimneys have caps and crowns. Failure to include a cap can lead to a long list of hard-to-fix problems.

Confort said adding a cap is something homeowners don’t always seem to think is a necessity.

“It’s just a cap, what’s it going to do?” he said of the thought process of some homeowners. “But it keeps water from going down, and keeps rodents and pests from coming down. If you have 30 years of water running down a hole in your roof, that’s a problem. Water is the worst.”

Including a cap as well as a crown — which repels water to the side, away from the chimney — keeps water out, but when Confort does a sweep and inspection, he said he goes on the roof to make sure the cap and crown are still in good shape.

“If the crown starts cracking, water will get in, and when water gets into brick, it turns to ice and then expands and loosens the bricks,” he said.

“Bricks are porous and leak water,” Scanlon said. “Depending on the chimney, water can leak in behind walls or into the basement.”

When it comes to liners, Confort said they’re a good investment depending on the situation. He recommends them for oil burners, particularly if the home is more than 20 years old, but he said they aren’t usually necessary for traditional wood-burning fireplaces and stoves. As for what homeowners might want to do on their own between visits from a professional, Confort said there isn’t much that’s necessary, and added he is wary of creosote sweeping logs that are sold in stores. Rather than comment on their relative effectiveness compared to a traditional sweep and cleaning, he focused on the mystery of what the logs do.

“We really don’t know what we’re breathing in when we’re burning them,” he said. “What kind of chemical is going to kill the creosote? To me it’s much safer to just sweep the chimney and have someone do a visual inspection. Then you don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the season.”

Confort had a word of caution for homeowners looking to hire a chimney cleaner. He acknowledged that the business has an unfortunate reputation for including a good deal of swindlers and said to beware of someone who might be offering a price that’s too low.

“Chimney guys get a bad reputation and can be known as crooks because they’ll try to upsell people on things like liners,” he said. “If you see a chimney sweep listed in the paper for $29.99, that’s a bad sign. That doesn’t even pay for the gas and insurance to get there. Someone doing that is going to have to sell you a liner, this, that, and just tack stuff on.”

For homeowners looking for more information about wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, Scanlon recommended the website woodheat.org.

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