Saturday, March 7, 2015

The power went out it safe to use the fireplace?

During a heavy snow storm, the power went out. Our furnace went silent and the temperature immediately dropped.

I quickly rolled up a few newspapers, placed several dry logs on top, and lit up our fireplace. Soon, my wife and two daughters gathered before the fireplace and to this day, they recall that night with a smile. Even when the power returned several hours later, we shut the lights off and continued to enjoy our fire.

Like everything else, our winters are evolving. Whether it's climate change or something cyclical, winter has become colder and snowier. This year in particular not only have the temperatures dropped so drastically, but many of us have been stunned by consecutive snow storms that make life less than fun.

Storm warnings now come with the additional information of potential power failure. These warnings cannot be taken lightly. Well pumps, furnaces, boilers, and most appliances are rendered useless by power failures. This new type of winters has prompted many to purchase, install, and maintain costly generators as a precaution, but if you are not a generator owner, there's still a way you can keep your family warm until power is restored.

Most homes in New England have a fireplace. Many have wood burners as well. That aforementioned night when we lost power, I didn't hesitate to use the fireplace. After all, I had it inspected and serviced in the fall, and I knew it was safe and ready to use. We were prepared.

That was not the case with two other households which made the news that

"Don't wait and find out you have a problem when you most need that fire" when you most need that fire."

In one instance, the fireplace flue was blocked by a bird nest and the smoke rolled back into the home, forcing the family out in the cold until the fumes cleared.

The other household however, sustained damage from a chimney fire. Their wood stove pipes and flue had not been cleaned and accumulated creosote within ignited.
Both of these cases never had to happen.

Even if you decide burning wood is too much work or you just don't feel like using the fire place or the wood stove, a bad winter storm causing a power failure will force you to change your mind. Before you strike that match, you must be certain the flues are clear and safe to use, and only a professional from a reputable chimney service company can give you that peace of mind.

Don't wait and find out you have a problem when you most need that fire.

Professional chimney specialists like us know what to look for in a flue system. We have the training and experience to know how to assess creosote threats and how to remove them. The key word being professional.

Do not fall for some cold call from a less than known service offering you a cheap special. Professional chimney sweeps actually hold credentials earned through education in several aspects of fire prevention, smoke dynamics, water damage, masonry, metal flue systems, and other fields they must keep current in order to serve the public.

It's not a cleaning service. It's a SAFETY business, and reputable companies like Paul's Chimney Cleaning and Restoration are committed to providing you the peace of mind and the confidence to go ahead and light up a warming fire if the power goes down.

collaboration from Javier Robayo

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Summer End Blues

September not only marks the beginning of another school year for kids everywhere, but it also brings with it the run around of activities, sports, music practice, and other rehearsals, and that's not even going on the autumn to do list around the house. That's right, Summer End Blues are back.

The pools are closed and the dreadful thought of shoveling snow sits at the back of everyone's head. We all hope for an easy winter, but we know the cold is coming and with it, the ever perennial flu season. 

You remind the kids to dress warm as you make the call to fill the oil tank, and that's when it hits you. September also marks the beginning of FLUE season.

If your heating system only runs when the weather turns cold, the chimney flue has been dormant all summer. Unless your chimney is protected by a good chimney cap, impervious to the elements and apt to deter animal intrusion, you really shouldn't flip that switch until you do two things: Have the unit serviced, and have the chimney flue inspected and cleaned.
Every fall, homeowners fall victim to surprises in the flue. It may be a bird nest, a family of raccoons or squirrels. It could be debris or it could simply be buildup from the previous season that you forgot to have checked during the spring and summer.

Lucky for you it's not too late.

This is the time to set your mind at ease by calling a qualified professional chimney technician to inspect and service your heating flues, as well as your fireplaces and wood stoves.

With the rising cost of heating fuel, more and more people have brought back wood fires for supplemental heat. Any heating unit, particularly a wood burning fireplace or wood stove should be inspected before use, especially if these units have not been serviced from the previous season.

Make sure you only consult with a reputable, local, insured, and certified chimney service company. Do not fall for the opportunistic scammers calling you out of the blue, offering to "clean" your chimneys for a low fee. Too often these are unscrupulous people with no training or experience. The reason these outfits can offer such a deal is simple: they have very little overhead as Connecticut does not require licensing for this trade. Most of the time they're not even local, they're uninsured, untrained, and not the kind of individual you should grant access to your home.

Reputable companies like Paul's Chimney Service and Restoration are solid entities registered with the Chimney Sweep Guild and our technicians are certified as professional chimney technicians through rigorous training and testing at the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), which requires technicians to retest in order to maintain their certification.
It's easy to balk at the rate of a solid outfit when compared to a scammer, but keep in mind that the fee of a reputable company has been calculated to cover insurance, training, and licensing meant to protect you as a homeowner.

A chimney technician does more than simply remove dust out of your heating systems. Above all, your safety is a technician's main objective.

Don't be fooled by the simplified version of chimney sweeping you see in movies. Gone are the days of the top hat and coattails. This is a much more serious business than most realize. Modern chimney technicians are versed in combustion and its byproducts, draft issues that involved the geometry of your roof and the properties of air pressure affecting your home, water leaks, causes and prevention, and of course, an array of repairs and processes to maintain the structure of your chimney.

This FLUE season, do not fall for a stranger's phone call offering you a great deal to clean your chimney. Call the professionals. Companies like Paul's Chimney look to establish long relationships with homeowners by offering honest work, experienced knowledge, and a fair rate along with the courtesy we believe every hard working homeowner deserves.

Summer end blues are inevitable, but issues with your heating flues, fireplaces or wood stoves don't need to be. Make an appointment today.

contribution by J. A. Robayo


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring Revelations

   Oh Spring. Goodbye to the ice and the cold winds. Goodbye to snow, shovels, blowers, and hello to buds in the trees, bees in the air, and...broken bricks on the roof.

   With the high costs of heating fuel, many have turned to the old fashion wood burning supplemental sources like fireplaces and wood stoves, most of which vent through a clay passage encased in brick and mortar.

   It's easy to take for granted the deceivingly toughness of brick and stone. After all, so many large brick structures remain standing despite the passage of decades fighting the elements, so why are chimneys so "fragile" in comparison?

   Not every homeowner has any reason to climb up on the roof and look at a chimney. Some, even if they did, don't exactly know what they're looking for. Despite the rise of the Do-it-yourselfer throughout the last two decades, there are limits to our home improvement abilities. When it comes to chimneys, one simply must rely on the expertise of a professional chimney technician.

The image of the top hat and black coat of old may have faded in the collective consciousness of modern society and even today, you wouldn't be wrong to assume chimney sweeps only work throughout the fall and winter when fireplaces and stoves are in use. However, spring is the best time to get your chimney swept. A spring cleaning will go a long way in diminishing offensive odors emanating from creosote and soot deposits. These odors will be significantly noticeable in the home during humid days.

The modern chimney technician also knows much more than a thing or two about chimney repairs, from constructing a new crown to rebuilding a whole chimney, so it's right to assume these guys know what to look for when they look at a chimney. 

What does all this have to do with Spring? You may ask. Well, the best time to get a good assessment of the condition of your chimney is spring. In fact, it's the best time to take preventive measure to discourage birds and furry critters from moving into your inactive flues. You own your chimney, along with the rest of your home, and unless these furry friends are paying you rent, they don't belong there.

There's no reason to wait until the following burning season to get your flues cleaned and checked. One of the best things you can do as a homeowner is make a service appointment as soon as you know you've burned your last fire for the season. Not only will you have those flues ready to go in the fall, but this is the opportunity to have an expert take a close look at how much damage your brick and stone structures may have incurred after surviving the cold, icy, and destructive power of water intrusion.

As we've pointed out before, masonry's greatest nemesis is water, particularly freezing water. When water turns into ice, it expands. Any freezing water within a saturated chimney will loosen mortar joints and crack bricks, that may lead to expensive repairs.

Don't wait until you find mortar cracking away or bricks missing some pieces, water pouring into the fireplace floor or running out of the clean out doors of your boiler or furnace flue. In most cases, an inspection done by a professional chimney technician can prevent costly repairs. Negligence will only lead to major repairs that will result in unexpected large expenses. Preventative maintenance goes a long way in saving you money. Sealing a crown and the installation of a proper chimney cap can prolong the life and stability of your chimney. A spring advance notice will buy you time to perform any repairs before the next time ice returns to pick at your chimney.

Spring brings forth a slew of realty transactions. Properties will change hands, requiring inspections to be conducted. No one is better qualified than a professional chimney technician to provide homeowners, buyers and sellers, the best information on potential issues and solutions concerning the chimney.

So, besides getting the grass seed and fertilizer ready, make an appointment to have your chimneys serviced and inspected. If repairs are needed, you have the opportunity to plan ahead before winter returns to feast on older, deteriorated chimneys. Don't let your spring revelations consist of bricks on your gutters, your roofs or your yards. But if you do, don't panic. You know who to call.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Chimney Safety FAQs

How often should chimneys be serviced?

According to the National Fire Protection Association, “Chimneys, fireplaces and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.”
This standard takes into account fireplaces or flues that are not used, which can attract animal intrusion as well as accumulating water damage and deterioration. Yearly inspections are the best way of diagnosing a problem with the system. The CSIA recommends that open masonry fire places should be swept when there's 1/4 inch sooty buildup. Factory built fire places should be swept when any appreciable build upoccurs.
Any presence of glazed creosote requires immediate evaluation and servicing in order to prevent chimney fires, which are capable of damaging the chimney, spreading to the home. 

Should I call a chimney sweep or can I just use one of those logs?

There isn’t a product in the market that can compare to an actual mechanical sweeping, and no cleaning log is able to conduct a thorough inspection for deterioration or defects within the dark confines of a chimney flue. Even if these products perform as claimed and loosen deposits, that debris must be removed from smoke shelves, offsets, baffles, or catalytic combustors in order to ensure not only the efficiency of your system, but also its safety. The CSIA believes that the optimum method for cleaning a chimney is by a mechanical brushing of the chimney in conjunction with a complete evaluation of the system by a qualified chimney professional.

How do I choose firewood?

Here’s the key: the dryer the better.
Fresh cut wood can be up to 45% water. The logs are heavier and no cracks are apparent. This means that a fire will first dry the log, which only produces gallons of acidic water that slows the combustion process and aids the formation of creosote.
Seasoned wood will be light and cracks will be present. They burn hotter and cleaner, producing more heat.
Stay away from evergreen wood. Harder woods make better and cleaner fires. These include maple, oak, and hickory, just to name a few.
According to the CSIA, wood you buy in the spring will be ready to burn so long as you store it properly so sun and wind can remove water from the wood.

How do I use my fireplace safely?

Use common sense above all. 
The damper must be fully open before starting the fire and left open until the fire is completely out. Do not overload a fireplace. The last thing you want is for a flaming log to roll out into flammable areas of the floor.
If your fireplace has glass doors, burn your fireplace with the doors open but make sure you close spark screen. Most fireplace glass doors have a spark screen built in. Close the glass doors to avoid heat loss from your home only when your fire is dying down.
Do not burn Christmas trees, cardboard or a lot of paper. These fires will get very hot quickly and may break the glass and warp door frames.
Stay on top of the maintenance with annual inspections.
Consult with a competent chimney service about protecting the structure of your fireplace with chimney caps, masonry repairs, and even water repellent treatments if needed.

What exactly does a chimney inspection consist of?

Chimney service technicians are versed in three types of inspection: Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3.

Level 1: Generally, this is the level of inspection performed in most homes when the chimney and venting systems are accessible without the need for specialty tools, and when a homeowner plans to maintain its current use.
Certified chimney technicians verify that the overall structure is sound, flues are clear of obstructions and creosote in particular.

Level 2: Inspections are required when:
Installing new heating appliance
A change is made on the type of fuel used to heat the home
Sale or transfer of a property
After an operating malfunction or external event likely damaged the chimney.
Apart from assessing the condition of accessible areas of the system in attics and basements, smoke or pressure tests may be conducted as well as video inspections.

Level 3: Inspections are conducted when a Level 1 or Level 2 inspection suggests hidden hazards and the evaluation of concealed areas of a venting system (chimney) cannot be performed.
Level 3 inspections are generally necessary when investigating causes of damage to a chimney or building or where a hazard is suspected.

The new Chimney Safety Institute of America standards have allowed technicians to better communicate to their customers the responsibilities of owning and using a fireplace, a wood stove, and home heating systems. Certified chimney sweeps adhere to these standards in order not only to raise the level of their service to their customers, but also to protect your home, and your families.

contribution by Javier Robayo 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Flue Season

   If you own a wood stove or a fireplace, as soon as August's warmth vanishes in favor of September's cool winds, you know it's time to get that wood pile ready for the burning season. Nothing is better than a roaring fire on a cold autumn night as the background for family game night or to curl up with a good book.

   Something else is just around the corner, not nearly as pleasant as wood fires. You see the signs everywhere, particularly at pharmacies: Flu Shots Available.

   Yes, big groan. 

    It's that time of the year again when kids bring home, not only their daily crafts, but also one or two germs that will undoubtedly cause you some grief. With this in mind, you pull in and go through the process. A day later your arm is sore, but you can enjoy some peace of mind in the knowledge that by taking a preventative stance, you stand a much better chance of getting through the season without catching the flu.

   This post however, is dedicated to Flue Season, as in you chimney flue season. 


   Flue season is a great way of reminding ourselves that as eager as we may be to light up a fire, we have to take that preventative stance for the sake of our home's safety.

   This autumn, just like every year, chimney professionals will be flooded with calls. Animal intrusion, smoke problems, draft problems, yes, it's flue season. However, much like that flue shot we endure to prevent missing work or going through the fevers, boxes of tissues, and over all awful sickness, there's something you can do for your chimney: Have your flues checked by a reputable chimney professional.

   A trustworthy professional chimney technician can give you a thorough "checkup" of the your chimney. Every aspect of the structure will be covered, exterior, crown, condition of the flue passage, and overall efficiency. 
   A chimney sweeping may be recommended to clear bird nests or to remove debris from the smoke shelf in the event the flue has been unprotected all spring and summer. Recommendations will be made, all in the interest of saving you expensive repairs by adequately protecting your chimneys. Most important of all, when the technician leaves, you will either enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing everything checks out alright and you can look forward to comfortable nights at home when the weather turns cold, or you will know what steps to take in order to keep your home and those in it safe.

   Think of early fall as Flue Season and give your chimney, whether it's for a fireplace, a wood stove or your gas or oil furnaces or boilers, the "Flue Shot" by contacting your local chimney professional. 

   Know what to expect of your systems. Prevent further issues arising from animal intrusion, debris deposits or loss of heat due to a needed repair or relining in the middle of December, and you can enjoy the comfort of warmth and the snap and crackle of those logs you split without wondering or hoping you never have a problem.
And of course, don't forget your flu shot for yourself.

   Javier A. Robayo

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Chimney Crowns: An Achilles's Heel

“It’s all brick and mortar. It’s cement! It’ll be there forever. Right?”

Disintegrating crown leaving top of chimney
prone to water intrusion and deterioration.

   A chimney is as simple a structure as anyone will find. In essence, it’s a tower built of brick, block or stone that houses heating systems and fireplace flues, which provide a safe escape for toxic combustion fumes and smoke.

   A chimney is built with a solid footing at the bottom and a crown on top, the subject of our post. The chimney crown is a slab of cement that seals off the top of the chimney. The crown is supposed to protect the structure but it's the Achilles's heel of a chimney.

   Like any masonry structure, the chimney crown is subject to erosion, water intrusion, and deterioration, but as if that weren’t enough, homeowners often fall victim to poor or inadequate construction.

   In some cases, larger crowns were built over wood planks, which is dangerous enough. No part of a chimney should be built with flammable materials. Besides, Given enough time, bacteria will thrive and feed off the wood until it rots, and no longer supports the weight of the slab of cement. 
   How does that happen? 
Chimney walls blown out by wedging
effect of unsupported crown

   Despite their solid appearance, brick and mortar are porous and moisture will find its way to the wooden planks.  What happens next is similar to when you split wood with a steel wedge. The unsupported weight exerts downward pressure and 
causes the brick walls of the chimney to blow out. Once this happens, bricks can fall and if your roof is steep enough, pieces of your chimney could tumble all the way down to the ground.

   In other cases, the chimney crown is built so thin that it erodes at a faster rate, leaving the structure unprotected. As discussed in previews posts, water is the number one agent of deterioration for masonry structures. When temperatures drop below freezing, water collected in cracks on the crown and brickwork will turn to ice and expand, acting like a very effective chisel. Wind will take away the thin crown flakes and leave the interior of the chimney open to more water and its destructive 
Common evidence of water damage on a thin crown

   So, how do you determine the condition of your chimney crown?

   If you’re the do-it-yourself type, climbing the roof and examining the chimney is your best bet. But if you’re not into heights, your best option is to rely on your chimney professional, who will examine the condition of the crown during yearly visits. 

   Frequent inspections will save you money.

   The top of a chimney is not exactly at the top of the average homeowner’s list of concerns. As we often hear it, “It’s all brick and mortar. It’s cement! It’ll be there forever. Right?”


   Early detection of chimney crown deterioration can make the difference between a relatively inexpensive crown repair and a costly rebuild.

Ideal Chimney Crown further protected
by CrownCoat material.
   There are new ways available to protect your chimney crown against the abuse of the elements, such as CrownCoat repairs. CrownCoat is a vinyl-based material that’s flexible enough to “move” with the chimney but solid enough to keep water from inflicting its typical damage. If a problem is detected early enough, a CrownCoat repair may be all you need to prolong the life of your chimney crown.

   Installing a chimney cap to protect flues from water and animal intrusion is also a great investment for the protection of your chimney. Multi-flue style chimney caps are installed with adhesive materials and hardware that anchors into the chimney crown. It’s an effective way to ensure against high winds from knocking it down.
Eroding chimney crown caused
chimney cap to fall

   This season, there’s been many calls about fallen chimney caps thanks to the likes of Irene and Sandy. Single-flue style caps fall due to poor design or installation, and they have little to do with the condition of the chimney crown. But in cases where multi-flue style chimney caps fell, the culprit was not the hardware. It was the chimney crown. 

   A multi-flue style chimney cap installation is only as good as the 
Fallen Multi-Flue Style Chimney Cap
condition of the crown.

   Some caps installed with adhesive material blew off once that layer of cement peeled off the rest of the crown. Other caps fell because the anchoring points became loose after cracks in the crown expanded, rendering the anchor useless.
Adhesive Material. Note the sandy
residue from deteriorating crown.

   Honest, reliable chimney professionals will conduct a proper inspection of the condition of your structures, and can even provide you with detailed photographs to back up their observations.

   All masonry structures are prone to water damage and deterioration, and unless you were there with the mason who built your chimney, you never really know what’s beneath the surface. Don’t wait until it’s too late. The chimney crown is your first line of defense, and it will be one of the first indicators to alert you to potential problems. Call for an assessment of your structure and protect your chimney by making sure the crown is built well and further protected with a chimney cap and CrownCoat material. It's the best way to avoid expensive repairs and to gain peace of mind, knowing your chimney will stand the forces of nature for a long time to come.

   Javier A. Robayo

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Chimney Caps: A Good Investment

   Protecting the top of your chimney from rain or snow going down the flue only makes sense. It's why you will find some chimneys topped with a piece of slate, and why you'll find plenty topped off with a metal cage-like contraption. But what is the right way to go? And why are they really necessary? How do you choose a chimney cap?
   Chimney caps come in a variety of forms, but only a professional chimney technician knows exactly what a particular chimney system requires in terms of chimney caps.
   The first important aspect in choosing a chimney is the durability of its material. A chimney cap is supposed to withstand rain, snow, and wind. Water will cause galvanized steel to rust in a short time. Stone caps will erode given enough time, and cracks and crevices will only accelerate its deterioration as the freeze-and-thaw weathering cycles take a toll on its integrity. The best choice is
a chimney cap made of Stainless Steel or Copper if you want the more aesthetically pleasing look. Manufacturers of these caps offer a lifetime warranty so long as a professional chimney technician performs the installation.
   The second important aspect is design. Restrictive models will only add to the frustration of weak draft problems and smoking issues. Well-designed chimney are built with air flow in mind, but also to provide a solid defense against most critters.
   Spring time brings new life not only to the natural landscape, but also in the form of new broods of raccoons, squirrels, birds, bats, and other adventurous members of the Connecticut wildlife that have an eye for dormant chimneys. In some cases, nests will block the chimney flue and you won't know it until you start that first fire and all the smoke blows back into the house. In other cases, you may be surprised by a scampering family of squirrels leaving a stream of sooty pawprints as they try to find their way out. Most unfortunate critters won't be able to find their way out of the flue and they'll succumb for lack of food and water. No Febreze spray or Glade Aromatic Wicks will eliminate the stench of decomposition coming from the fireplace or flue.
   Besides protecting against animal intrusion, the mesh will also serve as a spark arrestor. Some fires have started from flying embers that managed to exit the flue only to land on the roof. A chimney cap's will go a long way in protecting your home.
   Didn't expect this topic to be so involved, did you?
   Well-designed chimney caps deflect downdrafts, allowing for smoke and fumes to exit the passage without being blocked by cooler air streams that sweep over the roof and into the flue.
   And finally, water protection. Water carved the Grand Canyon, so an exposed, aged masonry chimney and clay flue tiles are prone to deteriorate from water damage. In flues venting oil appliances, boilers, water heaters or furnaces, when water mixes with the residue in the chimney flue, the result is sulfuric acid, which will accelerate the deterioration process and pose a real danger in terms of blocking your flue. The acid will eat at the flue lining and cause flakes to accumulate at the bottom. Given enough time, the accumulation may indeed block the fumes from safely exiting your home and leaking back inside.
   Although no cap will keep every single water molecule out of the flue, it will undoubtedly prolong the life of your chimney systems.
   A chimney cap is only as good as its installation. As mentioned before, only a chimney professional has the training to determine the right cap for your chimney system. The technician will ensure the chimney cap allows for the proper clearances needed to preserve optimum air flow and maximum protection of your system. 
   If you take into account what it would cost to remove animals, hire a cleaning service to eradicate soot and smoke damage from blocked flues, repair a water-damaged chimney, which may involve relining an entire chimney flue, or heaven forbid, fire damage, a chimney cap is a sound investment no matter which way you look at it. 
   contribution by Javier A. Robayo