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Chimney Sweeping Questions

Why do I need to sweep my chimney?

Sweeping your chimney is crucial to the performance of your fireplace, the longevity of your flue, and the safety of your home. Creosote, a byproduct of burning solid fuels, is deposited in your chimney during use and, if allowed to build up, can create a significant risk of chimney fire that can seriously damage your chimney leading to the need for expensive repairs and making it unsafe to use.

In addition, during months when the chimney is not in use, birds and other animals may enter the chimney or other unseen damage may occur which could produce a blockage or other unsafe condition in the flue. Regular sweeps and inspections can identify and deal with any issues present before they become serious or hazardous to health and home. They can also help to reduce odors and unsightly stains.

How often do I need to sweep my chimney?

This is a tougher question than it sounds. The simple answer is: The National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 says, "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 is the national safety standard and is the correct way to approach the problem. It takes into account the fact that even if you don't use your chimney much, animals may build nests in the flue or there may be other types of deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be swept at 1/8" of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. This is considered to be enough fuel buildup to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or spreading to the home. Factory-built fireplaces should be swept when any appreciable buildup occurs. The logic is that the deposit is quite acidic and can shorten the life of the fireplace. Read more here.

When do I need to sweep my chimney?

Certainly have your chimney swept and inspected before its first use in the Fall and anytime there is significant buildup in the system. If you burn solid fuels either to primarily or often supplement the heat in your home, it is wise to check the system mid-winter for any significant buildup (1/8" or greater).

Additionally, it is wise to have a chimney professional inspect any and all fireplaces and chimneys prior to the purchase of a new home. Ours is a specialized trade with extensive training and continuing education requirements for the true professionals. Even the best home inspectors are not adequately equipped to accurately assess the true condition of your entire fireplace and chimney system.

There are also benefits to choosing to have your annual sweep and inspection in the late Spring or Summer. Removing all the deposits of a Winter's use prevents this acidic buildup from remaining in the system all Summer where it reacts with the humidity in the air and slowly eats away at both masonry and metal surfaces. This timing also helps to reduce odors you may experience in the Summer months.

Of course, with lower demand for chimney services in the off-season, you will likely get a reduced rate as compared to that of Fall and Winter!

I have gas logs/insert/fireplace. Do I need to have this swept?

In a word: Yes. However, there are some differences in the type of service performed depending on the type of gas burning appliance you have. Any gas logs installed into an open face fireplace (i.e. not sealed behind solid glass) should have the chimney swept and inspected in the same manner as a wood burning fireplace. In most cases, these appliances are installed into wood burning systems. It is essential to ensure any deposits that remain from any previous solid fuel combustion are properly removed before converting the appliance to gas burning. It is also necessary to ensure no blockages or other damage occurred during the months of inactivity. Burning of gas fuels, which is generally clean, does produce carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide as well as high levels of moisture. These can be damaging to your flue system as they are mildly acidic and corrosive. It is vital to ensure these chemical compounds are properly and completely removed from the living space in a properly sized and maintained flue system.

Can anyone sweep a chimney?

As with hiring any tradesman to perform a service at your home, finding the right professional is absolutely essential to your level of satisfaction and confidence with the end result.

Dealing with fire safety, air quality, water intrusion, and long-term maintenance issues as we do with chimneys and fireplaces should not be left up to just anyone. Sure, the handyman down the street may save you a few bucks but did he really know what he was doing?

A professionally trained or certified chimney sweep adhering to the standards published by the National Fire Protection Association and International Residential Code, employing the practices of the Chimney Safety Institute of America and bound by the Code of Ethics of the National Chimney Sweep Guild will be able to perform this service and accurately diagnose any issues that may be present as well as provide you with the best set of choices to address and correct any of those issues.

At Hearthmaster, we strive to provide the highest possible level of trained, ethical, and professional tradesman who will always conduct very thorough service at a fair price. We believe this creates the best value for your money.

Will sweeping the chimney make a mess?

Absolutely not! Hearthmaster takes pride in never making a mess in your home. From laying down tarps to protect your floor and carpet to using HEPA-filtered vacuums and exhaust fans to remove dust and particulates from the air as we sweep, we spare no effort to keep your home spotless. We also utilize the ZipWall system of portable walls, when and if necessary, effectively sealing the work area off from the rest of your home.

We don't hire temporary help for the sweeping season; and will not send poorly-trained personnel to your home. Every Hearthmaster employee is a year-round, fully trained chimney and fireplace specialist who will do the job right, whatever it takes, leaving no question unanswered and no mess behind. We guarantee it.

Does a chimney sweep remove stains and odors?

A sweep is intended to remove combustible materials from inside the firebox, smoke chamber, and flue. While this process does minimize smells and remove some staining from inside the firebox, other services are required to address these issues. We have products that can remove smoke stains from brick, stone, and other surfaces, as well as chemical cleaners that can greatly reduce or remove odors. Please note that odors from your fireplace are often an indication of a negative pressure issue inside the home. We are trained and equipped to diagnose and remedy these issues as well.

Fireplace Questions

There is a cold draft coming from my fireplace. Can this be fixed?

There are several possible causes for this issue. From pressure and draft problems to the lack of insulation or designed air cooling in prefabricated fireplaces, we are experts in the proper diagnoses of cold, drafty fireplaces. We also have a number of possible solutions to safely and correctly fix the problem. Let us help you turn that chilly, energy-wasting spot in your home into a warm, inviting and energy-efficient gathering place.

There are stains on my fireplace doors, surround and/or mantel.
Can these be removed?

We can remove staining from any surface in and around your fireplace. We carry cleaners specifically designed to deal with the stains created in and around both solid and gas fuel burning appliances.

It is important to note that this staining can sometimes be the symptom of one or more numerous different issues. Before and in addition to cleaning the stains, it is highly recommended to have an inspection to diagnose the issue(s) so that we may offer a solution to the root cause of the staining.

My fireplace leaks smoke into my home. Can this be fixed?

There are many different reasons why a fireplace can allow smoke to enter the home. Often it is a combination of different reasons that may occur together or at different times. To properly diagnose and fix a smoking fireplace it requires an on-site inspection. There are many different ways to address this problem and it is definitely not a "one size fits all" approach. We can absolutely determine what is causing the smoke issue and make recommendations that will truly fix it once and for all. 

The bricks and/or mortar in my fireplace are cracked.
Is this serious?

Heat from a fire will naturally cause expansion, and eventually cracking, of the bricks, mortar, or refractory panels of both masonry and prefabricated fireplaces. The size and location of those cracks will determine how serious it is and what repairs may be needed. We can accurately assess, estimate, and perform these repairs. Often, just a few pictures sent to our email to be reviewed by a senior technician will allow us to quickly provide you a quote. Saving us a trip to your home ultimately saves you money on the total repair!

A bit of advice: Often it is the quick and extreme temperature change that takes place when going from a cold fireplace to a roaring fire that causes and exacerbates these issues. Simply altering how you build the fire can greatly reduce this thermal shock, reducing damage and repair costs. Start a small fire with only a couple of small logs then gradually build it to the size you want to allow the fireplace to warm more slowly and you will see much less damage occur over time.

My damper is stuck or missing. What do I do?

In many cases an inoperable or stuck damper can be corrected during the course of an annual sweep and inspection or for the price of a service call. If the damper is truly broken or missing there are several types of dampers available for installation, many of which actually seal airtight and greatly reduce the heat loss from your home that is typical when using a traditional style damper.

Can I add or replace glass doors to my fireplace?

Yes, but the proper sizing and design of those doors is very important to consider. In factory-built prefabricated fireplaces, the door must be either from the original manufacturer or built to that manufacturer's specifications. This allows you to avoid altering the air intake and therefore the testing listing of that fireplace. In the case of masonry doors, having the measurements exactly right to provide a proper fit and a professional installation are important as well.

We offer a wide range of styles and finishes of both masonry and prefabricated doors and, in most cases, can provide doors for fireplaces whose manufacturers are out of business.

My gas fireplace stopped working or isn't working properly.
Who should I call?

In addition to sweeping chimneys, we are also gas appliance technicians who have many years of experience and have received training from several of the top hearth industry manufacturers. We can often fix the most common issues during the course of an annual service, maintenance, and cleaning without any additional expense or parts. If we discover some other repair is needed we will provide an estimate and apply the service call to the total repair cost.

I have not had a wood burning fireplace before. How do I build a proper fire? How do I know what kind of wood to use?

This question is more common than one might think. We are more than happy to take the time to demonstrate the best fire building techniques as well as how to choose the right wood and properly store it for use during the course of your all-important first sweep and inspection. Wood selection and proper fire building are really the most important things you can do as a homeowner to protect your fireplace and chimney, other than scheduling your annual sweep!

Call or email us anytime and we will be happy to provide any advice or instruction you need.

Chimney Maintenance Questions

Does my chimney need a cap?

Yes. Every chimney should have a cap to protect it from water intrusion damage, keep animals out, and provide a spark arrestor to prevent any embers from igniting any combustible materials nearby.

The damage that water can do to an otherwise well-built chimney can be so severe as to require thousands of dollars in repairs, or even the need to demolish and rebuild it! This is certainly a case of an ounce of prevention being worth far more than a pound of cure.

Hearthmaster can fabricate and install a wide range of the best chimney caps and toppers available as well as being able to repair and waterproof masonry crowns, flashing and brick exteriors. We can do framing and siding repairs as well if the water damage has already taken a toll.

Why is the top of my chimney stained?

Dark red to reddish-brown stains are rust from the top of a metal chase cover or rain pan. If you see rust on the sides of your chimney, it is a sure bet that the rust on the top is far worse and will soon be a leak issue if that is not already the case.

Black staining on a masonry chimney is often from mold and mildew growing in the porous brick and mortar. Upon close inspection we usually find numerous cracks and gaps that are allowing water intrusion. The masonry stays very wet and allows mold and mildew to grow first. Moss is usually not far behind and in some cases even grasses and seedling trees even begin to take root. This situation will continually degrade the mortar and worsen until something is done to remove the mold and vegetation and then seal, waterproof, and cap the masonry.

Call us soon after noticing this for a free estimate. We will provide pictures of the top of your chimney and any other problem areas on the side so you have the information you need decide if you must take action soon or how else to plan and budget for a repair.

Why are some of the bricks on the exterior of my chimney missing, crumbling or badly cracked?

Damage to the exterior brick could be due to settlement of a foundation or improper supporting of the weight of a brick chimney veneer on roof decking.

Missing and crumbling brick is usually a lighter pink or salmon color. These are commonly seen in houses built in the 50's - 70's that were made of repurposed brick salvaged from turn-of-the-century warehouses and other buildings which were demolished to make way for more modern structures. These lighter colored bricks were never intended for exterior use and are far more susceptible to the damaging effects of rain and freeze/thaw cycles. These bricks can be replaced individually if terribly disintegrated. Any exterior brick on a chimney, especially from the roofline up, should be protected by a breathable waterproofing and perhaps some other crack sealing, crown sealing or tuck pointing of the masonry, depending on the condition of the structure.

Why do I hear or see water dripping inside or on top of my fireplace?

Rusted or incorrectly fitting rain pans and chimney caps are the most common reason for this, though leaks from other places — like missing, unsealed, or ill-fitting storm collars — can allow water intrusion. Even condensation on the underside of a cap or damper can be the source of the drip.

I hear birds in my chimney. What should I do?

First, make sure your damper is closed so they do not accidentally enter your home. If this occurs any time from late April to early September you're probably hearing Chimney Swifts. These small dark gray to black birds must land and nest on rough, vertical surfaces. They are physically unable to perch on branches and horizontal surfaces. With the loss of forests typical in the modern world their natural habitat has shifted from hollowed-out trees to chimneys. Chimney Swift hatchlings spend longer in the nest than most birds before learning to fly and are also amongst the loudest of young birds; you're probably hearing the baby Swifts tell their parents that they're hungry!

Fortunately, Swifts only learn to make noise in the last two weeks before they leave the nest, so by the time you hear them, they're almost ready to go.

Swifts eat huge amounts insects such as mosquitoes, so there are benefits to having a family of them around. Also, their nests are very small and create no risk of blockage or fire hazard. If you believe you have a Swift nest in your fireplace, the best thing to do is to close the damper so they can't get into the house and call us to come take measurements and give an estimate for a cap. By the time it's cold enough to build a fire, they'll have gone back to Brazil for the winter and we will be happy to come install your new cap and sweep your fireplace once they have gone.

Chimney Swifts are a Federally Protected Species. There are stiff fines and penalties associated with disturbing or harming these helpful little creatures. Hearthmaster is a Chimney Swift friendly company and will work around their schedule as well as yours to provide sustainable solutions for Chimney and Swift alike.

Chimney Swifts return to the same area to nest each year. One threat to their continued survival is, ironically, the capping of chimneys. As more are capped there are less places for them to nest and raise their young. We proudly offer a solution to this conundrum as well.

For nature lovers, birdwatchers, and homeowners who don't like mosquitoes and other nuisance insects, Hearthmaster can design, estimate and construct one or more Chimney Swift towers. Developed from research by renowned ornithologists, these towers provide suitable replacement habitat for these little creatures who spend the vast majority of their lives on the wing as they migrate back and forth from Brazil and fly about constantly ridding the skies of gnats and mosquitoes.

Towers can be constructed to be either a simple, sturdy utilitarian habitat or to be equally functional but resemble old chimneys, as from long-ago destroyed farmhouses or even medieval towers. They can match your house or blend into the woods nearby. It's up to you.

What if I have other critters, pests or birds in my chimney?

First, always close the damper to prevent any creature entering your home, for your protection and theirs!

Call us to discuss what you are hearing and seeing. We will be happy to come out at our first available opportunity to inspect. In some cases it may be simple to deal with the issues you have and not require an animal removal specialist. In other cases it may be determined that you need the assistance of an animal removal professional. Afterwards, you should have your chimney swept and inspected to remove any debris or blockage.

What is a chimney fire? How do I know if I've had one?
Is it dangerous?

A chimney fire takes place when excess by-products of combustion, called creosote, that have built up in the flue and smoke chamber of your fireplace over time ignite during a subsequent fire in the fireplace or stove. This highly-combustible material can burn in excess of 2000 degrees.

According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America:

"A chimney fire in action can be impressive. Indications of a chimney fire have been described as creating:

  • loud cracking and popping noise
  • a lot of dense smoke, and
  • an intense, hot smell

Chimney fires can burn explosively – noisy and dramatic enough to be detected by neighbors or people passing by. Flames or dense smoke may shoot from the top of the chimney. Homeowners report being startled by a low rumbling sound that reminds them of a freight train or a low flying airplane. However, those are only the chimney fires you know about. Slow-burning chimney fires don't get enough air or have fuel to be dramatic or visible. But, the temperatures they reach are very high and can cause as much damage to the chimney structure – and nearby combustible parts of the house – as their more spectacular cousins."

The high temperatures at which they burn can "melt mortar, crack tiles, cause liners to collapse and damage the outer masonry material". Most often, thermal shock occurs and tiles crack and mortar is displaced, which provides a pathway for flames to reach the combustible wood frame of the house. This event is extremely dangerous, call 911 immediately.

With prefabricated or factory-built metal chimney systems "most tests require the chimney to withstand flue temperatures up to 2100°F – without sustaining damage. Under chimney fire conditions, damage to these systems still may occur. When pre-fabricated, factory-built metal chimneys are damaged by a chimney fire, they should no longer be used and must be replaced." www.CSIA.org

"Wood stoves are made to contain hot fires. The connector pipes that run from the stove to the chimney are another matter. They cannot withstand the high temperatures produced during a chimney fire and can warp, buckle and even separate from the vibrations created by air turbulence during a fire. If damaged by a chimney fire, they must be replaced." www.CSIA.org

Too often we hear someone say, "Well, we haven't ever swept ours and we haven't had a problem yet!" or "I know we've had a couple of chimney fires and nothing happened to our house." While it is true that not every chimney fire becomes a structure fire, it is also true that every chimney fire damages the system designed to prevent that structure fire. Approximately 25,000 structure fires per years are caused by chimney fires. Why risk it?

Chimney fires are completely preventable. Simply stated: Clean chimneys don't catch fire!  

Gas Log and Gas Fireplace Questions

Do my gas logs require maintenance?

Absolutely! While clean-burning natural gas produces fewer byproducts than a wood-burning fireplace, major industry organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association still recommend a yearly sweep and inspection of gas fireplaces to ensure the safety of your home by making sure the gas burner and venting system are operating efficiently. Even ventless or vent-free gas logs should be serviced annually to ensure their delicately-balanced combustion system is operating at peak efficiency. If not, it can create an unsafe and unhealthy environment with excess sooting that degrades air quality.

Hearthmaster can clean, redress, and correctly stack your gas logs and often restore performance and improve their appearance to a level that surpasses how it looked when it was new.

Can I install gas logs in my wood burning fireplace?
What if there isn't a gas line?

Absolutely! As long as you have a natural gas or liquid petroleum line into your house, we can get gas supply into your firebox and connect it to the supply line in your home. Most modern woodburning fireplaces are already pre-configured to be converted to gas, and we have years of experience retro-fitting gas key valves and gas lines into masonry fireboxes that have no pre-existing connections.

We carry three of the top lines of gas logs in the country: RH Peterson, Golden Blount, and Empire, as well as gas inserts from Heat&Glo, Heatilator, and Valor. We can work with you to find the perfect set of gas logs or high-efficiency gas direct vent gas insert so you can enjoy the look and warmth of a beautiful fire without having to chop and haul firewood.

It is highly recommended to have your fireplace and chimney swept and inspected prior to changing fuel type used. We always include this service in our installation estimates.

I have gas logs in my fireplace. Can I burn wood?

This depends — always check your owner's manual or consult a chimney and fireplace professional before doing so. If your fireplace was originally designed as a wood burning fireplace and has gas logs installed, you should be able to burn wood in it after a sweep and inspection and once any modifications have been reversed or corrected. However, many prefabricated fireplaces were designed for gas only. The firebox may not be designed to take the more intense heat of a wood fire, and the flue and chimney might not be able to handle the increased smoke. Never burn wood in a gas fireplace without ensuring you're following the manufacturer's guidelines. Always have it inspected first!

My gas logs are unattractive or don't have much flame.
Can this be fixed?

Of course! We carry a complete set of tools along on every sweep and inspection. We can clean and redress your gas logs and breathe new life into them for a fraction of the price of buying new ones! In addition, we can arrange them for maximum efficiency and visual appeal.

If you decide it's time to replace your gas logs, we carry dozens of designs. You're sure to find the perfect set for your fireplace.

Can I add a remote control to my existing gas logs?
Can my existing remote control be repaired?

Yes. We can come out and install a remote for almost all gas logs. From simple On/Off remotes with standing pilots to electronic ignition pilots with variable height flame control, you have many options and we can help walk you through the pros, cons, and pricing for all of them. We can often repair or replace your existing remote. You can enjoy the warmth of your fireplace without leaving the comfort of your couch!