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Is Your Chimney Ready For Burn Season?

Temperatures are dropping, leaves are changing and starting to fall, and many parts of the country have experienced the first snowfalls of the season. Fall is in full swing, and winter is just around the corner! With the change in the weather comes a change in how we use our heating appliances; fall and winter are known as burning seasons because of how often fireplaces, inserts, stoves, and other fuel-burning heating appliances are used.

snowy roof with chimneyThe Farmer’s Almanac has predicted that this winter will have big chills and strong storms; a fireplace can help create a warm, welcoming environment in your home no matter the weather. While chimney systems are built to burn fires year after year, they do need regular care, maintenance, and upkeep in order to operate safely and efficiently. The following tips and tricks can help ensure your fireplace and chimney are ready for the arrival of burning season.

1. Schedule a sweeping and inspection as soon as possible

Burning season may be underway, but it’s still not too late to schedule a chimney sweeping and inspection! A chimney sweeping should be done at least once per year to remove soot, ash, and flammable creosote from the flue; likewise, inspections should be done annually to check for signs of damage or deterioration to the fireplace or chimney.

A chimney sweeping by a CSIA-certified chimney sweep can help ensure your fireplace is burning efficiently, extend the life of your chimney system, and significantly reduce the risk of a chimney fire. Fall and winter are the busiest seasons for chimney sweeps; because of this, it may take several weeks before your appointment can be scheduled. Want to beat the rush next year? Plan ahead and schedule your chimney maintenance in the offseason!

Have a gas fireplace? You still need to schedule a chimney inspection! Annual inspections of gas fireplaces are important to ensure that no components have shifted, no gas leaks are occurring, and the venting system is undamaged and has no blockages.

2. Choose the right firewood

Whether you have an insert, open-hearth fireplace, stove, or even an outdoor fire pit, the best fuel for your wood-burning fire is seasoned firewood. According to the CSIA, seasoned firewood is “wood that has a moisture content between 20-25%.” This low moisture content is achieved by cutting, stacking, and exposing wood to the elements for 6-12 months.

Seasoned wood produces less smoke, burns at a higher temperature, and produces less creosote than freshly cut or “green” firewood. Burning green wood should be avoided whenever possible; in addition to being difficult to ignite because of the high moisture content in the wood, green wood burns dirtier and produces excessive smoke – and creosote. Burning large amounts of greenwood often result in a mid-season call to the chimney sweep!

While it can be tempting to burn paper, packaging materials, or leftover scrap wood in the fireplace – particularly when unwrapping presents during the holidays – only firewood should be used in indoor fireplaces. Styrofoam, stained or painted wood, or even printed paper can release dangerous chemicals when burned; this can impact the air quality in your home or cause respiratory issues for friends and family. Likewise, burning plastics can melt onto fireplace components and cause long term damage to the chimney system.

3. Maintain smoke detectors and safety equipment

In the United States, three out of five fire-related deaths were in homes without working smoke alarms. Regularly testing and replacing smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers are an important part of keeping friends and family safe when the fireplace is in use. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should be on every level of a home, as well as outside sleeping areas. Test alarms every six months and replace batteries as needed; replace safety equipment every 7-10 years to ensure they meet modern safety standards and technology.

A fire extinguisher should be purchased and placed in an easily-accessible area near the fireplace. Available at almost every big box or home improvement store, a working fire extinguisher can be used to prevent an unsafe situation from turning dangerous. A log rolling out of the fireplace, a fire burning out of control, or a stray ember landing on nearby furnishings are all situations where a fire extinguisher can help prevent devastating damage to a home.

4. Keep décor away from the fireplace

The stockings may have been hung by the chimney with care – but they need to be moved before the fireplace is used! During the holidays – and year-round – our mantles can hold décor such as garland, bunting, mementos, and more. Moving any hanging mantle décor out of the way before the fireplace is used can prevent stray sparks or embers from accidentally igniting a stocking; likewise, all carpets and other furnishings should be at least three feet away from the fireplace when in use.

Contact Jack Pixley Sweeps for your chimney needs this burning season

Following a few simple tips can keep your home safe and stress-free this burning season. Since 1977 staff has been providing the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area with quality, trustworthy fireplace and chimney services. For more information on fireplace safety or to schedule your next chimney sweeping or inspection, contact Jack Pixley Sweeps today!

Keeping Channels Open

Improper Flow

The most important job of your chimney is for warm air come into your home and cold air to escape. Not only is this interchange important, but a clean chimney, that is well-maintained will also filter out most harmful gases. If anything gets inside your chimney and interrupts or diverts air in a way that is out of balance – your health and your home could be at risk.

In order to bring the right air in...at the right balance,  you cannot let anything blocking the air to remain. Annual maintenance of your chimney, keeps channels open.

In order to bring the right air in…at the right balance, you cannot let anything blocking the air to remain. Annual maintenance of your chimney, keeps channels open.

There are many reasons why a chimney gets too much draft. It could be due to a clogged chimney flue that’s filled with creosote. It could also be caused by other objects or even animals that make their way into the flue. Or it could also be because of poor chimney maintenance. It could be many other things. It’s important to solve this problem right away because of health and safety reasons. This can help lessen the chances for harmful toxins from entering the home and for it to safely make its way to the outside of the house without having to worry about fire or dangerous chemicals in the air.

You’ll know when there’s a draft when there is little amount of heat produced by the fire in your fireplace. Another basic observation is a distinct smell lingering inside or air entering your home through the firebox. Here at Jack Pixley Sweeps we make sure your home is cared for in the best way possible; with excellent services and licensed CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps.

The Symptoms

  • Persistent smell inside the home
  • Difficulty in starting or keeping the fire despite using seasoned wood
  • Smoke spillage
  • Not enough heat

The Remedy

Draft in the chimney can be solved by doing four things:

  • First, what our people would usually do is to inspect your chimney. This can help them know what equipment to use, what other problems might be occurring and why draft existed in the first place.
  • Second, thorough cleaning/sweeping of the chimney is a must. This procedure will remove draft inside the chimney, providing unrestricted air to properly flow.
  • Third, sealing the leaks in your chimney can also be a good solution. You know how water can easily destroy the masonry walls and bricks in your chimney thus causing draft to happen and mold to form.
  • Lastly, is to have a chimney cap installed. This can keep out animals, birds and debris from accumulating in your chimney.

Clean Out the Creosote

Creosote Is Dirty And Dangerous

Most of the time, when chimney professionals like Jack Pixley Sweeps bring up the subject of creosote, we’re talking about fire safety. And there’s a good reason for that: Excessive creosote buildup — particularly if those creosote deposits develop into second or third stage creosote — can lead to a serious fire hazard.

But that’s not the only reason creosote buildup is dangerous, and why regular chimney sweeping is an important part of safer chimney use. Creosote itself — and the various chemicals that make it up — has been shown to be toxic.

Creosote exposure can cause skin irritations, as well as breathing difficulties.

Creosote exposure can cause skin irritations, as well as breathing difficulties.

Creosote Development

Several different materials get dubbed creosote, including the dark liquid used to treat commercial lumber materials like railroad ties. The creosote we’re talking about is a chemical deposit that results from burning wood in a heating appliance. Gases rise in the chimney connected to that appliance as the wood burns, and the cooler flue causes condensation, resulting in creosote build-up.

The coal tar creosote used in wood treatment and the creosote in your flue do have something important in common, other than their descriptor: People should avoid prolonged direct exposure to either, because both can be dangerous.

Short-term and prolonged exposure to the chemicals in creosote has been shown to result in an array of health issues, from skin and respiratory irritation to stomach pains and a potential worsening of asthma symptoms, according the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Limiting Creosote Exposure

Exposure to chimney creosote can happen in different ways. Airborne particles can be breathed in. Chemicals can be absorbed through the skin or — a particular concern with kids — orally, if fingers that came into contact with creosote were absent-mindedly put in your mouth.

Limiting exposure to creosote starts with limiting the development of creosote to begin with, by burning the right materials. Burning green or wetter wood leads to a cooler fire and more creosote — and burning anything else, like trash, can contribute to creosote build-up and give off toxic chemicals, depending on the material.

Sticking to burning kiln-dried or seasoned cordwood only is your best bet. It provides the best, cleanest burn, and is smarter to use both short and long term.

The other key step is having a professional chimney technician clean your flue regularly. During a chimney sweeping appointment, Jack Pixley Sweeps technicians will remove creosote deposits from your flue, using specially designed tools and vacuums to make sure the mess is completely confined and removed. Our technicians are trained to safely handle and safely dispose of creosote, so you don’t have to come into contact with it.

If you want to know more about creosote — and limiting and removing it from your chimney system — give Jack Pixley Sweeps a call. We’re always happy to help our clients!