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!

Tips For Building A Fire

Using a fireplace may seem simple, but the way that you build your fire can have a major impact on how well the fire burns. Using the wrong materials – or stacking wood logs incorrectly – can cause fires to burn out prematurely, burn sluggishly, or need to be constantly stoked. By changing how you build a fire, you and your family can fully enjoy your fireplace this winter!

1. Use the Right Firewood

For a more aromatic fire, consider using softwoods such as fir, pine, or cherry. These woods produce a fragrant smoke that makes them popular in smoking meats; while they produce larger amounts of smoke, they can be used in small amounts as kindling in indoor fires. Softwoods are also a good choice for outdoor firepits.

2. Warm the Flue

When the temperature outside is significantly colder than the temperature inside, reduce smoke blowback and drafting issues by warming the flue before starting the fire. To begin warming the flue, open the damper for several minutes; this allows the air temperature between your home and the flue to better stabilize. Next, light a bundle of kindling such as newspaper or small twigs and hold it under the open damper. This further warms up the air temperature in the flue and can make drafting easier when lighting the main fire.

3. Build Your Fire From the Top Down

How you stack the logs in your fireplace can impact how effectively the fire burns. One unusual – but extremely effective – way of stacking logs is the top-down method.. Top down fires minimize the need for stoking by ensuring the fire is well fed with fresh oxygen, helping burn all the wood in the firebox more completely.

Build a top down fire by stacking the largest logs on the bottom of the fireplace with the ends facing the front and back. Stack a layer of smaller logs on top perpendicularly; continue alternating front to back and side to side layers of progressively smaller logs until the firebox is almost full. Top the fire with kindling and add kindling throughout the stack. Ignite the kindling on top of the logs; as the fire burns down it naturally ignites each layer of logs, reducing the need to add logs or stoke the fire.

4. Have Your Chimney Swept Each Year

An annual chimney sweeping is the best way to ensure your fires burn safely and efficiently all season long. Chimney sweepings remove soot, ash, and flammable creosote, as well as check for blockages and other signs of damage. A chimney sweep can also help diagnose the cause of ongoing chimney issues such as drafting problems or leaks.

Contact Us Today!

Taking the extra time to correctly build and burn a fire can help you get the most out of your fireplace this winter. For more information on building a fire or to schedule your net chimney sweeping, contact Jack Pixley Sweeps today!

Is Your Fireplace Smoking Into Your Home?

Sitting in front of your fireplace is meant to be comfortable and relaxing. It’s not meant leave you choking on smoke. Do you have a smoky fireplace? Are soot and ash stains on your furniture or décor? Perhaps there are odors that linger for hours or days after the fire? If any of these things prevent you from using and enjoying your fireplace, a smoking issue may be the culprit.

As a number of different factors can cause smoking problems, there is no “quick fix.” Instead, trust a CSIA certified chimney sweep to inspect your fireplace and chimney system. They will identify the underlying cause.

The four of the most common causes of fireplace smoking and draft issues:

  1. Flue blockage.
    A flue blockage occurs when debris, soot, and ash build up in the flue. Building up to the point where air flow is constricted. This prevents smoke from safely drafting up and out of the chimney. In addition, it can also cause dangerous gasses to back up inside your home. Flue blockages are commonly caused by debris such as leaves falling into the chimney. Also, trapped animals and their nesting materials. A functioning chimney cap and chimney sweep can remove and prevent future flue blockages from occurring.
  2. Improperly sized flue.
    If the flue is too large or too small for your fireplace, smoke and gas will not be able to draft properly. An improperly sized flue can occur if a new fireplace insert is installed into an existing hearth. Additionally, if the fuel source of the fireplace is changed. If the flue is too small, smoke can not be drawn up the chimney quickly enough. This causes it to linger in your home. Likewise, a flue that is too large pulls down too much outside air. Thus, causing smoke to blow back into your home. Relining the chimney is typically the most effective way to correct an improperly sized flue.
  3. Negative air pressure.
    The height of your home, your chimney, nearby buildings, and surrounding trees can all effect the air pressure around your chimney. Standard building codes require chimneys to be at least two feet taller than any other structure within a 10 foot radius.
  4. Using the wrong firewood.
    Burning green or freshly cut firewood can negatively impact the quality of your fire and produce more smoke. Likewise, even seasoned soft woods can produce large amounts of smoke. For a fire that produces less smoke and burns hotter, opt for seasoned hard woods such as ash, birch, or oak.

Fix your smoking fireplace!

A smoking fireplace doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying your fireplace. Instead, call the experts at Jack Pixley Sweeps today for more information on how we can identify and repair the cause of your fireplace smoking issues.

Smoking Fireplaces

Relaxing in front of a fire with friends and family is supposed to be an enjoyable way to unwind. Unfortunately, fireplace smoking and draft issues can make it impossible to enjoy a fire.

There is not one sole cause for fireplace smoking issues; there are a numbers of reasons why your fireplace may be smoking or not drafting correctly. Because of this, it is important to work with a CSIA certified chimney technician in order to identify the underlying cause of the smoking.

What is causing my smoking fireplace?Proper Firewood - Minneapolis MN - Jack Pixley Sweeps

If burning a fire in your fireplace sends smoke back into your living room instead of up the chimney, you have a smoking problem. Unfortunately, finding the cause of a smoking fireplace may not be easy; there are as many as 15 different causing for smoking fireplaces and drafting issues. The following are some of the most common causes of smoking fireplaces.

  • Flue blockages: One of the easiest to identify – and easiest to repair – causes of a smoking fireplace is a flue blockage. If the flue is partially or completely blocked, the chimney cannot correctly draft smoke from the fire up the chimney; this causes the smoke to blow back or settle in the room. Flue blockages are most commonly caused by debris such as sticks and leaves or from animal nesting materials. A working, well fitted chimney cap along with annual chimney inspections are the best ways to keep flue blockages from occurring.
  • Using the wrong firewood: The kind of firewood you use can have an impact on how much smoke your fire produces. All firewood should be seasoned, or allowed to dry by exposure to the elements, for at least six months before burning. Doing this reduces the moisture content in the wood – and reduces how much smoke the logs produce. Likewise, choosing hardwoods such as ash, birch, or oak will produce less smoke than softwoods such as pines, firs, and spruces.
  • Incorrectly sized flue: The size of the flue should correspond to the size and type of fireplace in order to draft effectively. A flue that is too large or too small can create smoking issues. This is often seen in homes where a new fireplace insert has been installed into an existing firebox; if the flue is too large, too much air will be pulled down into the chimney and smoke can be pushed back into the room. Likewise, a flue that is too small will not be able to draw smoke up into the chimney fast enough.

Negative air pressure: The height of your chimney can affect the air pressure around your home. Standard building codes require that chimneys must be at least two feet taller than any structures within a 10 foot radius. Nearby building, tall trees, overhanging branches, and second story home additions can all change the air pressure surrounding your chimney and lead to drafting problems.

Don’t let a smoking fireplace keep you from enjoying fires this fall and winter. Contact Jack Pixley Sweeps today to schedule an appointment and begin troubleshooting the cause of your smoking fireplace.