Q - How often should I have my chimney cleaned?
A – This is a tougher question than it sounds. The quick 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 cleaned at ¼” of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. Factory-built fireplaces should be cleaned when any appreciable buildup occurs. This is considered to be enough fuel buildup to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or spreading to the home.
Q - How do you select the proper firewood?
A – Quality, well-seasoned firewood will help your wood stove or fireplace burn cleaner and more efficiently, while green or wet wood can cause smoking problems, odor problems, rapid creosote buildup and possibly even dangerous chimney fires. Well-seasoned firewood is easier to start, produces more heat, and burns cleaner. The important thing to remember is that the water must be gone before the wood will burn. If your wood is cut 6 months to a year in advance and properly stored, the sun and wind will do the job for free. If you try to burn green wood, the heat produced by combustion must dry the wood before it will burn, using up a large percentage of the available energy in the process. This results in less heat delivered to your home, and literally gallons of acidic water in the form of creosote deposited in your chimney.
Wood is composed of bundles of microscopic tubes that were used to transport water from the roots of the tree to the leaves. These tubes will stay full of water for years even after a tree is dead. This is why it is so important to have your firewood cut to length for 6 months or more before you burn it, it gives this water a chance to evaporate since the tube ends are finally open and the water only has to migrate a foot or two to escape. Splitting the wood helps too by exposing more surface area to the sun and wind, but cutting the wood to shorter lengths is of primary importance.
There are a few things you can look for to see if the wood you intend to purchase is seasoned or not. Well-seasoned firewood generally has darkened ends with cracks or splits visible, it is relatively lightweight, and makes a clear "clunk" when two pieces are beat together. Green wood on the other hand is very heavy, the ends look fresher, and it tends to make a dull "thud" when struck. These clues can fool you however, and by far the best way to be sure you have good wood when you need it is to buy your wood the spring before you intend to burn it and store it properly.
DO NOT burn large quantities of resinous softwoods as these fires can quickly get out of hand.
DO NOT burn any construction scraps of treated or painted wood, especially treated wood from decks or landscaping ties. The chemicals used can release dangerous amounts of arsenic and other very toxic compounds into your house.
If the "seasoned wood" you bought turned out to be pretty green and you elected to try to burn it anyway, be sure to have the chimney checked more often than usual, you may build up creosote very quickly. You don't have to burn only premium hardwoods. Less dense woods like elm and even soft maple are abundant and make fine firewood as long as you're willing to make a few extra trips to the woodpile.
Q - Does my damper have to be fully open when burning?
A – YES – If your damper is not fully open, this will cause your fire to become very smoky.
Q - Which is better: wood, pellet or gas?
A – It depends on your needs.
Gas is a good choice if you’re looking for a convenient heating source.
Wood is a good choice if you’re looking for an inexpensive heating source.
Pellet or gas are both good choices if you are looking for a high efficiency heating source.
Q - I heat with gas. Should this chimney be checked too?
A - YES! Although gas is generally a clean burning fuel, the chimney can become non-functional from bird nests or other debris blocking the flue. Modern furnaces can also cause many problems with the average flues intended to vent the older generation of furnaces.
If your question is not included here, please contact us and we would be happy to answer any question you might have.