Ultimate Chimney Repair Term Guide

chimney repair terms

While interviewing chimney repair companies, many homeowners found themselves lost in a sea of technical chimney terms.  The chimney repair technicians use words like flue liners, corbelling and creosote as if homeowners use those words every day.  That fact is that no one but chimney repair techs uses those words.  Homeowners in the Washington DC Area tend to be smart people.  However, even the highest levels of education do not teach about chimneys. When providing services like ours, we do our best to share information using terms that are easy for homeowners to understand.  We have created this article to provide homeowners with all of the terms that they will likely need to make sense of the what the chimney repair tech is telling them.  Just take the time to read and digest each of them, and you will find yourself talking like a pro…or at least understand what they are saying. 

Chimney Repair Terms

Chimney

The chimney is the set of passageways to the exit points for flue gases. The chimney links the points of combustion to the exit point. So, flue gases from combustion get to the atmosphere through the chimney.

Ash pit

This is where ashes are stored. It is usually located at the base of the chimney. It is simply a pit where ashes are stored temporarily before being disposed of.

Baffle

This is an object that is fixed in any appliance to change airflow direction. The baffle also changes the direction of flue gases and also slows down air-fuel mixtures.

Chase

Chase is the area that surrounds metal flue pipes. It is used to stimulate a chimney. There are several variants of chase. Some variants are made of steel while some are made of wood. The external covering of chase made of either stucco or lathe.

Chimney Cap

Chimneys are installed vertically or almost vertically so that the exit point will be facing the sky. So, it is possible for rain, dust particles or snow to enter the chimney to through its opening. It is even possible for animals to get into a home through the chimney when not in use. This is why it is important for chimneys to have a protective cover to prevent the entry of animals, rain, snow and dust particles. The protective covering is the chimney cap.  You may want to read this article to learn more about replacing chimney caps.

Chimney Cleaning and Chimney Sweep

This term is easy to understand. It is exactly what you are thinking. Chimney cleaning is the process of cleaning the chimney. It is as simple as that. Soot, debris, and creosote usually gather in the chimney, and they can block the airflow when they become too much. In fact, the moment they start gathering there, the flow of air will no longer be seamless. So, the chimney has to be cleaned regularly for efficient performance.

Besides, it should be cleaned for safety reasons too. When soot and creosote encounter real heat, they can ignite resulting in house fires. The worker whose responsibility is to clean the chimney regularly is the Chimney Sweep. Learn more about our chimney sweep services here.

Chimney Connector

This is any of the pipes that connect the chimney to any fuel-burning device or appliance. They are usually more than one.

Chimney Liner

The flue system allows smoke and gas to travel from your fireplace up your chimney and away from your home.  The flue liner is the material that is used within the system.  Flue liners are commonly comprised of Terracotta made from clay. 

Corbelling

Corbelling is what happens when bricks are stacked on top of each other and are projecting outwards. This is often seen in the smoke chamber resulting in increased creosote build up that can result in chimney fires.

Creosote

These are highly flammable dark, tar-like deposits that form when products of combustion (smoke, gas, etc) fail to escape from the flue.  Instead of exiting the flue, they cool and form creosote. Creosote build up within the smoke chamber or flue is a common cause of house fires. 

Cricket

This is also known as a saddle. This is a long ridge that links the back of the chimney to the slope of the roof. The cricket is required when the chimney is 30″ or wider. Its purpose is to ward water off the main connection between the chimney and the roof.

Chimney Crown

A concrete surface that sits on the top surface of the chimney that sheds water away from the flue liner. There are several types f chimney crowns. 

Below are links to our 3 part series about chimney crowns

Part 1     Part 2    Part 3

CSIA

This abbreviation stands for Chimney Safety Institute of America. The organization is a non-profit making and tax-exempt organization established to regulate chimney and vent related activities in the United States. It is dedicated to venting and chimney system safety.

Damper

This is a valve that comes mostly in the form of a retractable plate. It is simply meant for controlling the flow of smoke or air or both. Most times it is located at the top of the chimney. It opens the top of the flue when the chimney is in use and it closes it when idle. This prevents cold air from coming in and it also prevents warm air that is keeping the house warm from flowing out through the flue.it is the cable attached to the side of the flue that opens and closes the flue.

Direct Vent

Direct vent” refers to a sealed-combustion system in which air for combustion is piped from the outdoors, and the event products are vented to the outdoors. (Got this from an online definition)

Draft

The draft is the pressure difference created by a rising gas. The pressure difference draws combustion air into the appliance and discharges exhaust gases to the atmosphere via the chimney

Chimney Flashing

Are metal strips at the base of the chimney as it penetrates the roof. There are two parts.

1- Base or step flashing, butts up against the chimney and is tucked underneath the shingles.

2- Counter flashing- over laps the base flashing and is tucked into the mortar bed joints of the chimney.

Flue

This is the link between the chimney and the exit point for gases. The gases from combustion pass from the chimney via the flue to the outside atmosphere. A multi-flue chimney is a single chimney that contains more than one flue.

Flue Liner

This is the inner wall of the flue. It is designed to hold products of combustion. It is done in adherence to the safety rules guiding the installation of chimneys.

Masonry Chimney

This is a chimney made of cement, concrete, stones, bricks or a combination of some of them.

Parging

This is a coat of mortar applied to a surface to smooth it out. Parging is often done in the smoke chamber to correct the corbelling bricks.  Some technicians use spray on substances to apply a thin coat to parge the smoke chamber.  This spray on technique does not last long.  The better chimney repair companies parge the chamber by applying thick coats by hand. 

Relining

Relining a chimney is the process of repairing/replacing damaged or faulty flue liners. It is the replacement of the flue liner.

Stainless Steel Liner

It is the stainless steel pipe used to replace a damaged liner in a chimney.

Soot

This can be described as carbon particle residue that is formed from oxygen-poor combustion. It resides inside the chimney until it is swept out. This is a regular occurrence. This is why chimneys should be cleaned regularly.

Stack Effect

This is the tendency of warmer air to rise within a chimney leaving cooler air at the base known as the stack effect. This is because air is lighter when warm or hot and heavier when cold.

Thermal Expansion

Thermal expansion is the expansion of the metal surfaces of the chimney caused an by an increase in temperature. This does not only happen in the chimney. It also happens everywhere else. Heat makes metals expand.

Thimble

This could be fixed/permanent or removable. It is the ring situated in the hole where the chimney is connected to the wall. The chimney connector passes through the thimble.

Vent

valuable is passage that links the flue collar to the draft hood.

Video Scan

This is not such a technical term. It is video camera and monitor that is installed to inspect the innermost part of the flues that are difficult to access.

Counter Flashing

This is the piece of metal that is placed in the masonry wall to ward off water from the wall and from the roof surface. Counter Flashing is important, as the continuous entry of water can cause issues. There are three basic types of counter flashing – surface mounted counter flashing, reglet counter flashing and through-wall counter flashing (SEE chimney flashing)

Tips for maintaining your chimney

Here are a few important tips for the maintenance of a chimney

It is advisable to use seasoned woods always. This is because using seasoned woods usually slows down the buildup of creosote. Properly seasoned wood should have a moisture content around 20%. The best way to ensure your fire wood is seasoned is by using a moisture meter.

Ensure compact stacking for your fire. It burns longer and more efficiently than loose stacking. You do not need starters like kerosene and gas to start a fire. Using any of them can lead to severe burns. Don’t overlook the importance of a chimney cap. Apart from protecting your chimney from debris, birds and some other small animals can enter through it when they are avoiding predators.

 

 

Installing fireplaces in homes with no chimney

Installing a fireplace in your home is a great way to add warmth, ambiance, and even resale value!  However, if you don’t have a chimney in your home or if you lack a chimney in the area where you wish to install your fireplace, you may be wondering if your dreams of having a fireplace are out-of-reach. This is a common issue for people seeking our services in Washington DC.  The good news is that there are a few fireplace installation options that do not require an existing chimney. Which one is right for you?

Stove Installation

fireplace stove

Stoves present an excellent option for homeowners that want a more natural wood experience.  Stoves can be purchased to use either gas, wood pellets or real wood.  Stoves are vented through a metal pipe.  The pipe extends from the stove through the roof.  The top of the pipe is covered with a chimney cap.  There is no need for a brick chimney surrounding the pipe.  Stoves are the most attractive option for homes that do not originally have fireplaces. 

Benefits of installing stoves

The beautiful thing about these stoves is that they can be installed just about anywhere and require just a small amount of retrofitting to create the proper pipe exhaust system, which will safely carry gases produced by a fire outside the home. Typically, pellet and wood-burning stoves are installed along a perimeter wall of a home. From there, a flue can be fitted that runs from the top of the stove and out through the roof of the home.

Some other advantages of wood/pellet stove installation:

  • Cheaper installation
  • Can burn real wood
  • Does not have the potential health risks of ventless fireplaces
  • More options and styles to choose from

Ventless Fireplaces

ventless fireplace

A ventless fireplace is another alternative for homeowners without an existing chimney or external ventilation. These types of fireplaces run on either natural gas or propane and are designed in such a way that the fuel is burned efficiently enough to produce very little carbon monoxide.  The remaining byproducts are released back into the home at levels that are considered to be safe.  The result is that you have a fireplace that has no chimney or pipe of any kind.  After installing a ventless fireplace, it is important to follow these maintenance tips.

Benefits of ventless fireplaces

Because these ventless fireplaces do not require a chimney or other ventilation system to be built, they also tend to be slightly cheaper to install than traditional fireplaces.

Due to the lack of a pipe, ventless systems can be installed in spaces that may be difficult or impossible to install any other type of fireplace or stove.

Important Safety Considerations

Ventless fireplaces are UL listed and approved based on the significantly reduced amount of fumes released back into the home compared to a regular vented system.  However, the fumes released by these systems can affect persons in the room who may be sensitive to them.  Ventless systems are particularly a concern when used when small children or people with respiratory issues are present.  People with allergies can also have problems with this system. 

There is much debate about the safety of ventless fireplaces.  Ventless fireplace installation is a service offered by our fireplace installation team.  However, we see ventless systems as a last resort. 

Conclusion

These are just a few options to consider for homeowners who want a fireplace installed but don’t have access to a chimney. Whichever route you decide to go, be sure to find an experienced and skilled installation team to get the job done properly.

 

How to paint your fireplace surround

fireplace surround

Painting a fireplace has the potential to improve the esthetics of a room dramatically. During the hot, humid summers, homeowners in the Washington DC Metro Area tend not to use their fireplaces.  The lack of use makes the summer the ideal time to paint their fireplaces.  Painting has the affect of giving your fireplace a facelift.  Many of our Washington DC fireplace repair customers paint their fireplace surround after getting their fireplace fixed.  You can find additional ways to beautify your fireplace and hearth here. 

note:  These instructions are for painting the exterior fireplace surround.  You must follow a different process for painting inside the fireplace firebox.

Get the right paint supplies for your fireplace surround

There are some supplies that you will need to paint your fireplace. This includes some safety equipment such as gloves and safety goggles. You should also get such things as:

paint rollerPaint roller

Oil Based Primer

fireplace paint
Indoor Latex Paint

fireplace drop cloth
Drop Cloth

fireplace paint brush
Small Paint Brush

Painters Tape

Step 1: Check out the Surrounding Materials

You want to be sure you paint the right materials around your fireplace. Materials such as limestone, river rock, and sandstone can be painted, but it’s going to be harder to change the color once you go through with it.

It’s best if you have a brick surround.

Step 2: Prepare the Surface

The paint isn’t going to adhere to the surface very well if it’s dirty. This means you need to have some TSP (trisodium phosphate) that doesn’t create suds as well as a wire scrub brush to do some cleaning. Be sure you wear your safety goggles and gloves while you’re doing all of the cleaning.

Clean all of the brick with the wire brush and TSP and then wash with a heavy-duty cleaner. From there, let it all dry before you tape off the areas you want to keep unpainted.

Step 3: Prime Your Brick

It’s important to prime your brick so you don’t experience soot stains on the paint later on. An oil-based primer that is stain blocking should be applied to the entire surface. Follow the instructions on the can to ensure that you are adhering to manufacturer specifications.

You should also have a drop cloth down so that primer doesn’t damage your floors as you work.

Step 4: Start Painting

Allow plenty of time for the primer to dry before you start to paint. You can choose any kind of indoor latex paint – gloss, semigloss, or flat. This is a personal preference, though many people opt for a semigloss or flat. Just be sure that the paint is capable of withstanding temperatures of at least 200°F. If you decide to paint your mantle, you could always choose to go with a glossier version up there.

The roller you choose should be designed for textured surfaces. It will allow you to get into all of the nooks and crannies of the brick. You are only painting the outside of the fireplace. If you want to paint the interior of the firebox, you will need a special heat-resistant paint.

With the right supplies and some patience, you can have a great looking fireplace. Follow the instructions on all of the paints and primers you buy, too, so that there are no safety issues.  Many homeowners touch up the paint on the fireplace every year after their annual chimney sweep.

4 Significant reasons to install a gas fireplace

gas fireplace installation

We recently had a customer in Silver Spring, MD ask us about the benefits of installing a gas fireplace.   There are many benefits to installing a gas fireplace in your home.   If you don’t have a fireplace or a chimney, you may want to consider this option. Gas fireplaces do not require a chimney for installation, and instead, utilize direct-vent technology, meaning a pipe unit runs outdoors through the side of your house. This is a very common option for homes in needing fireplaces in Washington DC.  The lack of a chimney eliminates mortar related chimney repairs.   Those who currently have a masonry wood-burning fireplace may want to consider a gas fireplace.  As a professional company that installs fireplaces, we install gas and wood burning fireplaces.  However, wood-burning fireplaces can be converted to a gas fireplace insert, and they offer many advantages over the latter. 

Compared to wood fireplaces, gas fireplaces have many benefits:

  • Gas fireplaces provide a more efficient and consistent heat supply.
  • They eliminate the hassle of dealing with firewood and smoke.
  • They can reduce your fuel consumption and annual energy bills.
  • They can improve your home’s resale value. 

More Efficient and Consistent Heat Supply:

Gas fireplaces offer a much higher level of efficiency and consistency compared to wood-fueled masonry fireplaces. Since they are thermostatically controlled, you have total control over the degree of warmth they provide. You don’t have to deal with getting your fireplace started and adding logs when the flames are not producing enough heat. Instead, you can enjoy a steady and consistent heat supply. 

Gas Fireplaces are Less Hassle:

Convenience is another advantage to gas fireplaces. After a gas fireplace is installed, you don’t ever have to worry again about dealing with dirty firewood and smoke. There’s no more need to chop, store or haul firewood.   You can also safely maintain your gas fireplace with ease.  Read this article about gas fireplace safety. 

Reduce Fuel Consumption and Yearly Heating Bills:

In addition to involving less hassle, gas fireplaces can also reduce your fuel consumption and annual heating bills. The concept of “zone heating” is useful when it comes to talking about gas fireplaces. Whereas a central heating unit heats your whole home, with a gas fireplace, you can utilize zone heating, meaning you only heat the room when it’s occupied, in turn, reducing your total fuel consumption. 

Here is an example of how zone heating might look like in practice. Typically, once the homeowner has decreased the temperature on the central thermostat, he or she will use their gas fireplace to heat their living room or family room (the areas of the home they are spending a majority of the time). This has the benefit of keeping those rooms warm while decreasing the money devoted to heating other rooms. Also, gas fireplaces are good at heating your home during moderate weather, thus providing an excellent alternative to using central heat during this time, which would be more expensive. According to some studies, you could enjoy energy savings as high as 20 to 40% by heating individual rooms using a gas fireplace and turning off your central heating system. 

Gas Fireplaces Improve Your Home’s Resale Value:

Finally, it’s important to view a gas fireplace as an investment, which can improve the resale value of your home. Gas fireplaces typically pay for themselves, according to Marshall & Swift, which provides the appraisal industry with cost data on residential and commercial properties. According to their appraiser’s handbook, when selling a home, a homeowner can plan to recoup nearly 91% of what it cost to add their direct vent gas fireplace.

Gas fireplaces offer many advantages. This recent fireplace installation is a good example of how a fireplace can beautify your home. They can be installed in homes with or without chimneys.  It’s also possible to convert a wood-burning fireplace to a gas fireplace insert, something a professional fireplace installation company can easily do. For those currently considering a gas fireplace, it is important to remember their many benefits: a consistent heat supply, less hassle, reduction to your energy bills and, finally, an improvement in your home’s resale value. 

Feel free to visit our fireplace installation page to learn more about gas fireplace installation.  You can find info here.

Choosing between Fireplaces vs Fireplace Inserts

 gas fireplace insert

Imagine snuggling up to a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night or hanging stockings across the mantle during the holidays.  A fireplace can add a sense of contentment and style, not to mention warmth and comfort.  Many homes in the Washington DC Metro Area have beautiful fireplaces.  Many homeowners contract with companies like ours for fireplace installation.  Whether they are considering upgrading an existing fireplace or installing a new fireplace in a home that does not have one, many homeowners find themselves choosing between installing fireplaces and installing a fireplace insert.  There are a lot of things to consider when deciding between a fireplace and an insert. 

 Cost and Maintenance Are Important Factors

It is usually more costly to install a fireplace.  However, many people like the look and comfort offered by a traditional fireplace. Traditional fireplaces are usually made of brick or stone and contain a flue and chimney.  While they look beautiful, these open hearths can be costly to install and challenging to maintain. 
If your home does not already have a chimney, building a fireplace will require a major renovation. First, a cavity must be created, then the chimney built and proper ventilation installed. That doesn’t include the indoor structure and mantle, which itself can add thousands onto the project budget. 

The Classic Look of Traditional Fireplaces
traditional open fireplace

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traditional Fireplaces have a classic look that many people find irresistible.  Inserts are more efficient.  However, in some homes, the modern design of fireplace inserts can conflict with the furniture and décor of the home.  We see this often in homes in historic areas in Washington DC such as Georgetown.  A fireplace insert can look modern to the level that they look out of place in the room.

Fireplace Inserts Offer a Good Alternative

What if you already have a traditional fireplace that needs significant repairs, but cannot afford to rebuild it? Consider a fireplace insert. These beautifully designed metal boxes are an excellent way to salvage an already built fireplace, by allowing you to have a similar look and feel of a traditional fireplace with lower installation and maintenance costs.  They also tend to be significantly more energy efficient.

pellet stove insert
Pellet Stove Fireplace Insert

If you want a more traditional look and feel for your fireplace, a pellet insert may be the answer. This allows you to burn pellets in the hearth giving you the look of real flames and even the smell of burning wood.

gas fireplace insert
Gas Fireplace Insert

Those who want a low-maintenance option may want to consider a gas fireplace insert. This gives the look of a real fire without the inconvenience of collecting, storing and carrying wood.  It also eliminates messy cleanup.  Simply flick a switch and flames appear. Turn it off when you are done and walk away.  You can find an article that reviews the benefits of a gas fireplace in further detail here.  You may also want to look at this previously completed project. 

Avantages of Fireplace Inserts

* Low Cost: Costing only a few hundred dollars, inserts are a low-cost way to add style to any room.
* Faster Installation: Can be completed in half the time of rebuilding a fireplace. 
* Stylish:  Modern inserts offer a more trendy look than a traditional fireplace presents.
* Can Be Placed Almost Anywhere:  Inserts can also be installed in smaller spaces since they don’t need the same clearances as their wood-burning counterparts. 

Which fireplace option is best for you?

When considering adding a fireplace to your home ask yourself these important questions:

  • What kind of look am I after?
  • Does my home already have a chimney?
  • What’s the difference in the cost?
  • How much maintenance am I willing to handle?

Fireplaces add comfort and style to any room. Whether you choose an open-air hearth or an insert is simply a matter of taste and cost. Both look beautiful and can give you years of enjoyment.