5 Common Gas Fireplace Repair Problems

washington dc gas fireplace

Many homes in the Washington DC area have gas fireplaces.  When you own a gas fireplace, it’s important to know about some of the more common repairs. Some gas fireplace repairs can be done on your own while others require the help of a professional chimney sweep company like ours.

Fireplace Burner isn’t Turning On

You may find that when you go to light your fire, the burner isn’t turning on. If the pilot light is still working, it’s likely a problem with the thermostat. The good news is that you can often fix this on your own by checking that the current room temperature is below the thermostat setting.

If the problem isn’t in your thermostat, you may need a professional to help you with several other aspects:

  • Faulty wiring
  • Dirty orifice on the pilot light
  • Thermocoupler needs to be replaced

Once a professional comes out, they can troubleshoot the issue and make the necessary repairs so your fireplace burner can begin working once again.

Fireplace Doors Not Sealing Properly

Often, the glass doors to your gas fireplace might not be sealing properly, which is a relatively simple fix. The first sign that will tell you that your seals aren’t in place is that you will smell the gas coming out of your fireplace. The clips and glass fasteners both have to be in place firmly.

The Ignition Isn’t Working

If you try to start a fire and the ignition isn’t working, you will need a repair of some sort. You may want to check the breaker box first to see if there has been a trip. Otherwise, it may be that you need to open the gas valve to restore the flow. If neither of these issues is the problem, you will want to get a professional in to check on the natural gas lines or the propane supply and to check the function of the wiring.

Soot Buildup

Gas fireplaces leave soot that can build up over time.  You should be cleaning your fireplace on a regular basis so that you don’t get significant soot buildup.   Residue can affect the oxygen flow within your unit.  There may not be enough oxygen flow, or there might be too much gas flow. Additionally, you should consider getting a professional chimney inspection to find out if any blockages could be causing the problem.

A few other things that you can do for soot buildup 

  • Adjust the air setting
  • Adjust the damper
  • Align embers and logs according to fireplace instructions
  • Clear off the combustion screen
  • Remove leaves and debris from the chimney

When you can get soot buildup under control, it will help your fireplace to last much longer – and look its best, too.

Blower Problems

A blower can create a grinding or shrieking noise. It may be an indication that the blower needs work.  Loud blowers can be deceptive.  Some older models are always louder than newer units.  Newer technology has come out to provide fans that barely make any noise. You may want to call in a professional to see what they can do about your existing blower.

The type of gas fireplace you have may determine the kinds of repairs that you will have over its lifetime. For example, there are ventless and vented fireplaces. Unvented fireplaces shouldn’t produce soot.at all. In ventless fireplaces, you may experience odors as a result of such things as dirt, dust, and pet dander that get into the burner and the other components that are responsible for combustion.

Potential gas fireplace problems are the reason gas fireplaces should be cleaned every year.  By keeping your fireplace clean, you can keep the unit in better condition. You can also catch problems at their early stages.  Do the basics yourself and hire a chimney sweep every year to do the rest. 

Want to learn more? Read this article from the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).

Why Gas Fireplaces Must Be Cleaned & Inspected Every Year

gas fireplace cleaning

It’s common knowledge to homeowners in the Washington DC Metro Area that wood-burning fireplaces require regular cleaning and inspections. After all, leftover residue dramatically increases the potential for fire hazards.  Many think that having a gas fireplace installed eliminates the need for having their chimneys cleaned every year.   The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends that chimneys al all kinds should be cleaned every year.  The truth is that getting your chimney sweep is every bit as important for gas fireplaces. Read on to learn how gas fireplace cleaning and inspection is so essential:

Gas fireplaces can create visible buildup and debris

Although there is less potential for noticeable buildup with a gas fireplace than a sooty wood-burning appliance, it’s still bound to happen over time. The following are just a few examples of damage that you or your chimney sweep technician can observe:

  • Deteriorating ceramic logs. Pieces may break off and clog vents.
  • Cracked crowns and damaged mortar joints. These allow moisture to enter the chimney and break off flue tiles.
  • Residue may appear on the fireplace’s glass doors
  • Glass doors can become chipped or scratched, and may require replacement
  • Birds may build nests in your chimney, thereby harming ventilation

Gas Fireplaces Can Leave Corrosive Deposits

It’s easy to see when wood stoves and other appliances require cleaning. These fireplaces create ample soot, which is instantly visible upon inspection.  With gas fireplaces, the need for cleaning may not be as immediately obvious.  That doesn’t mean the need doesn’t exist, however. Natural gas and propane tend to deposit toxic — but invisible — substances. These can cause significant problems for your chimney and pose a safety and health risk.  The need for action may not become evident until your gas fireplace is damaged.  When discovered late, gas fireplace repairs are much more costly. 

Make sure that your gas fireplace is functioning properly

Professional chimney sweeps like ours always check to make sure that every aspect of your chimney is working correctly.  They can determine how efficiently and safely your fireplace is functioning.  They can also inform of whether a need for repairs exists now or might be needed farther in the future. 

With time, valves can slowly develop leaks. Unfortunately, leaks are not very obvious.  As a result, these problems may not be examined as quickly as warranted.  The same applies to the thermopile and thermocouple, which may show wear over time. During an inspection, your technician can determine the extent of the damage and alert you to a possible solution.

What Happens During a Gas Fireplace Cleaning Inspection?

When your local technician arrives to clean your gas fireplace, you can expect a thorough inspection of every aspect of the appliance. The following are a few of the most critical elements of a gas fireplace inspection:

  • The expert inspects the fireplace’s exterior, observing for chips and cracks in or debris on the glass doors, and quality of the general fireplace framework.
  • A close look at the interior ignition will determine whether the fireplace lights correctly.
  • The face of the unit may be removed to inspect valves beneath the fireplace or insert.
  • A thorough cleaning process may ensue, to guarantee the removal of all residue from vents.
  • A quick check for your carbon monoxide detectors will determine whether they are correctly in place and functional.
  • Your technician will end the inspection by alerting you to any problems that require attention, and how urgent those issues may be.

You love the comfort and beauty your gas fireplace provides, along with its incredible efficiency.  A little care and attention can keep your fireplace in working order in for decades to come. If you have yet to schedule your annual inspection, now is the time to get started. 

Why you should preheat your flue…and how to do it

chimney flue

Homeowners across the Washington DC Metropolitan Area are reaping the benefits of having fireplaces installed in their homes.  One of the most underestimated aspects of using a fireplace is preheating your flue.  Many homeowners wonder why preheating your flue is so important.  When there is a fire in your fireplace, cooler air from your home fuels the fire, the air above it gets hotter.  The chimney flue provides allows the hot air to rise out of the house along with the smoke and other fire byproducts.  Preheating your flue warms the chimney causing the air to start moving in the right direction.  Below are some additional things that you should know about preheating your flue.  

Things that you should check prior to preheating the flue

  • Before using your fireplace it is essential to make sure that you have had your annual chimney sweep and cleaning.  Preheating the chimney is a waste of time if your chimney is not safe to use.
  • Is the damper open all the way? You’d be surprised at how many of us forget to check the damper position before building a fire. 
  • Is the chimney flue cold? Chimneys that are allowed to get cold between fires are full of cold air. This cold air acts like a plug because it is heavier than the warmer air in the room.
  • Check to confirm your chimney is drafting properly.
    • Open the damper all the way
    • Use a lighter or match to see which way the air is flowing. The flame pulling upwards means the smoke will go that way, too. The flame pulling back into the room means that you need to preheat your flue or the smoke will also come back into the room.

How to preheat your chimney flue

When you know that the chimney has passed inspection, you know that there is probably nothing wrong with the chimney except that it is too cold to draw properly. Keeping the damper open while laying the fire will sometimes be enough to move some warm air into the flue but that can take up to a half hour and there are quicker ways to preheat the flue:

  • Make four or five newspaper “torches” by rolling a few pages up tightly. Lighting a few of these torches and holding the flame up so the heat rises into the flue will usually heat the air enough to make a draft go up the chimney. This is the most common procedure and it works.
  • A blow dryer or fan can be used to push the cold air up out of the flue. The warm air in the room draws after it and the flue is warmed. The air being blown up the chimney doesn’t need to be hot because the air from the room is still warmer than the air in the flue.

Other Tips To Help Your Chimney Vent Properly

  • Cracking open a window (about one inch) helps the fire get started because it pulls more air in over the flames.
  • Using dried, seasoned wood makes the fire burn hotter.
  • Build the properly sized fire for your firebox.
  • Use a metal grate so air can get underneath the wood.
  • Build the fire as far back in the firebox as you can.
  • If the fireplace has glass doors, open them so air can draw in from the room.

Remember that a cold flue can keep the smoke from rising so try preheating your flue the next time you start a fire. If you still are having problems, call a chimney specialist to evaluate what is going on.

 

5 Reasons why your chimney is drafty

chimney sweepdrafty chimney

When the cold winter winds of Washington DC start to blow, many people turn to the comfort of a cheery fire burning brightly in their home.  Gathering around the fire to watch Sunday night football or playing family games in front of the roaring blaze are traditions that many families look forward to during the winter.  Failure to perform preventive maintenance such as getting an annual chimney sweep  can result in backdrafts.  Periodic chilly breezes or lingering smell of smoke can be an unwanted side effect that is often caused by a drafty chimney.

Diagnosing A Drafty Chimney

Whether you light a fire every night or have the occasional blaze when guests are over, no one wants to experience the unwanted side effects of a drafty chimney. Avoiding a smoke-filled house or an unwanted chill running through your living room is made easier when you properly diagnose the reason behind your drafty chimney. To get you started on the right path, here are five reasons why you might have a drafty chimney. 

Reason #1: Chimney Blockage 

If the flow of air into the chimney is blocked, it can prevent smoke from going up your chimney and instead cause it to billow into your home. There are many common causes for a blocked stack, including: 

  • A build-up of soot in the chimney cap screen. 
  • Bird nests inside of the chimney, on the cap screen, or over the top of the chimney. 
  • Creosote build-up inside of the flue lining. 
  • A blocked damper that isn’t opening fully. 
  • Broken pieces of masonry that are sticking out at odd angles inside of the chimney. 

The leading professional chimney associations recommend that chimneys be professionally cleaned and inspected on a yearly basis.  If you notice that smoke consistently pours into your home when you have a fire lit, it could be because your chimney is blocked.  In such it is probably time for you to call to clean and remove any blockage. 

Reason #2: Restricted Airflow

Did you know that a chimney needs a bit of airflow in order to pull the smoke up and out of the house? If your home is tightly sealed, then your chimney might not be receiving enough airflow, which could cause the smoke to remain stagnant or filter back into the home. More often than not inadequate airflow is caused by other in-home appliances, such as exhaust fans. You can experiment with opening a window near the fireplace to resolve this drafty chimney dilemma.

Reason #3: Flue Temperature

Hot air rises, while cold air sinks. This might seem like a “no-brainer” statement, but it is important to remember if you are experiencing a drafty chimney. When the flue is too cold it can cool the combustion gases and cause them to sink back into the chimney. This particular drafty chimney issue is most common with exterior masonry chimneys, which typically lose a significant amount of heat due to their positioning. 

Reason #4: Chimney Size

The size of your chimney might be the reason that it is creating a draft. The NFPA has a list of suggested heights and guidelines for chimneys, however, as is all too often the case that these specifications aren’t followed. If you have a drafty chimney, be sure to examine the following factors to determine if size is the root cause.

  • Has the chimney been built to the correct height specifications, or is it too short for the associated architectural structure, including roofline?
  • Is the chimney too high and thus in an area with increased drafts?
  • Does the chimney have the same diameter as the wood-burning appliance’s flue outlet? 
  • Is the chimney more than twice the cross-sectional area of the wood-burning appliance’s flue outlet?

If the above questions are leaving you a bit perplexed, don’t worry, a chimney company can help to determine if your chimney is appropriately sized for its use with an associated wood-burning appliance or as a traditional fireplace.  You can find tips on how to find a professional chimney sweep company here.

Reason #5: Wind Patterns

Did you know that certain wind patterns can actually increase chimney draft? There are several characteristics that can lead to a drafty chimney, including:

  • Wind that blows directly across the tops of chimneys can cause drafts.
  • Rain caps might not prevent wind drafts, but a draft reducing cap can help to reduce the impact of the wind-induced downdraft.
  • Tall trees or nearby tall buildings can also affect wind patterns to create a downdraft.

Remember that chimney draft can occur in the right wind patterns; however, it shouldn’t be a daily occurrence.

Make sure that your chimney is ready to perform at its best. Through the above five reasons you can begin to understand why chimney draft is occurring, and with the help of a professional chimney repair company, you can fix the issue so that you can enjoy all of the warmth and comfort that a fire provides during the cold winter months.  Still unsure about getting your chimney cleaned every year?  Read our previous article.

5 Potential Risks of ventless fireplace installation

ventless fireplace installed

Many homeowners in Washington DC want a fireplace installed in a room that currently does not have one.  When you decide to have a fireplace installed in your home, you have many options.  However, one of the first choices you’ll likely need to make is whether you will have a ventless or ventilated fireplace installed. Some homeowners will opt for ventless or vent-free options as a means of saving money. Unfortunately, ventless fireplaces present specific risks.

How ventless fireplaces work

Ventless fireplaces operate through the use of natural gas, propane, or even a type of gel; these free-standing units do not redirect exhaust or fumes from the fireplace to the outdoors. Instead, these units rely on indoor air for combustion and emit the gas back into the home.  Ventless units are designed to emit lower levels of gases than a “traditional” fireplace with ventilation.  As a result of the reduced gas levels, manufacturers believe that ventless fireplaces are safe. 

Despite the manufacturer claims of reduced gas levels, many fireplace professionals consider ventless fireplaces as unsafe.  These fireplaces can pose a number of health, fire, and other risks to those in your home.

Potential Risks of Ventless Fireplaces

When you take a minute to think about what a ventless fireplace entails, it makes sense that these units are not without their inherent dangers. Although there may be a lower amount of fumes exhausted by a ventless fireplace, there are still some fumes—and unfortunately, these fumes have nowhere to go but into your home and thus into the air you breathe. Once you have a better understanding of the many risks of ventless fireplaces, you’ll be able to make a better-informed decision regarding which type of fireplace is right for your home.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

One of the greatest risks of using a ventless fireplace is that of carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be deadly inside your home. Specifically, carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that, in high enough concentrations, can lead to serious health problems such as:

  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • loss of consciousness
  • asphyxiation

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide is also a known by-product of ventless fireplace materials. And because of the colorless and odorless nature of the gas, many families will not even realize that they’re being affected by carbon monoxide until it’s too late. In the early stages of carbon monoxide poisoning, family members may report feeling ill or thinking they have come down with a cold. If not caught, however, this poisoning can have severe and even fatal health consequences.

Having a carbon monoxide detector located near a ventless fireplace may help to alert a household if levels get too high but shy of not using the fireplace at all, there isn’t much that can be done to prevent the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning with a ventless fireplace altogether.

Increased Fire Hazard

In addition to the higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning involved with a ventless fireplace, there is also a more significant fire hazard with these types of fireplaces. The increased fire hazard is a result of the toxic by-products that are released into the air with each use.  From there, many issues could lead to a house fire, including:

  • an undiscovered gas leak
  • a faulty burner
  • furniture placed too close to the fireplace

Respiratory Health Risks of Ventless Fireplaces

A ventless fireplace can pose a risk to the respiratory health of people inside the home.  In addition to carbon monoxide, there are numerous other toxic by-products that ventless fireplaces are known to release into the air.  

Examples of toxic byproducts released by ventless fireplaces

  • nitrogen dioxide
  • sulfur dioxide
  • hydrocarbons

When these gases are released into your home, they become part of the air you breathe; the more you operate your ventless fireplace, the more present these toxins will be in your air.  These substances are known to be damaging to the body’s respiratory system, especially when inhaled in large amounts over the course of time. Gases can be especially dangerous for those who already have pre-existing respiratory conditions, including asthma and allergies.  However, even those with an otherwise clean bill of health could have serious adverse health effects when they inhale these toxins on a regular basis. With a ventilated fireplace, you can ensure that these and other toxic by-products will be exhausted far outside of your home.

Risk of Sensor Failure

All ventless fireplaces are equipped with a small device known as an oxygen-depletion sensor. The purpose of these sensors is to detect the levels of oxygen in the room and to automatically shut off the fireplace if the sensor detects low oxygen. Unfortunately, these sensors are subject to failures, especially when you consider the fact that they are small electronic devices that are not designed to last forever. If the oxygen sensor fails, you could be operating your ventless fireplace in a dangerous environment where oxygen levels are unsafe in the room, which could be hazardous to your health and the health of your loved ones. 

Potential for Mold and Mildew

Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that ventless fireplaces tend to release a lot of water vapor when they are in use.   Due to the lack of a ventilation system, there isn’t anywhere for this water vapor to go or fully evaporate.

Increased moisture inside home results in the following risks:

  • mold
  • mildew
  • home moisture damage

Mold and mildew, of course, can have serious health effects on those living in the home—especially for those with known respiratory conditions like asthma and allergies.

Safe Ventilated Fireplace Alternatives

With all these potential risks in mind, do you want to put your home, your possessions, and your family in danger by opting for a ventless system?  The cost for installing a traditional, fully ventilated fireplace may be higher.  However, in the long run, you will get to enjoy much higher peace of mind in knowing that your fireplace is safe. 

If you’ve been thinking about having a fireplace installed in your home, make sure it’s adequately vented by a professional fireplace installation company likes ours.  By doing so, you can avoid these common dangers and use your new fireplace with confidence and peace of mind.