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.
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.
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:
- loss of consciousness
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
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:
- 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.
A chimney sweep is a common task that involves cleaning the inside of your chimney. Each time you light a fire in your fireplace, soot and creosote build up. Even when you’re not using your fireplace, it’s possible for debris to accumulate or an animal to build a nest. A professional chimney sweep will be able to take care of the problems for you. Some homeowners in the Washington DC Area make the mistake of not hiring a chimney sweep every year. Failure to hire a chimney sweep can have dire consequences. In some cases, not getting your chimney cleaned can lead to chimney repairs that cost more than they would have if the problems were discovered sooner. In other cases, it can lead to chimney fires. Every home with a chimney should have their chimney cleaned every year.
There are plenty of reasons to get your sweep scheduled. When you experience all of the benefits firsthand, it will be well worth the nominal expense of having it done.
Learn About Chimney Problems Early On
No matter how involved you are in the care of your home, problems eventually occur. It’s up to you to catch them early before they become more problematic. When chimney and fireplace problems continue over an extended period, the cost of chimney repairs can increase exponentially.
There are all sorts of problems that a professional chimney sweep can catch during their cleaning:
- Improper air flow
- Cracks in the chimney
- Excessive soot build-up
- Creosote build-up
- Cracks in the flue
Whatever problem you have, you want to learn about it quickly. It will allow you to take action, so you don’t encounter major problems within your home. For example, if there is an obstruction in the chimney, it could send toxic fumes directly into your home. This could lead to respiratory problems for you and your family as well as the potential for a fire.
Another problem is in the brickwork. If you neglect your chimney, it could slowly lean, crumble, and even collapse. You want to make sure that water isn’t penetrating the chimney system at all. IT is essential to repair damaged mortar and replace bricks as soon as they start showing signs of deterioration.
Soot from last year’s fires could also break down the mesh that you have on your chimney. If this happens, you run the risk of animals getting inside. Plus, the mesh will slowly start to corrode. If you need replacement mesh – or other replacement parts, you need to know about these things right away. You don’t want to end up calling for chimney repairs when you want to be using your fireplace the most.
You can avoid having to replace your entire chimney simply by making sure a professional takes a look at it from time to time. Their insight could be just what you need to enjoy peace of mind throughout the entire winter season.
Are animals living in your chimney?
Your chimney is an entrance into your home. Throughout the warmer months, all sorts of critters might choose to enter your stack and stay there. These could be anything from spiders to squirrels to birds. If you don’t know they’re up there, you could quickly start a fire in the fireplace and suddenly find that they are scurrying out – and right into your home. This could be disastrous, and near impossible to get under control. You certainly don’t want this happening when you have a house filled with company.
You don’t want to set animals on fire, for obvious reasons. If you have a chimney sweep come out, they can clear out any pests the proper way. They can also show you about some of the different ways to prevent the pests from entering in the future.
Prevent Creosote Buildup
Creosote is the byproduct that comes from burning wood and other fuel in your chimney – and it can be dangerous. Your goal is for wood to burn as completely as possible. If there isn’t sufficient airflow, there is incomplete combustion. Volatiles form that rise with the smoke. Once the smoke cools, the residue left behind is known as creosote. Creosote is highly flammable. Over the course of time, creosote can obstruct the airflow and ultimately cause chimney fires. Preventing creosote buildup is a significant reason to have an annual chimney sweep performed.
There are three stages of creosote: flaky deposit, tar-like deposits, and hardened creosote.
In the first stage, it’s easy to brush away the creosote. Things become more problematic when it creosote reaches stage two and three. A chimney sweep will take care of all of the buildups.
If you let the creosote buildup past the first stage, it becomes tar-like and eventually hardens causing significant problems. Below are some of the issues that can be caused by creosote:
- Toxicity in the air (causing irritated eyes and skin)
- Reduces air flow
- Can cause cancer
- Creates a fire hazard
All of these should be enough to justify calling a professional chimney sweep to clean your chimney once a year. You may be getting some of the creosote yourself, but there may be deposits sitting higher in the chimney that you cannot reach. A professional will have the tools to get the job done right. Some people consider the issues caused by creosote and choose to install a gas fireplace instead of wood-burning.
A professional can also make recommendations on how to get a complete burn that will minimize the formation of creosote in the future.
Chimney Sweeps Prevent Chimney Fires
The reality is that a chimney fire can happen. Often, it is because of a dirty chimney, which means that this is something that is completely preventable. If you have ever seen the damage that can be caused by a chimney fire, you will want to stay clear of having such a thing happen in your own home.
There are several signs of a chimney fire:
- Hot, intense smell
- Lots of dense smoke
- Popping and cracking noises
A chimney fire has the potential to be highly explosive. In some instances, flames or dense smoke could even billow from the top of the chimney, being noticed by neighbors. In some cases, you might not even know that a fire is occurring in your chimney. It won’t be until after an inspection that you are told that there was a fire. Meanwhile, you could be causing significant damage to your chimney as well as other combustible parts of your home.
Increase the Life of Your Chimney
Your goal is for your chimney to last a significant amount of time. You want to be able to light a fire in your fireplace with the knowledge that it’s safe for you to do so. Cleaning is a way to keep everything working properly throughout the entire year. If you don’t focus on the maintenance, you could end up shaving years off of your chimney with each use. Before you know it, you will have no choice but to replace your chimney.
The good news is that there’s a better option available to you. You can extend the life of your chimney by making sure that a professional is cleaning it and examining it for problems on an annual basis. Why annual? It will allow even the smallest of issues to be caught early on. Every winter, you are using your fireplace regularly. As such, it only makes sense to have a chimney sweep come out on an annual basis.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) also has recommendations on how to hire a chimney sweep to ensure you have a professional working in your home.
When you’re ready to schedule this preventative maintenance, contact All Pro Chimney today.
There is a growing trend of gas fireplaces installations like ours in Washington DC. There are many reasons for this pattern. Some homeowners love not having to clean up ash. For many other homeowners, it comes down to how easy they are to use. Gas fireplaces also require fewer chimney repairs. There are many aspects to gas fireplaces. Below is essential information that you will need to know about gas fireplaces.
Advantages of Gas Fireplaces
Easy to Use
Gas fireplaces are incredibly straightforward and easy to use. The temperature can be set quickly, and they typically can be turned on or off at the push of a button. Just press a button and enjoy the warm, toasty feeling that you always want in the winter.
No Carrying or Chopping Wood
There is nothing fun about carrying stacks of wood in the bitter cold of winters in Washington DC. Chopping wood in the inclement weather is even worse. Even if you pick up wood from a local store, you still have to carry it. Many people choose gas to eliminate these inconvenience of carrying, chopping and handling the wood. The hassle of handling wood is a common reason why many people change their convert their wood-burning fireplaces into gas as you see here.
Wood leaves ashes when it burns. Gas does not. You don’t have to scoop out ashes when you’re done or clean soot off the grids of your fireplace.
Read this article to learn additional benefits of gas fireplaces.
Disadvantages of Gas Fireplaces
Higher Purchase Price
Perhaps the most significant obstacle of a gas fireplace, on the other hand, can be summed up in a single word: cost. According to the experts at HouseLogic, gas fireplaces have purchase prices that range 20%-30% higher than other options.
Higher Fuel Cost Compared to Wood
Gas fireplaces, as their name suggests, burn natural gas instead of wood or other fuel sources during operation. Depending on how much you’re paying for natural gas in your area of the country, along with how often you have the gas fireplace on in the first place, you could easily be looking at an operational cost of several thousand dollars per season.
With wood, on the other hand, all you have to concern yourself with is the cost of wood. Buying bundles of wood from a store are usually cheaper than natural gas. If you have a tree in your backyard that you’ve been thinking about chopping down all summer long, you’ve got enough wood to last you quite awhile to be sure. However, you may need to ask yourself what you are going to do the next season?
Types of Gas Fireplaces
Note that there are also a few different types of gas fireplaces that you can choose from depending on your needs. These include ones like:
These are the cheapest option concerning gas fireplace installation, as they’re mainly just a stack of ceramic logs with a built-in gas burner that sits inside your existing fireplace.
Gas fireplace inserts are installed within an existing fireplace opening. In doing so, they convert inefficient wood fireplaces into energy efficient, easy to use gas fireplaces.
Free Standing Fireplaces
As the name suggests, these are free standing gas fireplaces that do NOT require your home have an existing fireplace or a chimney installed. Free standing fireplaces vent through a metal pipe that extends from the unit out the roof. Installation requirements result in this being the most expensive gas fireplace option.
Gas fireplaces are also available in “ventless” and “vented” varieties. Vented options discharge all heat and exhaust up a chimney, while ventless units discharge into your house. Manufacturer of ventless fireplaces claims that the discharge does not present a health risk. However, many chimney professionals do not offer ventless out of safety concerns created by gases being released in the home. We recommend against going with ventless units.
Properly Maintaining Gas Fireplaces: Things to Consider
Once you’ve installed a gas fireplace in your home, the final thing you have to concern yourself with is maintenance. Gas fireplaces are far easier to maintain in the long run than their wood-burning cousins, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few things to keep in mind.
- Remember that dust, dirt and other elements can build upon the ports of your gas fireplace – eventually leading to clogging and inefficient burning. Always make sure to safely clean this build up at least once every few weeks for the best results.
- You should always have an annual inspection, cleaning, and adjustment of your gas fireplace performed to help address small problems before they have a chance to become much bigger and more expensive ones down the road.
- Clean the glass on both sides of your gas fireplace with glass cleaner at least once per month to prevent buildup.
- If you have a vented gas fireplace, always pay careful attention to the unit’s outside vent to make sure that dirt or debris are not blocking it.
- Inspect the gas fireplace gasket at least once a month to make sure that it isn’t cracked or missing any pieces. If it is, get this issue taken care of immediately.
Gas Fireplace Installation: Breaking It Down
The gas fireplace installation process itself isn’t necessarily the most complicated task in the world, but it should not be seen as a DIY project. We strongly suggest hiring a licensed chimney company to install your gas fireplace. Here are some of the steps involved with installing a gas fireplace.
- Review the manufacturer’s directions before choosing a location for your fireplace so that you are aware of all required clearances. Clearances from the fireplace box to the surrounding walls (along with the wood framing) will be specified in these directions.
Note that the vent will also need to be kept a certain distance away from insulation, wood and any other type of material that might combust.
Start by building a fireplace platform, which acts as a foundation to keep the base of your fireplace up and off the ground so that heat has a way to dissipate during use. You’ll typically build the frame (again – follow the specific manufacturer’s directions), cover it with drywall or another recommended material and secure it in place.
Unless you’re using a ventless gas fireplace (which we do not recommend), you’ll need to punch a hole in the wall of your home to install the vent that will eventually attach to the fireplace itself.
Once the actual fireplace unit is in place on top of the frame, you’ll need to build the wall surrounds that both help to keep it in place and help it achieve the desired look and feel. After this, you’ll likely want to add a mantel to the top of the structure for the sake of functionality.
At this point, you’ll also need to run a gas line directly to the gas fireplace unit itself. You may even need to run an electrical line if you’re installing a fan, remote control or another type of optional item.
Now, you’re ready to finish everything off. Once the gas fireplace unit is secure and in place (and you don’t need immediate access to the rear to install gas or electrical lines), you can cover the area in wood and drywall and paint to give it the proper finishing touches.
As you can see, there are many steps involved in installing a gas fireplace. It is important to remember that you are dealing with something that generates heat. When done correctly, installing a gas fireplace is lovely. When done incorrectly, it can threaten the safety of your home. Improperly installing a gas unit can lead to house fires. It is always best to hire a professional repair technician.
If you’re looking for a straightforward and efficient way to heat your home during those cold winter months of the year, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than gas fireplaces. Pick the right type to fit your needs. Perform the recommended maintenance and your investment in a gas fireplace will serve you and your loved ones well for years to come.