11 Signs That You Need Chimney Repairs

damaged chimney

As a homeowner, you do everything you can to protect your home from needing costly repairs, including regular maintenance. However, if your home has a chimney and you’re not scheduling professional chimney inspections at least once a year, you could be setting yourself up for expensive repairs down the road.  Fortunately, homeowners can get chimney repairs in Washington DC fairly easily.   It’s not too late to begin scheduling chimney inspections and cleanings.   In between professional inspections, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for some common signs of chimney problems. The earlier a chimney problem is discovered, the easier and more affordable the repair will be.

  1. Chimney Fire

Perhaps the most serious and obvious sign that your chimney needs some work is that of a chimney fire, which can be a scary situation for any homeowner to encounter.  Specifically, chimney fires occur when creosote along the interior of the chimney is ignited by a flame. This highly flammable material builds up over time and can be easily removed with a professional chimney cleaning. Unfortunately, many homeowners fail to have this basic maintenance done each year, drastically increasing the chances of a chimney fire. When a chimney fire ignites, you may notice a very loud cracking or popping sound coming from the chimney, as well as thick smoke. It is important to evacuate your home immediately and call 9-1-1 to have the fire put out safely.

  1. Excessive Smoke

Even if you’re not experiencing an actual chimney fire, you may still notice large amounts of smoke when you use your fireplace. Excessive smoke coming from your chimney could be a sign of a liner that’s in need of repair or replacement. Check to make sure that your chimney vent is open; if it is and you’re still experiencing a lot of smoke, then you will need to call a chimney repair company as soon as possible. In the meantime, stop using your fireplace, as smoke can be damaging to your lungs and other aspects of your health.

  1. Ceiling and/or Wall Stains

If you notice any staining or discoloration on the walls or ceiling around your fireplace/chimney, this will also need to be investigated by a chimney repair specialist like us. There’s a good chance that the discoloration you’re seeing is due to moisture getting into your chimney and gradually seeping into your home. Over time, this can be very damaging, especially if the water damage reaches the framing of your home and begins to rot it out. Moisture getting into your home through the chimney can also lead to mold and mildew problems that can hide behind walls, so be sure to have your home checked for these issues. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

  1. Flaking Chimney Liner

Another relatively common chimney problem that you’ll want to address is that of shards or flakes of your chimney liner falling down into your fireplace. This is known as “shaling” and occurs when the liner of your chimney deteriorates over time. In some cases, this is simply as a result of wear and tear, meaning that your liner will need to be replaced or repaired by a professional. In other cases, an underlying problem with your chimney could be to blame. Either way, your chimney’s liner plays an important role in protecting your home and your health, so this is not a problem that you’ll want to ignore.

  1. Chimney Crown Cracks

The “crown” that surrounds the exterior of your home’s chimney is made of cement and is designed to help keep out moisture and debris. Over time, exposure to the elements (especially precipitation and fluctuating temperatures) can cause small cracks to form along the chimney crown. Eventually, these cracks will allow water and other debris to enter your home, which you definitely don’t want. Unfortunately, the chimney crown can be difficult (and sometimes impossible) to see from ground level, which is why scheduling annual inspections on your chimney is so important. Small cracks can be easily patched and repaired by a specialist before the problem worsens.  You will find it helpful to read our recent article about a chimney crown repair project.

  1. Missing or Damaged Chimney Cap

All chimneys should have a metal or aluminum cover that is designed to prevent rain, debris, pests, and other unwanted items from entering your home through the chimney itself. These caps are designed with ventilation holes or flaps to allow smoke to exit the home effectively while keeping unwanted items out. Over time, however, these covers can become damaged by the elements and will need to be replaced. Rust and corrosion are common problems in chimney covers, especially in areas with high rainfall. Fortunately, these are easy to replace by an experienced chimney professional.

  1. Pests Getting Into Your Home

While a pest infestation in your home isn’t always necessarily caused by a chimney issue, it’s a possibility you’ll want to consider if you’re experiencing insects or rodents getting into your home. Sometimes, this can occur when a damaged or missing chimney cover allows access through your chimney. This could especially be the case if you’re noticing that the pests getting into your home tend to be found mostly in the room where your fireplace is located. Of course, pets can also be getting in through your garage, attic, or other areas of the home, so it may also be a good idea to call a pest control specialist if you’re having trouble figuring out where the pests in your home are coming from.

  1. Visible Settling of Chimney

From the outside of your home, take a look at your chimney. Does it appear straight and sturdy? If not, then it may be time to call a repair specialist. Over time, the brick and mortar joints that make up the exterior of your home’s chimney can become damaged by the elements, especially when moisture is present. This can cause cracking and crumbling of the chimney itself, which can become dangerous if it becomes too progressed and compromises the structural integrity of the chimney. This is another scenario where it’s wise to have a chimney inspection every year, as an inspector will be able to notice cracks and other damage to your chimney that you may not be able to see yourself.

  1. White Stains on Chimney Exterior

You may not think much of white staining on the exterior of your chimney, but this is actually something that indicates the need for repair. This staining often has a chalk-like appearance and is known as “efflorescence.” It usually occurs in chimneys where there is excessive moisture beginning to affect the brick and mortar joints themselves and is not uncommon in chimneys that have begun to lean or crumble. If you see any white staining on your chimney, be sure to call a professional as soon as possible.

  1. A Rusted Damper

Your chimney relies on a firebox or damper to protect itself (and your home) from moisture. Therefore, if you notice that your damper has become difficult to operate or if you can see visible rust beginning to form on it, this needs to be addressed by a chimney repair specialist right away. Specifically, rust and/or corrosion of the damper is a sign of a moisture problem that will not go away on its own and can lead to serious water damage inside your home if not repaired quickly.

  1. Framing Rot in Your Home

Finally, always keep an eye on the ceilings and walls around your chimney and fireplace. If you begin to notice any bowing inwards or outwards of the drywall, this could be a sign of water getting into your home and rotting out the wooden framing on the affected wall. As the rot takes over the wood framing, it will begin to buckle and the wall or ceiling will begin to lose some of its structural integrity. A chimney repair specialist will be able to pinpoint not only where the water is getting in from the chimney, but how to repair it as well. However, you will most likely need to have a general contractor come out and rebuild the damaged wall framing as well as install new drywall to complete the repair.

As you can see, there are a number of possible “red flags” to watch out for when it comes to your home’s chimney. The good news is that many of these signs are early warnings of underlying issues, meaning they can be addressed and repaired relatively easily. Still, when you notice any potential signs of a chimney problem, it’s important to make calling a repair specialist a top priority. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for more costly repairs down the road in addition to potential damage to your home from moisture seepage, smoke build-up, and other issues.

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.

 

 

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.

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.  

Questions for chimney repair companies about chimney inspections

chimney inspection

Every year homes across Washingon DC and its Maryland suburbs are bought and sold.  Regardless of whether the home is in Washington DC, Silver Spring, Annapolis, Columbia, MD or any other part of the Maryland suburbs, every home with a chimney must have a level 2 inspection prior to the sale being finalized. We previously discussed how 3 things to look for in a chimney repair company.  There are additional things to be asked when it comes to chimney inspections.  In this soot-free blog, we discuss some of the questions that you should ask any chimney repair company before hiring them for chimney inspections.

1. Are you licensed? 

Hiring a licensed chimney repair company to perform your chimney inspection is important.  Licensed chimney repair technicians are better equipped to access chimney problems.  There are many unlicensed chimney sweep companies in Maryland offering inspections.  Failure to hire a licensed chimney company could result in the home owner being liable for problems that are missed by the poorly trained inspector.  Such errors could result in fires that could result in property damage, injury and death.  Don’t take chances.  Only hire licensed chimney repair companies to provide your chimney inspection. 

2. Do you use video imaging during your inspections?

Taking video images of chimneys during inspections is the standard in the industry.  Unfortunately, some companies cut corners and fail to use video.  The best chimney Inspection companies take video recordings of their inspections and provide you with a detailed report.  The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) which is the standard bearer for the chimney industry recommends that video be used during level 2 inspections.  Level 2 inspections are a required part of selling any homes with chimneys.

3. How soon after the inspection will I get my inspection report?

The best companies send reports within 48 hours. However, some companies can take a week or longer to send the report to you. Long delays in receiving the report delays home sales and can cost home sellers the interest of a potential buyer. Quality reports in a timely manner helps you move on with your home sale. 

4. Is Your Company Insured? 

Insurance is important in case the company should damage your home, chimney, or property.  Picture this scenario: A home owner gets a level 2 chimney inspection and provides the report as part of the sale of the home.  A few months after the home is sold the house catches fire due to a preexisting problem with the chimney that the inspector missed.  At this point lawyers get involved.  Their goal is to sue whoever has the most money.  Typically, the costs would be handled by the chimney inspection company’s insurer.  What if the company does not have insurance?  Who do the lawyers go after?  The most likely person is the original home owner that failed to hire a reputable company to perform the inspection. 

5. Is your staff CSIA certified? 

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) is a corner stone in home safety for chimney services, repair, and education. Not all companies hold a CSIA certification, nor do all workers. Some companies and employees learn on-the-job and hope for the best.  The value of CSIA certification is that you will have the confidence that your chimney inspector meets or exceeds the industry standards.  You can have the peace of mind of knowing that you have an accurate chimney inspection that will not expose you to liability. 

Anything that involves your chimney should be taken seriously.  Things missed during an inspection could result in fires.  Asking the right questions is an important part of selecting a chimney repair company to inspect your chimney. Of course, we recommend our company.