SweepMasters Professional Chimney Services - Your Northern Virginia Chimney Sweep Specialists
Chimney Cleaning/Sweeping Chimney Inspections Chimney Liners Credentials Creosote Firewood Hazards, Health, Safety Repairs Smells Smoke Stains

How Often Should My Chimney Be Cleaned?
Because of the various factors involved (how much the fireplace is used, the type of wood burned, the age of the chimney, etc.) there isn't a single answer that applies to all situations.

According to The National Fire Protection Association manual (NFPA 211), "Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary." An annual chimney inspection is the national safety standard and is the best way to ensure a safely functioning chimney. Even if you don't use your chimney much, animals may build nests in the flue or there may be other types of blockage or deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use. This applies to gas and oil furnace flues as well. An annual inspection is necessary to ensure that the chimney has adequate draft, is free of debris and cracks, and has no loose or missing mortar joints, or in the case of prefabricated chimneys, misaligned joints due to vibration caused by the wind.

In addition to the NFPA, there are other guidelines that are also helpful in determining when a chimney cleaning should be done. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be cleaned at 1/4" of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. Factory-built fireplaces should be cleaned when any appreciable buildup occurs. This is considered to be enough fuel buildup to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or spreading to the home.

When Is the Best Time of Year to Have My Chimney Cleaned?
Although a chimney cleaning can be scheduled at any time of the year, the best time is at the end of the heating season. This way, harmful creosote is not left on the walls of your flue during the moist humid months. Moisture and creosote eat away at terra cotta flue linings causing additional damage throughout the year. In addition, scheduling a chimney cleaning in the off season means you don't have to wait weeks for an appointment, and if repairs are needed they can be completed in the spring and summer, ensuring that your fireplace is ready to use as soon as cold weather arrives.
How Do You Sweep a Chimney?
A chimney flue is cleaned with special brushes that are designed to fit your chimney flue. We clean most chimneys from inside the house. This method allows for more control of the dust. The brushes are attached to flexible rods. Extension rods are added as needed to ensure that the brush is pushed all the way up into the flue. We also use a variety of other specialized sweeping tools and equipment depending on the situation to make sure that the chimney is swept thoroughly and efficiently. A special chimney vacuum is used to collect the debris. The walls of the fireplace (firebox) are cleaned by hand using wire brushes to remove the soot from the surface of the brick.
How Long Does a Chimney Cleaning Take?
The length of time depends on many factors, such as the level of inspection conducted, the severity of creosote buildup, location of the fireplace, height of the chimney, etc. However, on average, most chimney cleanings take between 45 and 90 minutes.
Will It Make a Mess in My Home?
No. By cleaning the chimney from inside your home we can maintain control over the dust. We use a powerful vaccum that prevents soot and dust from entering the home, and we are careful to take precautions, such as laying out clean drop cloths in front of your fireplace, in order to prevent any mess.
Does a Chimney Cleaning Remove Black From the Fireplace Wall?
No. While we often say that we "clean chimneys," in the strict sense of the word we actually sweep chimneys. A chimney sweep will eliminate heavy deposits of creosote that could fuel a chimney fire and will remove soot only on the surface of the brick, but it isn't necessary (and it would be cost prohibitive) to remove the tiny particles of soot and tar embedded in the masonry pores inside a fireplace that cause staining.
What Do You Look For When You Do a Chimney Inspection?
During a Level I inspection, we perform a visual inspection of the exterior and interior condition of your chimney. Areas that are checked for safety are your cap, flue, liner (if present), smoke chamber, smoke shelf, damper, firebox, exterior brick, flashing, and crown. When cleaning your heating system flues, we evaluate the interior flue for any deterioration, and make sure that your heating appliances are properly sized. During an inspection we check for cracks, gaps, damage, deterioration, blockage, condensation/moisture and any damage that can be caused from moisture, adequate drafting, and proper sizing. If detected early, small repairs can save you thousands of dollars.
What Is a Certified Chimney Sweep?
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) is the premier certification program for Chimney Sweeps in the United States. CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps keep abreast of the current developments and the technology of their trade. They are knowledgeable about the most recent National Fire Protection Association standards as well as the specifics of state and local codes covering their geographic area.

In order to ensure a verifiable level of expertise within the trade, the Chimney Safety Institute of America administers the CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep Program. It is an educational and testing program designed to assess a chimney sweep's knowledge of: (1) technical issues related to chimney construction and dynamics; (2) solid fuel appliances and EPA requirements; (3) the physics of woodburning and creosote formation; (4) codes, clearances and standards; and (5) the practices and techniques of the trade. To earn this industry's most respected credential, a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep must pass a rigorous examination to demonstrate technical knowledge in each of the above areas.

Throughout most of the 50 states, the homeowner's best gauge of a chimney sweep's knowledge is the CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep credential. CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps are tested every three years, and display a dated, photo-ID badge. A good way to be sure the sweep servicing your chimney is currently Certified is to check the CSIA website. Certified Sweeps must also sign a CSIA Chimney Sweep Code of Ethics to help insure homeowners get not only a knowledgeable sweep, but also an honest one.

Do All Chimneys Have Liners?
No. Not all chimneys have liners. Chimneys built before 1940 most likely weren't built with liners. If you have a chimney without a clay liner you can make it safe by installing a stainless steel liner.
Do I Need My Chimney Lined?
Upon video or visual inspection, a lining is needed if the existing flue tiles are old, brittle, scaling or shifted and can no longer contain the heat and/or flue gases as it was originally designed to do, if there is no liner present, or the liner is improperly sized.
What Type of Liner Should I Have Installed?
The most cost effective way to replace your chimney liner is to have a UL listed stainless steel, 316 alloy relining pipe installed. Depending on the type of chimney you have, your chimney sweep may recommend either a rigid or flexible pipe. There are many scenarios and options in relining a chimney depending on your situation. Your chimney sweep can discuss with you the best options to consider.
What Firewood Should I Use?
The best type of wood to burn in this area of the country is mixed hardwoods. However, more important than the species is that you burn dry, well-seasoned firewood. Quality, well-seasoned firewood will help your wood stove or fireplace burn cleaner and more efficiently, while green or wet wood can cause smoking problems, odor problems, rapid creosote buildup and possibly even dangerous chimney fires. Wood should be cut and split and left to dry 12 months and stored with a cover over the top with the sides left open for air circulation. Stay away from pine because of its high pitch content and other softwoods because both produce more creosote. Never burn cardboard, plywood, Christmas wrapping, treated, or painted wood. The smokier the fire you have, the more creosote you will be depositing in your chimney. Visit the CSIA website for useful information on how to select firewood and for other firewood tips.
Is It OK to Burn Artificial Firelogs?
Artificial firelogs that are UL Classified are safe for use in zero-clearance manufactured fireplaces and other types of open hearth, wood burning fireplaces. Artificial firelogs should not be burned in wood stoves or in wood fireplace inserts. Always check for the UL-Classification mark on the package before use.

Only burn one firelog at a time to prevent too large or too hot a fire. A wire, mesh fireplace screen should always be used when burning an artificial firelog or regular firewood. In addition, unless the fireplace manufacturer recommends otherwise, always leave fireplace glass doors open when burning a firelog. Glass doors can be closed after the firelog is no longer burning to keep warm air in the house. Always leave the fireplace damper open until the remaining ashes from the fire are cool.

Why Does My Fireplace Smoke?
There are several possible causes for a smoking fireplace. Among the more common are: 1) the fireplace opening is too large for the size of the flue; 2) chimney downdrafts; 3) negative air pressure in the home; and 4) a breach or smoke-over problem in the chimney (one fireplace above another). There are several possible solutions. These include installing: a smoke guard, ventilation fan, outside air kit, or a top-mounted damper. Of course, the best way to determine the exact cause of the problem and to provide the appropriate solution is to have your fireplace inspected by a certified chimney sweep.
What Can I Do If Smoke Comes Back In the Room?
A fireplace that allows smoke to escape into the room (back-puffing) is a nuisance and a downright danger because fireplace smoke carries odorless but deadly carbon monoxide. Diagnosing the cause of your smoky fireplace is essential to finding the most efficient and cost effective solution to your back-puffing. Here's what to do if your fireplace smokes. First check that your damper is fully open. Next, make sure the fireplace is getting enough air to replace the hot gasses it is sending up the chimney. Shut off any exhaust fans than may be running, even upstairs in your home. Those exhaust fans are pulling household air (or maybe your fireplace's smoke) to the fans. If shutting off exhaust fans doesn't stop the back puffing, open a door or window near the fireplace to see if that corrects the problem. If the fireplace allows smoke to escape into your room only on windy days, the answer is to install a Vacu-Stack Chimney Cap . If the smoky fireplace problem happens on calm days, too, you can install a Smoke Guard to reduce the size of the fireplace opening. You can also install a small vent to let fresh air into the room where the fireplace is located. Finally, to cure any and all back puffing problems, you can install an ENERVEX RS Chimney Fan . An RS chimney fan is a weatherproof exhaust fan that mounts on the top of your chimney. These powerful fans create a forced air draft that pulls the smoke up the chimney, ending forever the problem of a smoky fireplace.
I Build a Fire Upstairs. Why Do I Get Smoke in Downstairs Fireplace?
This has become quite a common problem in modern air tight houses where weather-proofing has sealed up the usual air infiltration routes. The fireplace in use exhausts household air until a negative pressure situation exists. If the house is fairly tight, the simplest route for makeup air to enter the structure is often the unused fireplace chimney. As air is drawn down this unused flue, it picks up smoke that is exiting nearby from the fireplace in use and delivers the smoke to the living area. The best solution is to provide makeup air to the house so the negative pressure problem no longer exists, thus eliminating not only the smoke problem, but also the potential for carbon monoxide to be drawn back down the furnace chimney. A secondary solution is to install a top mount damper on the fireplace that is used the least.
Why Does My Fireplace Smell?
The smell is due to creosote deposits in the chimney, a natural byproduct of wood burning. The odor is usually worse in the summer when the humidity is high and the air conditioner is turned on. A good cleaning will help but usually won't solve the problem completely. There are commercial chimney deodorants that work pretty well, and many people have good results with baking soda or even kitty litter set in the fireplace. The reason the smell is noticed is due to air being drawn down the chimney as a result of negative air pressure in the house. A tight sealing, top mounted damper will also reduce this air flow coming down the chimney. It is important to note that the same elements that catch fire also create chimney odors when the chimney is not in use.
Can My Damper Be Repaired?
A damper that has come loose or off its bracket can be reseated. However, if a damper has become brittle and parts have snapped off, it cannot be repaired. It must be replaced. A replacement damper is installed on top of the chimney flue and is connected by a cable to an adjustable bracket secured to the wall of the fireplace. A top-mounted damper is air tight and helps cut down on heat and air conditioning loss when closed. The damper also has a built-in cap to keep out debris, rain, snow, and animals when opened.
Why Are Top Sealing Dampers a Great Energy Saving Alternative to a Throat Damper?
A top-sealing damper seals with an air-tight silicone rubber gasket. When you close these dampers warm air is sealed in and cold air is sealed out. This tight-sealing gasket means these dampers will reduce unwanted heat loss by 90%. And, unlike replacement throat dampers, top-sealing or top-mount dampers have a lifetime warranty. They are installed on the top of the chimney. Top-sealing dampers can save you hundreds of dollars a year on energy.
Do I Have to Have a Chimney Inspection When I Sell My Home?
The National Fire Protection Association, NFPA-211 standard for solid fuel (wood) burning appliances recommends a Level II Inspection upon the sale or transfer of property.
I Heat With Gas and Have a Gas Fireplace Insert. Should These Chimneys Be Checked Too?
Yes. Many American homeowners think their chimneys only need to be cleaned and inspected if they burn wood in their fireplaces or woodstoves. But almost all home heating appliances, whether they burn gas, oil, wood or coal, rely on the chimney to safely carry toxic gases produced by the heating system out of the house. Although gas is generally a clean burning fuel, the chimney can become non-functional from bird nests or other debris blocking the flue. Modern furnaces can also cause many problems with the average flues intended to vent the older generation of furnaces. An improperly operating gas chimney causes recycling of the products of combustion into the furnace intake air. Deadly carbon monoxide can quickly buildup to toxic levels inside a home this way. Gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and is difficult to detect. In order for your chimney to perform properly and safely, it must be cleaned and inspected on a regular basis. Have a chimney professional evaluate the chimney. Once per year is recommended. That includes fireplaces, woodstoves and woodstove inserts, factory built fireplaces, pellet and coal stoves, as well as oil and gas furnace chimneys.
What Is Creosote?
Wood is never burned completely. The smoke contains some unburned gases and a vapor like fog of unburned tar-like liquids. These condense along the sides of the stove pipes or chimney and become a flammable, crusty build-up called creosote. Creosote presents at least three major problems to the wood burner: 1) Creosote is corrosive to many surfaces, including steel and mortar which are common chimney materials; 2) Creosote build-up acts as an insulating material and reduces the efficiency of your wood stove or fireplace; and 3) Most critical, creosote is highly flammable and presents a potential fire hazard. Many factors affect the rate and amount of creosote build-up. These include: the type of wood burned, the amount of moisture in the wood, the type of fire burned, the efficiency of stove, the location of flue, the type of stove or fireplace, and the amount of use.
Do Powders and Sweeping Logs to Eliminate Creosote Work?
There are a number of powders and other products claiming to reduce or eliminate creosote in the chimney have been around for over twenty years. It has been shown that many of these products not only do not eliminate creosote, but some actually contain chemicals that when burned can cause damage to the chimney interior. Be wary of anything boasting all natural ingredients. In most cases this means sodium chloride (table salt) being deposited in your flue. Salt mixed with humidity and moisture spells disaster both for masonry and metal interiors of chimneys, much like salt on pavement or sidewalks in the wintertime.

Recently, the CSIA granted the Chimney Sweeping Log (CSL) CSIA's Accepted Product Status. In doing so, CSIA states that: "When used according to the manufacturer's instructions, this product is accepted by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. For improved safety and home heating efficiency, CSIA recommends that all chimneys and vented appliances be inspected every year by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep." CSIA further states that: "The CSL will not tell you if your chimney is blocked or has any kind of structural damage. The Creosote Sweeping Log does not take the place of inspection and professional cleaning. We uphold the position that chemical cleaners should not replace any service provided by a qualified professional, including annual inspections."

Can I Prevent Chimney Fires?
The most recent figures from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission indicate that there are over 29,100 chimney/solid fuel related fires annually in America. A chimney fire happens when the creosote deposited inside the chimney ignites. When this happens it is usually associated with a loud roaring sound, like an aircraft taking off or a train running through your living room. This is due to the tremendous amount of air rushing into your fireplace producing a blast furnace type of effect. A chimney fire can produce temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees, hot enough to melt mortar and spew flaming balls of creosote out of your chimney like a volcano. Some people have limited chimney fires just burning up one side of the flue sounding like the howling wind outside. Many times this will crack the clay flue liner leaving the homeowner in a more vulnerable situation should a second chimney fire occur. A common occurrence is a resulting structure fire transmitted through the brick from the intense heat. The best way to prevent a chimney fire is to have your chimney inspected annually. The sweep will be able to detect the accumulation of creosote in the flue and remove it. Burning your fireplace or wood stove at proper temperatures will also help prevent the accumulation of creosote. Burning at lower temperatures, such as when you restrict your damper opening at night in order to make the fire last longer, allows creosote to form inside the flue of your chimney.
Why Do I Need a Chimney Cap?
A chimney cap serves many useful purposes. It prevents rain or snow from entering your chimney and thus eliminates damage caused by moisture that erodes masonry and mortar joints and causes your damper or firebox to rust out. Chimney caps prevent nesting birds, squirrels, raccoons, and other disease-carrying animals from entering your chimney. A chimney cap also protects against airborne ember and sparks thus reducing the risk of fires caused by embers and sparks exiting from your chimney flue. It guards against flue blockage that lead to fire, smoke damage, or even carbon monoxide poisoning by preventing leaves and debris from entering your chimney. In some cases, a chimney cap can actually help eliminate certain downdrafts and improve venting.
What Can I Do About Rust Stains on the Top of My Chimney?
Pre-fabricated fireplaces have a flat metal covering (chase cover or chase top) to prevent water from entering the interior of the chimney structure. The chase top is usually made of galvanized sheet metal with a life expectancy of 5-7 years. Over time, the metal coating wears off from exposure to sun, rain, snow, ice and other environmental factors. Most tops also develop a low spot that holds water as well. With time, the metal starts to rust and when water runs off the top during a rain it carries the rust down the side of your chimney causing unsightly staining of the siding. The rust stains on the outside of the chimney are the first clue that there is a problem. Left untreated, eventually the corrosion will eat through the metal allowing water to seep through. You may hear water dripping on the inside of the chase after it rains. This is an indication that the rust has pitted the metal allowing water into the chimney where it can cause damage to the interior components of the chimney. The time to act is when you first notice rust stains not after you hear water dripping. To correct the problem, the existing chase cover can either be resurfaced and resealed or replaced with a new stainless steel chase cover that will last a lifetime.
My Fireplace Has Cracks In the Ceramic Panels. Are These Dangerous?
The refractory panels that line the firebox of a prefabricated fireplace often have hairline cracks caused by the repeated heating and cooling of the material. These fine cracks are not dangerous because there is metal behind the refractory panels. You should replace the panels if the cracks are larger than 1/16-inch or when the refractory crumbles and is missing significant chunks.
How Much In a Cord of Wood?
One cord is equal to a stack of wood 4 ft. High x 4 ft. Wide x 8 ft. Long.
Should I Be Concerned About Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Carbon monoxide is especially dangerous because it is not easily detected. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are often mistaken for common illnesses such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, or even depression. Carbon monoxide detectors are now readily available and no home should be without at least two of them: one near the furnace and another near the sleeping area of the home. Detectors are NOT a substitute for routine maintenance, but can be a lifesaver should problems occur. Carbon monoxide problems are always caused by poor ventilation, and blocked chimneys are one of the largest single causes of carbon monoxide in the home. Without proper maintenance, heating systems can be dangerous because they can cause fires or release toxic gases into your living area that cause serious damage, illness, or even death. Poor ventilation is the cause, so it's critical to have a clean chimney. When there is build up in your chimney, they must be removed by a chimney professional.
How Do I Clean Soot Stains from Fireplace Bricks?
The staining on firebrick is a combination of soot and tar buildup and blackening from heat and burning. The staining works its way into the pores of the brick. I have never found cleaning solvents to be effective. Some will disolve the buildup and then soak back into the brick. Sandblasting will work but is not a good solution because it creates a horrible mess in the house and it gives the brick a sanded texture that is undesireable on firebrick. If the firebox is old and burnt out or if you want to spend money on it, you could replace the firebox.

If you want to give cleaning a try, here are some common household solutions that others claim effective in removing light staining.

First, use a dry, stiff scrub brush to brush as much of the soot off the brick as possible.

1. Dip the scrub brush in straight white vinegar and brush the brick to break down the soot and use a spray bottle to rinse with cool water. Make sure all the vinegar is removed from the brick. Always start from the bottom and work up, rinsing each section as you move up the wall. Repeat the process as needed.

2. Another popular non-toxic solution is to mix liquid dish soap with table salt and enough water to make a paste. Rub this solution on the brick and use a stiff non-wire scrub brush to clean the brick. Rinse the brick with cool water.

3. Another alternative to remove a smoke stain from concrete or brick, is to use a mildly abrasive bathroom or kitchen cleanser. Leave on for 30 minutes. Be sure to rinse thoroughly. Be sure to do a spot check on concrete/brick before applying.

What Is the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA)?
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to chimney and venting system safety. CSIA is committed to the elimination of residential chimney fires, carbon monoxide intrusion and other chimney-related hazards that result in the loss of lives and property. To achieve these goals, CSIA devotes its resources to educating the public, chimney and venting professionals and other fire prevention specialists about the prevention and correction of chimney and venting system hazards. As a measurement of technical expertise, the CSIA certifies chimney and venting professionals. The CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and the CSIA Dryer Exhaust Duct Technician credentials are the hallmark of excellence among chimney and venting service professionals. The CSIA has the only national certification program for the chimney and venting service industry. Professionals who have earned the CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and CSIA Dryer Exhaust Duct Technician credentials have demonstrated their commitment to fire and chimney safety. Visit the CSIA website for more information.
What IS CDET?
The CSIA Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician (CDET) Program is the only national certification program of technical expertise for the dryer exhaust venting industry. The CSIA Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician (CDET) program is a comprehensive, written, examination that is administered, and graded by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. The examination evaluates a Dryer Exhaust Technician's understanding of the basic information technicians must master to become competent dryer exhaust safety and fire prevention specialists. Technicians desiring to be CSIA Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician are tested on building codes, NFPA 211, NFPA 54 standards, and all facets of cleaning and examining residential and commercial dryer exhaust systems. Visit the CSIA website for more information.

*  Glossary of Terms
*  Fireplace Visual Glossary

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