David the Village Sweep, Inc

(908) 756-1807 1812 Front Street
Scotch Plains, NJ 07076

NJ Home Improvement Contractor License #13VH00821500

CSIA Certification #2794

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Q&A with David- Your Chimney Questions Answered

Use the links below to learn more about each issue:

For the Beginner – The Test Fire

If you are a new homeowner, or just unfamiliar with a particular fireplace, I recommend that you make a test fire before you burn wood or a store–bought pressed log.

Here is how: Place six or eight sheets of tightly twisted newspaper on the grate in the fireplace. Warm the chimney by holding a newspaper torch up to the open damper. As the flame burns down, use the torch to light the twisted newspaper. All the smoke should go up the chimney. And if it does, you are ready to burn a longer fire.

If you do have smoke come back, the newspaper burns up quickly and although you will have to air out the house, you shouldn’t have to call the fire department. Check our suggestions for curing a smoky fireplace.

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Lighting a Fire – A Primer

  1. Lay your fire. Go small here. One or two medium sized logs, smaller sticks, and lots of little twigs. Leave plenty of air space. (See the directions for building “The Upside Down Fire” below)
  2. Open your damper. Take a flashlight and watch it open as you turn or push the handle.  (Protect your eyes from falling soot.)
  3. Warm the flue. Make a torch out of a piece of newspaper and hold it up to or even above the open damper. This gets the smoke rising up the chimney. In some cases, you might need to open a door or window to get a good draft.
  4. Light the fire with the torch if you are sure the smoke is going up.
  5. Close the screen mesh when the fire catches. Leave your fireplace glass doors fully open. You get more heat by leaving the doors wide open during most of the time the fire is burning.
  6. Close the glass doors and any air inlet they may have when the fire has burned down and you are ready to go to bed.
  7. Close the damper only after you are sure the last embers have been extinguished (usually the next morning).

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The Upside–Down Fire

Your Chimney Questions Answered Your Chimney Questions Answered

Most of us have been taught to build a fire with tinder underneath, a layer of medium sized wood on top of that and large logs on top of the pile. We warm the flue with a newspaper torch, then light the fire from below and hope for the best. If we have enough tinder or enough log starters, the fire catches.

Here is the better way–Lay the fire with the large logs at the bottom, medium logs in the middle, and lots of tinder on top. I intersperse the tinder with tightly rolled pieces of newspaper.

Laying the Logs

Your Chimney Questions Answered: Laying the Logs Your Chimney Questions Answered: Laying the Logs Your Chimney Questions Answered: Laying the Logs Your Chimney Questions Answered: Laying the Logs Your Chimney Questions Answered: Laying the Logs Your Chimney Questions Answered: Laying the Logs

Warm the flue as you usually do, but light this upside down fire at the top. A few crumpled sheets of newspaper should get it going. Since the flame is above the logs, you will get an immediate, hot fire that will carry the smoke up the chimney. (If you have had trouble with a smoky fireplace, this may solve the problem.) As the wood below is heated, volatile gases are driven out. The smoke rises through the flame and burns.

Before the Burn

Your Chimney Questions Answered: Before the Burn

Open the Damper

Your Chimney Questions Answered: Before the Burn Your Chimney Questions Answered: Before the Burn

Warm the Flue

Your Chimney Questions Answered: Before the Burn Your Chimney Questions Answered: Before the Burn

Light the Top

Since cool smoke is responsible for creosote deposits, your chimney remains cleaner. With the wood burning more completely, you actually get more heat from it. A bright, active flame flickers over the wood until it is almost all consumed. An added bonus to this method is that you rarely have to poke the fire. The flame burns down into the charge rather than undercutting the structure holding the heaviest logs.

The Burn

Your Chimney Questions Answered: The Burn Your Chimney Questions Answered: The Burn Your Chimney Questions Answered: The Burn Your Chimney Questions Answered: The Burn Your Chimney Questions Answered: The Burn Your Chimney Questions Answered: The Burn Your Chimney Questions Answered: The Burn Your Chimney Questions Answered: The Burn Your Chimney Questions Answered: The Burn Your Chimney Questions Answered: The Burn Your Chimney Questions Answered: The Burn

Let us know how it works for you. You should have a fire that gives you more heat, keeps the chimney cleaner, is easier to build and maintain, and gives off less smoke. Unfortunately for us, you probably won’t have to have your chimney cleaned as often!

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Cure That Smoky Fireplace

Many of the phone calls we get are from people who complain of a smoky fireplace. Here are a few suggestions for clearing the air:

  • Take a flashlight and make sure your damper is fully open and in position. (Protect your eyes from falling soot.) Many dampers are inadvertently pushed out of place.
  • If you only get smoke in the house when you first light the fire, you are not warming the flue adequately. I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. Even if you are an old hand at building fires, check our instructions on lighting a fire and building an upside down fire (above).
  • Open a window slightly. Some houses are so well insulated that not enough air can come in to replace the heated air going up the chimney.
  • Raise your grate two or three inches. This gets the heat closer to the open damper and allows more air to reach the fuel. To raise the grate you can put a half brick under each leg.
  • Some fireplaces are designed poorly with openings that are too big for the size of the flue. Smoke seeps into the room. If this is what happens with your fireplace, try taping a piece of foil across the top, lowering the opening about 4". If the foil solves the problem, we can install a permanent smoke guard. Painted black and installed just inside the opening, it looks like it was always there. A second solution is to install fireplace glass doors that are sized correctly and installed properly. Even when you are burning with the doors wide open, the frame of the doors cuts down the size of the fireplace opening.
  • If the fireplace only smokes on windy days, a cap may solve the problem. Of course, caps also keep out animals and debris that might block the chimney opening.
  • Install an Enervex Chimney Fan. If the suggestions above did not help, consider installing a fan on top of the chimney, assuring a perfect draft in the chimney. You’ll need the additional services of a licensed electrician for the hookup.
  • Raise the top of the chimney. Some chimneys do not have adequate height to maintain draft. Raising the chimney is the most expensive solution, and it usually requires the services of a competent mason.

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Help For Smelly Fireplaces

This is often a summer problem with homes. Air conditioning, attic fans, and other factors combine to reverse the draft in a fireplace flue. Rather than drafting up and out, air is pulled down the chimney and into the house. Since bricks absorb the smell of old soot, a downdraft may bring that odor into the room even if the chimney has been recently cleaned.

Solutions: First, make sure that your damper is as tightly closed as possible. If you have glass doors, close them and any dampers they may have. Then try a wick type deodorant, a pan of baking soda or carpet deodorizer powder in the fireplace. If the problem is particularly bad during rainy days and you don’t have a chimney cap, you should call us to have one installed. If the problem persists, it may be necessary to install a tighter damper, seal the chimney during the summer months, or install an Enervex Chimney Fan to clear the room of the sooty odor.

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Fireplace Safety

  • Use seasoned, dry wood (preferably hardwood) to obtain optimum heating.
  • Never leave a hot–burning, roaring fire unattended. Always use a screen in front of the fire. Only open the screen to load or check the fire.
  • Do not close your fireplace glass doors on a hot, roaring fire. The glass may break.
  • Do not burn painted, scrap, or pressure–treated wood, garbage, wrapping paper or magazines.
  • Don’t use charcoal lighter or other flammable liquids. These are extremely dangerous. Commercial fire starters such as fatwood are fine.
  • Put ashes in a metal container with a tight fitting lid and let them sit outside, well away from the house or garage, for several days before discarding. Coals can remain hot for up to a week.
  • Keep a dry powder, ABC fire extinguisher handy and check it periodically to make sure that it is properly pressurized.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Store wood at least 36 inches away from your fireplace or wood stove.
  • Schedule your fireplace for a safety check and cleaning on a regular basis with your certified chimney sweep.

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How Often Should a Chimney Be Cleaned?

This depends on how you build your fires, how much your fireplace is used, the moisture content of the wood you burn, and the construction of your chimney. The National Fire Protection Association requires that chimneys be inspected and cleaned on an annual basis. This covers all flues – fireplaces, wood stoves, gas and oil furnaces and boilers. It is good safety advice. Our experience is that people who burn their fireplaces one or two times a week during the season need a cleaning every two to four years.

Spring is the best time to have your chimney cleaned. We clean chimneys all year, but if you have it cleaned in the spring you know you will be ready for that first fire when the weather suddenly turns cold next autumn. Call us in April or May. No need to clean out the ashes. We’ll do that for you.

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Blockage = H2O & CO

Blockages can occur in the heating flue. Tile or bricks may fall, leaves may accumulate, or squirrels may build a nest. Blockages are often the cause of carbon monoxide seepage in the house. We consider it part of our job to check your heating flue. Here are situations when you should make an appointment to have the heating flue checked:

  • Peeling paint or buckling plaster near the chimney walls
  • Deteriorated bricks on the outside
  • Excessive heat & moisture in the furnace area
  • Carbon monoxide detector alarm goes off
  • Furnace or water heater constantly shuts down
  • Excessive soot in oil flues
  • Getting a new furnace, boiler or water heater
  • Water heater is orphaned in the flue

We often assist plumbers and HVAC specialists to certify chimneys when they install new heating appliances. Call us if you have any questions about your heating flue.

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Are There Fire and Carbon Monoxide Hazards in my Home?

When we clean a chimney, a full chimney inspection is part of our service. We check the fireplace mortar, the ash dump, the damper, the smoke chamber, and the flue. We check the outside - the mortar joints, the bricks, the flashing, the crown, the caps, and the flues. We go to the basement and check the ash cleanout door, the vent pipes leading from the heating appliances, and the base of the heating flue. What are we looking for? Safety is our primary concern. Are there fire hazards? Are there blockages or cracks that may allow carbon monoxide seepage into the house? We are also checking for potential problems before they begin to cost you serious money and health problems. These issues include:

  • If the heating flue is blocked with fallen debris, the paint, wallpaper, or plaster in the adjacent wall may peel, and you may have carbon monoxide seep back into the house.
  • If the crown (top mortar) is cracked and lifted, water will seep into the masonry, which will cause major damage.
  • If the damper is not making a good seal, loss of heat will mean loss of heating dollars.
  • If the caps are rusting away, you may be vulnerable to animal intrusion.
  • We report any potential problems and give you an honest assessment of the condition of your chimney.

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Does My Heating Flue Need a Liner?

The only way to tell if a chimney needs a liner is to inspect it. Be aware that unscrupulous companies may try to frighten you into immediately installing a new liner. Get a second opinion. Do not be tempted with big $$$ discounts if you get it done the same day or if you pay in cash! Check the credentials of the company. Make sure that they are CSIA certified and are licensed by the State of NJ.

Once you choose a company, get a written contract that allows you to cancel the contract and receive a full refund of your money within a three day cooling off period. Do not pay in cash; write a check (usually only 1/3 or 1/2 of the full amount) payable to the company to create a written record of the transaction. Get the required permit from your town before any work is done. Finally, be sure to have a final inspection and approval by your town’s code official.

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