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Homestead Chimney Service Blog

Information About Chimney Swifts

Chimney sweeps are not the only species of birds that spend time around residential chimneys but they are one of the ones you need to know about because they are Federally protected. This simply means that if you try and harm them or move them once in your chimney you open yourself up to a large fine.

The chimney swift is a North American bird that takes up residence in chimneys, stone wells, and abandoned buildings. These birds are most common to regions east of the Rocky Mountains and are usually seen flying in groups. However, they roost in buildings all along their natural route.

Chimney Swifts

After wintering in Peru, these swifts head back to the continental U.S. in March, where they reside until early November. Their appearance is characterized by long wings with a span of approximately 12.5 inches, a short body, and a squared tail. When flapping their wings, these birds are bat-like and they typically make a ticking or chipping call. Males and females have the same appearance, with a sooty gray or black coat and a slightly lighter throat.

This bird is unable to stand upright or perch, instead using tail bristles and claws to cling to vertical surfaces. Swifts begin nesting in May and this behavior may continue through August. Most birds have a single brood of three to five eggs. The nest is made from twigs adhered with saliva and attached inside the chimney wall. After approximately 18 days, the young hatch and about a month later, the family leaves the chimney.

Though these birds seem attractive and are not harmful, their residence in the chimney is typically unwanted. Prior to their migration in fall, they congregate in flocks of hundreds to thousands at large roost sites. When the first major fall cold front blows through, the birds fly south to the Amazon Basin in Peru.

When conducting annual chimney inspections, chimney sweeps look for signs of these birds. They remove nests that have been left behind in the chimney and install chimney caps to prevent the birds from taking up residence the following season. Humans and chimney swifts can live in harmony but preferably not in the same home.

Chimney Specialist & Masonry

If you look at ten different homes that have fireplaces, you may very well see ten different styles of chimney facings. Different builders have their own signature design but they all have one common purpose–to provide ventilation for the fireplace. Chimney specialists that do masonry are indeed very important when building something that has a specific purpose that must also be aesthetically pleasing to the homeowner.

Homestead Chimney - Chimney Mason Work

While brick workers have some freedom to create their own designs, all chimney specialists are required to meet certain code specifications. In the end, the chimney must be able to function correctly and safely when in operation. Having a chimney specialist that is also able to do some of the masonry work is a great advantage for most people. Having a beautiful fireplace does little and serves no purpose if it is a fire hazard.

There are many common building codes to which all chimneys must adhere. Then there are the codes that must be met that are dependent on the type of appliance you are installing and where. You add to that the different manufacturer requirements and you quickly can see why you would do well to hire a professional chimney man. While you might think anyone can lay brick, not everyone can build a fireplace and chimney system that works well.

If you are in doubt, go to the Internet and do a quick search about problems people have with their current fireplaces, inserts and wood stoves. You will note that there are many units that are not working properly for an array of reasons. Having a pro do the installation for you gives you someone to fall back on if there is a problem. However, even more important, the odds go up in your favor that your appliance will be installed correctly the first time.

Outdoor Fireplaces Make Your Backyard More Inviting

How tired are you of being chased indoors as soon as it gets a bit cold outside? Sure, you could have a propane heater, but what kind of ambiance does that create? However, creating something as beautiful as an outdoor stone or brick fireplace literally brings your living room to your patio! Really, can you imagine anything better than enjoying a glass of wine with your significant other by the fireplace on a clear spring evening?

Outdoor fireplaces are a beautiful addition to your home

Fires have long been a gathering spot for conversation. Remember as kids going camping with dad and everyone sitting around the campfire at night telling ghost stories? Well, an outdoor fireplace is just an adult version of that very same setting. Friends are more likely to come and sit down to enjoy not only the conversation, but also the atmosphere created by the fireplace.

In a society where television, smartphones, and iPads have taken over, it is nice to have a setting that demands human interaction. People become mesmerized by fire, but it cannot talk back to them, it cannot play a game, and it does not allow you to surf the Internet. Everyone can actually sit back and enjoy each other’s company…imagine that!

If your budget allows, you can create a truly wonderful area to gather with the fireplace being the centerpiece. For instance, you could have a hot tub on the deck. Perhaps install an open pit fireplace that could also be used to cook. The possibilities are truly endless and only limited by the exact purpose you desire of the fireplace setting.

Of course, there is also the fact that you are adding significant value to your home. Would you be more likely to buy a home that had an empty backyard or one that had a beautiful patio where family and friends could enjoy each other from the moment you moved in? That is what we thought!

Cast Iron Wood Stoves Give a Vintage Look

Many wood stoves have an air of nostalgia and can even be associated with a bit of romance. They have always been visually pleasing and now they are also economical and efficient. You can still get wood stoves made from cast iron. These are considered to be the most traditional and can add charm to almost any home.

crankin’-up the “step top” stove

A cast iron wood stove can be freestanding or an insert for a fireplace. It can be vented into a traditional masonry chimney or a factory-build chimney designed for use with a wood burning appliance. But before you do anything, check with your chimney professional to make sure you can safely install and connect your new appliance to your existing chimney.

These stoves come in many sizes and price ranges. Some modern versions are designed to resemble traditional models, lending a vintage appearance without compromising safety. These contemporary appliances meet all current safety standards when they are installed as directed. Use a professional installer to do the installation because the process can be difficult and complex and often requires knowledge of current codes and standards.

A stove made from iron is quite heavy. It also has a large measure of thermal mass so it takes longer to heat up and cool down than does a stove made from lighter gauge or thinner metal. With more heat stored in its components, the stove radiates more heat into living spaces and allows less heat to escape through the chimney.

After a cast iron stove is installed, it must be broken in slowly to prevent damage to components. Users should refer to manufacturer instructions regarding initial fire temperature and size. This will maintain the condition of the appliance so everyone can enjoy many cozy nights in front of this attractive wood stove.

Why a Chimney Restoration May Be In Your Future

Most homeowners will have several indications by just looking at their chimney to see it is in need of restoration. These can include spalling or flaking of the brick and mortar as well as loose bricks and sometimes even missing bricks.

Chimney restorations are sometimes necessary

What you can’t see though might be the best indication that restoration of the chimney might be in your future. This is why we recommend a video inspection during the annual inspection process that is recommended by the National Fire Protection Association and Chimney Safety Institute of America. We are able to see what is going on inside the chimney from the firebox to the top of the flue and take detailed pictures so you are aware of the condition of your appliance from top to bottom and inside and out.

What we know from experience is that wood stoves and traditional fireplaces are subject to creosote buildup as well as other debris coming into the chimney if it has an open flue or any damage at the crown or chase. Allowing water in the system is one of the most damaging elements because masonry chimneys are susceptible to absorbing water and the inner working of all chimneys are made of metal, which in time will rust.

While restorations of a chimney can be costly, we cover all the options with homeowners so they are well informed and know what they are getting and why. The real expense comes when nothing is done about a broken system.

If the outer chimney is damaged beyond repair, it will need to be partially or fully rebuilt. There really is no other way to restore a masonry chimney but to relay the masonry components. If it’s the inner liner that is damaged, there are options depending on the type of liner you currently have and the total amount of damage. This is best discussed with your trusted chimney professional as they will have the information for your particular type of issue and the right options.

Best Practices for Home Fire Safety

Fire safety is something every person in the home should take seriously and be aware of proper home fire safety practices. This is even more important if you have a fireplace or stove that is used as a heating source where there is a chance of an accident happening because of human error.

Homestead Chimney - Every needs a fire extinguisher and a smoke alarm.

  • Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms – there should be a minimum of one in every home. Ideally, there would be one located in every room of the house. Statistics show that merely having a working alarm increases chances of surviving a fire by 100 percent! Test them on a monthly basis to ensure the battery is charged and they are working properly.
  • Protecting Against Danger from Alternative Heat Sources – if you are using gas or electric heaters or have a fireplace, nothing combustible should be kept within three feet on every side. Fire or hot ash should never be removed from the fireplace for any reason.  In addition, there should be a screen or protective glass in front of the fireplace to avoid embers coming out or things not meant for the fire from entering the fireplace. Avoid using kerosene heaters indoors.
  • Appliances – if you see a spark or experience a malfunction in any appliance, immediately discontinue use of the appliance and have it checked. When appliances are not in use, unplug them.
  • Electricity – avoid overloading circuits and do not plug in multiple extension cords to a single outlet. As above, if an outlet is not working or you see a spark, discontinue use and call an electrician. Parents need to make sure they have trained their children to inform them if they see something spark or an outlet no longer works. Make sure the kids know that the breaker for that outlet needs to be turned off and not used.
  • Grease Fires – never pour water on grease fires, as this will make it more dangerous and spread. Turn off the burner if possible. Grease fires can be put out with baking soda or a fire extinguisher. If you are not able to extinguish this type of fire then immediately call 911.
  • Escape Routes – every family should have an escape route planned from every point of the home. This plan should be gone over regularly to ensure that everyone is familiar with every contingency and has a way out.
  • Fire Extinguishers – several should be located throughout the home, especially in the kitchen. Everyone should be versed on how to use them and where they are stored.

An Explanation of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas capable of causing serious illness or death. Since 1999, there have been over 700 deaths caused by this deadly gas. This should be a concern for homeowners with fireplaces, as a lack of maintenance has been sited as a potential cause.

Carbon Monoxide, or CO, is produced by things such as automobiles, gasoline generators, stoves, gas heating systems, charcoal, and wood burning fireplaces. If there is no direct ventilation or the ventilation is blocked, the gas cannot go up the vent pipe. However, it must go somewhere so it takes the path of least resistance and that can be your home. If this happens and the home is occupied by a pet or person, they are subject to falling victim to CO poisoning.

Common symptoms of this condition are abnormal weakness, nausea, chest pain, headaches, and vomiting. When an individual has prolonged exposure to CO, they can fall unconscious and parish. In many cases, people believe they are coming down with another type of  illness like the flue due to common symptoms.

In order for a body to function properly, it must have oxygen. When CO is present in abundance, it prevents our red blood cells from being able to process oxygen into the body. This damages tissues and results in the symptoms mentioned above and can eventually lead to death. While an alert person may recognize the symptoms mentioned in time, someone who is inebriated or sleeping will not.

In order to prevent this from happening in your home, it is recommended that a professional inspect and clean your fireplace before use every season. Even if it was a mild winter the previous year, there can still be blockages and buildup inside the chimney that will prevent the gas from properly venting. CO detectors are also recommended as an early alert to CO poisoning.