Most people have questions when it comes to fireplaces and chimneys. Listed below are some of the most common questions we get asked.
We’ve also provided the Mark & Buttons Glossary for definitions to many words common to the chimney industry.
This depends entirely on the flue’s condition. Mark & Buttons will be able to give you further advice and arrange for a safety inspection to check your existing chimney liner (if applicable). It is unwise to assume that a chimney or flue works correctly simply because it is there. Testing may discover problems that are completely hidden from view like internal damage or blockage.
This is a tougher question than it sounds. The quick simple answer is:
“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.”
— The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 211)
This is the national safety standard and is the correct way to approach the problem. It takes into account the fact that even if you don’t use your chimney much, animals may build nests in the flue or there may be other types of deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use. This applies to gas and oil furnace flues as well.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be cleaned at ¼″ 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.
Wood Burning — In general, a wood burning fireplace needs cleaning after 1–1½ cords of wood burned. This is a very broad/general rule, as many factors influence how efficiently your wood is burned. Regardless of how much wood is burned, annual inspection is recommended.
Gas — Although gas is generally a clean burning fuel, the chimney can become non-functional from bird nests or other debris blocking the flue. Cleaning will not likely be necessary every year, as it may take a long time for an accumulation of creosote to form, but annual inspection is recommended.
The CSIA has a very informative firewood guide.
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 real problem is the air being drawn down the chimney, a symptom of overall pressure problems in the house. Some make-up air should be introduced somewhere else in the house. A tight sealing, top mounted damper will also reduce this air flow coming down the chimney. See Damper Repair & Installation for information on the Lock-Top damper.
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. See Damper Repair & Installation for information on the Lock-Top damper.
The best bet is to have a Mark & Buttons Certified Chimney Sweep inspect your chimney annually. He will be able to detect the accumulation of creosote in your 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.
An uncapped chimney:
…says “come on in, make yourself at home!” to birds and animals. We’ve pulled everything from raccoons to basketballs out of flues!
…allows rain and snow to enter your chimney or sit on the chimney crown, which leads to moisture damage and expensive repairs.
…creates a fire hazard as burning embers and sparks escape through the open chimney and land on your roof or in your yard.
One cord is equal to a stack of wood 4′ × 4′ × 8′
4 ft high
4 ft wide
8 ft long
The CSIA has a very informative carbon monoxide guide.
Many people have questions about burning artificial logs. Convenience is their strong suit and in general they are fine when time is an issue and you want a quick fire without all the muss and fuss of natural firewood. Usually they should be burned only one at a time and only in an open fireplace. One should be careful about poking them and moving them around once they are burning since they may break up and the fire may get a bit out of control. Be sure to carefully read the directions on the package.
Note: The Chimney Sweeping Log does not replace the need for annual chimney inspections, as it will not tell you if your chimney is blocked or has any kind of structural damage.
Removing black soot stains from brick or stone fireplace fronts can be a messy process indoors, but nonetheless can be done. Mix and apply the following solution, scrubbing with a steel wire brush:
This depends on many factors, including the severity of creosote buildup, location of the fireplace, height of the chimney, etc. We can however, give you the average times for various chimney cleanings: