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Starting a cold fireplace

As the cold weather approaches, Chief Chimney Services in Long Island, New York wants to make sure that you are using your fireplace in an efficient and safe manner. We know there is nothing better than the sound, ambiance, and warmth from a crackling fire in your fireplace. And, there is nothing worse than a house full of smoke and toxic fumes caused by improperly starting a cold fireplace.

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There are very specific considerations you need to know and specific techniques to successfully light a fire in a cold fireplace:

Before the cold weather approaches, a thorough inspection and cleaning by a CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) certified chimney technician is a must to ensure your chimney, fireplace, and their components are fully operational and clean. If you avoid this step, you are putting your house and family at risk for a fire, explosion, and toxic gas poisoning. CSIA, in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), urges homeowners to have a yearly inspection and cleaning of their fireplaces and chimneys before using the fireplace for the first time each season. Your skilled CSIA certified chimney technician will identify and repair any potential hazards and remove any blockages from debris or critters so you will be ready for that first fire of the year.

Once you have done your due diligence and had the cleaning and inspection performed and repaired any problems then it’s time to prepare to light your first fire of the season. The first thing to do (and many times overlooked) is OPEN THE DAMPER. The setting for many romantic and utilitarian fires have been ruined as the room filled up with smoke because the damper was not opened before the wood was lit.

The next step is to prime the flue. Here’s why that is so important. Consider that your chimney is located on the outside of your home and surrounded by the cold fall or winter temperatures. Remember, hot air rises and cold air sinks. So when you open the damper, cold air from outside is drawn down your chimney. The cold air forms a barrier as the warm air from inside your home begins to rise. This is called “air sink”. When air sink occurs and the smoke cannot escape out the chimney your house fills up with smoke. The way to avoid air sink is to prime the flue by lighting a rolled up newspaper or piece of seasoned wood and holding it to the damper for 3-4 minutes. You will actually be able to feel the warm and cold air exchange. Once that happens you can proceed to the next step in lighting your fire.

Place your wood atop a bed a couple inches thick of ashes.The ash bed will provide additional insulation to keep your fire burning hotter. Remember the hotter the fire, the more safe and efficient it is.

As the final step is to build what is known as an “upside down” fire:

Stack large or split logs next to one another tightly to form your bottom layer. Place slightly smaller logs/split logs perpendicular to the bottom layer to form the 2nd layer.
Repeat this process using smaller and smaller pieces to a reasonable height – usually 2-5 layers depending on:

  • The size of your fireplace
  • How much wood you have on hand
  • How long you want the fire to burn

At the top add strips or crumpled newspaper and dry kindling.
Light the newspaper/kindling at the top and watch that baby burn itself down.

By following these recommendations when you initially start your cold fireplace, you will be able to truly appreciate and enjoy romantic and utilitarian fires all season long.

By John Pilger on September 27th, 2015 | Tagged with: Tags: , , , , , | Leave a Comment

NFPA Chimney Inspections

Chimney inspections are important to identify any potential fire, health, and structure damage risks that may be present in your home. The certified chimney professionals from Chief Chimney Services in Long Island know how important annual inspections are for homeowners to receive. Unfortunately, Chief has also witnessed the consequences when homeowners rationalized that they don’t need an inspection or procrastinated at having the repair recommendations performed.

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Whether you live in Long Island or anywhere else, it is for your own protection that you follow the recommendations from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and have a professional inspect your chimney. The key word is “professional”. The worst case scenario is you to pay someone who just claims to be able to inspect your chimney and you think you are safe, and then experience the unthinkable because the person you did business with was not qualified to perform the inspection. How does a homeowner know what should be included in a proper inspection? The NFPA instituted guidelines for homeowners and inspectors.

When it came to determining what components were to be inspected and the appropriate inspection for the homeowner’s circumstances, prior to 2000, homeowners we left at the mercy and judgement of the person conducting their inspection. In January of 2000, the National Fire Protection Association defined and standardized what inspections should include. These standards can be found in code NFPA 211 (Standard for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents and Solid Fuel Burning Appliances). There are three levels of inspection and each has a very clear definition for the inspector and homeowner, alike.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) has included a detail explanation of each of the three levels of inspections along with guidelines when each is appropriate on their website. Click here to view those videos.

Both the CSIA and NFPA are very clear that homeowners have an annual chimney inspection by a CSIA certified technician performed every year before you begin to use your heating system. Inspections can be best performed in the summertime when the chimney and furnace are not in use and weather conditions make a visual inspection easier. However, inspections can be performed throughout the year weather permitting.

If your inspector does find an issue or issues that need to be addressed, it is important to take care of the repairs promptly. Inadequately functioning chimneys and their components can lead to fire hazards, toxic gas poisoning, as well as water damage to the interior and exterior of your home. And if there were ever a time to be proactive, it is when your family’s health and safety are at stake.

It is our recommendation to you that you review the three levels of inspections and discuss your need for a proper inspection with your CSIA certified chimney professional. If you live in Long Island, Chief Chimney Service is available to answer all your questions and perform the proper inspection following NFPA standards. If you don’t live in Chief’s service area consult the CSIA website, Angie’s List, and the BBB to find a qualified inspector.

Troubleshooting Fireplace Draft Problems

When you need your heating appliances, you expect them to work and it can be frustrating when things aren’t operating properly. If you notice your fireplace is drafty, it could be a simple fix, or it could mean you need to make some repairs. Troubleshooting fireplace draft problems involves understanding how your fireplace and chimney work, and how to prevent your warm air from escaping. No matter what the issue may be, it is best to start with a professional chimney sweeping and inspection.

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Has Your Fireplace Been Swept?

Make sure your chimney has been properly swept and inspected. A certified and reputable chimney sweeping company like Chief Chimney Services, Inc in Suffolk can help make sure your chimney is cleaned and inspected before troubleshooting additional problems. Once your chimney has been properly inspected and swept you can move on to troubleshooting additional causes for a draft.

A thorough chimney cleaning can also remove excess build-up of creosote, which can coat the flue. When the flue can’t open and close effectively, it can lead to a draft in your fireplace. Again, a regular sweeping of your chimney and fireplace can remove creosote and other debris to make sure all the moving parts of your chimney are working.

Using Your Fireplace Correctly

Many fireplace issues are corrected with some simple knowledge on how to operate your wood-burning appliance. Make sure your damper is closed when not in use to prevent cold air from pushing down your chimney. During the colder winter months, it may be necessary to prime the flue by lighting some newspaper and holding it up to the damper to warm it up before you start your fire. In other cases, you may need to clean and replace any connectors that go from the fireplace or woodstove to the chimney. Once you seal all the leaks, you can move on to other possible causes of your chimney draft.

Preventing Downdrafting

During colder weather, the most common cause of a drafty fireplace is a downdraft. A downdraft occurs when cold air blows across your chimney and eventually down your chimney and through your fireplace. Counteract the downdraft by replacing your chimney cap and making sure it is installed properly. Similarly, a chimney cap and proper damper use can prevent The Stack Effect, when the warm air from inside your home battles with the cold external air, which can cause a draft.

A professional chimney inspection company will help determine other causes of drafts including whether or not your chimney is leaky, which may mean you need some masonry repair. Your certified chimney inspection company can also inspect your damper and any stovepipe connectors that may need to be replaced. Many newer homes are built airtight, which makes fixing a drafty fireplace as easy as installing a chimney cap or closing the damper. However, in older homes masonry repair may be required. In either case, hiring a professional chimney inspector can alleviate your worries and fix your draft problem in on easy step. Contact Chief Chimney Services to fix your drafty fireplace today.

Proper Use of a Wood-Burning Appliance

Winter is closing in fast, seeing as much of the country has already experienced the first snowfall of the season. With forecasts predicting a winter just as brutal as the last, people are thinking hard about how to stay warm. Jackets, hats, scarves, and gloves will suffice for being outside, but keeping warm inside requires something different. For homeowners utilizing wood-burning appliances, like stoves, fireplaces or furnaces, now is the time to start stocking up on fuel before it becomes too scarce.

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Types of Wood to Burn

Before even considering what species of tree you should choose to burn in the fireplace, the first trait of firewood to consider is its dryness. Dry firewood has gone through a “seasoning” process, meaning it has sat inside and been allowed to dry out for a set amount of time. Some wood only needs six months to season, while denser varieties can require up to two years to fully season. If the wood you bought was stacked outside, it likely contains a high water content, and that sets you up for cool, smoky fires.

The next factor to consider is the hardness of the wood. Do hardwoods or softwoods burn better? Naturally, that depends. Hardwoods, like oak, maple, and hickory, burn very hot and for a long time. These woods also create a hot bed of coals to increase the temperature and longevity of the fire. On the downside, they do not light very easily. Softwoods, on the other hand, light quickly and make good kindling. They do not serve well for long-term fires, though, because they burn fast and at lower temperatures. In essence, a good mixture of the two types of wood should meet your wood-burning needs.

Along with good types of wood to burn, you also need to know what not to burn. As discussed, wet wood is a poor choice. Much of the fires energy goes toward boiling the water instead of producing heat, which wastes your money. Also, do not burn paper or other thin materials because they burn very fast and hot, and this can damage parts of your appliance or chimney. Of course, avoid burning synthetic materials, including plastics and foams, because they release harmful materials into the air.

How to Burn Properly

Everyone with a fireplace has at least a general idea of how to start a fire, but many people do not know how to start a fire well and keep it going efficiently. First, you need to open your damper to allow the fumes to escape once the fire is lit. If the damper is low in the chimney, allow it to sit open for a few minutes before lighting up to let the flue warm up slightly. When starting the fire, start is small so it does not consume oxygen too quickly and extinguish itself. If the fire seems to sputter after burning for a few minutes, the oxygen concentration might be too low. Try opening a window or letting the fire shrink in size.

For more information and tips on proper use of a wood-burning fireplace, stove, or furnace, contact Chief Chimney Services, Inc.