Between late August through April is a time that the chimney season calls “the burn season.” It refers to the time when people are actively using their fireplace.
But I like to think of it as being a multi-dimensional word.
Not only does it refer to burning the fireplaces, but also to the chimney technicians burning the midnight oil and the phones getting hot because of the phone calls we get.
In today’s post, I want to talk about the chimney services you should schedule during the offseason.
Why Schedule During the Offseason?
Springtime is usually when your chimney moves to the back of your mind. It’s hot and you’re not going to use your chimney or fireplace for at least another six months.
I get it. No big deal.
But the burn season is when you want to be using your chimney. It’s when you want to be absolutely certain that your chimney is safe to use. The last thing that you want to do is wait for a chimney company to come out to your house to clean your chimney when there’s a cold front coming in.
You waited and so did the majority of the people that are scheduled.
It’s not uncommon for our schedule to be backed up for more than a month during the burn season.
Besides the shorter wait times to get on the calendar, spring and summer are also great times for us to take a look to see how your chimney held up during the busy season. It allows us to see the chimney’s condition right after heavy use.
This is some valuable insight into the true condition of your chimney.
Plus, having some of these services during the spring and summer helps prepare the chimney and fireplace during the rainy season. Rain and chimney leaks can be some of the most devastating issues your chimney can face.
It’s a true domino effect. It seems that a lot of the major challenges that chimneys face all started with a leak. Luckily you can avoid a lot of headaches with starting the habit of scheduling your service during the offseason.
The masonry of a brick and mortar chimney can wear down over time. It’s a natural process that comes from being out in the elements all day, every day.
But the problems can come a lot faster if you don’t maintain regularly.
You might think that the worn out looks rustic, but you also have to realize how incredibly dangerous it is to have all the cracks in your bricks. The openings make it easier for chimney fires to spread to the rest of your home.
Tuckpointing is the process of sealing the joints. Not any material will work. You’ll want a certified technician to match available materials to the older material on your chimney.
I mentioned this before – chimney problems work just like dominoes. When one thing falls, it’s likely that you’ll see several other things fall.
And the biggest culprit to the problems is water.
The bricks and mortar on your chimney are made of porous material. So they absorb water very easily. During the colder months, this causes a freeze-thaw cycle that leads to the bricks and mortar to crack, allowing more water to penetrate and causing more problems down the road.
At Patriot Chimney, we use a water-based waterproofing solution that gets into the pores of the masonry so the water can’t get in. Somehow this material also allows water that’s already in it to evaporate out. So it can’t freeze. It’s like magic!
You should have your waterproofing replaced once every 5 years, but that’s just a general rule of thumb. The only way to know is by having your chimney inspected regularly.
If you have a prefab chimney, you should still do what you can to waterproof the chimney. The chase cover can rust and that will lead to small pin holes on the top. Believe it or not, those pinholes can allow plenty of water to seep through, causing a ton of headaches.
The best way to go about this is to have your aluminum chase cover replaced with a stainless steel cover. The stainless steel chase covers usually have a lifetime warranty and they’ll never rust.
Chimney Crown Restoration
Your chimney crown serves several purposes. But the main one is that it helps keep the water from affecting your chimney. Your chimney crown is made out of a mortar material, sometimes concrete, and is used to protect and cover the top of the chimney structure around the flue.
They are also made of porous material and can easily be damaged from freeze-thaw cycles. Since chimney crowns are at the top of the chimney, they often take the biggest beating and so they are some of the most common cracked areas we see.
If you have a cracked chimney crown, you want to have it repaired before the rain comes. The water can seep through the cracks and down through your chimney to cause mold, mildew, and even structural damage if it leaks into your walls.
Replace the Damper
The chimney damper is the barrier near the fireplace that you can open as ventilation when you start a fire. It’s also something that you can close to save energy on your heating bills when you want to use your HVAC system.
During the spring and summer, you should make sure the damper is closed to keep the cool air from leaking out of your house. Remember what your mom and dad used to say: “we’re not trying to cool off the neighborhood.”
The same thing applies to your damper.
If you have trouble closing or opening your damper, it’s likely that it’s sealed shut due to rust or debris. You’ll need to have someone out to your house to replace the damper.
Have a Cricket Installed
If you have a steep roof, then you may need to get a cricket installed. Also known as a saddle, a chimney cricket is a ridge structure that is used to divert water on your roof around the side of your chimney.
When your chimney is located on the downward pitch of the roof, it’s likely that water can accumulate and pool around the base of the roof.
As with the other problems, you could see this water seeping into the masonry of your chimney and cause some serious damage and deterioration.
Have a Chimney Cap Installed
If you don’t have a chimney cap, you’re going to have some problems.
That’s a bold statement, but it’s true. I like to look at the chimney cap as a sort of custom-fit umbrella. It keeps the rain from leaking straight into your chimney. We know the problems that come from all of the rain.
If you are burning wood, you’re going to have creosote build up in your chimney. Creosote is a naturally occurring byproduct of burning wood. It’s also very acidic. And when mixed with water it can cause deterioration of your flue to go into hyperdrive and cause damage way faster than normal.
Another issue that you can get is that debris can easily make its way into your chimney. Debris, in this case, can be leaves that have fallen during the fall or maybe even leaves and twigs that have flown off of trees when heavy winds came through.
Debris could also mean rodents, snakes, bats, and raccoons. Or even birds, like the chimney swift that will nest in your chimney with a thousand of its cousins. Unfortunately, if you have chimney swifts, there’s nothing you or I can do to remove them since they are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Act.
You just have to let it run its course. Luckily, there are preventative measures, such as adding a cap!
Chimney cleanings and sweeps should be done at a minimum of once a year as part of your chimney’s regular maintenance. But you really should get your chimney swept when the creosote build-up is at 1/8 inches.
This means that if you are using your chimney more often than normal, then you should have your chimney swept more than once per year.
We work with a restaurant in Roanoke that uses their fireplace non stop every day they’re open. Because of this, they have their chimney inspected and cleaned once per quarter to make sure the chimney is safe to use.
Right after the burn season is the best time to do it. Not only will it be more convenient to schedule your appointment, but you’ll also be able to use your chimney right when it starts getting cold.
Chimney inspections are the number one preventative maintenance job for chimneys that you need to have at least once a year. Your chimney goes through a lot.
On the interior, the flue is exposed to high temperatures and acidic creosote build-up. On the exterior, the chimney is out in the weather – good and bad – every moment of the day.
Chimneys are susceptible to damage and the domino effect is real and the only way to get in front of it is with an inspection from a CSIA certified chimney technician.
You may be tempted to inspect your chimney yourself or allow your neighbor to inspect. But unless you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to overlook minor issues.
That’s why at Patriot Chimney we include a video inspection every single inspection. We want to get a top-to-bottom, inside and out overview of your whole chimney system.
Hiring a Chimney Company
When you’re hiring a chimney company, you should always ask the following questions before allowing them to come into your home:
- Can the company provide references?
- Does the company carry a valid business liability insurance policy?
- Does the company ensure that a certified chimney technician will be on the job?
If they guarantee all three of those, then you are in a good spot. The technicians don’t necessarily need to be certified by the CSIA, but I do recommend putting in a bit more due diligence before accepting a certification that’s not by the CSIA.
This is because certifications are a tricky thing, especially in an unlicensed industry like ours. Any company can craft a list of job-related questions and sell them as an exam and certify those who pass.
I recommend you take a few extra minutes in your research before making your hiring decision to learn more about the certification the company has. Here are a few tips to make sure the certification is reputable:
- Is the word “certified” just part of the business name or is it an earned designation?
- Is the certifying body a for-profit business or non-profit?
- Does the certification need to be maintained and renewed through continuing education as the industry evolves, or is it well enough to be certified through a one-time exam?
- Is the certifying body well-established or are they relatively new to the scene? New doesn’t mean “bad” but you should make sure the requirements for certification are more or at least equally stringent as those of more established certifications
- Is the mission statement of the certifying body focused on educating and protecting homeowners or is it more focused on making it easier to earn a certification?
- Does holding the certification require following a code of ethics?
If you can answer all of these questions, then I think it will be safe to allow the company in your home to work on your chimney. It doesn’t matter if you are in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Blacksburg, or some other city anywhere in the USA — if you have any questions about the safety of hiring a chimney company, please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 540-225-2626. I’m happy to help!