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The Complete Guide to Summer Fireplace and Chimney Care [2020 Edition]

Introduction

Summertime.

My favorite time of the year. For good reasons too. I bet it’s the nostalgia of taking 2.5 months off from my only responsibilities (i.e. school).

We can’t do that as adults. No taking off from responsibilities!

That includes your chimney, of course. I know what you’re thinking – “Mitchell, we don’t use our chimney in the summer!”

That’s true, but you still want to take care of your chimney during this time. Otherwise, you’re going to have a hard time in the winter when you do use your chimney.

Lucky for you, I’m going to tell you all about summer fireplace and chimney care!

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Schedule an Inspection

Most people with chimneys schedule their inspection right before they want to start using their chimney. And when they call the chimney company, they’re told they have to wait a few weeks! 

That’s because everyone is scheduling at that time. So we tend to book up weeks in advance. It’s good for us, bad for you. 

But you can get around this by scheduling your inspection in the summer. There are several additional benefits to doing this:

Chimney Inspection

Benefit #1 – You’ll Be able to get on the schedule

As I mentioned before, chimney companies tend to get really busy during the winter months. It’s a period that we call “The Burn Season.” 

Let me tell a quick story to illustrate: 

I can’t speak for all companies, but we officially started our business in mid-July. We earned our first dollar on August 1, 2018. And our business took off from there. I attribute our success to our timing with the burn season. 

Burn Season unofficially begins in August. You see a hockey stick-shaped growth pattern during that period. Companies get a little bit of an increase and then October comes and chimney companies are in full throttle. 

I mention this to say that you should get in before you need to use your chimney. Otherwise, you risk having to not use your fireplace for weeks.

Benefit #2 – You’ll See How Your Chimney Held Up

Winter is a particularly rough time for your chimney. You’re burning every day so the smoke and gases are constantly going up your flue. 

Not only that, but your chimney’s exterior is constantly exposed to the weather. 

If you have a masonry chimney, you should know that the bricks and masonry are naturally porous. That means, they absorb water. 

This is terrible because when the bricks absorb water, the bricks can fall victim to a freeze-thaw cycle that causes cracks in the chimney. Cracks lead to more water. And more water leads to leaks. And leaks lead to damages way more than the price to waterproof your chimney. 

With an inspection during the summertime, you’ll allow your technician to see your chimney just after you used it. This is the most accurate vision.

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Benefit #3 – You’ll See How Your Chimney Will Hold Up

If you didn’t have a waterproofed chimney, and the bricks fell victim to the freeze-thaw cycles, you could have some troubles in the summertime. 

Summer is peaceful. It means the ability to leave the house without a jacket (celebrate the smaller things, okay…). It means vacations to sunny places. It also means heavy rains. 

If your chimney wasn’t protected before, then high winds and heavy rains are sure to give you some troubles. You need to be sure that you have your chimney waterproofed and prepared to take on the conditions.

Quick Guide to the Three Levels of Inspections

In the chimney industry, we have three levels of inspections. 

A level 1 inspection is the most basic. It typically includes having someone just look at your chimney. Most chimney companies will give your chimney a look, write down any issues, and present you with the condition report. 

At Patriot Chimney, we don’t think that’s enough. So for our level 1 inspections, we include a camera inspection so that we can see what’s going on inside and out! 

A level 2 inspection is more detailed than level 1. It includes attics, crawl spaces, and basements, so long as the space is accessible 

A level 3 inspection is the big one. It includes all areas covered in the previous two inspections. But also requires that your technician removes certain pieces of your wall or chimney to get a full idea of what’s going on. 

Luckily, level 3s are rare and are only suggested if removing part of the wall is necessary to fully gauge the safety of your chimney. 

<<See our full guide on chimney inspections>>

3 Levels

Consider a virtual inspection

When in doubt, you always have the option to submit a virtual chimney inspection. We offer this as a complimentary “extra” for anyone that wants to use it. 

Just take a few pictures (we have specific instructions for the pictures), tell us anything we need to know, and submit the photos over. 

We’ll take a look and tell you if we see anything wrong. 

Be aware, however, that virtual inspections don’t take the place of a real chimney inspection. The only way to really see the condition of your chimney is to have someone come out to look in person.

Remove Animals

Animals can be disgusting. You don’t want them in your chimney. Especially the kind that burrows into your chimney. 

Raccoons, squirrels, snakes, rodents, bats, and birds are some of the most common unwanted visitors that consider an opening into your chimney as a welcoming invitation.

A small hole from a damaged cap or screen can be just enough to let them in, too.

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Disease and Smells

Having an animal in your chimney can be annoying. You’ll be able to hear them chirping or scratching the liner in your chimney. 

You don’t want that distraction when you’re trying to watch football on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday night, do you? 

I don’t! 

But the real problem goes beyond the annoying sounds those pests make. When you use your chimney, the smoke and fire aren’t good for the animals, so they often die. 

They’ll leave behind flies, maggots, feces, and other horrible smells and diseases. 

Imagine the smell after sitting in the hot Virginia sun. 

Even if they survive, think of all the other diseases they have anyway – rabies, roundworm, and histoplasmosis. 

A lot of times, you can’t just remove them either. There are a lot of regulations around animal removal. The most common in our industry is the Chimney Swift. 

Chimney Swifts

Chimney Swifts are a species of federally protected birds. The birds and their nests are protected under The Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Harming a swift or disturbing an active nest is a violation of Federal law. 

Maybe you think one bird can’t do that much harm, right? 

Sure, if it’s just one bird. 

Chimney Swifts are tiny and often referred to as “flying cigars.” Depending on the size of your chimney, you could have THOUSANDS of chimney swifts nesting in your chimney. 

The best way to avoid all of this hassle is to just do what you can to prevent them. 

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Clean Your Firebox

The best time to clean your firebox is when you aren’t using your chimney. That makes sense, right? 

The trick, though, doing it right. Creosote can still be lingering around and you don’t want that!. Creosote is a toxic, flammable, natural byproduct of using your chimney. 

Keeping your fireplace clean will help prevent you from worrying about whether you’re going to be affected by it. 

Here are some tips that you can follow to make sure your firebox is clean:

creosote cap

Gas Fireplace

Sure, gas fireplaces burn cleaner. But you should still clean them. Creosote is still present in gas combustion, albeit in smaller quantities. All of the dust, soot, and dirt that builds up should also be removed. 

Here’s how: 

  1. Turn the pilot light off. You can call your gas company and they’ll do it for you if you don’t know how. 
  2. Remove your ceramic logs and grate. Clean these with a lint-free cloth or brush. 
  3. Vacuum any loose particles inside the fireplace. 
  4. Use a wet cloth to clean soot and any stains in the firebox. For stubborn stains, I like to use a water-vinegar solution. 
  5. Clean your glass doors with a streak-free window cleaner or warm water and a lint-free cloth. 
  6. Replace your grate and logs
  7. Clean the gas fireplace and surround

Wood Burning Fireplace

Cleaning a wood-burning fireplace can be a much dirtier job than cleaning gas fireplaces. Before starting, I recommend you wear old clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, goggles, and a facemask so that you don’t breathe in any dust or ash particles. Also, be sure to lay some newspapers on the floor in front of the fireplace and cover any nearby furniture. 

  1. Empty the firebox by removing the grate and any remaining wood logs. 
  2. Clean out the ash. You can store the ash in a metal container and recycle it in your garden. Also, try to reserve a small amount to use when it gets cold again. The ash can help maintain fires. 
  3. Vacuum any remaining debris in the firebox. 
  4. Use a wire brush to scrape away as much creosote on the walls inside the fireplace as you possibly can. You can mix baking soda with water to make a paste to apply to the creosote to help scrub. Rinse the surface with water. 
  5. Use a damp lint-free cloth to clean any remaining soot and dirt inside the fireplace. Rinse the surface with water and dry with a lint-free cloth. Don’t forget the damper too!
  6. Use a streak-free window cleaner to clean the fireplace glass doors. 
  7. Clean the masonry surround and mantle. 
  8. Scrub the grates using the water-vinegar solution. Consider doing this outside on your patio or in your garage. 
  9. Replace the grates in the firebox

Close Your Damper

Your damper is a valve that controls the flow of air or smoke in your chimney. Oftentimes, the damper is accidentally left open after the last fire of the winter. This can be a problem for many reasons: 

  1. Open dampers can draw cool air from your air conditioner out of the room and up your chimney.
  2. Even with a screen and a cap, you can still get some mice that squeeze through the screen. Did you know that mice can fit through a hole the diameter of a pencil? 
  3. Some violent rainstorms can still get through your cap and flow past your damper causing water to puddle in your firebox. This can cause unnecessary stress. 

Closing your damper is pretty simple. All you’ll need is a flashlight and maybe some gloves.

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Instructions

First, turn your gas off to the fireplace. Make sure your firebox is cool before attempting to close the flue. 

Next, look inside the fireplace with a flashlight. You’re going to want to find a vertical lever or a set of pull chains to close the damper. Generally, the lever or chain is toward the interior front of the fireplace. 

Finally, push the lever up to disengage it from its support tab and pull it away from the tab horizontally as the damper lowers into a closed position. Or, if your fireplace has pull chains, pull the longer chain to disengage the damper and then pull the shorter chain to close the flue. 

If you’re more visual check out this video. 

Schedule Any Repairs or Sweeps

If you had an inspection and the technician suggested that you need some sort of repair for your chimney, then summertime is the best time to schedule. 

This is one of the most important parts of this whole guide, too. 

If you have damage to your chimney, you really should consider getting it fixed right away so you don’t have to worry about the chimney collapsing on your home or cracks in your liner contributing to a chimney fire.

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Benefit #1 – You’ll Be on the Schedule

As I mentioned before, it’ll be harder to be on the schedule when it’s colder outside. You’ll have much better luck if you schedule your service for summertime. 

Sometimes repairs only take a few hours. Sometimes, they may take a day or two. But sometimes (like if you have a chimney leak) it may take a whole week to fix the problem.

Even though Patriot Chimney is busy all year long (thank goodness!), it is significantly easier to schedule a week’s worth of work in the summer than finding a week in the winter.

Benefit #2 – Potential Discounts

If you schedule during the down-time, you might get lucky and be able to score some additional discounts on your service. 

Chimney companies aren’t as busy during the summer. They’ll likely offer some discounts to get you on the schedule. 

It’s truly a win-win situation. 

You get your chimney work scheduled. And the chimney company gets a great client on the calendar!

 

Benefit #3 – Your Chimney Will Be Safe

This one is the most important. Last but not least. 

When you go ahead and schedule your chimney work, you’re ensuring that your chimney is safe. You are making sure that you, your family, and your home will not be victims of a chimney fire or your chimney collapsing. 

And when you want to use your chimney, you can do so without calling someone out and waiting to be on the schedule. You can use your chimney without risking any potential health hazards. 

Your chimney will be safe, clean, and ready to use!

Chimney Inspection

Tips for Hiring a Chimney Company

Navigating through all of the chimney companies in your city can be a chore all on its own. And it makes sense, too. 

Hiring anyone to come into your home to fix something like your chimney shouldn’t be a task you take lightly.

So I created a list that you can use to make sure you make the right decision, when you need someone to help you in your home.

Patriot Chimney Vans

Questions to Ask

When you’re hiring a chimney company, you should always ask the following questions before allowing them to come into your home:

  1. Can the company provide references? 
  2. Does the company carry a valid business liability insurance policy? 
  3. 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.

Certifications

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 mitchell@patriotchimney.net or call me at 540-225-2626. I’m happy to help!

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Schedule an Inspection with Patriot Chimney

Patriot Chimney has a few CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps that you can trust with your home and family. During your service, you can expect your technician to inspect your chimney with a video camera so we can give a full top-to-bottom, inside out inspection. 

We’re licensed, insured, certified, and guarantee you’ll be happy with your service.

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