Pozzi Chimney Sweep Blog

Problems with Chimneys in Old Houses

Traditional masonry chimneys were one of the original styles of chimney construction, and this construction is still commonly used today. They are so popular because of their aesthetic appeal and their robustness, often holding up for many decades or even centuries. Because of their longevity, many masonry chimneys still stand today but often suffer from issues related to age.

Older Home with Chimney - Aurora IL

The one weakness of a masonry chimney actually lies in its potential for water damage. Masonry materials like brick, mortar, and concrete have a very porous makeup, so they readily absorb water. For older chimneys that have been around for many years, they have likely absorbed a lot of water. During winter months when temperatures fall below freezing, the water undergoes a freeze and thaw cycle in which it continuously expands and contracts. The masonry that has absorbed water also experiences this swelling and shrinking. After many winters of this, the materials start to degrade. This is evident by the presence of cracked mortar, missing bricks, and even collapse. When a chimney in this state is used, the smoke and other toxic fumes can seep through the holes and crack into the living space. Repair options include tuckpointing for minor mortar damage and a complete rebuild, depending on the extent of the damage.

Another common issue with older chimneys is their size. The logic behind building chimneys used to be the bigger the better, but studies have proven that an ideal size chimney exists for every size of fireplace. The chimney functions by way of draft, or air flow. Hot air from the fire rises through the chimney, drawing air from inside the house and through the fire. This directional air flow is vital for sustaining a good fire. When the chimney is too wide, the hot air has more space to spread out, and thus, it cools faster. This slows the rise of air, sometimes to the point of reversing it, which results in smoke backing up into the house. A chimney and fireplace specialist can address this issue by adding a properly sized chimney liner.

Speaking of chimney liners, older chimneys often do not have them. The creosote and soot created by the fires over many years has built up directly on the masonry. When combined with water vapor, the soot can become acidic and eat away at the brick and mortar. Again, this issue can be fixed by installing a chimney liner, made of heat and acid resistant stainless steel or ceramic.

An older home offers plenty of charm and character, but the aged chimney that came with it may need some special attention to function safely. A chimney inspection, which should be done annually, anyway, can determine what your chimney needs. If you live in the Aurora, Illinois area, contact the chimney experts at Pozzi Chimney Sweep to schedule an inspection.

Faulty Chimney Liners and Carbon Monoxide

Chimney Liner Damage and Carbon Monoxide - Aurora IL - Pozzi Chimney SweepWith weather experts forecasting an upcoming winter just as brutal as last year’s, everyone has started thinking about the best ways to stay warm. Some homeowners turn to their fireplaces and wood stoves as the primary heat source for the home, and even more have started using the fireplace as an added heat source to supplement the primary source. As with any type of heating, but especially those involving combustion, safety is of the essence. Part of keeping the fireplace and chimney safe is having an annual inspection done. This helps identify problems like faulty liners, which can create devastating problems.

The chimney liner covers the inside of the chimney, separating the hot gases from the chimney and home. Generally made of clay or steel, it has several jobs, including protecting combustible materials in the house from the heat of the fire, protecting the chimney structure from damage caused by the acidic smoke, and protecting the home’s inhabitants by directing toxic fumes out of the living space. When the chimney liner fails at the last job, the consequences are fast and devastating.

Clay flue liners can crack and break after too much exposure to extreme heat. Steel liners can rust after exposure to water leaking in the chimney. Either way, the chimney liner can no longer effectively do its job. Not all of the smoke and other gases escape up the chimney. Some enters the slips through the cracks and rust holes in the flue liner, which leaves the house susceptible to the gases as well. This means everyone in the home becomes a potential victim of carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is a small molecule formed in high concentrations as a product of combustion. Essentially, every time something burns, carbon monoxide results as a product. Burning occurs in many appliances and machines, meaning carbon monoxide is produced in many instances, including in car exhaust, charcoal grills, gas ranges, and propane lanterns. This is why health experts discourage starting the car engine in a closed garage or barbecuing anywhere indoors. Depending on the size of the fire and the room, an enclosed space may take only minutes to fill with carbon monoxide, and you may never know. The gas has no smell, taste or color, making it impossible to detect without the aid of a specialized detector.

Once the concentration of carbon monoxide hits a certain point, the signs of poisoning can become evident very quickly. Inhaling carbon monoxide prevents oxygen from traveling around the body, which results in asphyxiation. Early signs of poisoning include dizziness, shortness of breath and nausea, but it can quickly turn into unconsciousness, organ failure and death if the victim does not move to clean, outdoor air.

When burning fires beneath faulty chimney liners, you risk your family’s safety with numerous dangers, not the least of which being carbon monoxide poisoning. To protect everyone from these dangers, have an inspection done to determine the condition of the chimney liner. If it is cracked, filled with holes, or missing completely, do not burn any more fires before having a chimney specialist address the problem. If you live in the area of Aurora, Illinois, contact Pozzi Chimney Sweep for a professional consultation.

Legend of Chimney Sweeps’ Good Luck

Dating back several hundred years, the chimney sweep has been considered a symbol of good luck, particularly to brides and grooms on their wedding days. As more people learn of the luck associated with chimney sweeps, more and more chimney sweeps appear at weddings and other occasions where luck is desired. The reason behind the chimney sweep’s good luck is still debated but seems to have been narrowed down to three legends.

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The most common legend involves King George II back in the 18th century. As told by this legend, the King was riding his horse in a procession when a growling dog appeared. His horse, spooked by dog, became unruly, and the King lost control. Out of the crowd walked a chimney sweep that caught the horse and calmed it down, essentially saving the King from falling to the ground. Thankful for being saved, the King declared all chimney sweeps to be good luck. Allegedly, this message spread across Europe and has stuck around ever since.

Another legend proposed to be the origin of the chimney sweep’s good luck takes place in 1066 with King William of Britain. Peacefully walking down a quiet road, the King fell into the path of a runaway carriage, which put him in grave danger. A chimney sweep happened to foresee the accident and pushed the King out of harm’s way. In return for saving his life, King William invited the chimney sweep to his daughter’s wedding. He wanted his daughter to experience the luck of the chimney sweep as well. The King also declared chimney sweeps were good luck and allowed them to wear top hats while working. Reserved for the distinguished, permitting the top hats was a sign of great respect. Ever since, chimney sweeps at weddings have been considered lucky, and their presence could even negate bad luck.

The third legend is not linked to a specific date or person, but it contains an entertaining story. While working one day, a chimney sweep fell from the roof. Fortunately, the chimney sweep was saved from falling to the ground when his foot became caught in the gutter. Dangling from the gutter, the chimney sweep was completely helpless. Upon hearing the ruckus, the maiden who lived in the house came to the window to investigate. Seeing the poor chimney sweep in such a sad state, she quickly pulled him inside through the window. They quickly fell in love with each other, resulting in the maiden breaking off her engagement to a man she disliked. She and the chimney sweep married and lived happily ever after.

Whether you believe one of these legends or choose to believe a different story, history has shown that generation after generation believes in the good luck brought by chimney sweeps.

Chimney Liner: Stainless Steel vs. Aluminum

The chimney plays a crucial role in the safe functioning of a fireplace or stove. It permits proper ventilation of toxic flue gases out of the home and helps keep the fire lit by creating a steady draft. Less well known than the chimney, but just as important, is the liner inside of it. Chimney liners serve a few key functions and can be made out of stainless steel or aluminum depending on the type of fireplace.

Metal Chimney Liner - Aurora ILThe first major responsibility of a chimney liner is to shield the combustible materials inside the house from the heat of the fire and smoke. Tests done by the National Bureau of Standards determined that combustibles adjacent to an unlined chimney can catch fire in as little as 3 ½ hours. Without a liner, the acidic nature of smoke and soot can also do damage to the chimney itself. The acid erodes masonry materials like brick and mortar, degrading the strength of the chimney and permitting the leak of toxic gases into the home.

Another function of a chimney liner is to create proper draft through the fire. The draft, or flow of air, travels from inside the home, through the fire, and up the chimney. Essentially, this flow keeps the fire fueled with oxygen and directs smoke out of the house, making a good draft vital. The width of the chimney plays a role in the strength of the draft, as a wide chimney gives the hot air more space to spread and cool, slowing its upward movement. Thus, having a chimney liner more fitting to the smaller size of the fireplace can quicken the upward air movement, starting a strong draft in the correct direction.

The main consideration when choosing a chimney liner is the material it is made out of. Modern chimney liners often come in stainless steel or aluminum materials, each of which have very specific purposes. Stainless steel liners cost more than aluminum, which may turn off some homeowners, but they must be used in chimneys venting fires that burn wood, coal, or pellets. The durable metal alloy can withstand the high temperatures created by burning solid fuels. It also resists the acidic corrosion from the by-products. Aluminum, on the other hand, is ideal for venting fires that burn natural gas. The cheaper, lighter nature of aluminum makes it easy to install and cost effective and it can hold up well to the lower temperatures of a gas-fueled fire.

Chimney liners play a crucial role in keeping the chimney functioning safely, making them absolutely necessary in every chimney. Beyond that, the material used to line the chimney also makes a difference. Choosing correctly between stainless steel and aluminum makes a big difference in safety and longevity of the liner. If your chimney liner is damaged or missing, talk to a chimney specialist about the best liner to have installed. For a specialist in the Aurora, Illinois area, contact Pozzi Chimney Sweep.

Solving a Chimney Draft Problem

With the official start of winter just a few days away, most homeowners with fireplaces or wood stoves have at least burned a couple logs. Fireplaces are not all fun for everyone though. Perhaps you do everything right – the annual sweep and inspection, asking all the right questions, burning all the best wood – and you still cannot seem to build a strong fire. Stop feeling bad because it may not be you. Your chimney may have draft problems.

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Chimneys work because hot air rises. The hot air produced by the fire has a low density, so it moves upward through the chimney. Most fires are burned during the colder months of fall and winter, so the hot air from the fire usually meets comparably cold air from the outside sitting in the chimney. When the hot air meets the cold air, the difference in pressure between the two portions of air creates a vertical pull that draws air up the chimney. This movement of air is known as the “draft,” and it pulls air rich in oxygen from the house to help fuel the fire, and then the smoke and other harmful gases safely escape through the chimney. If the air fails to flow this way, the issue is called a draft problem.

The most common draft problem homeowners experience is a chimney that is too large for the firebox. Old fireplaces in particular often have oversized chimneys that result in draft problems. A wide chimney gives the hot air more room to spread vertically, which then slows its vertical progress. When the hot air moves more slowly up the chimney, the upward pull becomes weaker. Thus, the draft weakens and the air moves inefficiently through the system. Creosote also condenses easier when the flue is too large and the draft is too weak. This can be deadly as creosote is highly flammable and can cause a chimney (or house) fire. Signs of this problem include a small, cool fire or even a fire that refuses to stay lit. Fortunately, this problem can be easily remedied with the help of a chimney specialist. With a few measurements, the specialist can determine the proper flue width the fireplace requires and install a flue lining with the corresponding size.

Another cause of draft problems is a short chimney because the draft is more powerful in a taller chimney. Short chimneys are common in aged bungalows and ranch style houses, and they can lead to cold, smoky, or inconsistent fires. Although adding height to the chimney is not a welcomed expense, it can save money in the long run by preventing a reverse draft in which the cold air from the outside actually flows into the house.

You should not have to worry about draft problems while you simply want to enjoy your home and fireplace. If you live in the area of Aurora, Illinois, get in touch with Pozzi Chimney Sweep for a professional consultation. These experts can diagnose your draft problem and guide you in making the most informed decisions when addressing it.

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

No matter the time of year, fires and carbon monoxide poisoning pose serious health threats in homes across the nation. However, the upcoming winter season only increases the risk because homeowners start running furnaces, boilers, fireplaces and stoves. People rely on these forms of heat every day to stay warm, but they can also stay safe by installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house.

Smoke & CO Detectors - Aurora IL - Pozzi ChimneyIf an unintentional fire starts somewhere in the house, inhabitants likely have a few precious minutes at most to escape the burning building. To further improve the chances of escape, the home should be equipped with working smoke detectors in every bedroom, outside the sleeping area, and on each level of the house. Test each smoke detector every month and replace them completely every 10 years. The National Fire Protection Association has found that having working smoke alarms in the house doubles your chances of survival in a reported house fire.

Carbon monoxide may be even more sinister than a house fire because, at least with a fire, you can tell there is an emergency. Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and tasteless, leaving your body incapable of recognizing its presence prior to signs of being poisoned. For this reason, carbon monoxide detectors must be spread throughout the home and kept updated.

Carbon monoxide gas results from any type of burning. Thus, if the chimney does not vent properly, your wood-burning fireplace could potentially fill the house with carbon monoxide. If your gas-powered furnace has a hole in the fire chamber, you may be breathing carbon monoxide. Even an act as innocuous as a propane lantern on the kitchen table during a power outage could have disastrous consequences.

The gas acts in a similar way to oxygen when inhaled, except that it blocks oxygen from traveling around the body. Therefore, the first signs of poisoning include lightheadedness, nausea and dizziness as the body begins to experience the lack of oxygen. Without fresh air to breathe within a few minutes, consciousness may be lost, followed by organ failure and death. In fact, with a high enough concentration of carbon monoxide in the air, you can lose consciousness in one minute.

The dangers of fire and carbon monoxide are real and very powerful. In addition to maintaining functional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house, also educate your family about fire and carbon monoxide safety, especially the children. Devise a safety plan of what to do and where to go in case the alarms sound. These simple practices can save lives. If you have any questions about smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, contact your local fire department or Pozzi Chimney Sweep of Aurora, Illinois.

Cutting Energy Costs with Dampers

Winter made an early appearance this year in the Chicagoland area with the first snowfall occurring on the last day of October. For Northern Illinoisans, that means putting away the shorts and sandals and exchanging them for warm coats, hats and scarves. Everyone is thinking ahead to the upcoming winter, which has been forecasted to be as bitter as the last one. Keeping warm is on everybody’s mind, and for those with a fireplace, that means lighting a fire to heat up the house. Along with keeping warm, another focus is on cutting energy costs. One way fireplace users can do this is by installing and properly using a fireplace damper.

Chimney Dampers Help Save Money - Aurora IL

The damper in a fireplace is a flap, usually made of metal or ceramic to resist high temperatures, found at the bottom or top of the flue. It opens and closes using a pull chain, handle or latch, and has a variety of functions, namely controlling the flow of air through the chimney. While many assume the damper is merely a safety function to keep the house from filling with smoke and other toxic fumes from the fire, it can also help save money on energy depending on how it is used an installed.

First, the damper helps control what is known as the draft of the chimney. The draft is the flow of air from inside the house, through the fire, and out of the chimney. It begins with the hot air of the fire rising up the chimney – because hot air is less dense than the cold outside air. This creates a pressure differential between the rising hot air and the outside cold air, which effectively “pulls” the air upward in the chimney. In turn, the air in the house is pulled into the fireplace and brings along with it more oxygen to fuel the fire. If the draft is too strong, the heat of the fire is drawn right out of the chimney and does not heat the home. On the other hand, if the draft is too weak, the fire burns colder or may even burn out, filling the house with smoke. Opening the damper to the correct width can actually help control the draft and keep the air flowing at the most efficient rate.

The damper also keeps heated air from escaping the house when the fireplace is not in use. When in the closed position, the damper seals off the home and prevents any expensive, heated air from flowing out the chimney.

The position of the damper also plays a role in the efficiency of the fire. A damper at the bottom of the flue means most of the chimney is cold, and this means the hot air takes longer to escape the chimney. This slows the draft and could even fill the house with smoke if the fire is too large initially. A damper at the top of the chimney means the flue stays around room temperature all the time, so the fire lights up hot and quickly right away, without wasting any energy or leaking any smoke.

If you have concerns about the efficiency of the damper on your fireplace, contact your local chimney expert. If you live in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, near Aurora, Illinois, contact Pozzi Chimney Sweep for a professional consultation.

Fireplace Safety for Children and Pets

Keep your pets and children safe from the fireplace this Fall and Winter

Keep your pets and children safe from the fireplace this Fall and Winter

Now that fall is in full swing, many homeowners are starting to think about heating their homes during the upcoming cold weather. For those using fireplaces this season, it is time to have the chimneys cleaned and inspected and to stock up on firewood. However, families with children and pets have special concerns around this time of year when burning fires in their fireplaces and wood stoves. Accidents can happen and plenty of families have horror stories from mishaps involving the fireplace or hearth. To avoid creating a story of your own, you can take a few simple measures and keep your beloved children and pets safe this fall and winter.

Many accidents involving the fireplace happen in conjunction with the sharp, hard edges of the brick or stone hearth. These pointy, rough corners are bumps and bruises just waiting to happen. To prevent ouchies and permanent scars from accidental falls, you can purchase and install a product known as hearth padding. This fire-resistant foam lines the sharp edges of the hearth, so in the case of a stumble around the fireplace, your child is less likely to suffer any serious injuries. While not the most attractive feature of the fireplace, the price is well worth ensuring your child’s safety.

Other incidents that affect both children and pets often involve accidental burns. To remedy these risks, you have a few different options. One measure you can take is installing glass doors in front of your fireplace. This addition keeps curious fingers, paws and noses from making direct contact with the dangerous flames. Although the glass does heat up to high temperatures itself, which can also cause minor burns, it protects clothing and fur from catching on fire. It also discourages children from tossing inappropriate items into the fire, such as toys, electronics, or flammable materials.

To avoid the minor burns associated with the hot glass doors, you can also have a grate installed in front of the fireplace. Some homeowners worry the grates might make the fireplace look tacky, but there are actually a wide variety of stylish options available to make the grate a sophisticated addition to the space.

Finally, the most effective way to keep your children and pets safe is to keep a watchful, loving eye on them while burning a fire. Keeping tabs on where your kids, dogs and cats are can greatly reduce the risk of accidental burns or even misplaced fires.

If you need to child- and pet-proof your fireplace, contact an expert to discuss your options. The safety of your family depends on it. If you live near Hinckley or Aurora, Illinois, get in touch with Pozzi Chimney Sweep for a professional consultation.

Stocking Up on Firewood for Winter

Choose the right firewood for a better burning fire

Choose the right firewood for a better burning fire

Summer has officially ended, and the weather seems to have forgotten about it already. Leaves have already started to turn vibrant yellow, orange and red and many litter the ground already. The wind has a crisp edge to it and the days have shortened significantly. Along with the cold weather, many homeowners are starting to look ahead to the looming winter months by prepping their heating systems. For those who utilize wood-burning stoves, fireplaces and furnaces, this means stocking up on a large supply of good quality wood.

Local Firewood is Better

When you start shopping around for firewood, make sure to stick around your area and ask your suppliers where they receive their wood from. Wood that has travelled long distances may carry nonnative species that could potentially damage or destroy native trees. For example, ash trees all over the country are dying and being cut down because of an ash-boring beetle that was brought over from Asia. It originated in Michigan, but now trees everywhere are dying because people inappropriately moved infested firewood across state borders.

Quality Matters

Now that you know to look around your area only, your next step is to invest your money in the best firewood. First, you need to find out if the wood has been properly dried and seasoned. Wet wood will not burn, and if you choose to keep your wood outside, the moisture will stay in the wood during the winter freezes. You can check for moisture by splitting a piece of wood and feeling for any moisture. Also, wood with cracks in the ends are usually drier than solid pieces without any splits.

Hardwood vs Softwood

Next, consider the species of trees the wood came from. Generally, hardwood trees are best because they are the densest and burn long and hot. They also produce a hot coal bed upon burning, which lengthens the life and heat of the fire. Hardwood tree species include oaks, maples and hickories. Softer woods like birch, pine and spruce burn quickly and do not produce a long lasting coal bed when burned.

Updated stoves and fireplaces now allow for more efficient heating of the less dense woods, so choosing to burn birch or pine wood is now a more viable option. Particularly in the spring and fall, you can opt to burn these softer woods. In addition, burning a wide variety of wood helps save the hardwood species from becoming over-harvested.

Firewood Storage

Once you have decided on the wood you want, store it properly at home to ensure the best burning. Now that it is fall, you should move any firewood to a sheltered outdoor space, preferably close to the house, so you do not have to trek far in the cold winter weather. Do not store large amounts of wood in the home because potential mold growth will contaminate your indoor air with spores. If you have more questions on firewood or your fireplace and chimney, contact  Pozzi Chimney Sweep to speak with an expert.

Certified Chimney and Dryer Vent Technicians Make All the Difference

The thought of paying someone to install a new fireplace, sweep your existing fireplace and chimney, or clean out your dryer vents may make you uncomfortable, especially when you have much more to pay for. Maybe to you it makes more sense to spend that hard-earned money on groceries, clothes for the kids, and a new car to get everyone where they need to be. While those things are important as well, do not underestimate the importance of proper fireplace, chimney and dryer care.

Why Use Vented Gas Logs - Aurora IL- Pozzi Chimney SweepWhen searching for the best chimney and dryer specialist, do not be afraid to pay a little extra for a qualified service person. These technicians can actually have certifications in their fields, and hiring a guaranteed expert like this will save you time, money and headaches in the future.

While you may be tempted to by the lowest bidder for the job, installing a fireplace requires technical knowledge that non-certified technicians are not guaranteed to have. Improperly installing a fireplace can lead to serious complication like smoke and toxic fume backup into the home, carbon monoxide poisoning, and unnecessary house fires. For these reasons, spending a little extra upfront on a certified expert will be worth every dollar in the end.

For chimney sweeps and dryer vent specialists, the Chimney Safety Institute of America offers nationally recognized certification. The same reasoning for hiring a certified hearth specialist applies to CSIA certified chimney sweeps and dryer vent specialists. While a non-certified technician may be able to perform the job adequately, there is no way for you to know, meaning your risk the safety of your home and family.

Poorly swept chimneys can create a variety of issues. For instance, obstruction may not be fully cleared, causing improper ventilation, carbon monoxide toxicity and worse. Creosote, a tar-like product of the combustion of wood, also needs to be cleaned out of the chimney. If left to build up, it can cause backup of smoke and fumes into the house and even chimney or house fires.

In addition, a dryer vent specialist will know exactly what needs to be done to keep your dryer system functioning safely, while a non-certified dryer cleaner may make deadly mistakes. Dryer vents need to be fully cleaned of all lint, debris, and even animals at least once every year. If the vent needs to be replaced, it must be installed correctly to avoid gathering lint in bends or damaged sections. The opening to the outside also must function properly to expel the hot air. Failure to do any of these tasks can result in deadly house fires.

If you are ready to hire a certified technician to help maintain your home and safety, get in touch with a professional and ask for proof of certification. If you live in the area of Aurora, Illinois, contact Pozzi Chimney Sweep for a professional consultation.