Fireplace & Chimney Questions: Answered

Our customers often have questions about chimney and fireplace care and repair. This is partially because there’s not a lot of information out there for homeowners, the majority of questions are simply a result of the appliance’s design: most of a fireplace and chimney system is hidden from view. So, while most homeowners are at least somewhat aware of the dangers that can lurk in and around their hearth, there is still a lot to learn and understand about these fascinating structures.

Fortunately, with over 40 years of chimney experience under our belts, we feel confident in our ability to give you the answers you need. We are always more than happy to answer your specific questions personally when you reach out to us, but, we also invite you to check out our list of Frequently Asked Questions.

Q: How Do I Prepare My Chimney Before I Light a Fire?

Glad you asked! We had our owner, Mark Hudson make a simple video showing you the process of building a fire in your home’s wood-fueled appliance.

The most important part of utilizing any wood-burning appliance is properly warming and preheating your flue to avoid what’s called “cold hearth (or flue) syndrome.” Without effectively priming your chimney’s flue before lighting the flame, the appliance may have a hard time drawing the heated exhaust up and out of the system, causing excessive smoke production to draft back inside of your home.

Fortunately, it’s also easy to avoid if you ensure your chimney has been prepared. To do so, simply wad up some newspaper, light the end, and hold it near the damper to encourage the heat to rise. This acts as a sort of kickstarter for the flue to know that the hot air is coming! For any other questions or clarifications, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Q. How Often Should I Have My Chimney Cleaned? 

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and most other top fire and safety organizations in the United States recommend that chimneys, fireplaces, and other vents be inspected and cleaned at least once a year. Both of these services are to ensure overall structural soundness and correct clearances, as well as to diagnose any potential problem areas and remove existing creosote deposits and/or other debris.

While they are quite similar, it is important to keep in mind that chimney cleanings and inspections are, in fact, completely different and separate services. Both are vital for efficient performance and suitable appliance operation as they can reveal the need for any outstanding maintenance or repairs. Plus, organizations such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the American Lung Association all encourage the regular maintenance of home heating systems and their chimneys to keep carbon monoxide “the silent killer” at bay.

Q. I Don’t Use My Chimney Very Often. Do I Still Need To Have It Cleaned? 

Yes. Even if you don’t use your chimney much, you may find that animals have taken up residence in your chimney flue. Other types of deterioration—water damage, crumbling masonry, a deteriorating chimney liner may also be making your chimney unsafe. Plus, an inspection will reassure you that your family is protected from other dangers like carbon monoxide exposure and subsequent poisoning.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends that open masonry fireplaces be cleaned when sooty buildup reaches 1/8”— or sooner if the soot appears glazed. Likewise, factory-built (or prefabricated) fireplaces should also be cleaned on a regular basis so that any fuel buildup does not cause a chimney fire that could damage the system or spread to other parts of your home. Regardless of the specific type of fireplace, insert, stove, or alternative hearth appliance you have in your home, you should have it professionally cleaned and inspected at least once a year. Ask us about establishing a yearly preventive maintenance routine for your system!

Q. There’s Smoke Coming From My Fireplace. Is This Normal?

There are a multitude of reasons for smoky fireplaces. Sometime’s it’s an issue with improper airflow and your chimney isn’t able to draft properly, other times it might just be that you forgot to open your damper. Before panicking, you should first check to make sure that the flue is, in fact, open. If this doesn’t solve your problem, there are a handful of other things that could be going on:

  • Something is obstructing the flue, preventing the exhaust from effectively escaping the chimney
  • Issues with chimney draft and negative air
  • Structural design errors (such as a too-small flue or a too-short chimney)

Whatever the cause, it’s best to have a certified chimney professional inspect your chimney to determine the best course of action – and cease using your appliance until someone has been out to take a look.

Q. My Fireplace Has an Unpleasant Smell, Especially During the Hottest Months of the Year. What Does This Mean?

The smell comes from deposits of creosote which is a natural, yet dangerous byproduct of combustion. While wood-burning systems tend to see greater amounts of the ashy, black substance, gas-fueled fireplaces are not immune. Not only is creosote highly flammable, but when it comes into contact with humidity – something we’re all too familiar with here in Florida – it can produce a noticeable odor.

This unpleasant fireplace smell may also be exacerbated by pressure problems in your chimney – the more air that gets into your system (especially when it is not currently in use), the greater the chance of it mixing with the creosote and stinking up your fireplace. To reduce unnecessary airflow, we might recommend a tight-sealing, top-mounted damper that can stop humidity in its tracks, before it even has the chance to enter the chimney. And while a professional chimney cleaning will go a long way to fix and correct odors, your service technician might also recommend a commercial chimney deodorant to knock out the smell. However, if you’re interested in taking a DIY approach to combat these odors, we’ve heard of homeowners sprinkling baking soda or even cat litter in their firebox with good results.

Q. Does My Gas Fireplace Chimney Need To Be Cleaned & Inspected, Too?

Yes, definitely. Despite gas being a clean-burning fuel, there are other potential problems with these systems, including the potential for debris buildup, birds’ nests, or evidence of other animal entry. We’ve also found that many modern furnaces are installed with incorrectly sized flues designed to work in older models, which can contribute to a host of problems down the line.

When you schedule a gas fireplace and chimney cleaning with Hudson Chimney, you can expect our technicians to give your whole system a good brushing out and looking over of all the parts and pieces. From the pilot light/ignition system all the way to your chimney cap, we’ll ensure that your family and home are safe and protected against dangers like carbon monoxide exposure and chimney fires. After all, what’s the point in even having a convenient gas fireplace if you can’t enjoy it?

Q: What Is the Cost of Chimney Maintenance & Repair Services?

This is probably the most asked question. The easy answer is, “probably not enough.” In fact, our prices have remained largely the same – only increasing slightly over the last few years. Our intention is always to remain right in the middle of the market; some chimney sweeps will charge more and some will charge less. But we keep our prices at a fair and steady rate, so that you can feel enthusiastic about the quality of our work and its affordable price tag and spread the word about our business!

And while we may not have our prices listed on our website, it does not mean we’re hiding them. Transparency and integrity are two of the most important values here at Hudson Chimney and our relationships with customers are important to us. We’re always more than happy to give you more information about a particular service as well as provide you with an approximate estimate once we have a chance to speak with you and learn a bit more. You can reach us through our website or by calling 904-282-4159.

Q: Do You Install & Repair Chimney Liners? Why Are They Important?

We absolutely do! While all the various parts and pieces that make up a chimney are essential for optimal and safe performance, chimney liners are perhaps the most important component of your system. Your chimney’s liner not only makes it easier for the exhaust and other dangerous combustion fumes to smoothly exit your home, but they also work to protect your family and the rest of the chimney structure, too. 

At Hudson Chimney, we’ve got the expertise to know what a damaged, deteriorating, or otherwise unsafe chimney liner looks like, and the right tools to fix it. Whether you’re looking for a high-quality stainless steel liner for one or more chimney flues, or you’re interested in a custom solution, we can help. Check out this page for more information about our relining products and services.

Q: Can You Convert My Existing Fireplace To a More Efficient Model?

Of course we can! Big fans of traditional wood-burning appliances ourselves, we also know how inefficient they’re known to be when it comes to heat production. Fortunately, there are a whole host of different heating appliances – available in a handful of different fuel types – that provide the perfect blend of ambience and functionality.

Distributors of only the best products from the most well-known brands in the industry, we have a large selection of wood, gas, and electric products (including  fireplaces, inserts, and even some stoves) that can drastically improve your fireside experience. Learn more about the hearth products and appliances we sell by visiting our sales page.

Q: What Are Chimney Swift Birds & What Do I Do if I Have Them in My Chimney?

Identified by their cigar-like silhouette, chimney swifts are a species of birds that spend most of their time airborne, until it’s time to nest. Unable to perch like other birds, (due to their aerial nature and long claws) chimney swifts require vertical surfaces for roosting. Once finding respite in hollow trees and caves, deforestation has led these birds to seek shelter elsewhere, finding chimneys particularly suitable for their unique needs.

Because humans have been the leading cause of their natural habitat diminishing, these little birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. So, if you do happen to find one in your chimney – sometime between May and August – you are legally required to leave them be. While a bit of a nuisance if you’re planning to use your appliance, you just have to wait until they fly south for the winter (usually in early November) and then you can plan to have nesting materials removed. To prevent this from happening in the future, the pros here at Hudson Chimney would also recommend investing in a new, quality chimney cap.

Have more questions? Contact Hudson Chimney today through our website or by phone at 904-282-4159.


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