Apr 252013
 

This archive of articles includes information about our products and services as well as descriptions of chimney parts, basic chimney use and safety instructions, and common chimney problems.

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  • TSR (Creosote Remover)

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Dec 012014
 

morguefile-christmastreeandfireplace-sm

Holiday decorations traditionally center around the warm, glowing aura of the fireplace.  A garland wreaths the mantelpiece, and a Christmas tree sits right beside, while the family appreciates the warm collective glow of lights, candles, and the fire.

Please be careful during the holiday season!

    • When choosing a spot to place your Christmas tree, keep space between it and your fireplace or stove.  Most fireplace manufacturers recommend that combustibles (like your tree) be kept at least three feet away from the sides of the fireplace, and at least five to ten feet away from the front.
    • Make sure your artificial tree has a “fire resistant” label. All manufactured trees will burn if exposed to sufficient heat, but trees labeled as fire resistant will resist catching fire longer, and extinguish faster, than those that are not.
    • If you have a live tree, keep its water reservoir full to keep as much water as possible flowing through the tree. The dry heat in our homes dries live trees out fast, and dry wood is, of course, extremely combustible.
    • Don’t let combustible decorations like garlands or stockings hang too close to the fireplace opening.  Hot air rises right out of the fireplace and moves up the wall.  The underside and front of the mantelpiece can become very hot!
    • Don’t burn wrapping paper or cardboard boxes in your fireplace or stove. The inks can contain chemicals which the fireplace is not hot enough to properly burn.  Also, these materials can burn too quickly and too hot for some prefabricated fireplaces to contain.
    • Use common sense with candles and other open flame: do not use them unattended, burn them only on a stable surface, do not put them in your Christmas tree, keep pets and small children away from them, and do not burn them completely down.
    • If you hang Christmas lights, follow the manufacturer’s directions.  Do not use light strings with worn-out cords or missing bulbs, and don’t overload power outlets.  Consider upgrading to LED light strings, which do not burn as hot as the old filament style bulbs, and use less energy into the bargain.
    • Be careful with portable heaters and other heat-generating items.  Keep them away from draperies, upholstery, and other flammable materials, and do not run them unattended.

The National Fire Protection Association has a great page on winter fire safety.  Visit it here!

Nov 152014
 
Our custom glass doors from Design Specialties!

Our custom glass doors from Design Specialties!

Glass fireplace doors are a popular option for fireplaces of all kinds, including masonry fireplaces and prefabricated fireplaces.  Wood burning fireplace inserts and wood burning stoves have doors with glass windows in them.  Direct-vent gas fireplaces and direct-vent gas inserts have solid glass fronts.  These doors and fronts use a special, heavy-duty glass which is designed to withstand the repeated heating and cooling experienced by a fireplace as it is used.

On the outside of the glass (facing the room), fingerprints and dust can build up as on any other window.  On the inside of the glass (facing the inside of the firebox), byproducts of combustion (such as soot and other chemicals), or the residue from condensation (water in the air collecting on the glass when the temperature inside the fireplace differs from the temperature in the room) can accumulate.  These substances can block your view of the fire, damage the glass, and can sometimes be combustible.  Typically, fireplace glass doors or fronts need to be cleaned once a year, but heavily used fireplaces may need to be cleaned more often.

To clean your traditional fireplace’s decorative glass doors, your wood burning stove or insert’s glass window, or your direct vent gas fireplace’s glass front:

  • The fireplace should be allowed to cool down completely before cleaning.  Gas fireplaces and appliances should not be cleaned while they are running.
  • Be sure to wear gloves and/or eye protection, depending on the cleaner you are using (check the instructions).
  • Keep children and pets a safe distance from your work area.
  • Check the instructions for your prefabricated fireplace or gas appliance to be sure the cleaner you plan to use is appropriate for the appliance.  Using the wrong cleaner can void your warranty!
  • Do not use abrasive cleaners or scrub pads, which can damage the glass.  There are special products available specifically designed to clean fireplace glass.
  • You may need to remove the metal surround of the fireplace to get at the glass front, especially in a direct-vent gas appliance.  The surround usually lifts off without tools.  Your appliance manual or manufacturer web site can illustrate this process for you.

If you see black, sooty deposits on the glass of a gas-burning fireplace, insert, or appliance, this is an indicator that the gas burner in your fireplace is not functioning correctly, and is not completely burning the gas.  Do not use the fireplace, and get it serviced right away.

If you see cracks in the glass, this means that the glass structure is weakening.  This happens over time as the glass expands and contracts due to heating and cooling.  If your prefabricated fireplace doors have cracks, get them replaced as soon as possible, as they may shatter if heated.  If your direct-vent gas fireplace or insert has a cracked glass front, do not use the appliance, and be sure to get it serviced soon.

A grayish coating of ash on the inside of a wood stove or wood burning insert door is normal.  Brush the glass clean (a plain paper towel or a dry paint brush will do) once a week or so to keep the caustic chemicals in the wood ash from permanently etching the glass.

If you replace the glass doors, window, or front on your fireplace, stove, or insert, be sure to use manufacturer-approved replacements.  Improper replacement materials can void the warranty and cause severe damage to the appliance.

Aug 292014
 

squirrel - morguefileThe tops of chimneys are actually inviting places if you are a curious squirrel.  They are shady and protected from most predators, and can be cool in the summer and warm in winter.  Sometimes squirrels just wander in inadvertently and leave on their own after a bit; other times they can become so happy in your chimney they move in permanently!

Squirrels, and other animals that visit chimneys, such as owls, raccoons, skunks, and foxes, can carry diseases, or parasites such as fleas, which they can pass on to humans or pets.  They can also bring nesting material, which is flammable, into the chimney space — this can block the chimney or potentially catch fire, causing major problems.  If you have a squirrel in your chimney, it needs to be removed as soon as possible!  You can:

Make Some Noise

If you have fireplace doors or a screen, close them.  If you do not have fireplace doors, hang a sheet over the fireplace or cover the opening with a sheet of heavy cardboard.  Stand next to the fireplace and bang pots or clap your hands to encourage the squirrel to leave.  If you only hear the animal occasionally, try leaving a radio on in the room or some other source of noise to discourage the squirrel from staying when it visits.

If the animal is in the fireplace flue, keep your damper closed!  This will make it more difficult for the animal to get into your house, and encourage it to leave out of the top of the chimney.

Make an Escape Route

Make sure your new friend can get out of the chimney.  If you’re comfortable climbing on the roof, you can try hanging a 3/4″ or thicker rope down the chimney flue from the top to give the squirrel a big, obvious, and easy route out of your chimney.  (The inside walls of prefabricated chimney flues are very smooth, and hard for a squirrel to climb, at least compared with a rope.)

If you are not comfortable on the roof, do not get on the roof!  You have other options.

Make a Trap

If the squirrel cannot or will not leave the chimney, you can try live-trapping it.

  • First, close all the interior doors to the room so that even if the squirrel gets out into the room it cannot enter the house.  Then open one or more windows in line of sight with the chimney, so that if the squirrel does get loose in the room, it can see a way out into the yard.  (You never know, it might take it!)
  • Bait a live trap (you can borrow one from a local shelter or Animal Control sometimes) with peanut butter.  Carefully and quietly open the fireplace doors, and cautiously move the live trap into the firebox without startling the squirrel.  Close the doors and leave the room for a while to give the squirrel time to explore the trap and hopefully trigger it.
  • If you manage to trap the squirrel, congratulations!  Release it outdoors.  Do not stand in front of the door as you open the trap, to give the squirrel a clear path to freedom.

Make a Call

Sometimes it is not possible to remove a squirrel from a chimney yourself.  Sometimes they just don’t want to leave, no matter how good the bait in your trap.  Animals can also be caught behind parts of a prefabricated (non-masonry) fireplace and chimney.  If you hear constant noise but the fireplace and flue are clear, call a chimney professional.  An animal may be trapped between the prefabricated fireplace unit and the outside (brick or siding parts) of your chimney.  This animal can likely not get out on its own.

If you have a squirrel roaming your chimney and cannot trap it or encourage it to leave on your own, call an animal removal specialist.  (Here’s a great guide on choosing one, from the HSUS.)

If you have a raccoon, raptor (owl), bat, snake, or other potentially dangerous animal in your chimney, you may wish to call an animal control specialist.  Bats are strong potential carriers of rabies.  Raptors are often protected species.  Raccoons are fast, and can be aggressive and hard to handle — they can also cause major damage if they get loose in the house!  These animals can require special permits or equipment to deal with.  Play it safe and call a professional.

Also remember that chimney swifts are a protected bird species, and cannot be pestered or removed from a chimney until they leave on their own.  If you find chimney swifts in your chimney, enjoy them — they are eating their own weight in mosquitoes almost every night — and, once they are gone:

Cap Your Chimney

Once your new friend has gone or has been removed, make sure your chimney has a secure cap and/or chase cover.  These items protect the chimney flue from rain and also prevent animals climbing down inside the chimney.  Be sure to purchase a cap intended for use with your chimney type (prefabricated vs. masonry).  Prefabricated chimneys have strict cap requirements, and not following them can lead to voiding the manufacturer’s warranty.  Consult a chimney professional, who can suggest a cap for you, and install it as well if you like!

May 272014
 

What Is Creosote?

cap clogged with creosote P9100141

Chimney cap and flue clogged with creosote.

When wood burns, the carbon in the wood turns to carbon dioxide and floats up the chimney.  Other substances in the wood do not burn.  They are carried aloft by the heated air and are deposited on the chimney walls as the air carrying them cools.  Creosote is a tarry, black byproduct of burning wood.  Creosote is a shiny, difficult-to-remove substance which forms hard deposits.  (Soot, a related substance, is a powder-like form of carbon.  It is created through incomplete combustion of wood.)

If a chimney is not regularly swept, creosote (and soot) build up on the walls of the chimney in thickening layers.  This can make the chimney smell bad, as creosote smells awful when wet.  Creosote buildup can even block the chimney flue, making it difficult for the chimney to vent.  This can lead to a buildup of toxic gases (such as carbon monoxide) in the home when the fireplace is used.  Creosote is also flammable.  Large creosote deposits can ignite and cause a chimney fire.

How Do You Remove Creosote?

Creosote, soot, and other deposits should be cleaned from your chimney annually, at the end of the burning season, to keep your chimney and fireplace in top working condition.  The easiest way to clean your chimney is to have a chimney sweep clean it for you!  They have the tools and equipment required to deal with the tight spaces and potentially toxic chemicals found inside a chimney.  The best chimney sweeps are certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

How Do I Prepare For A Chimney Sweep?

  • Do not use the fireplace for 24 hours prior to the sweep, to let the area cool down.  Masonry inside fireplaces can store heat for a long time — even if there is not an active fire burning, the chimney and fireplace can still be hot.
  • Move furniture and other items away from the fireplace.  Our technicians need about 6′ of space in front of the fireplace to use their equipment.  Don’t worry about dirt — we have a no-mess guarantee.
  • On the day of the sweep, keep children and pets away from the room the fireplace is in.  This is for their safety and ours!
Mar 302014
 

Your chimney, fireplace, wood stove, or other appliance has been working hard all winter.  Now that the weather’s starting to warm up, it’s tempting to forget about it until next year.  But don’t!  Spring is a great time to get your chimney flue inspected (and swept, if necessary) by a certified chimney sweep.

Stop Bird And Animal Invasions Before They Happen

Bats roosting under a chase cover.

Bats roosting under a chase cover.

Get your chimney inspected before nesting season and you will be able to block off holes or install a new cap before a happy family of birds or animals moves into your chimney!  The dark, quiet interior of a chimney flue is highly attractive to a variety of animals, including raccoons, bats, and birds, including the federally protected chimney swift, which, once it has entered a chimney, cannot be removed or bothered until it has left in the fall!  These animals can be loud or destructive and some can carry diseases or fleas.  Nesting material is flammable and can even block the chimney, causing other potential hazards.

Make sure critters never even get a chance to move in by ensuring all routes of entry are properly secured.  Your chimney sweep can make sure your chimney cap is secure and in good condition, and that there are no holes in your chimney chase to allow animal or bird entry.  The time is now!

Waterproof Before The Summer Rains

This moss-covered chimney needs some attention before facing another winter!

This moss-covered chimney needs some attention before facing another winter!

Your chimney has just lived through a long, cold winter.  Repeated freezing and thawing in cold weather can lead to cracks or deterioration, especially in a masonry chimney.  This can create holes through which water can travel.

Masonry chimneys also take on water if not waterproofed.  Brick is like a sponge!  If not protected from water entry, your chimney can crack, deteriorate, or even become a surprise rooftop “garden” of moss and other opportunistic (and flammable) plants.

Make sure your chimney is inspected and waterproofed (if necessary) before fall, and it will be ready to face the winter again with you!

Install Early: Get A Head Start On This Fall

Spring and summer are great times to install new appliances in your chimney and fireplace.  Been wanting a wood stove to help reduce your heating bills?  Looking to move from wood to gas?  Need to repair a damaged chimney flue liner?  Make use of the gorgeous weather (and any “summer specials” offered by your chimney sweep) to get your repair or install done painlessly.  Don’t be part of the big fall rush — get your work done before everyone else and you can be enjoying your new or repaired fireplace even on those first chilly days of fall.

Jan 302014
 

Check us out in this news article from WTVQ in January, 2014.  That’s our service manager, Blake Giles, giving some good advice!

Wood stove inserts can be great additions to your fireplace and home.  However, due to the extreme amount of heat they can put out, it is imperative that they be installed properly.  Improperly installed inserts are a potential cause of damaging house fires.

Barnhill Chimney, as well as the Chimney Safety Institute of America, recommend that all fireplaces, whether they have an insert installed or not, be inspected annually by a certified chimney sweep.

Jan 162014
 

One of the time-honored rites of summer is the ritual of the backyard barbecue: gather friends, family and food and roast up some old-fashioned (and tasty!) fun.  You have several options when selecting an outdoor grill.

Choosing The Right Fuel

Barbeque grills can use several different kinds of fuel, including wood, charcoal, natural gas or propane.  Barnhill Chimney, Fireplace, and Grill carries several brands spanning the full spectrum, for our Lexington, Kentucky, and surrounding area clients:

24NPAmerican Outdoor Grills (AOG), made by RH Peterson, run on natural gas or propane.  These high quality stainless steel grills come in post-style (bolted in place on your deck or patio or fixed in your lawn), or a portable, wheeled style.  They can also form the focal point of a beautiful outdoor kitchen!  Natural gas or propane BBQ grills have the benefit of instant startup — no waiting for the charcoal to light — and cook very quickly.

Primo XL Grill with Teak Table and extended racks.

Primo grills, which are American-made ceramic BBQ grills, are fueled by charcoal.  These grills can be fit onto wheeled mounts or even big beautiful wooden racks for a complete grilling experience.  Their heavy ceramic walls hold heat and allow them to cook very evenly from every angle.  They can even cook pizza with the aid of a pizza stone!  They require waiting for the charcoal to warm up, but the charcoal (and special wood blocks which can be added to the charcoal) can add a wonderful flavor to the food.

grill-wnk4-01Modern Home Products (MHP) grills, also made in America, come in natural gas and propane varieties and even infrared and hybrid models for amazingly fast, intense heat on demand.

Choosing The Right Size

Casual chefs may wish to investigate the smaller, portable models of grill, which can be used in small spaces, take less time to heat up, use less fuel, and cost less.

The right size is important: of course, larger grills can cook more food at once, so when you are serving large groups of people, some do not end up waiting for their burger after everyone else has been served.  Grill sizes are generally measured in square inches of grilling area.  It is a good idea to have approximately 100 square inches of grilling area per person being served.

Gas grills are sometimes sized by number of burners.  While more burners on a gas grill means more cooking space, it also means that the grill uses fuel faster.

Those who do not have natural gas service to their home may select a propane grill, which runs on propane canisters which can be purchased at local retailers and traded in when empty.  Those with natural gas service may choose to install a grill wired directly into their gas supply, so they will never run out of fuel.

Choosing the Right Material

Outdoor grills can be made of ceramic, sheet steel, stainless steel, cast iron or cast aluminum.  Ceramic grills are designed to hold heat in their walls for all around heating.  Cast iron grills provide more even heating but must be cleaned after each use.  Stainless steel grills can be almost maintenance-free.

Building Your Outdoor Kitchen

aog_built-in_lifestyle_lgAmbitious chefs can build an entire outdoor kitchen around a built-in model of natural gas or propane grill, including outdoor refrigerators, extra drawers and storage space, additional gas or infrared burners, lights, seating, and more — even a fire pit, a gazebo, or a roof to make your outdoor cooking space extra special.

Both natural gas and propane grills and grills fueled by charcoal or wood can cook food evenly and quickly, sear juices into meat, roast vegetables or potatoes, and can be used to make wonderful, healthful meals for your family.

Barnhill Chimney, Fireplace, and Grill can help you with your outdoor kitchen, from planning stages to installation.

Oct 102013
 
Legend Hammered Edge with "Napa Valley" design in Black Copper Edge

Design Specialties custom design: Legend Hammered Edge with “Napa Valley” design in Black Copper Edge

Custom glass fireplace doors can be a great, cost-effective way to improve the appearance of your fireplace.  Doors can be custom cut to fit almost any fireplace.

Glass fireplace doors have a variety of uses:

  • They can beautify older fireplaces which have soot staining or other cosmetic deterioration.
  • Glass doors can function as a partial damper in fireplaces where the damper is damaged and adding a new one is not an option.  This helps reduce heat loss up the chimney in winter.
  • Fireplace doors can help reduce “smoke migration”, where two fireplaces share a chimney, and smoke from one fireplace is drawn down the other flue and appears in the other fireplace.
  • They can reduce heat output, which can help to prevent overheating a small room.
  • Doors or a screen can help keep children or inquisitive pets away from the fire.

Prefabricated fireplaces can be difficult to fit with glass doors due to the need to not block any air inlet openings which may be around the front of the fireplace.  These openings allow air into the firebox to cool it, and must not be blocked.

Direct vent fireplaces often come with their own custom fronts and doors, but these are often simple and matte black, to match most decor.  Direct vent fireplaces can be retrofitted with all sorts of custom glass doors to make your fireplace look exactly like you want it.  Want a huge, towering dungeon fireplace with cast iron doors?  Want a delicate, country look with laser-cut vines and flowers?  A hunting scene?  Something unobtrusive and modern in sleek brushed nickel or polished brass?  Glass fireplace doors are truly custom — you can make your fireplace look exactly how you’ve always envisioned it.

Barnhill Chimney, Fireplace and Grill carries glass fireplace doors by Design Specialties.  Stop in to our showroom to see some of these doors up close and hear about what we can do for your fireplace!

Jul 172013
 

Due to the porous nature of masonry, some smoke residue is always present in a masonry chimney.  Chemical residue from wood smoke actually penetrates the masonry and remains inside it even after the most thorough sweep.  This is not necessarily a hazardous condition, but it can cause odor.  In dry conditions no smell may be noticeable.  In humid conditions, or in the event of a leak, the chemical residue mixes with water also present in the masonry.  This interaction can “free” more odor molecules, producing a noticeable smell.

There are multiple options for reducing chimney odors.  The easiest method is to reduce the amount of air being drawn down the chimney flue and into the house.  Being certain the damper is closed is the first step.  Installation of a top seal damper, which closes the flue from the top (instead of at the throat, like a standard damper), can also minimize water entry into the flue and keep the air in the flue less humid.

As in the refrigerator, a packet of baking soda can reduce odors in the fireplace itself, or there are “fireplace deodorants” available which perform a similar job.  Putting a dehumidifier in the room may help.  We have had clients have success putting decorative candles (with the damper open!) in the fireplace to heat up the air in the flue.  This causes the natural chimney draft to draw air up out of the flue instead of into the house.  (This works better in cold weather.)

In some fireplaces, airtight glass doors can be installed to further seal the fireplace off from the house.

Other appliances (often central air conditioning, but also dryers, built in vacuums, or even stove exhaust fans) may also be causing air movement in the house, which may be drawing air down through the chimney, exacerbating the smell.  A top seal damper will help with this; depending on what appliance is causing the air movement, installation of an attic fan or a basement air intake may also help to reduce the amount of air being drawn down the flue.

For maximum water entry prevention on any masonry chimney, we recommend installation of a full size chimney cap (which covers the entire top of the chimney to exclude water); application of an elastomeric sealant to the crown; and application of a breathable masonry sealant to the masonry body, or chase, of the chimney.  These three installations work together to significantly reduce water entry to the chimney, and minimize odors caused by moisture.  (They also greatly prolong the working lives of masonry chimneys!)