- Dryer Vents – What does Ann Landers say?
- How often should I have my chimney cleaned?
- Do I need my air vents cleaned?
- How can I get more heat out of my fireplace?
- What causes chimney fires?
- What type of wood is best to burn?
- What is creosote?
- What does it mean to be certified?
- What do I get for my money in a chimney sweep?
- What about pellet stoves?
- Is a used wood stove or insert safe?
- What about burning Duraflame type logs?
- What about those chimney cleaning logs?
- My fireplace has cracks in it. Is it safe to use?
- Water and birds in my chimney
Dryer Vents – What does Ann Landers say?
Many of us “aged” persons will remember columnist Ann Landers and her sister “Dear Abby”. Here is a letter in response to dryer vent’s needing cleaning:
From Ann Landers:
Check Those Clothes-Dryer Vents!
Dear Ann Landers:
I’m writing about your recent column regarding clothes-dryer vents and fires. Ann, my husband and I have a company that specializes in cleaning dryer vents, so I am more than familiar with the dangers. Clothes dryers start more residential fires than any other appliance. The Consumer Products Safety Commission estimates that there are more than 24000 dryer fires each year in the United States, causing more than 96 million in property damage. Lack of vent maintenance is leading cause of dryer fires, and lent which is a hidden fire hazard is the material most likely to ignite. Even a cleaned lint screen traps only 75% of the lint. When lint builds up in dryer vents, the dryer motor has to labor harder and can overheat, igniting the lint. It isn’t just clothes-dryer vent hoses that need to be checked, Ann. Clogged lint-screen compartments, disconnected or ripped dryer-vent hoses, smashed hoses behind the clothes dryer, bird nests in dryer vents, poor dryer-vent design, screens placed over the exhaust point, use of white plastic vent hoses instead of aluminum foil ones-all produce the same blockage, and all cause dryer fires. All these fires are preventable. Please get the word out.
S.S in Oceanside, California
Dear Oceanside: The word is out, thanks to you. Because I don’t know much about clothes dryers, I was unaware of this hazard. I now know a lot more than I did. Read on:
From Green Bay WI:
Recently you had an article from a reader about how the lint from clothes dryers could start a fire. When I read that I asked my husband to check the vent hoses. He reluctantly said, “I’ll get to it tomorrow.” Thank God that I was home because the lint in the dryer caught fire before my husband every got to it. Waiting an extra day was almost too late for us. Please tell your readers to get the lint out of their dryers and vent hoses today.
My husband and I are very thankful to the reader who shared her problem about clogged dryer vents. When my husband read that column to me, I decided to check our dryer, I pulled out the hose and much to my surprise, found it was ripped and brimming with lint. We were wondering why it took three cycles before our clothes were even partially dry.
Bless you for printing that information about dryer vents. For months, my clothes had been taking longer and longer to dry. After reading that column, I decided to check the vent. Not only was it clogged with lint, but also the flap at the end was stuck in an almost-closed position. I am grateful to that reader not only for helping me avoid a fire but also for helping me avoid a fire but also for a lower electric bill.
How often should I have my chimney cleaned?
The National Fire Protection Association recommends cleaning your chimney every year. Many local fire departments recommend the same frequency. We take a different approach though for our customers. Those who rely heavily on the fireplace for heat during the winter are recommended to have an annual cleaning. If it is used only occasionally it may be ablbe cleaned every other year. An even better gauge is how much wood you burn. We see buildups that require cleaning usually after about a cord of wood has been burned. Sometimes it needs cleaning before that much has been burned. Another test is to try to write your name in the soot of the walls around the damper. If you can see where you made the mark it is time to have it cleaned.
It is much safer to call us and have a safety check to assess the need for cleaning. If it does not need cleaning you will be told and charged only for an inspection call.
Take a picture of the area at the bottom of the chimney and damper and email it to us and we can tell you right then whether it needs it or not. This is not a guarantee but we can usually tell pretty close.
Do I need my air vents cleaned?
We are often asked if we clean air vents. Due to the many questions we received, we have started a branch called Ables Air Care where we do just that. The air duct division work is mainly handled by George Reed.
I have seen a lot of ambiguity about whether they need cleaning or not. Here is what the experts say in regards to having your heating/air conditioning vents cleaned….This is from the EPA:
Knowledge about air duct cleaning is in its early stages, so a blanket recommendation cannot be offered as to whether you should have your air ducts in your home cleaned. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urges you to read this document in it entirety as it provides important information on the subject.
Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts. This is because much of the dirt in air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living space. It is important to keep in mind that dirty air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities such as cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate mater in air ducts poses any risk to your health.
—-We cleaned one families air ducts in Temple while ago. About a year later I was in a store in Temple and a man walked up to me and identified himself saying we had cleaned his air ducts earlier. He said, “my wife has allergies and since you cleaned the ducts she doesn’t suffer as long as we are in the house. It really helped her out.” So perhaps it does not prevent health problems but I have positive proof it helps alleviate some of them.
You should consider having the air ducts in your home cleaned if:
There is substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface (e.g., sheet metal) ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system. There are several important points to understand concerning mold detection in heating and cooling systems:Ducts are infested with vermin, e.g. (rodents or insects); or
- Many sections of your heating and cooling system may not be accessible for a visible inspection, so ask the service provider to show you any mold they say exists.
- You should be aware that although a substance may look like mold, a positive determination of whether it is mold or not can be made only by an expert and may require laboratory analysis for final confirmation. For about $50, some microbiology laboratories can tell you whether a sample sent to them on a clear strip of sticky household tape is mold or simply a substance that resembles it.
- If you have insulated air ducts and the insulation gets wet or moldy it cannot be effectively cleaned and should be removed and replaced.
- If the conditions causing the mold growth in the first place are not corrected, mold growth will recur.
- Ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.
If any of the conditions identified above exists, it usually suggests one or more underlying causes. Prior to any cleaning, retrofitting, or replacing of your ducts, the cause or causes must be corrected or else the problem will likely recur.
Some research suggests that cleaning heating and cooling system components (e.g., cooling coils, fans and heat exchangers) may improve the efficiency of your system, resulting in a longer operating life, as well as some energy and maintenance cost savings. However, little evidence exists that cleaning only the ducts will improve the efficiency of the system.
You may consider having your air ducts cleaned simply because it seems logical that air ducts will get dirty over time and should be occasionally cleaned. Provided that the cleaning is done properly, no evidence suggests that such cleaning would be detrimental. EPA does not recommend that the air ducts be cleaned routinely, but only as needed. EPA does, however, recommend that if you have a fuel burning furnace, stove or fireplace, they be inspected for proper functioning and serviced before each heating season to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning.
If you do decide to have your air ducts cleaned, take the same consumer precautions you normally would in assessing the service provider’s competence and reliability.
Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts as a means to kill bacteria (germs) and fungi (mold) and prevent future biological growth. They may also propose the application of a “sealant” to prevent dust and dirt particles from being released into the air or to seal air leaks. You should fully understand the pros and cons of permitting application of chemical biocides or sealants. While the targeted use of chemical biocides and sealants may be appropriate under specific circumstances, research has not demonstrated their effectiveness in duct cleaning or their potential adverse health effects.
Whether or not you decide to have the air ducts in your home cleaned, preventing water and dirt from entering the system is the most effective way to prevent contamination
Most people are now aware that indoor air pollution is an issue of growing concern and increased visibility. Many companies are marketing products and services intended to improve the quality of your indoor air. You have probably seen an advertisement, received a coupon in the mail, or been approached directly by a company offering to clean your air ducts as a means of improving your home’s indoor air quality. These services typically — but not always — range in cost from $450 to $1,000 per heating and cooling system, depending on the services offered, the size of the system to be cleaned, system accessibility, climatic region, and level of contamination.
If you decide to have your heating and cooling system cleaned, it important to make sure the service provider agrees to clean all components of the system and is qualified to do so.
If not properly installed, maintained, and operated, these components may become contaminated with particles of dust, pollen or other debris. If moisture is present, the potential for microbiological growth (e.g., mold) is increased and spores from such growth may be released into the home’s living space. Some of these contaminants may cause allergic reactions or other symptoms in people if they are exposed to them. If you decide to have your heating and cooling system cleaned, it is important to make sure the service provider agrees to clean all components of the system and is qualified to do so. Failure to clean a component of a contaminated system can result in re-contamination of the entire system, thus negating any potential benefits. Methods of duct cleaning vary, although standards have been established by industry associations concerned with air duct cleaning. Typically, a service provider will use specialized tools to dislodge dirt and other debris in ducts, then vacuum them out with a high-powered vacuum cleaner.
In addition, the service provider may propose applying chemical biocides, designed to kill microbiological contaminants, to the inside of the duct work and to other system components. Some service providers may also suggest applying chemical treatments (sealants or other encapsulants) to encapsulate or cover the inside surfaces of the air ducts and equipment housings because they believe it will control mold growth or prevent the release of dirt particles or fibers from ducts. These practices have yet to be fully researched and you should be fully informed before deciding to permit the use of biocides or chemical treatments in your air ducts. They should only be applied, if at all, after the system has been properly cleaned of all visible dust or debris.
Note: Use of sealants to encapsulate the inside surfaces of ducts is a different practice than sealing duct air leaks. Sealing duct air leaks can help save energy on heating and cooling bills.
Since conditions in every home are different, it is impossible to generalize about whether or not air duct cleaning in your home would be beneficial.
If no one in your household suffers from allergies or unexplained symptoms or illnesses and if, after a visual inspection of the inside of the ducts, you see no indication that your air ducts are contaminated with large deposits of dust or mold (no musty odor or visible mold growth), having your air ducts cleaned is probably unnecessary. It is normal for the return registers to get dusty as dust-laden air is pulled through the grate. This does not indicate that your air ducts are contaminated with heavy deposits of dust or debris; the registers can be easily vacuumed or removed and cleaned.
On the other hand, if family members are experiencing unusual or unexplained symptoms or illnesses that you think might be related to your home environment, you should discuss the situation with your doctor. EPA has published Indoor Air Quality: An Introduction for Health Professionals and The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality for guidance on identifying possible indoor air quality problems and ways to prevent or fix them.
You may consider having your air ducts cleaned simply because it seems logical that air ducts will get dirty over time and should occasionally be cleaned. While the debate about the value of periodic duct cleaning continues, no evidence suggests that such cleaning would be detrimental, provided that it is done properly.
On the other hand, if a service provider fails to follow proper duct cleaning procedures, duct cleaning can cause indoor air problems. For example, an inadequate vacuum collection system can release more dust, dirt, and other contaminants than if you had left the ducts alone. A careless or inadequately trained service provider can damage your ducts or heating and cooling system, possibly increasing your heating and air conditioning costs or forcing you to undertake difficult and costly repairs or replacements.
EPA does not recommend that air ducts be cleaned except on an as-needed basis because of the continuing uncertainty about the benefits of duct cleaning under most circumstances. EPA does, however, recommend that if you have a fuel burning furnace, stove, or fireplace, they be inspected for proper functioning and serviced before each heating season to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning. Some research also suggests that cleaning dirty cooling coils, fans and heat exchangers can improve the efficiency of heating and cooling systems. However, little evidence exists to indicate that simply cleaning the duct system will increase your system’s efficiency.
If you think duct cleaning might be a good idea for your home, but you are not sure, talk to a professional. The company that services your heating and cooling system may be a good source of advice. You may also want to contact professional duct cleaning service providers and ask them about the services they provide. Remember, they are trying to sell you a service, so ask questions and insist on complete and knowledgeable answers.
To prevent ducts from becoming wet:
Moisture should not be present in ducts. Controlling moisture is the most effective way to prevent biological growth in air ducts.
Moisture can enter the duct system through leaks or if the system has been improperly installed or serviced. Research suggests that condensation (which occurs when a surface temperature is lower than the dew point temperature of the surrounding air) on or near cooling coils of air conditioning units is a major factor in moisture contamination of the system. The presence of condensation or high relative humidity is an important indicator of the potential for mold growth on any type of duct. Controlling moisture can often be difficult, but here are some steps you can take:
Promptly and properly repair any leaks or water damage. Pay particular attention to cooling coils, which are designed to remove water from the air and can be a major source of moisture contamination of the system that can lead to mold growth. Make sure the condensate pan drains properly. The presence of substantial standing water and/or debris indicates a problem requiring immediate attention. Check any insulation near cooling coils for wet spots. Make sure ducts are properly sealed and insulated in all non-air-conditioned spaces (e.g., attics and crawl spaces). This will help to prevent moisture due to condensation from entering the system and is important to make the system work as intended. To prevent water condensation, the heating and cooling system must be properly insulated. If you are replacing your air conditioning system, make sure that the unit is the proper size for your needs and that all ducts are sealed at the joints. A unit that is too big will cycle on and off frequently, resulting in poor moisture removal, particularly in areas with high humidity. Also make sure that your new system is designed to manage condensation effectively.
You may be familiar with air ducts that are constructed of sheet metal. However, many modern residential air duct systems are constructed of fiber glass duct board or sheet metal ducts that are lined on the inside with fiber glass duct liner. Since the early 1970’s, a significant increase in the use of flexible duct, which generally is internally lined with plastic or some other type of material, has occurred. The use of insulated duct material has increased due to improved temperature control, energy conservation, and reduced condensation. Internal insulation provides better acoustical (noise) control. Flexible duct is very low cost. These products are engineered specifically for use in ducts or as ducts themselves, and are tested in accordance with standards established by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Many insulated duct systems have operated for years without supporting significant mold growth. Keeping them reasonably clean and dry is generally adequate. However, there is substantial debate about whether porous insulation materials (e.g., fiber glass) are more prone to microbial contamination than bare sheet metal ducts. If enough dirt and moisture are permitted to enter the duct system, there may be no significant difference in the rate or extent of microbial growth in internally lined or bare sheet metal ducts. However, treatment of mold contamination on bare sheet metal is much easier. Cleaning and treatment with an EPA-registered biocide are possible. Once fiberglass duct liner is contaminated with mold, cleaning is not sufficient to prevent re-growth and there are no EPA-registered biocides for the treatment of porous duct materials. EPA, NADCA, and NAIMA all recommend the replacement of wet or moldy fiber glass duct material.
In the meantime…
Experts do agree that moisture should not be present in ducts and if moisture and dirt are present, the potential exists for biological contaminants to grow and be distributed throughout the home. Controlling moisture is the most effective way to prevent biological growth in all types of air ducts.
Correct any water leaks or standing water.
Remove standing water under cooling coils of air handling units by making sure that drain pans slope toward the drain.
If humidifiers are used, they must be properly maintained.
Air handling units should be constructed so that maintenance personnel have easy, direct access to heat exchange components and drain pans for proper cleaning and maintenance.
Fiber glass, or any other insulation material that is wet or visibly moldy (or if an unacceptable odor is present) should be removed and replaced by a qualified heating and cooling system contractor.
Steam cleaning and other methods involving moisture should not be used on any kind of duct work.
No products are currently registered by EPA as biocides for use on fiberglass duct board or fiberglass lined ducts so it is important to determine if sections of your system contain these materials before permitting the application of any biocide.
Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply a chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts to kill bacteria (germs), and fungi (mold) and prevent future biological growth. Some duct cleaning service providers may propose to introduce ozone to kill biological contaminants. Ozone is a highly reactive gas that is regulated in the outside air as a lung irritant. However, there remains considerable controversy over the necessity and wisdom of introducing chemical biocides or ozone into the duct work.
Among the possible problems with biocide and ozone application in air ducts:
- Little research has been conducted to demonstrate the effectiveness of most biocides and ozone when used inside ducts. Simply spraying or otherwise introducing these materials into the operating duct system may cause much of the material to be transported through the system and released into other areas of your home.
- Some people may react negatively to the biocide or ozone, causing adverse health reactions.
Chemical biocides are regulated by EPA under Federal pesticide law. A product must be registered by EPA for a specific use before it can be legally used for that purpose. The specific use(s) must appear on the pesticide (e.g., biocide) label, along with other important information. It is a violation of federal law to use a pesticide product in any manner inconsistent with the label directions.
A small number of products are currently registered by EPA specifically for use on the inside of bare sheet metal air ducts. A number of products are also registered for use as sanitizers on hard surfaces, which could include the interior of bare sheet metal ducts. While many such products may be used legally inside of unlined ducts if all label directions are followed, some of the directions on the label may be inappropriate for use in ducts. For example, if the directions indicate “rinse with water”, the added moisture could stimulate mold growth.
All of the products discussed above are registered solely for the purpose of sanitizing the smooth surfaces of unlined (bare) sheet metal ducts. No products are currently registered as biocides for use on fiber glass duct board or fiber glass lined ducts, so it is important to determine if sections of your system contain these materials before permitting the application of any biocide.
In the meantime…
Before allowing a service provider to use a chemical biocide in your duct work, the service provider should:
Demonstrate visible evidence of microbial growth in your duct work. Some service providers may attempt to convince you that your air ducts are contaminated by demonstrating that the microorganisms found in your home grow on a settling plate (i.e., petri dish). This is inappropriate. Some microorganisms are always present in the air, and some growth on a settling plate is normal. As noted earlier, only an expert can positively identify a substance as biological growth and lab analysis may be required for final confirmation. Other testing methods are not reliable. Explain why biological growth cannot be removed by physical means, such as brushing, and further growth prevented by controlling moisture.
If you decide to permit the use of a biocide, the service provider should:
Show you the biocide label, which will describe its range of approved uses.
Apply the biocide only to un-insulated areas of the duct system after proper cleaning, if necessary to reduce the chances for re-growth of mold.
Always use the product strictly according to its label instructions.
While some low toxicity products may be legally applied while occupants of the home are present, you may wish to consider leaving the premises while the biocide is being applied as an added precaution.
Manufacturers of products marketed to coat and encapsulate duct surfaces claim that these sealants prevent dust and dirt particles inside air ducts from being released into the air. As with biocides, a sealant is often applied by spraying it into the operating duct system. Laboratory tests indicate that materials introduced in this manner tend not to completely coat the duct surface. Application of sealants may also affect the acoustical (noise) and fire retarding characteristics of fiber glass lined or constructed ducts and may invalidate the manufacturer’s warranty.
Questions about the safety, effectiveness and overall desirability of sealants remain. For example, little is known about the potential toxicity of these products under typical use conditions or in the event they catch fire.
In addition, sealants have yet to be evaluated for their resistance to deterioration over time which could add particles to the duct air.
How can I get more heat out of my fireplace?
There are several ways to get more heat out of your fireplace.
The first and easiest is to buy one of our Heat Shields. These durable 304 stainless steel ‘plates’ go against the back firewall and protect the back from the intense heat. They also project up ton 40% of the heat that normally goes up the chimney back into the room. Our customers love them.
Next in line is our ThermoGrate heater. It is a grate that fits inside your fireplace and you burn your wood on it. As the wood burns the grate which has hollow tubes extracts the woods heat and blows the heat into the room. It will add up to 40,000 BTU’s of heat per hour.Email us to learn more about this product.
These are great for retro fitting an ordinary fireplace and getting maximum heat out of it.
The next step is properly installing a fireplace insert. Not only does a fireplace waste the rooms heat when not in use-even when in use it uses your already heated room air to supply oxygen ton the burning fire. That is why unless you have a super efficient fireplace, the rest of the house and room seem cold when the fireplace is burning. It will replace all the air in a home three times an hour just burning a fire.
What causes chimney fires?
Not all chimney fires are alike. Some are slow-burning fires, lacking the levels of air or fuel found in the large, eye-catching visible fires. But even these have high temperatures that can cause as much damage to the chimney structure and nearby combustible parts of the house as the more dynamic fires.
All chimneys are essentially manufactured in a similar fashion. The by-products of the fire exit upward by convection through the chimney flue. This is generally known as the fire’s “draft.” There are several factors that can lead to a creosote buildup which residents in your communities should be aware of, including:
- Not maintaining a proper temperature inside the flue
- Burning wood that is not dried thoroughly
- Failure to clean the chimney on a regular basis.
The size of the fire, the construction style of the fireplace and chimney and its age will add to the possible extension of the fire.
Let’s talk about what it is like to have a chimney fire.
What’s It Like To Have a Chimney Fire?
It’s no fun. If it doesn’t burn the house down, it will probably wreck your chimney and scare you half to death. Here is how it happens.
Begin with one dirty chimney-let’s say a fireplace not cleaned for a couple of years.In a masonry chimney the soot lining the chimney flue is saturated with flammable stuff called creosote.(More detail on creosote is available in any dictionary.) It doesn’t take much to ignite creosote-a newspaper fire sending flames up the the damper is enough.
Once kindled, creosote burns with joyous abandon. In a matter of seconds the fire spreads up through the flue creating a draft that only helps things along. At this point your average chimney fire begins to roar and howl, sending the occupants of the house running for cover.
If you run, you’ll be treated to a real fireworks show. As the creosote fire builds and intensifies the temperatures can exceed 2100 degrees and melt the mortar between the brick. The red-hot mortar actually drips into the flue, only to be caught up in the tremendous updraft, and these litte fire balls shoot out the chimney and onto the roof. If you’re lucky, the chimney will fall apart destroying one end of the building-if you’re not , this miniature volcano can bring the whole house down.
You are not immune to chimney fires with a metal chimney either. The fire will get hot enough to warp the inner stainless steel liner rendering the chimney useless. The fireballs of melting creosote are catapulted onto the roof as the tremendous draft blows off the chimney cap. If it is a fireplace take above steps. If it is a woodstove shut down any possible air inlets to starve it of air.
If you stand your ground, some chimney fires can be controlled. Put out the fire in the fireplace with an extinguisher or sand.Ccover the opening with a wet blanket, call the fire department, and hope for the best.
But it should be pointed out that having your chimmney cleaned is a lot easier on the nerves than the sand and wet blanket method. And that is where we come in and have been since 1980!!!
What type of wood is best to burn?
More important than what type of wood is the moisture content of wood. If a wood is cut green it needs to age or season before being burned. It is best to cut wood in the early spring or mid winter and let it season until the next heating season. It should be stored in a dry area or at least covered with a water repellent tarp over it so it does not get wet. By keeping the wood dry it will burn a lot better and safer. When wet wood, either green or rain soaked, is burned most of the heat energy is used to first boil the moisture out of the wood. Almost all of this steam sticks to the chimney walls as creosote. Most energy is used to produce the steam and very little heat is given off. Green wood produces copious amounts of creosote laden smoke which will rapidly collect on the walls of the chimney and requires frequent cleanings for safety as it builds up to dangerous levels. So burning wet or green wood dirties a chimney faster than using dry wood. Instead of worrying about the type of wood make sure what ever wood you burn that it is thoroughly dry.
What kind of wood to burn? The kind you have. Seriously. But you will get longer burns using hard wood. The density of the wood is what makes it burn longer. Hard wood is very heavy due to the pores being very dense and close together because usually it is from slow growing trees. Soft wood on the other hand is usually from fast growing trees and filled with loose air pockets in its fibers. It burns rapidly and is of little use in supplying long lasting heat. You will spend most of your time emptying ashes rather than getting warm when using solely soft wood.
Which is which? In this part of Texas we are blessed with very few hard woods. The primary ones in central Texas are oaks, mesquite, elm, pecan and bois d’arc. There may be a few more that are located in isolated spots but these are the more common types. I have to differ with some of the tree experts as they list as hard woods trees like cottonwood, hackberry, ash and sycamore. Those are common trees around here but in the south their wood does not seem to be very dense and are fast burning due to the milder climate which allows for fast growth.
The ashes we have, Texas and Arizona varieties are especially fast growing and seem very different from the northern slow growing trees that baseball bats are made from.
Some of the plentiful but what I call soft woods around here are the evergreens among which are cedars or technically the Junipers. You do not want to burn these because of the resinous pockets in the wood that explode and pop as it burns, spewing hot embers every where including up the chimney.
If you purchase your wood almost all the wood you will be able to find is live oak and mesquite. I suspect if you buy the convenience store wood in a plastic wrapped package you are getting some of the wood I question as being hard wood. Reports say it burns faster and does not build up good coals. That is characteristic of soft woods. Anyway it is very expensive to buy wood that way.
What ever you burn, burn responsibly by drying the wood properly, storing it properly and having your chimney cleaned as needed.
What is creosote?
When wood burns it gives off smoke which is unburned wood particles, tars and acids. This mass is hot and as it exits the chimney it collects on the cooler chimney walls. It can take the form of a very easily brushable compound or a thick gooey tar-like mass or a hard shiny-as-glass coating. The latter two are impossible to remove using ordinary methods.
Stage one is the light easily removed type often referred to as soot. It is the first stage and is a danger but very easily controlled with a regular cleaning schedule. It is still dangerous and must be removed but it is removable.
The second stage is the transition phase between 1st and 3rd degree and has mostly bushable form but is hard to get off in spots.
The third stage is the most difficult to remove and therefore the most dangerous. As wood burns it coats the chimney with creosote. Each new fire heats the bottom layer and adds a new layer and builds up over time if the fire is not hot enough to dry out the layers. In an improperly operated appliance it will build up thick layers. This is fuel inside your chimney waiting to catch on fire if not removed.
The mass can be chipped off risking the danger of cracking a flue tile or treated a number of times and then brushed out when it changes composition. We use a concentrated professional compound called Cre-Away or ACS which is a powder. We coat the chimney and give you the remainder of the bottle and urge you to generously spray into the chimney when you burn a fire. Then after a while and you have used the entire contents we return to clean your chimney.
By that time the creosote usually has changed composition to where it is easily removed. We brush it down and then get it out of the chimney and you are safe once again.
We find 3rd degree buildups in a very small percentage of the chimneys we do. You must get the creosote out or you are risking your family’s safety.
What does it mean to be certified?
To be certified means that we have taken the extra step to stand out in our field. In 1984 Doug Ables was one of the first, if not the first chimney sweep in the state of Texas certified by the Wood Heating Safety Alliance. The WHSA disbanded later and the Chimney Safety Institute of America adopted certification standards and was the only certification authority for years. For small sweep companies it was cost prohibitive to get certifications as you had to appear in person at various East coast sites to be tested.
In the past few years a new more affordable certification procedure using the internet has come on the scene. While the new Certified Chimney Professionals program is growing, Doug and Shandy Ables took the opportunity to get certified with the new program.
One of the benefits for customers is they can know the sweep has gone the extra mile to learn about how to take care of their system. Another benefit is no chimney sweep is able to get certification unless they carry liability insurance which protects his customers.
So when you use Ables Top Hat Chimney Sweeps whether in Copperas Cove, Killeen, Temple or points in between you know you are covered should the unexpected occur.
What do I get for my money in a chimney sweep?
We are often puzzled but amused by customers looking for the cheapest service. As the old adage goes…”You get what you pay for”. And this could not be more true in chimney sweeping. Many, many times we get a return call after another sweep showed up. We have been told too many times…the other sweep didn’t do half what you did. The problem is unlike a car wash where the results can be easily seen, most of our work is done behind walls in areas that you will never see. So you must be able to trust your chimney sweep. Our 36 years of experience instills a great amount of trust in the thousands of happy customers we served. We know because they have told us so. We can wear you out with a list of references if you prefer.
Doug was one of the first, if not the first chimney sweep in the state of Texas to be certified by the Wood Heat Safety Alliance, the granddaddy of in industry certifications. We continue to maintain the knowledge level the certification process intended to instill. While the Wood Heat Safety Alliance is gone Certified Chimney Professionals and Chimney Safety Institute of America have filled the void. We are certified by CCP. We are also the only Texas members of the Midwest Chimney Safety Council, a further effort to show our customers our dedication level. We are the only chimney sweeps ever featured in Texas Monthly Magazine, TV’s Texas Country Reporter, and KWTX’s Emily Wants to Know, Radio’s Sound of Texas,twice as well as featured in the Copperas Cove Leader Press several times, as well as the Killeen Daily Herald and the Cove Daily Herald plus the Temple Daily Telegram. We have been named Best in Central Texas by readers of the Killeen Daily Herald in 2014, 2015, and 2016. We were named the Best in Cove by readers of the Copperas Cove Leader Press in 2016
If you have ever used another sweep-once you see our work and our dedication to educating you about your fireplace you will wonder why it took you so long to call us.
We arrive and introduce ourselves then proceed to drape the area in our black dropclothes. We cover the hearth and the area in front as well as any furniture close by that we can not move.
We bring in our tools and our huge 30 gallon drum vacuum outfitted with a HEPA filter, not a little shop vac outiftted with a drywall filter as some area sweeps use. Our vacuum will filter up to 405 cubic feet of air per minute-enough to filter all of the air in a 1500 sq. ft. home in three minutes! A shop vac is left in the dust compared to our equipment.
The first task is to clean the fireplace and the hearth area inspecting for any problems that need attention. We then devote our attention to the neglected area just above the damper called the smoke chamber. In a masonry fireplace that area is like an inverted funnel and is hard to get to in order to clean it properly. Most area sweeps don’t even bother with this very important area. Not only is it hard to reach but is very filthy and that filth transfers to us when we clean it. So most don’t bother. After all how would you know if they did or not? I would love to be able to not work that hard and leave them but then I could not sleep at night.
It has always troubled me that I was not getting this area as clean as possible. Using tools available I would struggle trying to clean it as best as possible. Then came along new tools that allow us to do it thoroughly and quickly and no longer do we leave this area undone. This is where chimney fires start and if it is not done, your chimney has not been cleaned. It is just that simple.
Cleaning the chimney takes the least amount of time. We run our exact fitting brushes up the chimney and scrub it clean. As the soot falls we make sure the vac hose is situated to where it takes care of the dust so nothing gets past the fireplace. As we sweep we are alert to any thing we feel amiss in your chimney. We also peer into your chimney from the bottom as well as the top to find problems. When it is clean we vacuum off the smoke shelf. Most area sweeps neglect this hard task too because you will never see it so why should they bother removing it? Many times we will see fireplaces and chimneys that have not been cleaned for years and have massive amounts of debris here. As the wind blows down the chimney this dust is stirred up and can blow back into the home. If not the odor will be evident for some time. Sometimes we are unable to get it all off but we take out as much as we can.
Then we work your damper back and forth making sure it works properly and lubricate it and the spark screens with our high temperature lubricating spray. It keeps working when fireplace heat evaporates other lubrication efforts.
Now it is time to talk to you about your fireplace. We tell you what we found and any recommendations we have. We also leave you lots of literature we have developed over the years to explain how your fireplace works and how you can get the most heat out of your fireplace safely.
That is just a sample of what you get when we service your chimney.
What about pellet stoves?
Pellet stoves are a great heating alternative. Using wood pellets is convenient, efficient and cleaner burning. However there are some drawbacks and some of them are severe. The first being you must locate a reliable source of pellets before you purchase one. Pellet stoves are slow to catch on because no one in the area sells the fuel. You must have the pellets shipped in to our local area and that can get expensive quickly. It is much more economical to stick with wood.
I know of two people in our local area who were sold pellet wood stoves and both have the problem of obtaining pellets to burn. the salesmen who sold these stoves need to examine their veracity in my opinion because they know full well about the difficulties in obtaining fuel in this area.
Pellet stoves or inserts are not cheap either. Couple that with the problem of getting fuel in this area and the drawbacks start to outnumber the pluses. Oh and one more thing…it takes electricity to run the auger that feeds the pellets to the fire. So if you lose power, you lose your source of heat. Contrary to what you may hear, pellet stoves still need their chimneys cleaned. If they do not have them cleaned regularly the units will stop working. Granted they do not need cleaning as often as their wood burning counterparts but they do still need cleaning. We suggest if not annually and least every other year. Pellet stoves are very temperamental and require extra care when cleaning. Our suggestion? To save the headaches stay away from them.
Is a used wood stove or insert safe?
From woodsmanpartsplus.com and Originally posted by Don Jordan, National Certified BOCA Local Building Inspector and Mechanical Inspector.
Thursday, April 9, 2009 – Some background: UL testing is for safety, which the newer EPA testing regulates pollution and efficiency. Every EPA stove has to meet high efficiencies (60-80%) and produce very little pollution and creosote. Many earlier stove models operated at 35-50% efficiency and produced dangerous amount of creosote – making chimney fires a common occurrence. In anticipation of complying to the upcoming EPA certification, the late 80 stoves became more efficient.
IMPORTANT: LOCAL CODES AND STANDARDS MAY VARY AND IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE THAT IT IS AGAINST CODE FOR YOU TO INSTALL AN OLDER STOVE THAT IS NOT UL AND/OR EPA TESTED. CHECK WITH YOUR LOCAL BUILDING OFFICIAL.
Woodstove installations require a building permit. Many insurance companies also require UL listing and a certificate of inspection from your local inspections office. In MA and some other states, carbon monoxide detectors are also required as part of the installation.
Based on the above, stoves prior to 1980 are generally eliminated from installation in residential dwellings. Such stoves are likely to need extensive work and parts and advice will be difficult or impossible to find. Just as with vehicles, your best bet is to look for something made within the last 15 years that has not been over fired or otherwise abused.
So what to look for? What questions one should ask and tell tale signs of abused stoves?
Other Questions: How was the stove used? How old is it? Do you have the manual? When was the last maintenance done, and what was done. If a cat stove, when was the cat replaced? Why are you selling? Ask if the stove has been over fired?
Look for brand name stoves, where the manufacturer is still in business. Confirm that the stove is UL labeled. Look for the testing agency and EPA certification. All stoves should have an attached label, although time and use can make them unreadable or they could have burned or fell off.
Remember heat can change the properties of metal. One has to look for metal fatigue. First tell tale sign: look around the stove If you see a whitish color half way up the stove on the sides or back that is an indication of metal fatigue. Rust is another sign of metal fatigue. There is a difference between light surface rust and flaking scale type. Take particular notice if heavy rust or scale like rust exists.
Open up the doors look around are the fire brick cracked or crumbling? A few small hair line cracks are normal, large cracks or bricks powdering are signs the stove was heavily used, but they can often be replaced for a few dollars apiece. Look at the metal – do you see warpage or cracks? Over firing accelerates metal fatigue. If you see any of the above evidence of metal fatigue or over firing, you may want to reconsider the purchase. It might be wise to see if parts are available to replace the fatigued liners or baffles.
Note: Steel and Cast Iron are the most common stove materials. Stoves made of steel are usually welded together as to become one piece, and parts – with the exception of firebricks and gaskets, cannot be easily replaced.
Cast Stoves are built from numerous separate parts which are bolted and cemented together. These parts can often be replaced, but you should check the availability and price. Also, consider whether you are handy enough to do the work yourself. Having a pro rebuild a cast stove can easily run $500 plus parts.
Door Latches and Gaskets
To check for leaks, use the light bulb test. Place a 150-watt light bulb in the firebox and close the door. Walk around the stove looking at all seams, gaskets, and look for light leaks, the light also can highlight a crack you may previously missed Look under the stove in back. If you see light coming out the seams, thats an indication of needing some gasket, furnace cement or possibly a total rebuild (if stove is cast-iron). Light around gaskets means new gasketing is required…an inexpensive fix. With the light removed, employ the dollar bill test to check door seals. Place a dollar bill between the gasketed closed doors If you can pull it out easily without resistance the gaskets need replaced or the door latch needs adjustment. Move the dollar bill around to multiple spots where the gasket contacts the door frame.
At this point if all checks out, you have done your best to determine if you have found a decent wood stove.. Another consideration is to size the stove to the area you are trying to heat. Please read other articles and posts on Hearth.com considering locations and venting issues. If you are hiring a qualified installer, request that he inspect the stove before installation Your life could depend on it. Finally if all goes well you local inspector will approve your stove and installation…
Need more information? Go to the Hearth.com Forums and upload a picture or other information about the model you are considering. One of our many experts will offer an opinion and help.
Can’t be done! According to NFPA 211 Chapter 9 – 9-2.4 :
Solid fuel-burning appliances shall not be installed in any residential garage.
I hope this guide will help potential purchasers from making a costly or potentially deadly mistake.
What about burning Duraflame type logs?
Reports show the Duraflame logs and similar packaged logs found in stores are easy to use but are extremely expensive when used solely and also not safe when used over a long period of time. They do burn hot whixh is good however they are actually sawdust and held together with wax or paraffin. It is the latter part that is the problem. They will soot up the chimney badly in just a short time. You can go much longer between cleanings by burning wood for which fireplaces were made to burn. Sweeps have recommend cleaning chimneys on a monthly basis when using the packaged logs exclusively.
It is perfectly acceptable to cut or tear off small pieces of the logs to start your fires. The ill effects of the log will be minimized by the compliment of wood that the starter is used to ignite. Otherwise use the logs sparingly and save your pocketbook and chimney.
I read on line one person said they were fine for burning as long as you burn a Chimney Sweeping Log to handle the creosote buildup. They are not fine to burn and the Chimney Sweeping Log does nothing to ordinary creosote which is found in 95% of the chimneys we do. It only works on 3rd degree creosote which is rarely found in chimneys and even then its effect is minimal. Our concentrated reactors work quicker and better in attacking this problem.
What about those chimney cleaning logs?
One of my northern chimney sweep buddies made it very understandable. He said using one of those logs is the same as putting toothpaste in your mouth and swishing it around. It won’t do a thing unless you use a toothbrush to scrub your teeth. You can use all the magic potions to clean your chimney you want and they do nothing and if they did where did that creosote go? It still has to come out. A genie did not climb into your chimney and get it out when you weren’t looking.
Another chimney sweep calls himself the “Online Chimney Sweep” and he answers the question much better than I can:
The question is what makes these logs “clean” your chimney and other logs make your chimney dirty. Do they really work?
It isn’t really the logs that are supposed to do anything, it is the chemicals they’re impregnated with, and chemical products that claim to clean or assist in cleaning chimneys are nothing new. In fact, there are actually some chemical products that are used by professional Chimney Sweeps in conjunction with mechanical cleanings. Specifically, in some extreme situations, a chimney can develop third-stage, glaze creosote that is so hard that it cannot be removed by mechanical brushing alone. In these cases, certain liquid (or powdered) chemical catalysts may be sprayed directly onto the glaze to alter its chemical composition, turning it into a brittle or powdery condition so it can be swept out.
From what we’ve read and observed, the “Chimney Sweeping Log” and “Supersweep” products currently being marketed likely contain some sort of similar chemical catalyst. If they do, here’s how they would work: the chemical would be carried up the flue by the rising exhaust gases, where it would deposit on the glaze in dry form and, over the course of several subsequent fires, break it down so it could be swept out.
We have a couple of problems with the marketing of these logs: first, their names are misleading. You might expect a product called The Chimney Sweeping Log or Supersweep to sweep your chimney, or at least perform an equivalent function. The actual claim in the fine print is that the chemical contained might reduce creosote by as much as 60%. Second, we have not found chemical catalysts to be of any use whatsoever on first- or second- stage creosote deposits, which comprise about 90% of the deposits we find in chimneys (glaze deposits are an extremely rare occurance). Third, even if your flue was coated with glaze creosote and the chemical in the chimney sweeping log broke it down as much as 60%, it would still represent a considerable safety hazard until it was physically removed by sweeping.
The Washington Public Fire Educators Association has come to a similar conclusion, and published the following position paper:
Chimney Sweeping Logs:
The use of chimney sweeping logs (and similar products) alone is not an adequate substitute for mechanical chimney cleaning and inspection because it does not provide for the same level of protection to the chimney system.
Each time you burn wood in your fireplace or woodstove, tar and creosote are formed and over time, will build up on the inside of your chimney. This build-up is highly flammable and can ignite causing a chimney fire. To prevent chimney fires, the fire service has long recommended having your chimney cleaned and inspected annually by a licensed professional. But now, a new product called the “Chimney Sweeping Log” has many citizens wondering whether an annual mechanical cleaning remains necessary.
The manufacturer of the Chimney Sweeping Log claims that the product contains “specially developed minerals” that act to reduce deposits of tar and creosote thus reducing the risk of chimney fires. To use the product, you simply place the log in your fireplace or woodstove and allow it burn for roughly an hour and a half. The product’s website boasts that “the burning of a single Chimney Sweeping Log can reduce build-up by up to 60%”.
Washington Public Fire Educators (WPFE) is concerned about these claims. While we won’t dispute what these fire logs will do, we feel that it’s vital to address what they won’t do. If these logs manage to loosen creosote so it flakes off the flue walls as the advertisements claim, where does that creosote go? It either catches fire as it flakes off and increases the potential for a chimney fire through the intense burning, or it falls to the bottom and collects on the smoke shelf, thus causing a future hazard.
WPFE believes that the safest and most effective chimney maintenance is achieved through annual inspections and mechanical sweeping.
The basic task of a chimney sweep is to clean chimneys. The cleaning process includes 1) removing the hazard of accumulated and highly combustible creosote produced by burning wood and wood products, 2) eliminating the build-up of soot in coal- and oil-fired systems and 3) removing bird and animal nests, leaves and other debris that may create a hazard by blocking the flow of emissions from a home heating appliance. In addition to the cleaning, chimney inspections often reveal hidden problems within the structure that could be potentially dangerous such as breaks or breaches in the flue.
Mechanical sweeping of chimneys not only removes layers of creosote from surfaces, it also eliminates the resulting debris from the chimney, fireplace, or woodstove. Many chimneys are not constructed in a straight path from the firebox to the outside. If chimney-cleaning products perform as claimed and cause debris in the chimney to fall, that debris must still be removed from the smoke shelf, baffle, catalytic combustor, or offset in order to ensure a safe and properly functioning chimney.
Here’s what The Chimney Safety Institute of America has to say:
“The use of these products alone is not an adequate substitute for mechanical chimney cleaning and inspection because it does not provide for the same level of protection to the chimney system.”
(The Chimney Safety Institute of America is a non-profit, educational institution focused on the prevention of chimney and venting hazards.)
August, 2004: The US Govt. Weighs In
A Federal Court recently found that the claims by the manufacturer of the “Supersweep” product that the logs removed creosote were false and that the name “Supersweep” was misleading. The Court’s order expressly bars the manufacturer from future use of any of the following claims in connection with their fire log product:
“helps eliminate dangerous creosote in the chimney”
“helps prevent chimney fire”
“aid[s] in the loosening and breaking away of hard, scaly or glazed creosote deposits”
“lowers the combustion point of the creosote and soot deposits in a chimney flue by up to 500 degrees F”
As a result of this ruling, the manufacturer may no longer call the product a “chimney cleaning log.”
Source: Alternative Energy Retailer Magazine
September 14, 2006 – A Consumer Testimonial?
Q: I certainly agree that the log doesn’t replace a certified Chimney Sweep, however after having a new steel liner installed, I now use 2 logs per season, and after burning 4.5 cords of wood only have to have my chimney cleaned once a year instead of twice. You failed to mention that when a steel liner is installed by a certified professional, that the creosote can’t fall on anything, cept into the fireplace. Where it can be placed into a steel bucket and taken away and disposed of. Lets be honest here-the log is a money-saver (1 cleaning per season-instead of 2). Nothing wrong with that!
So, instead of taking a negative view of this product, why not explain to people how it can be advantageous? If used properly, and not as a replacement for a thorough cleaning once a year- especially if your fireplace is up to code.!!!
It seems your closing point is already more than covered in the posts above, but I would like to address your earlier statement that any creosote that falls from the flue would land harmlessly into the fireplace, where it can be removed.
The Sweeping Log manufacturers admit that, at best, only about 60% of the creosote in the flue might dislodge, which, even in that best-case scenario, would leave 40% of the creosote still coating the flue. What if there’s a fire going when the creosote dislodges? Wouldn’t it fall into the fire, where it would likely ignite? Creosote burns at extremely high temperatures (much higher than wood), so wouldn’t the presence of a raging creosote fire in the fireplace increase the likelihood that the creosote remaining in the flue would ignite?
It seems to us that, even if the Sweeping Logs do what they say they can (and the courts and others seem to have their doubts), their effect would be to INCREASE the chances of a chimney fire.
A final point: you mention in your letter that you began using the Sweeping Logs after you had a stainless steel liner installed. Properly sized liners are known to dramatically decrease creosote formation in the flue, so I wonder if the Logs even have anything to do with your less-frequent need for cleaning. None of our chimney cleaning customers with properly lined chimneys need their chimneys cleaned more than once per year, and I’m betting you won’t either – with or without the Sweeping Logs.
January 29, 2007 – Another Consumer Experience
Well, I bought one of these logs and used it in my woodstove. I took down my stovepipe, and it was still full of creosote.
This thing doesn’t work. I might as well have thrown the money I paid for that stupid log in my stove and burned it (maybe the $15.00 would have made the creosote disappear).
All those claims about the creosote sweeping log are bologna. I’ll never buy another one.
Update: February 11, 2008: The Canadian Competition Bureau [Canada’s version of the US Consumer Products Safety Commission] ordered two companies to stop making unsupported marketing claims for their chimney logs and cleaning products.
The watchdog said the companies, which are part of the umbrella group Imperial Manufacturing Group, made performance claims that the fire logs and chimney-cleaning products would reduce creosote. The products were also touted as a method of preventing and eliminating chimney fires. These claims were not supported by adequate testing, the federal agency said.
The products under review included:
The Supersweep Chimney Cleaning Log.
The Imperial Chimney Cleaning Log.
The Kel Kem Chimney Creosote Cleaner.
The Kel Kem Creosote Conditioner.
The companies were ordered to change their marketing promotions and labels and to pay a penalty of $25,000.
“Advertisers have a legal obligation to ensure that consumers are not misled when making their purchasing decisions,” said Andrea Rosen, Acting Deputy Commissioner of the Competition Bureau, in a release.
“Watchdog sends chimney-cleaning product claims up in smoke”
Monday, February 11, 2008
The bottom line: Whether you choose to use products like The Chimney Cleaning Log and Supersweep or not, have your chimney cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney professional at least once a year.
My fireplace has cracks in it. Is it safe to use?
Any fireplace is going to crack but all cracks need to be monitored. This is where our annual or bi-annual maintenance schedule is handy. We note the crack and can watch it to see if it is growing. if it is we might want to patch it to keep you safe. usually cracks in the back of the fireplace on a masonry fireplace means you have trouble with your crown letting water in. We can patch or redo the crown and provide you with a 15 year warranty against other problems.
If we need to we can patch the inside of the fireplace with our special Refractory Cement. Ordinary cement will not do as it does not stand up to the heat. Regular caulking (yes we have seen this done) will not work for the same reason. We use a high solids refractory cement, properly apply it and cure it if it needs to be. If not properly prepared the stuff will fall right back out and be of no use.
When we encounter a problem in a smaller prefab fireplace we recommend replacing the entire back or side panels. they are only about 3/4 to an inch thick and patching does no good. When they need replacing what we recommend is pouring a custom fit heavy duty panel. Others sell light duty replacement panels but in a few years you have the same problem. If the panel failed in the first place doesn’t it make more sense to go with a stouter replacement? We have customers who have used our heavy duty panels going on 5 years and no sign of aging yet.
For protection and extra heat our Heat Shields doa great job. They project up to 40% more heat back into the room.Some users tell us their central heaters do not come on when they have a good fire in the fireplace with their heat reflecting shields in place.
Water and birds in my chimney
Frequently we are asked about rain in the chimney and the answers are varied depending on a lot of factors. Ordinarily rain dripping from the flue is not a good sign. However what kind of chimney you have has a lot to do with whether any damage is being done. First let’s deal with the ubiquitous metal chimneys we find in most newer homes.
These are units called prefabs or pre-fabricated fireplaces. They are factory made to specifications that have been proven to work. They are sealed units usually, especially the newer ones. No animal or bird is able to get in the chimney however when they perch on top of the crown and chirp to tell their friends of the daily news, that chirp hits the bottom of the cap on the chimney and travels down the chimney and out into the room. This makes it sound like a bird is in the chimney. Sometimes scratching can be heard too indicating a pest is trying to get the screen off and enter the chimney. Squirrels are very good at ripping the screen on an older cap and making their way in to the chimney. Raccoons also can shred a cap and get in if they have a mind to. But unless you hear a scratching and a thud, then smell something dead days later-rarely has anything entered your chimney.
Some of the older prefab fireplaces are a different story. They have open air chambers at the top where birds and small animals can get into and cause problems. We have found this on a few visits. What happens is there is the chimney where the smoke exits and that chamber is is surrounded by one or two air chambers that work to cool the chimney by drawing cool air into the outer chamber surrounding the hotter inner wall. This is what is called an air insulated chimney and the cooling process is by thermo-siphoning. The chambers are only about an inch wide and difficult for anything but a small bird or animal to get into. Once inside they fall to the bottom and land on top of the unit. You will not see it as the outer wall is enclosed and does not allow you to see what is there. Once anything gets in to the chamber it is extremely difficult to get it out. Some sweeps brag about being able to lower a big treble hook down the chamber and snag the culprit and retrieve it. As many times as I have tried to do this and failed I think this bragging is more wishful dreaming than fact. I have spent hours trying and never been successful. That is not to say that if you have the time to stand on top of your chimney and dangle a cord with a hook on the end of it for a few hours that you won’t be successful.
I also surmise that if one was able to remove the front grill you could try to gently lift the outer section up and remove the offender but that is harder than it sounds. We have found it more expedient to try to forget about the matter and let the offender rot until the smell is gone. The air does not enter the home as it is siphoned up and out the chimney and only minimal odor is detected USUALLY. And that is all I have to say about that.
Water in a masonry chimney is another matter. Unlike metal, the masonry will absorb the rain. Perhaps you had a severe rainstorm and water poured in your chimney through the damper. In most cases of water in a masonry chimney the problem can be traced back to a missing cap. Most people think a cap is only used to keep out pests, i.e. birds and squirrels, etc. That is part of the reason but the main reason is to keep out rain. The live critters are pests but the rain is destructive. Left uncapped the rain down the chimney will rust out dampers, making them inoperable over time and with metal fireboxes it can rust them completely out. We see several old fireboxes that are buckled in the middle because of the continual water bath during rain storms that erode the metal. Then a hot fire will stress the back firewall which becomes wavy due to heat stress. If left long enough the damage can be to the point of needing to have the firebox replaced, which is not an easy chore. Brickwork will have to be removed to gain access and a horrible mess will follow. All this can be avoided with a cap and correct crown maintenance.
Chimney crown repair is a vitally important area. Rain will also enter cracks in the crown. A masonry crown is usually just left over mortar used by masons because it is already mixed and easy to use. Problem is this material will only last 5 to 7 years before repairs are needed. It will start to crack and allow water to run into the chimney chase….the area surrounding the chimney flue. Most chimney crowns over time will crack at every corner outward to the edges. Codes require a break between the crown and the flue tile which we fill with clear silicone. Rarely do we find that. As the fire burns the tile expands and tends to crack the mortar if it has been packed against the tile. When we find a cracked chimney crown we repair it with long lasting CrownCoat if it in a repairable state. This gives the chimney a 15 year warranty against failure. If it is totally shot we can rebuild the crown with a product called CrownSaver which has a waterproofer and fiber in it which tends to delay the inevitable cracking. This carries a 10 year warranty.
Another unseen problem with water down the chimney is it mixes with the flyash and turns into a strong acid much like lye. Lye was used by many of our grandmothers to make soap. How did they do it? Mix water with fireplace ashes and let it sit for a while. The caustic liquid would eat through dirt easily after it has rested awhile. The fresh mix will also eat through mortar in the fireplace and over time will leave the fireplace just brick on brick with nothing holding it together. We have seen many fireplaces this way. If caught early enough it can be rebuilt by a competent brick layer but sadly many times it is too late and major restoration is in store to bring the fireplace back into good working order. More about firebox repair can be found here.
Another place water can enter is at the point where the chimney meets the roof. This area is flashed, usually with metal and then caulked with a tar like substance as an added benefit. As the chimney ages the tar cracks and the metal deteriorates leaving the gaping holes which allow water to get in.