Chimney Service FAQs – Common Chimney Sweep Questions
How long have you been in business? 
Affordable Chimney Sweeps has been serving the North East of Massachusetts and Southern & Eastern New Hampshire since 1999 and has provided a high level of service and quality to tens of thousands of families.

Are all Chimney Sweeps equal?
No. Just because someone says that they are a Chimney Sweep it does not mean that they are qualified. The chimney industry is not regulated by the government, but we do have professional industry standards that are certified by the CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) and the NCSG (National Chimney Safety Guild). When we are talking about such a critical area of service to help keep your family and home safe, it does not make sense to take chances. Make sure you ask for proof of certification from the individual that is actually doing the work. Affordable Chimney Sweep’s technicians are Truly CISA Trained & Certified and fully insured in the event of an accident. Many companies claim to be certified but aren’t. You can view their credentials at www.csia.org. The chimney industry is plagued with people who buy a van and some brushes and call themselves a CSIA Certified Chimney Professional. These so called chimney sweeps offer extremely low prices, but actually deliver an inferior and unsafe quality of work and in most cases, cost the homeowner much more money for fraudulent repairs than what was actually needed.

The other obvious thing to insist on is that the company that you hire is fully insured. Don’t be afraid to ask these questions of your chimney sweep company! At your request we will provide Worker’s Comp and Property Liability Insurance Certificates before we start the job. With Affordable Chimney Sweeps, you will rest easier knowing that you invited a fully qualified, insured and certified chimney sweep into your home. Our A rating with the Better Business Bureau should also set your mind at ease.

When should I have my chimney inspected or cleaned?
According to the National Fire Protection Association, chimneys should be inspected or cleaned annually. The chimney and fireplace / furnace system is quite complicated and an inspection can alert you to a potential problem before it becomes a costly repair or a safety or fire hazard. Many times homeowners are unaware of problems that may exist inside a chimney as it is out of side and out of mind. There are 3 levels of Chimney Inspections that can be done depending on each individual case. We offer our loyal customers a “Discounted Price” if they forward schedule their Level 1 Inspection or Chimney Cleaning for the months of May, June and July of each year before you begin using the chimney or furnace during the heating season. Another important time to schedule an inspection is if you have changed to a new furnace or appliance or if you have just purchased the home and want to be sure about the condition of the chimney system.

How is my chimney cleaned? Will there be a mess?
ALL Lead Chimney Sweep Technicians at Affordable Chimney Sweeps are CSIA Certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Our technicians follow specific guidelines and procedures that guarantee a thorough and professional job. Our technicians wear our uniforms and will have the CSIA badge with their name and registration number visible. We will put down clean floor coverings around your fireplace or woodstove and will always clean up the work areas. Our specialized equipment and HEPA filtered vacuums will prevent any soot or dust from escaping and entering your home. The chimney is always cleaned from the bottom, reaching the firebox, smoke chamber, damper, smoke shelf, and flue liner. It also allows us to contain any soot from escaping.

Our qualified technicians will also perform a courtesy Level 1 Inspection from the area of the cleaning was performed after the chimney cleaning and we will notify you if something is not right such as a potential safety or fire hazard. We will never do any additional repairs or work not scheduled without the customers permission, but it is our duty to report on any deficiencies in the system.

What is Creosote and why is it dangerous?
The CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) recommends that masonry chimneys should be cleaned when ¼ of soot is built up and when creosote is present. Factory built insert fireplaces can actually become a hazard with a much thinner build-up on the inside lining walls.  Either type can reach dangerous levels after burning as little as a cord of wood or depending on how you use your appliance. Some people use their woodstoves as their primary source of heat and will have the need to have their chimney cleaned more often than those who use it seldom. So your cleaning schedule may end up being 1 or 2 times per year. The technician at your home will ask you several questions and will make a recommendation of how often you should have it inspected and cleaned if necessary. If you don’t have a chimney cap on top of the chimney there is always the chance that animals have built nests during the summer that can form a blockage or things like leaves can accumulate during the Fall.

Natural gas is cleaner than wood, but the fumes actually create more water vapor than wood burning fires. This means more condensation in the chloride containing fumes, which can create a hydrochloric acid coating on the furnace flues. This is a highly corrosive agent and these systems should be checked at least once a year.

How often should my chimney be cleaned?
This depends on the age of your home, the condition of your chimney, the type of wood (green is the worst) and the weather. Mild winters cause more problems than cold ones. The rule of thumb is if you use wood, it’s good to have the chimney cleaned and inspected once a year as you have actual fires inside the chimney. If you use your chimney every day then every cord of wood the chimney should be cleaned and inspected. As for oil flues, especially if there’s a ventilation problem- need to be inspected and cleaned each year in order to avoid chimney blockage. Problems in the furnace or boiler can cause highly sooty conditions in the chimney. Even though natural gas is a clean-burning fuel, today’s high-efficiency gas furnaces create special problems. The fumes that are produced are cooler and produce higher levels of water vapor than previous models. This vapor in turn produces more water condensation. These vapors also contain chlorides from house-supplied combustion air which combine to form hydrochloric acid. The acid-water condensates from these latest natural gas furnaces cause more flue deterioration than previous models. It’s important to check the chimneys that vent these systems at least once each year.

How long does a chimney cleaning take?
Our chimney cleanings also include a level one inspection. The average home takes approximately 45 minutes per flue cleaning and level one inspection. There are times that a cleaning may be done sooner than this such as a zero clearance fireplace as there are less parts to remove to clean. On the other end of the scope, some wood stove inserts can take from an hour to two hours depending on if the wood insert is lined all the way to the top or not. When they are unlined, the insert may need to be removed to insure that all of the creosote that rests on top of the damper plate area is removed. This of course would exceed a normal maintenance cleaning and would be charged accordingly.

I have a gas furnace, does my chimney still need to be cleaned?
Yes. Gas does burn clean, but you may still run into issues with the cooler gases that condense quicker. This allows for the formation of hydrochloric acid and the potential for a corrosive coating to build up in your flue. There is also the common problem of animals and birds building nests in these smaller venting systems. If there is debris that blocks or partially blocks your flue, harmful gases can build up creating unsafe operating conditions for your furnace or stove.

The biggest problems come when a customer buys a new appliance and hooks it into an older venting system. The requirements may be much different for the newer stove or furnace, creating a serious mismatch with the older flue system. A professional needs to examine the total venting system to be sure everything is up to an acceptable standard. Don’t count on your furnace installer or heating man to do this, it is not their job or field of expertise.

How can a Sweep help maintain a safe home?
The cost of a chimney sweep or inspection is insignificant when compared with the potential devastation that a chimney fire or carbon monoxide poisoning can cause. There is no doubt that the increase in proper chimney maintenance has saved many lives and billions in property damage.

What is Carbon Monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide is produced whenever gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. Higher levels can be produced when your chimney is not functioning properly. This odorless gas can accumulate to dangerous levels when a blocked chimney from soot collection, animal nesting or leave collection of the flue prevents the gases from properly venting out and away from the home. The number of people who die needlessly every year is growing at an alarming rate! This is mostly in part due to undetected problems with fuel burning appliances, stoves and fireplaces. Flues should be inspected routinely for rust, blockage and defects that may allow gases to back draft into the home.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are headaches, nausea and fatigue. It is now a requirement that Carbon Monoxide Detectors be installed in your home to guard against unsafe levels of this odorless and colorless gas. But don’t just rely on the detectors, make sure that your venting systems are inspected and in good working order at all times.

Do I need to be home all day to wait for the Chimney Cleaning?
We always strive to be prompt and on time. We schedule a 2 hour time window for the technician to arrive to your home. If a technician is running late, they will call you (providing the cell phones are working in the area they are in) to let you know and to make sure that the new time will be good for you. If not we can re-schedule the appointment for another day.

What is Chimney Relining? Do all chimneys need liners?
Traditionally, masonry chimneys had clay tiles that covered the inside of the chimney. These tiles were designed to seal the chimney structure and direct all the sparks, heat, gases and particles up and out of the home. The problem is that over time, the tiles crack or break due to weathering, heat and freeze cycles, and other factors. Once the break-down begins, your chimney can become dangerous to use and can require a new lining. Some older chimneys did not even have the tile liners, so they are a real hazard that needs immediate attention. Chimneys built before 1940 have a high likelihood that they were built without a clay liner. Every chimney needs a liner of some kind that is designed to fit the needs of the fireplace, stove or furnace that is venting through it.

There are many solutions to relining a chimney, the most popular being a stainless steel liner being installed in the chimney space from top to bottom. This flue can also be insulated to increase efficiency and needs to be fitted properly to the chimney using flexible or rigid flue piping.

Do I really need a Chimney Cap? What is the difference between aluminum and stainless steel?
Your chimney cap closed the door on excess water entering your chimney and the damage that it causes. It also keeps out birds, squirrels, raccoons and other critters that may think your chimney looks like a good summer home. A very common problem is when raccoons, squirrels, birds and bats try to make their home in your chimney. They can block proper ventilation and even enter your home, potentially spreading disease and wreaking havoc. Our strong mesh and caps will keep even the most determined critters out!

Leaves and other debris that storms and high winds can blow into your chimney are blocked out too. Blockages that occur from these causes are often the fuel for dangerous chimney fires. The chimney cap (or guard) protects the home of the risk that sparks and airborne embers will land on your roof, causing a fire hazard.

Prefab Fireplace Inserts – can they be repaired or replaced?
Many newer homes have a factory built fireplace that is installed in the wall with a chase built outside the home that contains the venting system. These fireplaces are usually constructed using galvanized steel and last about 20 – 25 years. Before you have a fire you should make a quick visual inspection of the firebox for gaps or cracks in the walls of your firebox or for any rusting or warped panels. If you see any of these symptoms, then you need to have the system inspected and possibly repaired. If the prefab fireplace insert has reached its limit for use, we can also install a new fireplace insert into the existing area. This will require extensive carpentry work in addition to the new fireplace insert, but it can be done with minimal intrusion to the home in a relatively short amount of time.

Why water is leaking into and around my fireplace, or staining my walls or ceilings?
Water is the major enemy of your chimney and fireplace system. It can seep in many places, cracking and deteriorating mortar joints and brick. Excess condensation caused by improper operating flue systems adds moisture to your chimney. Cracks can let this moisture or water in. Also uncapped chimneys and defective flashing can cause fireplace, wall and roof leaks.
At the first sign of water entry or water stains, Call us to have an inspection completed. It will end up saving money and put an end to any potentially unsafe conditions such as mold. Many times if the problem is caught early – the cost to repair is much less than a future cost to replace.

Why does my chimney smell, especially during the spring and summer?
The culprit that smells up your home through your chimney is creosote. As you read above, creosote is a natural by-product of burning fuel, especially wood. When the weather is humid and warm, the creosote odor gets stronger. Of course, chimney cleaning will resolve much of the smelly chimney problem, but not always completely. Odor neutralizing agents like baking soda or kitty litter put into the fireplace can help, but many times a deodorizing agent needs to be spread into the chimney.

Sometimes ventilation fans can be installed to reduce these problems. The fact that you have these odors may also indicate that your venting system is drawing too much air down the chimney (downdraft) or that your damper may be defective. There are also several structural defects that can show up as a smelly chimney, so as always we advise a thorough inspection to determine the root cause.

My fireplace smokes back into the room, can anything be done about that?
Smoke coming into your home indicates a problem with a poor draw up and out of the top of the chimney. Smoke may also escape through breaks or leaks in your liner system into other areas of the house. If you smell smoke in other rooms, your problem is likely with your liner. Remember, your liner must be the correct size for the fireplace, stove or furnace appliance that are venting. If it is not, the products of combustion flue gases and smoke will not all escape the home. If your damper is not working properly or is closed you will also get smoke back drafting into the home. Many of today’s homes are built very tight, so the air that is taken out of the room during burning can’t be replaced. Outside air needs to be introduced in order to remedy the imbalance and allow the smoke to be drafted out of the chimney. If your smoking problem goes away when you crack open a window, this may be your problem or if the wood is on the floor directly. If you have smoke in your home when you use your fireplace, it is not a safe situation. Stop using it and make an appointment for an inspection to be completed.

What is that whitish discoloration on the outside of my chimney?
This is called efflorescence. When gases leak out through a defective liner and onto your brick interior wall they deposit salts on the surface of the masonry. Water then dissolves and transports these salts through the joints and mortar to the exterior of the chimney where you see the white deposits. So these are the signs of leaks in your liner and or water problems in your chimney ventilation system. Repairs should be made immediately to prevent further deterioration of your chimney.