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Magic Sweep Blog

How to Determine the Discoloration of Your Chimney

Located at the top of your chimney, your chimney crown prevents water from rain and melted snow as well as birds and animals from entering your chimney to cause devastating and costly damage. However, because your chimney crown is constructed from mortar, it can suffer from exposure to the elements, especially since the crown sits on the very top of the chimney. When your chimney crown begins to crack, you will need to contact us at Magic Sweep to get it repaired as soon as possible to keep the cracking damage from worsening. Since it can be very difficult to know whether or not your crown is cracking without getting on your roof, signs of discoloration can let you know if there is a potential problem. We would like to share with you a couple of ways to determine the discoloration of your chimney crown.

Chimney Crown Efflorescence - Chesapeake VA

Efflorescence

A crystalline deposit of water-soluble salts, efflorescence is responsible for leaving white stains on masonry materials. If you have noticed white stains at the top of your chimney, it is most likely your chimney crown is also covered by efflorescence. More common in the winter, these deposits can be cleaned off your chimney by brushing a mixture of water and muriatic acid. Efflorescence is often seen as “new building bloom” when it occurs on new construction after the masonry dries; however, if it continues to persist, it is signaling a problem with water penetration and execessive moisture trapped within your masonry chimney. If you have noticed a white film on your chimney, contact us at Magic Sweep so that we can inspect your chimney and make any necessary repairs. The earlier water penetration symptoms are found, the less money you will have to spend on fixing damage to your masonry chimney.

Carbonate Deposits

Appearing as white or gray crusty formations running down your chimney from the top, carbonate deposits, also known as “lime run,” are also indicators that your chimney crown is cracked. What makes these look different from efflorescence is that carbonate deposits will not be crystallized at all. These deposits appear on masonry materials after water trapped within them has been brought to the surface and reacted to the carbon dioxide in the air. Just like efflorescence, carbonate deposits are signs of water leaking into your masonry chimney and should be treated immediately.

Rust

Any sort of rust stain should be seen as a symptom of a damaged chimney cap. Your chimney cap sits on top of the crown and covers the flue opening. As one of the least expensive ways to prevent water leaks of your chimney, you should call Magic Sweep to schedule an inspection of your chimney cap to see if it should be replaced.

Mold

Another sign of water penetration of your chimney, a mold stain will be dark green, blue, or black and can be fuzzy. Since mold can also be harmful to your health, action should be immediately taken to see if mold is also growing on the inside of your chimney.

Notice any discoloration of your chimney crown? Contact us at Magic Sweep to schedule an inspection of this important component of your chimney system.

Did You Know Chimney Swifts Are Starting to Migrate Back?

Chimney Swifts are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and they are starting to arrive back in our area. Once nest, they cannot be disturbed. If your chimney is uncapped, there is a good chance it could end up being their temporary home.

About Chimney Swifts - Chesapeake VA - Magic Sweep

Water & Mold & Your Chimney

Mold in your Chimney

If you have ever had water damage in your home then you already know the damage mold can do. It is notoriously tenacious and can be a serious health hazard to you and your family. What most people don’t know is that your chimney can be accumulating water damage and mold without you ever knowing. Once there are signs it has already begun to take its toll.

Mold can get into your chimney in a variety of ways but the most common is water seeping into cracks in the mortar that holds the structure of your chimney together. As the chimney expands and contracts with the rise and fall in temperatures, both from the outside air and from fires being burned in your fireplace, the mortar can crack and break leaving gaps. Water can get into these gaps and begin to grow mold.

Any moisture that accumulates makes a breeding ground for mold spores. Make sure your chimney is waterproofed.

Any moisture that accumulates makes a breeding ground for mold spores. Make sure your chimney is waterproofed.

Mold reproduces by releasing spores into the air. These spores can be breathed into your lungs and cause serious health concerns from allergic reactions to irritating asthma to possible permanent lung damage. The best way to prevent mold from spreading is to stay proactive in preventing it from getting into your home. One of the most important steps you can take is to have your chimney regularly inspected and cleaned.

When a chimney sweep comes to your home and you have concerns that there is mold in the chimney the first thing they will do is inspect the chimney. This is done with a variety of techniques but it will most likely involve a camera that is fed up the chimney to examine the inside of the flue. From this vantage point the chimney sweep can see any cracks that may have formed in the interior that could contain mold. They will also inspect the outside of the chimney to check for cracks or other entrance points where moisture can accumulate. If mold is found they will take additional steps.

In order to remove any mold that may be present in your chimney the sweep will use a special type of soap that, along with water, will remove the majority of the mold. It may also be necessary to wash the area in a mix of bleach and water to destroy any remaining organic material. This should cleanse the area thoroughly. It is always important to let a professional remove mold as the process can stir up the dangerous mold spores that can get into your lungs or eyes.

In addition there are things you can look for to help identify mold. Mold is usually green, black, or white and has a distinct musty odor. If you suspect that there may be mold in your home seek professional help immediately. The longer you wait the more mold can accumulate increasing your chances of being affected by the dangerous spores. Always have your chimney inspected and cleaned on a regular basis and you will minimize the chances of having to deal with this potentially hazardous situation. That simple preventative measure will go a long way in helping you be worry free this winter while enjoying your fireplace.

Your Chimney’s Parts and What They Do

The first thing you need to understand when dealing with your chimney system is that you could have one of two types of systems and should know which one you have. This goes beyond wood burning or gas. You will need to discover whether your system is a masonry fireplace and chimney system or a factory built fireplace and chimney system.  While you might not think this important, it is.

Knowing what type of system you have, as well as the life expectancy and parts that wear out over time,  are all things that make you a better homeowner. This will also allow you to know what to expect over time.  So while each share parts, let’s look at one at a time and see how they are alike and more importantly, where the differences lie.

Masonry Fireplaces are considered the workhorses in the hearth industry as they are built to last a long time and can add great value to your home as well as enjoyment if properly taken care of. One of the first things to know about masonry systems is their weight. They can weigh between 6 and 7 tons! This is why you need to watch the foundation to make sure it is not cracking or sinking under this massive amount of weight distributed in a very small area.

Masonry Chimney - Chesapeake VA - Magic Sweep

Masonry Chimney – Chesapeake VA – Magic Sweep

You will need to watch the hearth area at the base of the fireplace as well as any cracks in the brick or stone in the firebox or on the fireplace facing. Outside you will want to take a look at the brick and surface of the stone to see if there are any signs of stress. This can be cracks or leaning of any kind. All of these areas can be a sign that the weight of the unit may be getting the better of the situation and needs to be addressed.

The hearth area is the open area in front of the firebox that will need to be free of any combustibles so there is nothing that catch on fire from a flying spark or ember and extends as the base of the firebox. Sometimes there is an ash dump that is also connected to an area in a basement or to the outside where the ash can be easily cleaned out.

When a fire is burning in the firebox, smoke has to be able to get to the outside. To do this there is a series of parts that allow this to happen. The first is a throat damper, which is still in many of these systems. If the damper remains closed, smoke will back fill into your home and you will have a big problem. Making sure the damper is opened and working properly before a fire is ever lit is extremely important.

Once the smoke passes through the damper is sits in the smoke chamber as the draft pulls it up the flue and out into the open atmosphere. There is also something called a smoke shelf that keeps any debris from falling back down into your firebox. This is one place creosote is often found and is removed during sweeping.

Another part that is not always on a masonry system is a chimney cap. The cap is attached to the top of the flue and acts as a spark arrest-or for combustibles leaving the system. It also stops water and animals from entering the system when not in use. Many chimney professionals recommend adding this part for obvious reasons.

The mortar crown finishes off the masonry chimney system and seals off the top of the chimney. Because of the elements this part of the system is exposed to it is one of the areas that will most likely need to be repaired or replaced in time. Talk to your professional chimney services guy about sealing this with some of the newer materials that have come on the market to protect it even better over a longer period of time.

The last “part” would be the brick or stone the system is built with. These materials are porous and can erode over time and exposure. There are many so called fixes that simply do not work due to lack of permeability, which is allowing air to move through the material even though water is blocked. Masonry materials must be able to breathe!

Having a well-built masonry fireplace is a great item to have in a home but unlike engineered products like factory built systems, having a professional to build these systems is a must. Masonry fireplaces will not work well if it is not built to a standard that chimney specialists work with every day. Get referrals if you are having one of these built or repaired.

Factory-Built Fireplaces are often referred to as prefabricated fireplaces and are engineered products much like any other appliance in your home. And just like those appliances, there is a life expectancy that must be taken into consideration when dealing with one of these units. They are a complete system from top to bottom and are not interchangeable from system to system.

These units come with a hearth much like a masonry system as well as a firebox. However, the firebox is made up of panels on each side and not firebrick like in a masonry fireplace. Replacing these panels is an option. However, there are times units stop being manufactured and the panels are really hard to find. Dealing with a reputable chimney company can help as they have resources with other sweeps to find panels that are no longer being made.  This is also when many people decide it’s time to upgrade to a more efficient factory built unit and just get a new one.

These appliances will have a chimney or flue and have a fire stop to keep the smoke going up the chimney and out the top through the chimney cap. There are very specific instructions that come with installing one of these prefab units so please make sure you use someone that is experienced and certified to do so. There are clearances to combustibles to take into consideration as well as modern building codes for these units as they are not made to undertake the punishing heat you can get away with in a masonry chimney. There are set limits so make sure you have a clear understanding of what type of factory built unit you have and what type of fuel you should burn in it.

There is no doubt that having a fireplace is one of the most relaxing things you can have as a part of your home, it is also an appliance that will need to be maintained, repaired, cleaned and sometimes replaced. As long as you understand that, you should have a positive and wonderful experience with your masonry or factory built fireplace system.

Keep Animals and Birds Outside Your Home

Protecting Your Home from Animals and Birds

It is important to protect your home from animals and birds in every season. Homeowners often think to protect their spring gardens from vermin and their basements from mold. Less often, they also remember their chimneys and vents, which are equally vulnerable. Animals and birds are very creative about finding ways into your home. You have to be vigilant in finding ways to block and divert critters, creepy-crawlers and our feathered friends.

Chimney with Functional Cap - Hampton Roads/Tidewater - Magic Sweep

Chimney with Functional Cap – Hampton Roads/Tidewater – Magic Sweep

Although not entirely animal-proof, capped vents and covered flues add a great deal of protection. You are more likely to see an uncapped vent, as opposed to an uncapped chimney, but no matter the where the opening is, living things will find a way in. Both birds and animals are capable of lifting and even removing caps – which means you need to check the equipment you have in place.

If you kept a wood pile close to the house for convenience during the heating season, do not forget to move it. It attracts rodents, snakes, and all kinds of insects, including termites, roaches, and ants. Keep your gutters in good condition and draining properly. Your property should be free of standing water. That does not mean you have to throw out the birdbath, but water remaining in garden low spots or gutters needs your attention. It attracts disease-carrying mosquitoes as well as other flying insects, as do certain types of flowering plants.

People who suffer allergic reactions to bee stings can better protect themselves by positioning fragrant flowers farther from the house. In fact, any vegetation or tree limbs that are directly adjacent to your home can provide a pathway for unwelcome visitors. Window screens should also be in good condition, as must filters in HVAC appliances. Seal off any portals in and enjoy watching the birds and furry creatures…outside, where they belong.