A Pro Chimney Sweep’s Tips For Wood Heat Safety

Simon Anderson, in the Stove Room at Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

“The biggest mistake most folks make is that they don’t burn the fire hot enough. A hot fire, within the limits of your firebox, is the best thing you can do for your chimney. It will keep creosote from building up in the chimney, and it’ll be hot enough to dry out any creosote that may be building up there.”

So says Simon Anderson, Lehman’s certified chimney sweep and heat stove installer. For nearly a decade, Simon’s been putting in wood cookstoves, heat stoves and inspecting chimneys for Lehman’s customers.

When Simon talks wood stoves, he doesn’t just mean the ‘hot boxes’ many folks have in their homes. He also works on coal burners and wood cookstoves too.

Round chimney brushes for stainless steel stove pipes are available at Lehmans.com or at Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

This time of year, Simon’s a busy guy. “We’re coming to the end of chimney cleaning season now,” he says. Lehman’s schedules cleanings for stove customers from April through the end of August. “Beginning September 1, the Stove Department focuses on installations so folks can be ready for winter,” mentions Will Schloneger, a Major Products Salesperson at Lehman’s who works closely with Simon. “It’s not that we won’t do or can’t do a cleaning. Our calendar gets so full with installations this time of year, we may not be able to fit a cleaning in.”

Although Simon was familiar with woodstoves and stove installation before coming to Lehman’s, it was at his National Fireplace Institute classes where Simon was exposed to a wealth of details that he now shares with his woodstove customers. As a certified NFI chimney sweep, he’s an expert on chimneys and maintenance. “The training showed me how I could help people keep their stoves and their chimneys clean and safe.” He now cleans hundreds of chimneys each year, inspecting each one carefully, and giving the homeowners his expert recommendations when problems are spotted. (For a list of certified chimney sweeps, visit www.csia.org. They list sweeps all over the country.)

Lehmans.com and Lehman’s in Kidron carry a complete line of stove parts and accessories. Shown: Waterford Leprechaun 100B 90 diagram.

“A repair can be something simple, a loose fitting, which I can fix. I carry stove parts and chimney parts on the truck with me when I go to a cleaning.” He goes on to relate a tale about one fix that wasn’t so simple: “We were up on the roof, and I saw that the steel chimney was too close to the roof. Once we looked at it closely, we found shingle that was nailed to the roof, and laid onto the flashing near the top of the pipe. This was a newer home! Folks need to remember that a mason’s not always building a chimney; and contractors don’t always know what to do or how to do it right. If you’re buying a home with a chimney, get an inspection by a professional sweep.”

He goes on, “No matter how much or how little you use your woodburner, you should always have the entire system inspected and cleaned by a professional every year. Do it as early as you can after the cold weather is over. Just do it.”

If you’ve already had your yearly cleaning, you’re in good shape. And there are a few things you can do to keep your woodburner in trim over the winter, and fight off that dreaded cause of chimney fires, creosote. Creosote forms from soot, gases given off by wood when it burns, (particularly wet wood), and smoke.

“First, use dry, seasoned wood. Wood that’s wet from the outdoors or wet because it’s been recently cut introduces moisture to your chimney and stove. Moisture is what makes creosote build up in the chimney. And if you have enough in there, that creosote can swell up like popcorn, and restrict airflow in the chimney.” It’ll also put you at major risk of a chimney fire, he added.

Use regularly to keep your chimney clean. Available at Lehmans.com or Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio.

The second thing Simon wants is for folks to do some at-home work to keep their chimneys clean. “I’d recommend folks burn one of the chemical powders we have here two to three times during their burn season,” says Simon. “You want to follow the directions closely, and make sure the fire is hot enough when you use it. If it’s not hot enough, it won’t be able to dry out any creosote buildup that may be in the chimney. You’ll see the dried creosote, it’ll fall down to the bottom of the chimney. Keeping a hot fire reduces the risk that creosote will form in the chimney.”

Third, and very important, is to give your burner some air. “Many houses today are so airtight that can be hard for folks to make a consistent fire. Be sure you understand exactly how your wood burner works, how to use the dampers and so forth. If you have problems with your fire smoking, lack of air can be a main cause.” Another common cause of smoky fires can be the humidity level in the area immediately surrounding the woodburner, or the humidity level of the house itself. “Things don’t burn well when it’s damp,” Simon says, with a chuckle. New, high efficiency woodburners tend to be of much tighter construction than older models, and handle air much differently. “Don’t assume you can make a fire in a new one because you could in your old one. Let us help you understand exactly how it works so you can get the most benefit out of it.”

Simon shows the “Dollar Bill Gasket Test.”

The fourth thing homeowners can do on their own is check the fit of the door gaskets on their wood burners. “You just hold a dollar bill between the body of the unit and the door. When you close and lock that door, you shouldn’t be able to pull that bill out.” If you can, your gaskets may need replaced. Check this yourself before calling for a cleaning appointment. If they’re worn, let us know. You can be assured that Simon will have replacement gaskets when he comes to clean your chimney and provides you with his expert personalized evaluation of your wood heat system.

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