Are you a local Northern Virginia homeowner who needs to find a professional chimney sweeping services?
If you are a homeowner or property manager who needs to learn more about Professional Chimney Sweeping Services in Northern Virginia, you are in the right place! If you need to hire a qualified, licensed and certified chimney sweep service company in Northern Virginia that can handle all facets of chimney services including inspection, sweeping, restoration, installation, masonry repair, relining, resurfacing, dampers, odor and more then we have got you covered. But first, you need the right information to help you make an educated decision about who to hire. To help homeowners and property managers become more informed, and as part of NOVA NARPM’s informational spotlight series, we recently interviewed Chuck Hall, President of Winston’s Chimney Service to help Northern Virginia homeowners and landlords become better educated about local chimney sweeping services. Winston’s Chimney Service is a full service, local chimney care company, founded in 1978. They handle all chimney-related services including fireplace installation, inspection, sweeping, restoration, installation, masonry repair, relining, resurfacing, dampers, odor, leaks, waterproofing and dryer vent cleaning and repair services.
Chuck Hall’s knowledge is a great resource for homeowners because he is also the president of the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). He offers Northern Virginia homeowners expert insight about chimney sweeping services, and provides consumers with the essential information they need in order to make the best decision when choosing a chimney services company in Northern Virginia. He tells NOVA NARPM, “One of the things that makes my job easier is that we employee some of the highest trained and well-paid people in the industry, which means we’re providing the best to our clients. Education, credentialing and experience are paramount in my organization. We run guys through a lot of education and that’s because if you don’t have well-educated people you just can’t provide the best service. We want to provide the best and our guys want to give the best.” In Hall’s recent interview with NOVA NARPM, he offers detailed advice about what should happen during a chimney inspection and sweep service, common fireplace and chimney problems in Northern Virginia, the prevalence of chimney fires and what to look for in a great chimney services company.
Expert Advice About Chimney Services
NOVA NARPM: For a homeowner that doesn’t know much about professional chimney sweeping services, what does a typical professional chimney inspection and sweeping service appointment look like? What happens when you go out to a client’s home?
Chuck Hall: Chimney sweeping is normal home maintenance, but it can also occur during the sale of the home during the Home Inspection process. During an inspection, a good service provider will run a camera (like a Chim-Scan) up the chimney. The technician should sit down with the homeowners and do the scan together and ask the homeowner questions about the fireplace. During the scan, numerous pictures are taken and are attached to the inspection report showing both the good parts and the problem areas. After the camera work is complete the technician should go take a look at the top of the chimney and inspect the brickwork and the flashing, which is where the roof meets the chimney. The technician should also take measurements, inspect for a Chimney Cap, check for deterioration of the bricks and look for discoloration. A really great service provider will do this on a tablet to create a paperless inspection document.
For a chimney sweep appointment, first thing that’s going to happen is you should get an email from the company telling you what’s going to occur and also remind you that if it is during The Burning Season that you can’t have hot ashes in the Firebox from the night before because there is no way to dispose of them unless, you, the homeowner has a container for them. You should also get a text or a phone call when the technician is on the way. When the technician arrives they should be in uniform and in a uniform truck (a wrapped vehicle, like for example you see with us). Your technician should be nice and friendly of course and ask you questions about your chimney. A reputable company will lay out drop cloths where the fireplace is and ask you a lot of questions regarding your fireplace such as questions about past repairs appearance, regular use and so forth (basically the troubleshooting process to determine the problems and major concerns with a fireplace). Next the technician should take a look from the inside and then put up a ladder and take a look in your chimney from the outside. At this point the technician is checking to see if your chimney needs to be swept. The goal of a professional chimney sweep is to sweep out and eliminate the creosote buildup.
NN: Is professional chimney sweeping an important service? How often should homeowners get it done and it is expensive?
CH: A good chimney sweep will run around $259 bucks and inspection only should run around a $109. It’s important for fire prevention and to prevent creosote buildup. To get an inspection or a sweep is not that expensive, however, repairs are expensive. The National Fireplace Institute (NFI) and the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) say that if there is one eighth of an inch of buildup of creosote in the chimney, then the chimney needs to be swept. Creosote is the byproduct of burning wood. Put simply, it is just unburned wood. If you have a gas fireplace, a by-product of burning gas is water vapor or steam. If the technician sees that going out of the top of your furnace flue, if you have gas, (which 85% of us do in this market) you’ll see it white. When you have a wood-burning fireplace it will be gray. It will be gray because it will have wood particulates as well as a whole bunch of other gases in the smoke. As the flue gases rise they cool, as they cool they condense and when they condense they leave these particles of wood on the inside chimney. If all the planets line up against you, like for example you have a particularly long fire and the flames are leaping up through a damper area, and you haven’t had the system swept then you could have a problem. The damper area is that plate that opens the fireplace to the flue or chimney stack, whether you have a factory built fireplace, which is a metal fireplace in a box with refractory panels lining the interior with a metal pipe surrounded by siding on the outside, or a Masonry fireplace which is a more traditional brick-and-block fireplace, though some can be stone too. In Northern Virginia however, it’s predominantly brick.
Fortunately, chimney fires are not as prevalent as they were prior to the 1980s. In the ‘70s there was an energy crisis and people were installing wood stoves, and they were not installed properly and there were a lot of chimney fires. Today, there are actually more dryer-vent fires than there are chimney fires. The good news is that today, because of the education of the homeowner and the growth of our industry there are a lot less chimney fires. However, there are still chimney related fires. A chimney related fire is a fire that occurs because the system is old, not well maintained or has a defect from the original construction, and the wood framing around the system catches fire from the heat. For example, say you have a house that was built in the 1930s and over the course of 90+ years was never really inspected or swept—that’s a problem because the system develops holes that never get repaired. The reality is there can be heat transfer with the wood and then you get something called pyrolysis, which is where the ignition temperature of the wood begins to lower.
NN: What are common scenarios you encounter in the Northern Virginia area? What should Northern Virginia homeowners look out for?
CH: Well, if you look at the Beltway, the homes that are inside the beltway are going to be predominantly older than the homes outside the Beltway. So, the homes inside the beltway can actually still use chimneys to vent their heating systems and water heaters. If you have a home outside the Beltway, you may have a gas furnace that is vented using something called a b vent pipe, that’s a double wall pipe that is attached to your system and penetrates the roof and vents into the atmosphere. In these older houses, they are venting into the chimney so you have two separate flues; one for the fireplace and one for the furnace and water heater. That’s part of the chimney but a separate flue so that when we show up to the house and we notice that we’re going to want to go down and check the furnace flue too. For a company like ours, when we see that, we take the pipe out of the wall and make sure there’s no buildup because a byproduct of burning natural gas is going to be water which deteriorates the flues. Flue integrity is important. The flue is the passageway and is actually made out of terracotta clay tiles that are two foot tall and stack up on top of one another and have mortar joints in between. When we are looking up with our camera we are looking at the integrity of the flue tiles themselves and the mortar joints because if the mortar joints are compromised then one of two things can happen: you can have products of combustion getting out and in the case of a gas furnace flue means carbon monoxide can get into the home. That is why every home should have carbon monoxide detectors and follow the instructions when installing them.
With a new construction build for example they’re usually building with direct vent gas fireplaces and open fireplaces usually only with custom homes because of energy saving requirements. In and around the Beltway there are a lot of open masonry fireplaces–they’re all over the place. That’s one of the things that makes this market different is the number of open fireplaces. An open fireplace is just a regular fireplace that you can put your hands in and touch the logs. If you go to more rural areas there are a lot of wood stoves. Newer fireplaces feature gas log sets enclosed with glass meaning they’re enclosed systems and you can’t touch the logs.
NN: What is a chimney liner and does every chimney need one?
CH: Well, one of the most important components of your fireplace and heating system is the flue and the chimney liner. The liner functions to exhaust the flue gases and smoke out of your fireplace or furnace flue and allow the hot and toxic gases to exit your home safely. If there are any breaks or openings in the chimney liner this can lead to serious and expensive problems. Basically, an opening in the liner can potentially allow a spark or floating ember to escape into the area between the lining and the chimney or allow carbon monoxide into the living space. So, there’s potential for a chimney fire here, but also carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning because there is no odor associated with the poisonous gas.
NN: In terms of hiring the best professional Chimney sweeping service, what should Northern Virginia homeowners look for? How can they find the best service provider for their needs?
CH: You want to see certifications. There are two different certifications out there for the chimney industry and there is one called the CCP and that stands for Certified Chimney Professional. That’s considered a lower certification, but it is still a certification. And then there is the CSIA certification which is harder to get. So you want to make sure the person that is coming out to your home is actually certified and you want to make sure they actually have insurance and that they are a legitimate licensed contractor. All of those things should be apparent on their website. In addition to that, nowadays, we want to look at reviews. We want to look at Google reviews and we even want to look at the Yelp reviews. And Yelp is probably going to be closer to what reality is whether a business owner likes that or not. They are tougher and savvy homeowners already understand that. So you want to look at the reviews, licensing and certifications.
Winston’s Chimney Service has been serving the Northern Virginia market since 1978 and specializes in the chimney services. Winston’s Chimney Service residents in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia areas. To learn more about them visit www.winstonsservices.com and follow them on Facebook @winstonschimney. Also, be sure to connect with NOVA NARPM on Facebook at @NOVANARPM.