You have questions, we have answers!

Q. I was told that I’ve had a chimney fire, but how can I tell for myself?

A: Here are the signs that a professional chimney sweep looks for:

  • “Puffy” creosote, with rainbow colored streaks, that has expanded beyond creosote’s normal form.
  • Warped metal of the damper, metal smoke chamber, connector pipe or factory-builtmetalchimney.
  • Cracked or collapsed flue tiles, or tiles with large chunks missing.
  • Discolored and distorted rain cap.
  • Creosote flakes and pieces found on the roof or ground.
  • Roofing material damaged from hot creosote.
  • Cracks in exterior masonry.
  • Evidence of smoke escaping through mortar joints of masonry or tile liners.

Q. What are the different types of fireplaces?

A: Fireplaces come in two general types, masonry fireplaces built entirely of bricks and mortar, and factory built fireplaces consisting of a lightweight metal firebox and a metal chimney. (There are a few hybrids too, the most common being a heavy metal firebox and smoke chamber coupled to a regular brick chimney). To figure out which you have will take only a moment of detective work on your part.

A masonry fireplace has a firebox built of individual generally yellowish firebrick, a brick chimney above the roof, and if you look up past the damper you will see a roughly pyramid shaped affair also built of brick. A prefab fireplace generally has a firebox of cast refractory panels, and usually some metal is visible in the room all around the firebox. If you look up past the damper you will see a round metal chimney. And above the roof is more round metalchimney, sometimes surrounded by a simulated brick housing.

Q. What is a chimney liner?

A: A flue lining in a masonry chimney is defined as “A clay, ceramic,or metal conduit installed inside of a chimney, intended to contain the combustion products, direct them to the outside atmosphere, and protect the chimney walls from heat and corrosion.” Although building codes vary from one state or locality to another, the installation of flue lining has been recommended since the early part of this century, and indeed most fire codes now mandate liners.

Q. How often should I have my chimney cleaned?

A: The quick simple answer is: The National Fire Protection Association standard 211 says, “Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.” This is the national safety standard and is the correct way to approach the problem. It takes into account the fact that even if you don’t use your chimney much, animals may build nests in the flue or there may be other types of deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be cleaned at 1/4″ of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. Factory-built fireplaces should be cleaned when any appreciable buildup occurs. This is considered to be enough fuel buildup to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or spreading to the home.

Q. My fireplace smokes, what can I do?

A: Fireplaces work mainly because hot air rises. When you start a fire, the air inside the chimney becomes warmer and less dense than the air outside the chimney, and consequently it starts to rise. As the warm air rises, cooler air from the room flows into the firebox, fanning the fire, creating more heat in an ongoing cycle. There are also some pressure differentials produced as wind moves across the top of your chimney.

There must be at least 100 reasons why your fireplace may not function properly.

  1. Is your damper fully open? Everybody eventually forgets to open the damper. Many dampers also cease to fully open because of water damage or sootbuildup behind them on the smoke shelf. A good professional cleaning can usually solve this problem.
  2. Is your firewood green or wet from rain or snow? Remember the main reason your fireplace works at all is the heat inside the chimney. If your wood is not dry and well seasoned it makes more smoke than heat and there simply may not be enough heat for the chimney to work properly.
  3. Is your chimney dirty? The gradual accumulation of soot can seriously affect the way your chimney performs. Thick layers of soot can physically restrict the flue so there is no longer enough free area to vent the fireplace properly, but as little as a 1/4″ to 1/2″ inch buildup can make more difference than you might think. Consider that a 1/2″ buildup will restrict the air flow by 17% for a typical masonry fireplace chimney, and by a whopping 30% for the average prefab. Birds and small animals also think your chimney looks like a hollow tree in which to set up housekeeping. Sweeps often find chimneys literally packed full of leaves, twigs and baby animals. The solution of course is a good cleaning and a chimney cap.
  4. Is your chimney tall enough? To function properly, the chimney should be at least 10 or 12 feet in overall height. Where it projects above the roof, the chimney should be at least 3 feet tall, and at least 2 feet higher than anything within 10 feet of it-including other buildings, trees, etc. If your fireplace smokes because your chimney is too short, the problem is usually worse when the wind blows.
  5. Is your flue large enough for the fireplace opening? There are many variables that can affect this including but the basic rule of thumb here is that the area of the fireplace opening can be no more than 10 times the area of the flue (12 times for round flues). An undersized flue simply can’t handle the volume of smoke produced, and some of it will spill back into the room. Since there is no practical way to make the flue size larger, the solution may be to make the room opening smaller with metal smoke guards or some creative masonry work. In fact there are now some pre-manufactured refractory firebox retrofits that work well with a 15 to 1 ratio and deliver twice the heat of conventional fireboxes.
  6. Is your chimney on the outside of the house? Remember that warm rising air is the basic engine involved here. If you have a large masonry chimney on the outside of the house, and it’s cold outside, the air inside of the chimney will also be very cold, and it will want to fall down the chimney instead of rising. This can even happen a day or two after it’s warmed up outside. These chimneys may be hard to start and they may smoke as the fire burns low. To help get the fire started many people light some rolled up newspaper and hold it up near the damper to get that cold plug moving upwards. Keeping a moderate sized but bright, actively flaming fire can also help this situation.
  7. Is your home too tight? Fireplaces require large volumes of air to burn. Visualize a 12″ x 12″ column of air rising up your chimney and exiting the top the entire time your fireplace is working (but don’t visualize your heat bill!). This air comes from inside the living area and must somehow be replaced. With modern energy efficiency concerns most houses have been carefully insulated and weather-stripped to keep out the cold drafts, but an undesirable side effect is that there is often nowhere for all that air leaving the chimney to get back in. This can lead to fireplaces that burn sluggishly and smoke. A temporary solution is to open a window to let in a little make up air, preferably on the windward side of the house. It can also lead to very dangerous carbon monoxide buildup if your fireplace and furnace must compete for combustion air, and a permanent solution should be found at once.
  8. Your house can also be too loose! A house that leaks too much air to the outside, especially a multistory house that leaks air in the upper levels, can actually set up its own draft or chimney effect strong enough to overpower your fireplace chimney, particularly if the fireplace is located in the basement on a cold exterior wall. Be sure the attic access door is in place and that all upstairs windows are tightly closed.
  9. The other reasons your fireplace can smoke have to do mainly with design problems when the fireplace was built. Aside from the chimney being too short, or too small, the chimney can also be too large, too tall, too crooked, etc. ad infinitum! Most of these details are fairly technical in nature, and again a good sweep may be your best bet.

Q. My fireplace smells terrible, especially in the summer. What can I do?

A: The smell is due to creosote deposits in the chimney, a natural byproductof wood burning. The odor is usually worse in the summer when the humidityis high and the air conditioner is turned on. A good cleaning will helpbut usually won’t solve the problem completely. There are commercialchimney deodorants that work pretty well, and many people have good resultswith baking soda or even kitty litter set in the fireplace. The real problemis the air being drawn down the chimney, a symptom of overall pressureproblems in the house. Some make-up air should be introduced somewhereelse in the house. A tight sealing, top mounted damper will also reducethis air flow coming down the chimney.

Q. When I build a fire in my upstairs fireplace, I get smoke from the basementfireplace.

A.This has become quite a common problem in modern air tight houses whereweather proofing has sealed up the usual air infiltration routes. Thefireplace in use exhausts household air until a negative pressure situationexists. If the house is fairly tight, the simplest route for makeup airto enter the structure is often the unused fireplace chimney. As air isdrawn down this unused flue, it picks up smoke that is exiting nearbyfrom the fireplace in use and delivers the smoke to the living area. Thebest solution is to provide makeup air to the house so the negative pressureproblem no longer exists, thus eliminating not only the smoke problem,but also the potential for carbon monoxide to be drawn back down the furnacechimney. A secondary solution is to install a top mount damper on thefireplace that is used the least.

Q. Why does my furnace flue need cleaning?

A. The incomplete by-product of combustion of fuel oil is unburned carbon& sulphur – called oil soot. Oil soot accumulates on the wallsand at the base of the chimney, which should be inspected and cleanedannually by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep TM.

Most of our emergency service calls in the winter are from shut-downs orred tags by the oil or gas companies. This is because most homeownersare unaware that the chimney venting system for the furnace needs maintenance.Most find out after the chimneys are clogged, or the interior collapsedthat they need a chimney technician. It is usually too late for a routinecleaning at this point and homeowners are stuck with emergency servicecall costs and blockage removals or repairs in order to get the heat andhot-water turned back on. This could be avoided by routine maintenanceand inspections of the furnace chimneys

The best time of the year to clean an oil chimney is in the spring time,after the heating season. During the winter, the oil furnace is subjectedto long running cycles which will produce oil soot that may adhere tothe sides of the chimney. The accumulation of these soot deposits willfall to the base of a masonry chimney, or directly into the top of theoil furnace if a metal chimney is located directly above the appliance.It will restrict the flow of flue gases which consist mostly of nitrogen,carbon dioxide, and water vapor. Combustion will also produce carbon monoxide(which is a dangerous gas when not vented properly) which will spill backinto the house instead of going up the chimney when the chimney base isnot properly cleaned.

A big misconception on many homeowner’s part is that the oil servicecompany takes care of the chimney. The oil burner company may shovel outthe base of a brick chimney and brush out the connector pipes, but theywill not clean the chimney. Most furnace technicians fail to mention anythingabout the chimney leading homeowners to believe everything is fine. Someoil furnaces service men even tell the homeowner that the chimney is OKwithout inspecting the entire chimney, which includes going to the roofand inspecting the interior as well as the exterior masonry (if applicable),flashing, chimney cap, etc.

The National Fire Protection Assoc. 211 codes state that “chimneysmust be inspected and cleaned as necessary annually” – justlike the oil service man services the furnace annually, so should thechimney system be serviced annually.

Many homeowners also may not be aware that the chimney‘s interior,when not maintained, will decay and break down – just like neglectingyour teeth and not having them checked annually may result in cavities.(Or if you don’t change the motor oil in your car for 50,000 miles,you can be sure something in the motor will break.) It’s the samething with your chimney. As stated earlier, the incomplete by productof combustion is soot, which contains carbon and sulphur. Sulphur, whenmixed with rain water (from a missing rain cap) or moisture from the fluegases themselves is absorbed into the flue tile and starts a deterioratingprocess called flaking or spalling. Just like tartar on your teeth, annualbrushing will remove these soot deposits and keep the deterioration processto a minimum.

In metal chimneys the interior lining is made from stainless steel, whichwill not rust, but will corrode from the oil soot’s sulfuric acidreaction. This corrosion makes small pinholes which will ruin the integrityof the liner, which will not be able to hold the by-products of combustion.When a clay lining in a masonry chimney flakes or a metal chimney‘sinsides corrode, they are unable to contain the heat and the flue gases,thus creating a potential fire and health hazard.

Annual inspection and cleaning by a CSIA certified Chimney Sweep TM willfind these problems and give you recommended corrective actions. Whenthe sweep arrives at your home to do the annual inspection and cleaningof the oil chimney, he will set up his equipment (vacuum, etc.), removeand inspect the connector pipes (the pipes from the oil furnace to thechimney) – careful as not to spill soot into the home. The chimneyconnector will be cleaned and closed off so that when the chimney is swept,no soot will enter the home. An inspection of the exterior chimney willbe made, the chimney swept, and then the interior of the chimney inspectedfor deterioration and soundness. The sweep completes the exterior workand next returns inside and removes the soot that was brushed down thechimney. When the connector pipes are reinstalled, the furnace will berestarted and checked for proper chimney draft.

Q. I heat with gas. Should this chimney be checked too?

A. Without a doubt! Although gas is generally a clean burning fuel, thechimney can become non-functional from bird nests or other debris blockingthe flue. Modern furnaces can also cause many problems with the averageflues intended to vent the older generation of furnaces.

Skylight FAQ’s

Q. How does a tubular skylight work?

A. The skylight captures light through a dome on the roof and channelsit down through the internal reflective system. This tubing is far moreefficient than a traditional drywall skylight shaft, which can lose overhalf of the potential light. The tubing will fit between rafters and willinstall easily with no structural modification. At the ceiling level,a diffuser that resembles a recessed light fixture spreads the light evenlythroughout the room.

Q. What is a tubular skylight and how does it compare to a traditionalbox skylight?

A. Traditional skylights have their place, as do tubular skylights. Thereare a few key benefits of tubular skylights, however, including flexiblelocation options, low cost of installation and better lighting performance.

Q. Do tubular skylights leak?

A. Our tubular skylights circular one piece seamless flashing design allowsrain and debris to bypass the skylight naturally. The flashings have nojoints or weak points that may separate and allow water to enter.

Q. What does the ceiling fixture (diffuser) look like?

A. All diffusers are designed to be highly attractive and unobtrusive onthe ceiling. They feature a sleek dress ring that transitions the lensto the ceiling with a beveled edge. The dress ring is also paintable.

There are currently three options for ceiling diffuser lenses. All aremade from acrylic and designed to effectively diffuse the natural sunlightthroughout the room.

  • Curved Diffuser: Features a bolder prismatic design similar to that foundin many fluorescent light fixtures. It is slightly convex, protrudingoff the ceiling plane and provides a slightly more evenly diffused lightthan the Flush Diffuser.
  • Flush (Frosted) Diffuser: Is the most popular and comes standard in allBrighten Up® Series single pack kits. The lens is flat with a smallfrosted pattern that allows natural highlights to be transferred intothe room. This item must be ordered with a special order kit.

Q. How long does it take to install a tubular skylight?

A. Approximately two hours or less on shingle asphalt roofs, while otherroof types may take slightly longer.

Q. Will my clothing or furniture fade?

A. Our tubular skylights will not cause fading. The acrylic dome filtersall but 0.1% of UV, then all but 2.4% of that is filtered by the diffuser.So over 99.9% of UV is filtered out.

Q. Can a skylight store light for use at night?

A. No, the skylight only transfers the available sunlight that enters throughthe dome. However, the optional Light Add-on Kit may be used so that theskylight doubles as a standard lighting fixture with just the flick ofa switch at night.

Q. How short can the tube be?

A. There is no minimum distance. No attic applications with vaulted oropen beam ceilings are quite common.

Q. What if it’s too bright?

A. We offer a secondary diffuser that fits under the dome to soften thelight if necessary. You can also use heat and flame retardant “theatricalgel” light sheeting used in stage lighting to adjust output andcolor if desired. Never use standard window tinting or any flammable materialto block the incoming light. This is an extreme fire hazard. Only approvedtheatrical gels should be used.

Q. When do you install the tubular skylight when re-roofing?

A. Generally, after the new roof is in place. However, the skylight caneasily be installed in most cases at the same time the roof is going on.When installing a skylight on a tile roof, installation is usually doneafter the roof is completed. On hot mop applications installation canbe done during or after.

Q. How do I remove my skylight diffuser?

A. Your ceiling diffuser is quite easy to remove and clean. Please notethat older units (Installed before the year 2000) have twist-lock diffusersfor the 10″ & 13″ models. For these older units the diffusertwists off counter clockwise when looking up at the diffuser.

To remove the diffuser from current models simply pry down one edge ofthe white trim ring using something flat such as a butter knife. Continueto work your way around the ring until you have a 1/4″ (7mm) orso gap all the way around. Then simply grab onto the edges and pull straightdown. The diffuser lens can be cleaned with soap and water. To re- installthe diffuser position the 3 zip style ties into the 3 holes on the ceilingring and push up until the diffuser is flush with the ceiling.