Northeastern Masonry & Chimney's Blog

Fun Fireplace Activities for Your Holiday

The holiday season is here and that means the nights are getting longer and colder, meaning that your family will be spending more time indoors. With the holidays just around the corner, children will soon be on winter break and friends and family will be visiting to celebrate the holiday season with you. With so much going on, it may be hard to find activities for everybody. At Northeastern Masonry & Chimney, we know the holiday season is hectic, so we would like to help you by sharing some of our favorite fireplace activities to keep your families and guests entertained.

Hot Cocoa Mixer Bar

Fun Fireplace Activities for Your Holiday - Albany NY - Northeastern Masonry & ChimneyBuy some hot cocoa mix or use a homemade cocoa recipe. Next, set up a bar with whipped cream, different types of marshmallows, sprinkles, flavored syrups, candy canes, and all of your other favorite hot cocoa additions. Next, sit around the fireplace and compare your creations with one another and see who made the best cup of hot cocoa. Competition never tasted so delicious!

Winter Campout

Just because it’s winter, that doesn’t mean that camping season is over. Use blankets and pillows to set up a fort in your living room. Trust us, this is just as much fun for adults as it is kids! Sit around the fireplace telling stories and reminiscing about the past. For an even more realistic camping experience, sting up white Christmas tree lights across the ceiling so you can camp “under the stars.” Finally, no campout would be complete without our favorite camping treat, s’mores! Just get a couple of sticks and roast your marshmallows over your fireplace fire. If you don’t have an open fireplace, no worries, there are other ways you can bring s’mores to your campsite.

Game Night

Are you up for a little friendly competition? If so, the family game night should be on your holiday activity list. Board games are a fun way to pass the time, especially around the glow of a warm fireplace. Board games like Monopoly, Checkers, Scrabble or Yahtzee are loads of fun and will make the family game night a tradition in no time.

Happy Holidays to You!

We here at Northeastern Masonry & Chimney would like to wish you a warm and happy holiday season. Our holiday wish is that you will able to enjoy your fireplace for the holidays. If your fireplace is in need of servicing, there’s still time to schedule an appointment before the holidays get into full swing.

Chimney Cap Benefits in the Winter

When you burn a fire in your fireplace, smoke, gases, and hot air flow up your chimney flue and outside of your home through an opening at the top of your chimney. This opening exposes your chimney system and home to all sorts of potential hazards. Luckily there is a small and relatively inexpensive device that you can add to your chimney system to protect chimney from potential issues. A chimney cap is an essential component of any chimney system. This is especially true in the winter when snow, ice, and cold weather can affect the health of your chimney.

What is a chimney cap?Chimney Cap Benefits in the Winter Image - Albany NY - Northeastern Masonry

A chimney cap is a device that is attached to the flue where is comes out of the chimney. The cap prevents rain and snow from getting into your chimney. Chimney caps are usually designed with a mesh screen on its sides to allow smoke and gasses out of your home, but keep leaves and critters out.

Moisture Protection

Winters are especially hard on your chimney and if snow or rain gets into your chimney it can cause a number of issues. Probably the most costly issue related to moisture is when water seeps into the tiny pores of your brick and mortar. When it gets cold enough, the water can freeze and expand, causing cracking and crumbling of your chimney masonry. Not only can this affect the functionality of your chimney, it can also cause a hazardous situation by loosening brickwork enough to cause bricks to detach and fall.

There are other potential chimney system issues caused by rain and snow. If moisture gets inside your chimney, it can mix with ash, oil, and creosote deposits along your chimney wall. Not only can this mixture corrode the inside of your chimney, it also causes a formidable odor that can creep into your home. Other potential issues related to moisture are: rusted firebox and damper assemblies; water stains on chimney exterior and walls; chimney settlement; and rotting of your homes wooden framework.

Nature Protection

Chimney caps also prevent nature from entering your chimney. An unprotected chimney may allow leaves and small branches to enter your chimney flue. Animals may also see a chimney opening as a nice, protected place to build a nest. Chimney blockages can really mess with your chimney systems airflow, allowing smoke and other gases into your home. Furthermore, blockages can also combust, causing a chimney fire.

What kind of cap do I need?

Winter is almost here! If your chimney cap is missing or worn out, and you’re looking to replace it, it’s important to know that chimney caps come in a number of styles and sizes. The best way to know if you have the correct chimney cap is to have a certified chimney technician inspect your chimney and guide you from there. At Northeastern Masonry & Chimney, we have a wide variety of chimney caps that can we can customize to fit any chimney. If you’re in the market for a chimney cap, or have questions regarding chimney cap installation, please contact Northeastern Masonry & Chimney today to schedule an appointment with one of our certified chimney technicians.

How Air Pressure & Flow Impact Your Chimney System

Does your chimney have issues with odor, or letting too much smoke in your home? A smelly chimney is unpleasant for anyone living in your home and can be embarrassing when you have friends visiting your home. Smoke entering your home can also cause odor issues, but can also cause eye irritation and can leave nasty smoke stains on your walls and furniture. A lot of the time these issues are caused by issues with airflow and air pressure within your home and can be solved somewhat simply with a chimney system inspection from a Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) certified chimney technician like the ones at Northeastern Masonry & Chimney.

Your Home Air SystemAir Pressure & Flow & Your Chimney Image - Albany NY - Northeastern Masonry

The air in your house is in constant motion, even if you don’t notice it. Generally, hot air moves towards the upper portions of your home while cooler, denser air stays in the lower portions of your home. However, there are many factors that can affect the airflow in your home. A general knowledge of your home’s airflow and what affects it can help solve odor and smoke issues caused by your chimney.

Stack Effect

The stack effect occurs when warm get trapped in the upper areas of your home. This warm air is pushed out of small cracks in the roof and walls of your home. At the same time replacement air is drawn into the home. Somewhere in your home is a Neutral Pressure Plane (NPP). The warmer air above this plane has slightly higher pressure than the outside. The cooler air below the NPP has air pressure that is slightly lower than the outside. This means that the lower parts of your home will try to suck air in from outdoors.

Newer homes tend to be airtigh. Often times this means that fireplaces that are placed below the NPP will suck in air from outdoors through the chimney. This means that all the odors that are in your chimney will be drawn into the home. This will also cause smoke to be pushed into the home if your fire is not warm enough.

Wind Loading

When high winds strike your home, it will cause high pressure on the side of your home being struck by the wind. If a window is opened on the downwind side of the house, it can cause a backdraft, meaning smoke will be drawn out of the fireplace. Instead of up the chimney.

What can I do?

There are a couple things that you can do to fight negative air pressure. First, you can prime your chimney before you light a fire. The cold air in your chimney flue will want to sink into your home once you open your damper. You can warm up your flue by rolling up a piece of newspaper, lighting it, and sticking up your chimney to warm it up will warm up your flue and prevent smoke from entering your home. Building a hotter fire will also reduce smoke coming into your home because hotter air is lighter and will pull air up the flue.

Lastly, smoke and air need to be able to flow freely up your chimney flue. Creosote buildup and debris inside your flue can cause airflow issues which, in turn, can lead to issues with smell and smoke. The best way to ensure smooth airflow in your chimney flue is to have your chimney inspected annually by a CSIA-certified chimney sweep. If you have questions related your home’s airflow, don’t hesitate to contact Northeastern Masonry & Chimney today and have one of our CSIA-certified chimney experts inspect your chimney today!

Fire Starting Tips for Fall and Winter

The cold and blustery days of autumn are upon us and soon it will be time for cozying up around a warm fire with your family. Nothing beats the feeling of warmth and ambiance that a fireplace provides. Starting a fire in your wood burning fireplace may seem simple, but it actually takes a lot of steps and some skill to start a wood fire. At Northeastern Masonry & Chimney, we want you to be able to enjoy your fireplace all winter, so we offer you these fire starting tips.

Safety FirstFire Starting Tips for Fall and Winter Image - Albany NY - Northeastern Masonry

Before starting any fire think about safety first. First, look at the area surrounding your fireplace. Are there any combustible items (like wood and cloth furniture) within a minimum of three feet away from your fireplace, it needs to be moved. Also, check to see if your chimney is blocked.

Be sure there is an open airway out of your chimney. Nest, old leaves, and creosote can cause blockages which can be fire and smoke hazards. The best way to be sure your chimney is clear is to have it checked out by a Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) certified chimney technician like the ones at Northeastern Masonry & Chimney.

Pick the Right Wood

Before you start your fire, be sure to choose the right kind of wood. You will want to pick wood that has been properly split and dried (or seasoned) to avoid too much smoke and creosote buildup. Check out our previous blog for wood selection tips.

Open Your Damper and Prime the Flue

It is very important that you open your damper before you start your fire. If your damper is closed, the smoke produced by your fire will have no place to go but into your home. Once your damper is open you may start to feel cold air coming from your flue. This cold air sink will cause smoke to come into your house until your flue warms up. You can avoid this by priming your flue. This is done by lighting a roll of newspaper and holding it up in your flue until you feel the draft reverse.

Build Your Fire

It is usually best to build your fire on an ash bed. A 1 – 2-inch ash bed provides insulation to keep your fire burning hotter. If you do not have an ash bed, you can use ashes from an outdoor grill or firepit. However, too much ash can cause fires to burn poorly, so don’t allow more than a couple inches of ash to build up.

There are a couple techniques that can be used to build your fire, but the most common technique consists of starting with a small bunch of kindling such as paper, leaves, or something easily combustible and building the fire up. On top of your kindling, you will want to lay small dry sticks that can easily catch fire. Next lay a layer of medium-sized logs/sticks on top of your kindling. Start your fire by lighting the kindling with a long match or lighter. Once your medium-sized logs/sticks have caught fire, you can start to lay larger logs on your fire.

Contact Us

If you have any questions on the proper way to start a fire, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Northeastern Masonry & Fireplace today to and ask our fireplace experts how to build a fire for your whole family to enjoy.

What is a Firestop and Why is it Important?

It’s hard to notice, but your house is constantly shifting and settling. Because of this, your chimney and stove vent pipes are not connected to your house, even when they are passing through floors and walls. This allows your home to move while your chimney stays in place, and keeps your venting from making contact with your home. However, it also allows for gaps between the rooms and floors in your house. You may not think a little gap is something to be too concerned about, but these gaps can actually be a safety hazard in the event of a fire. Small gaps allow for a fire to spread more easily from one room to another. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to cover these gaps and make your home safer.

What is a Firestop?What is a Firestop & its Importance Image - Albany NY - Northeastern Masonry

Venting pipes may pass through several floors of your home. When they do, they need to be framed and have at least a 2-inch clearance from the floor as well as any wall they travel through although some local fire codes may have larger clearance requirements. This clearance keeps combustible materials from making contact with hot vent pipes. Further, even at relatively low temperatures of 200 – 300 degrees, wood can become chemically altered, making it more combustible. However, the clearance also allows for flames to spread easier from one floor to the next in the case of a house fire. That is why it is important to have firestops installed in your home.

A firestop is simply a square piece of sheet metal with a hole cut in the middle of it. Your vent piping runs through the hole and the sheet metal around the hole covers up the clearance area at the ceiling, floor, or wall. Some local codes will also require fire-blocking foam to be sprayed in and around the clearance area along with the firestop.

How Do I Know if I Need a Firestop?

Almost all fire codes require firestops, however, older homes may have worn out or missing firestops. The best way to determine if your firestops are in place and correctly installed is to have a Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) certified chimney sweep inspect your chimney system. At Northeastern Masonry and Chimney, we knowledgeable and up to date on all local clearance and firestop fire codes. If you aren’t sure if your home is up to code, please schedule an appointment with one of our CSIA certified technicians today!

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What Kind of Firewood Should I Burn in my Fireplace?

A lot of people don’t really think twice about the wood they burn in their fireplace. To some people, all wood is created equal. This is not the case, however, and the type, size, shape and moisture content of your firewood can have a huge impact on the quality of your fire.

Why is the type of firewood I burn important?What Kind of Firewood Should I Burn in my Fireplace Image - Albany NY - Northeastern Masonry

The type of fire that you burn is dependent on a fuel source. If you are using a wood burning fireplace, then this fuel source is, obviously, wood. It makes sense then to think that the quality of your fire is dependent on the quality of the wood used to fuel it. Different qualities in your wood can determine your fire’s heating efficiency as well as its cleanliness. So, what are the qualities of a good wood fuel?

Tree Species

The species of tree that your wood originated from has an impact on the efficiency at which your fire burns. Hardwoods like ironwood, hickory and oak burn slower and hotter. Because these species are so dense, they contain more energy relative to volume. This doesn’t mean softer woods like spruce, pine and poplar are bad to burn. In fact, these species make excellent fuel in the autumn and spring when you don’t need as hot fires to keep warm.

Moisture

The moisture content of your wood can also determine the health of your fire. You want your firewood to have around 15 – 20 percent moisture before it’s burned. To get firewood to the right moisture level, it usually needs to dry for about a year. This is called seasoning the wood. A well-seasoned wood will burn hot and clean, meaning there will be little smoke coming from it. When your firewood isn’t seasoned enough, it releases more smoke and chemicals which can lead to creosote buildup in your chimney.

Size

The size of your firewood is also important. Pieces that are 20 inches long and about 3 to 6 inches across are generally the best size for burning indoors. These size pieces generally are easy to ignite and burn at a good temperature. Larger pieces are harder to ignite and may not fit in your fireplace properly while pieces that are too small may burn quicker and hotter than you would like.

If you have any questions about what types of firewood you should be burning contact one of our fireplace experts at Northeastern Masonry & Chimney. We can advise you on what is the best type of firewood for your wood burning system.

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I Scheduled An Appointment, Now What?

After scheduling an appointment with a Northeastern Masonry & Chimney CSIA certified technician, you probably wonder what needs to be done to ensure your chimney is prepared for inspection. Well, there are a couple of important things to do prior to your appointment that ensures the safety of you, your belongings, and your chimney technician.

Pre-Appointment Tips

I Scheduled an Appointment, Now What - Albany, NY - NortheasternThe first thing is to make sure that there is an area cleared out of at least six feet around the appliance that is being serviced. This means all furniture, wall hangings, decorations and valuables should be moved out of the service area. This provides the technician plenty of room to set up their equipment. In addition, it ensures nothing falling or tipping over while they work. Lastly, clearing out a work area ensures that your belongs will not break or get dirty.

Protect anyone working on your fireplace by not using it for at least 24 hours prior to your appointment. This ensures that there are no hot embers lingering which may potentially burn your service technician. Also, remove any ashes that are in the ashbox before your appointment. This helps keep ash from getting in our technician’s eyes or lungs and reduces the potential for a mess.

Customer Safety and Education

Our service is intended to educate our customers. We want you to know how your chimney works. That’s why we encourage you to ask our CSIA certified technicians any questions you want about your chimney system during your appointment. We especially like to educate on fireplace safety and awareness.

Hopefully these pre-appointment tips give you the peace of mind that you will have your home ready when our chimney technician comes over. If you haven’t already set up an appointment for your annual chimney inspection, please do so today. As the weather cools, our schedule fills quickly. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can schedule an appointment at a convenient time for you.

Is Your Chimney and Fireplace Ready for Winter?

Prepare for Winter

Summer is almost over which means that it won’t be long until you want to fire up the fireplace again. However, before you use your fireplace, you should ask yourself if have you had your fireplace and chimney inspected within the last year. There are a lot of issues that issue that could have arrived over the last year, especially if you used your chimney a lot last fall and winter.Is Your Chimney and Fireplace Ready for Winter Image - Albany NY - Northeastern Masonry

Creosote buildup, masonry cracking or chimney obstructions (e.g. leaves or animal nests) are all problems that can escalate quickly and cause damage to your property or become a fire hazard. Annual chimney inspections are recommended by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and the National Fire Prevention Agency (NFPA). According to the CSIA, a majority of chimney fires could have been avoided if annual chimney inspections would have taken place.

There are three levels of chimney inspection that may take place depending on any changes that have occurred to your chimney in the last year.

Level 1

Level 1 inspections are the most basic and common type of inspection. This is the type of inspection that will take place if there have been no major changes to your chimney system and there has been normal usage over the last year. You chimney will be checked for blockages or creosote build up and the structural integrity of your entire chimney will also be checked.

Level 2

Level 2 inspections are more thorough and take place if there have been any structural changes to your chimney system. Changes can include, but are not limited to changes in fuel system, relining, or replacement of appliance components. This type of inspection also needs to take place after a transfer of property or after an event that there is a chance that damage may have been done to your chimney (e.g. earthquake, fire, or tornado). This type of inspection will also include a video scan to assure a thorough inspection.

Level 3

Level 3 inspections are similar to level 2 inspections, but they also allow a chimney technician to remove chimney components and use demolition tools to perform an inspection. This level of inspection usually takes place if there is a suspected hazard.

Chimney safety is of utmost importance for you and your family, so remember that only CSIA certified chimney sweeps, like the ones at Northeastern Masonry and Chimney, have been trained and tested in chimney maintenance, safety and ethics that make them qualified to inspect your fireplace and chimney. Fall and winter are a busy time of year for a chimney sweep, so contact Northeastern Masonry & Chimney for an annual inspection today to assure that your chimney will be rid of any potential issues and ready to go for the winter.

The Advantages of Video Scanning Your Chimney

Your chimney is a dark, cramped space. Because of this, chimney inspections can often be difficult and cracks or other potential chimney issues may be missed. However, we now have technology that allows us to carefully inspect every square inch of your chimney with the use of a video camera. Although video scans are usually not used on routine inspections. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) requires that a video scan takes The Advantages of Video Scanning Your Chimney Image - Albany NY - NE Masonryplace at any Level 2 or 3 inspection. These inspections normally occur when changes are made to your system (i.e. relining the flue, fuel changes, etc…) or components are removed from your system (i.e. chimney crown or interior chimney wall). Scans are common when there is an issue with the chimney and a technician wants to take a closer look.

At Northeastern Masonry & Chimney, we want to give you the best service possible and video scanning technology allows us to confidently diagnose a problem that you may be experiencing with your chimney.

How does video scanning work?

Our CSIA certified technicians scan your chimney using a remote camera. This is done by feeding a line with an attached camera and light up or down your chimney. A technician will then scan your chimney by taking videos of the inside of your chimney. The camera is controlled by the technician (usually by remote control). While the camera is taking video, the technician will look at a live feed of what is being scanned inside the chimney allowing them to assess the condition of your chimney.

How do video scans benefit you?

Video scans allow our technicians to quickly and accurately diagnose issues you may be having with your chimney. This means a couple things. First, getting issues resolved quickly allows you to access to your chimney faster. This is important during those cold New York winters. Second, at Northeastern Masonry & Chimney we value your safety. Video scanning gives us the confidence that we have caught all potential issues to your chimney that may be a danger to you and your home.

Animal nests or old chimney repairs that may not have been done correctly increase the potential of chimney fires. Video scans are often used after a fire to inspect chimneys. These scans provide evidence to support you insurance claim after a fire.

At Northeastern Masonry & Chimney, we care about giving you the best service available. If you would like to see if a video scan is recommended for your chimney, please contact us today and set up an appointment to have one of our CSIA certified technicians inspect your chimney.

Chimney Problems During Summer

The summer offers a chance to tend to chimney matters that can’t be addressed when smoke is pouring out of it — namely, in the colder months.

Let’s discuss summer chimney issues, as well as maintenance and repair opportunities the summer provides.

Chimney OdorChimney Problems During Summer Image - Albany NY - Northeastern Masonry

Odor, for example, is often a noticeable summer issue. “Noticeable” is the operative word here. When you are not building fires, air may be coming down the chimney, instead of going up and out. You may need to open a window in the same room or seal off the top of the chimney in the summer.

Instead of merely guessing about the causes of chimney odor, or its solution, call Northeastern Masonry & Chimney. A careful summertime inspection by one of our qualified professionals is a sensible first step in addressing chimney odor control.

When odors are coming from your chimney and your fireplace, the smell likely derives from creosote deposits in the chimney. The unpleasant “fragrance” tends to be worse in the summer. High humidity exacerbates the problem; plus, windows are usually closed as the air conditioner does its work.

What to do?

A good sweeping is advised, but it may not solve the problem. Chimney deodorants may offer some relief. Lots of folks find that baking soda or kitty litter placed in the fireplace is effective.

Northeastern Masonry & Chimney suggests you treat the underlying cause during the summer. The root cause is most likely air being drawn down the chimney. This indicates pressure problems in the house. Makeup air should be introduced somewhere else in the house. Another solution is a tight-sealing, top-mounted damper. This reduces airflow coming down the chimney.

Summer is also a wise time to check various elements of the chimney, for example, chimney crowns. Crowns are both functional and beautiful – if properly designed and built. But the untrained eye won’t necessarily detect the crown cracks that are the warning sign of leaks to come. Repairing your chimney crown in these summer months makes sense from a practical and logistical standpoint. It’s simply an easier work environment for our experienced masons and technicians. Moreover, summer conditions facilitate sealing and setting. It’s the optimum time for repairing or rebuilding your chimney crown.

Although it’s not a chimney matter per se, firewood can also be a summer issue. It’s not too early to start seasoning your firewood. If anything, it’s too late. Allow yourself a year, ideally, to allow proper seasoning for your firewood.

Summertime is ideal for evaluating whether the flue is cracked or blocked. It’s also an opportunity to look for any buildup affecting airflow — critters, vegetation, leaves, old nests. Clearing away this stuff reduces risks of fire or noxious fumes.

It’s a good time to inspect mortar or brickwork for damage or deterioration. Masonry repairs are easier in summer than in winter.

Give Us a Call

Northeastern Masonry & Chimney employs CSIA-trained professionals all year round, not just in the summer. If you live in the Capital District, Central or Northern New York, the Hudson Valley or western Massachusetts, call Northeastern Masonry & Chimney today at 518-767-9315. Or schedule a summertime appointment online.