Northeastern Masonry & Chimney's Blog

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.

What to Expect During an Annual Chimney Inspection

A professional chimney inspection is in your best interest. It’s like hiring a structural engineer to inspect your house’s foundation or having a licensed electrician inspect your wiring if things keep shorting out.

Annual Chimney InspectionWhat to Expect During an Annual Chimney Inspection Image - Albany NY - Northeastern Masonry

Our typical annual chimney inspection is known as a Level 1 inspection as defined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

What does it consist of? It’s essentially a detailed visual inspection conducted by professionals who know how to discern a potential or existing problem.

Specifically, at Northeastern Masonry & Chimney, during the yearly chimney inspection we:

  • check all accessible interior and exterior portions, including the venting system, the appliance, and connections,
  • evaluate whether the flue is cracked or blocked,
  • look for any build-up affecting air flow to minimize risks of fire or noxious fumes.

Trained Professionals

Again, we want to emphasize the importance of using trained eyes.

Your chimney masonry may be deteriorating in ways only a professional can see. For example, mortar erosion and breakdown from moisture intrusion is often subtle, especially in the early stages. The untrained eye may not detect these early problems. And even if you could discern a problem, you likely face safety challenges related to access.

We essentially look for symptoms and their causes. We want to examine your masonry for signs of damage from plant growth, such as vines, or damage from fire or moisture. Our professionals assess whether masonry deterioration is resulting from poor structural design or construction, inferior building materials, weather conditions, animals’ nesting, seismic disturbance, or lack of proper maintenance.

An inspection might reveal structural problems or exterior features that need repair. Some examples of not-so-obvious issues we might unearth include chimney crown damage, sealant or flashing fissures, crumbling masonry or spalling, or moisture intrusion.

Additional Precautions

Incidentally, there are additional levels of inspection that probe more deeply and thoroughly. For example, a Level 2 inspection is typically required upon the transfer or sale of a home. The next level looks for hidden hazards, using video scanning. The most advanced inspection uses special equipment and tools to find root causes of hidden problems. At this level of inspection, certain chimney components, such as a crown, may have to be removed. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) spells out the fine points of these three levels of inspection.

Rest assured that Northeastern Masonry & Chimney employs trained professionals who know chimney maintenance. Our CSIA-certified technicians have the skills and tools to inspect your chimney properly.

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 an appointment online.

Inspect Your Chimney This Summer So It’s Ready For Fall

Stay ahead of the fall frenzy and have your chimney inspected and swept this summer.

Northeastern Masonry & Chimney gets busy with inspections in the fall. Schedule your fall chimney inspection and sweeping now. No one likes a busy signal. Call 518-767-9315 now. Our “elves” are waiting.

Book nonemergency services such as inspections and sweepings during the summer. Northeastern Masonry & Chimney gets extra busy when the leaves turn crimson, gold, and brown and fall to the ground. Although emergencies are unplanned by definition, routine maintenance can be scheduled well before the fall. Schedule your chimney inspection and sweeping today.

Your yearly chimney sweeping is critical for preserving the life of your chimney. It is a worthwhile practice that maintains a safe and efficient fireplace and chimney. But chimney inspection is not a DIY project.Inspect Your Chimney Image - Albany NY - Northeastern Masonry & Chimney

We Are Trained

At Northeastern Masonry & Chimney, we are trained professionals who know chimney maintenance, home safety, and fire prevention. Our Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA)-certified technicians have the skills and tools to clean your chimney properly.

Northeastern Masonry & Chimney experts are trained in National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG) standards and educated in NFPA-211 codes and recommendations. We keep abreast of the latest industry guidelines and recommendations.

A Professional Service

A professional chimney cleaning involves clearly defined actions. We perform a thorough and appropriate regimen of industry-recommended tasks. Brushable creosote and soot are removed carefully so as to avoid fireplace or chimney damage. Our cleaning even reaches into the elbows in factory-built chimneys. We also clean connector pipes, which can become separated if they were improperly sized or if inappropriate brushes or rods were used.

Northeastern Masonry & Chimney removes soot and creosote from the smoke shelf and firebox as it becomes dislodged during cleaning. We use proven methods to assure that no soot or creosote escape into your home. Our technicians employ drop cloths, rug runners, high-speed vacuums, shoe covers, and tarps to give you a mess-free cleaning.

An inspection might reveal structural problems or exterior features that need repair. Again, it would be foolish to wait until autumn to address such matters. Some examples of not-so-obvious issues we might unearth include chimney crown damage, sealant or flashing fissures, crumbling masonry or spalling, or
moisture intrusion.

Call Now

Beat the fall rush and put our 35 years of success to work for you. 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 an appointment online.

Our customers love us and we love them! You can check out some of their reviews here!

Schedule your inspection today before it’s too late!

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Common Masonry Problems and Solutions

Whether your problems are common or rare, they’re still problems. The same is true for issues affecting your chimney masonry.

Let Northeastern Masonry & Chimney think out loud with you as we survey some common masonry chimney problems, and resulting solutions.

Common Masonry Problems and Solutions Image - Albany NY - Northeastern Masonry & ChimneySpoiler Alert: Water/moisture is the most prevalent culprit.

Spalling and Other Deterioration

Brickwork gets worn and cracked and splintered from wind, rain, ice, snow, sleet, freeze, thaw, and heat. When bricks show splitting, cracking and flaking, you have spalling. The masonry can deteriorate to the point of needing complete replacement. What is the solution? Northeastern Masonry & Chimney has successful experience identifying and repairing spalled brickwork.

Professional assessment of your brickwork is the first step. We search for the underlying cause. Water intrusion is the main culprit. Moisture intrusion damages bricks, chimney linings or mortar.

Remedies might range from installing a chimney cap or top-mounted damper or applying a specially designed waterproofing sealant.

On the plus side, we might discover spalling in its earliest stages. Perhaps only a few bricks need to be replaced.

Repointing

Repointing involves the removal of eroding mortar joints and replacing them with smooth, new mortar. The need for repointing may arise from moisture or even original poor construction. A critical aspect of repointing is the matching of compatible types of masonry materials. Without professional insight and knowledge, shoddy workmanship would force a homeowner to pay for a do-over.

Restoration

A faithfully executed chimney restoration pays attention to the details and craftsmanship of the original masonry. A professional restoration strengthens the structural integrity of your chimney, and it looks natural and authentic. The need for restoration can come from a variety of causes. For example, your masonry chimney crown can crack after years of onslaught from weather and climate. Be sure to repair a damaged crown quickly to prevent leaks. With proper care and maintenance, bricks can last a century or more. But water and weather, as well as the natural settling of a home, can take their toll on bricks and mortar joints. If called upon, Northeastern Masonry & Chimney’s professionals carefully consider the right choice of brickwork to respect the integrity of your original design.

Chimney Leaks

Moisture in masonry chimneys causes a host of problems, from cracking and crumbling joints and bricks to discoloration and mold growth. As we noted, repointing is one repair solution as is crown work. Like gargoyles, chimney crowns divert rain, sleet and hail away from your chimney masonry. Crowns are both functional and beautiful, but you need a pro to discern whether crown cracks are the warning sign of leaks to come.

Northeastern Masonry & Chimney technicians are CSIA-certified experts, and are members of the NYSCG (New York State Chimney Guild) and the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG).

Northeastern Masonry & Chimney serves the Capital District, the Hudson Valley, Northern and Central New York and Western Massachusetts. Since 1993 (and more than 17,000 customers later), Northeastern Masonry & Chimney has been providing premier workmanship.

Whether your masonry problems are common or notably uncommon, call us today at 518-767-9315. We love being challenged.

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3 Reasons a Professional Sweep Is Better Than a Cleaning Log

Chimney sweeping logs have some value. Many people use them to clean their chimney. But chimney sweeping logs have limited value. They don’t yield the benefits of a professional chimney sweep.

Northeastern Masonry & Chimney is glad to share with you three solid reasons why a professional sweeping by a human being is a better alternative than a log.

Three Reasons

  1. A log cannot report any problems or issues with your chimney.
    Even if somehow it could perceive a problem, the log can’t communicate. Unlike everyone else, logs don’t even text! When it comes to discerning problems or issues, the cleaning log has zero skills. The professional, on the other hand, has skills and expertise. For example, a trained professional can identify chimney blockages caused by bird or rodent nests or any debris that may be lodged in your chimney system.3 Reasons a Sweep is Better Than a CSL Image - Albany NY - Northeastern Masonry & Chimney

    The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) endorses the use of a professional sweep: “For improved safety and home heating efficiency, CSIA recommends that all chimneys and vented appliances be inspected every year by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®.”
    The CSIA adds that a log “will not tell you if your chimney is blocked or has any kind of structural damage.”

    We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

  2. A certified professional does a better job.
    A chimney sweeping log is treated with minerals and chemicals to break down the creosote build-up in your chimney. You might say it acts passively. It doesn’t do any sweeping. Professional chimney sweeps take a look-see and scrub with steel brushes. Think of it like this: the automatic dishwasher is supposed to clean everything, even pots, and pans. But most of us have experienced the stubbornly dirty pot or dish or glass that the automatic dishwasher just couldn’t clean.

    It needs the human touch. Just like a chimney does. Furthermore, a professional sweeping is effective not just for conventional straight chimneys but also for chimneys with bends or curves.

  3. A professional finishes the job.
    A professional’s scrubbing is thorough and effective. Even if a chimney sweeping log were fantastically effective, what then? Who cleans up afterward? In other words, even if a log were to remove creosote and other materials, the resultant debris must fall; it still needs to be cleaned up. At Northeastern Masonry & Chimney, we finish what we started by performing a complete cleanup and properly disposing of waste materials.

We are Professionals

Northeastern Masonry & Chimney technicians are trained to sweep properly. Our sweeps are CSIA-certified experts. Additionally, they are members of the NYSCG (New York State Chimney Guild) and the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG).

Northeastern Masonry & Chimney serves the Capital District, the Hudson Valley, Northern and Central New York and Western Massachusetts. We are proud of our record of chimney sweep excellence.

Since 1993 (and more than 17,000 customers later), Northeastern Masonry & Chimney has been providing the valuable human touch to chimney sweeping. Call us today at 518-767-9315 to learn how we can help you.