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The dangers of carbon monoxide

Your home’s heating system — whether it’s a furnace, gas fireplace, or pellet stove — keeps your family warm and cozy all winter long. However, your home heating system could pose a danger to you and your family: Carbon monoxide poisoning. As homes become more air tight and new heating systems are retrofitted onto older ventilation systems, everyone should be aware of the risk for carbon monoxide in the home.

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Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be life threatening. The overt symptoms are strong headaches, dizziness, confusion, nausea, weakness, blurred vision or loss of consciousness. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should leave their home and seek medical attention. Because often the symptoms of carbon monoxide can be as subtle as a headache, all homes should be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors. If those detectors start to go off, leave your home immediately and call 911.

Sources of carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels, including the wood, natural gas, or propane you use to heat your home. Depending on the type of heating appliance you have, your appliance may either burn hot enough to combust all traceable levels of carbon monoxide, or it will be vented out of your home through a chimney or ventilation system. If a ventilation system becomes blocked, such as from soot, debris, or nesting animals, carbon monoxide can be forced back into your home rather than exiting through the chimney or ductwork. A malfunctioning appliance also can cause a carbon monoxide hazard.

Additionally, in some older homes when newer, more efficient furnaces or stoves are installed, sometimes they are vented through older chimneys or ductwork that is not properly sized for the appliance. That can cause a carbon monoxide hazard.
In newer homes, where doors, windows, and walls are more airtight, heating appliances can have a hard time getting the oxygen they need to properly combust their fuel, which could lead to the furnace, stove, or fireplace letting off carbon monoxide.

Preventing carbon monoxide hazards

The best way to prevent carbon monoxide from threatening your family is to have your heating system serviced annual by certified professionals.

Chimneys should be swept and inspected to make sure they are cleared of any soot or fire byproducts, unobstructed from any debris or animals, and free from any cracks or damage that could allow carbon monoxide to seep into your home.
Heating appliances, including fireplaces, gas stoves, pellet stoves, and furnaces should be serviced and inspected by professionals before the cold-weather season begins each year to make sure that they are functioning efficiently and safely and not producing dangerous carbon monoxide.

An inspection also will examine whether your home’s ventilation system is suited to your appliance. That ensures that the gases created by your furnace, stove, or fireplace is exiting your home properly and that your heating appliance is getting the oxygen it needs to burn its fuel entirely.

Schedule your routine chimney, fireplace, and heating stove maintenance today to keep you family safe from carbon monoxide this winter.

The Importance of CSIA Certification

When it comes to fireplace and chimney service, installation, and maintenance, finding the right company to work with can be hard to do. With so many businesses to choose from, it can be difficult to determine the seasoned professionals from the seasonal workers.

Although anyone with a brush and a truck might be able to call themselves a chimney sweep, few have earned the Chimney Safety Institute of America, or CSIA, certification. By hiring a certified chimney sweep, you can feel confident that you are working with a highly trained and educated professional.

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Are all chimney sweeps certified?

Many homeowners mistakenly believe that all chimney sweeps are created equally. Unfortunately, there are few regulations or restrictions on the industry. Because of this, any handyman with a couple of brushes can call themselves a chimney sweep. Oftentimes, these “chimney sweeps” do little more than push around the ash and soot in your chimney, making more of a mess than actually cleaning the chimney.

In order to get the best service possible for your fireplace and chimney system, it is important to work with a CSIA certified chimney sweep. The CSIA certification is recognized as the gold standard in the industry. Chimney sweeps that hold a CSIA certification have completed extensive education, training, and testing and represent the best in the industry in terms of skill and professionalism.

In order to earn their CSIA certification, chimney sweeps must study and be tested on topics such as:

  • Fireplace and chimney safety practices
  • Local and national building and fire codes
  • Fireplace and chimney building dynamics for wide range of units
  • Installation and maintenance practices for fireplaces, inserts, and stoves
  • Current EPA standards for fireplaces, inserts, and stoves

CSIA certified chimney sweeps must also stay up to date on current industry practices. Because they must retest every three years in order to maintain their certification, CSIA-certified sweeps have information on the most recent safety and technology developments and best practices in the industry.

Hiring a certified chimney sweep

Because chimney maintenance can directly impact the safety of you and your family, it is important to work with a professional that you trust. Before hiring a chimney sweep, consider asking them the following questions:

  • How long has your chimney sweeping company been in business?
  • Can you offer current references?
  • Do you have unresolved complaints filed with any consumer protection agencies or the Better Business Bureau?
  • Does the company or the individual chimney sweep carry business liability insurance policy to protect my home and furnishings against accidents?
  • Will the company guarantee that a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep will be on my job site?

Don’t trust your family’s safety to the cheapest company you can find. Instead, hire a CSIA certified chimney sweep to ensure that your chimney’s maintenance and repairs are done correctly – the first time. In the Houston area, contact Lords Chimney to schedule an appointment with our CSIA certified chimney sweeps!

Why Ivy is Damaging Your Chimney

Climbing vines such as ivy or wisteria have been used for years as a way to cover up unsightly exteriors or add a touch of whimsy to a home. While these vines may add curb appeal, they can also cause serious damage to your home’s exterior, especially if they are growing on or around your masonry chimney.

Why ivy is bad for chimneys

Many homeowners believe that ivy is no different from any plant growing in the garden. Unfortunately, while it can be a charming addition to the exterior of a home, it is can also cause significant damage. Below are three of the most common ways that ivy and climbing vines are bad for chimneys.

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1. Ivy causes cracks

Climbing vines such as ivy do not grow vertically on their own; they need a structure to hold onto in order to climb. When this happens on your chimney, the roots and tendrils of the ivy snake their way into the bricks and mortar in order to continue climbing. This can create cracks and holes in the masonry; at the plant continues to grow, so too does the size of the damage.

Even chimney chases covered by siding or shingles can be affected. Just like with masonry, ivy on a chimney chase can also cause cracks and holes to form. Likewise, on these building materials tendrils from climbing vines can cause staining and discoloration that is difficult to remove without damaging the siding itself.

2. Ivy traps moisture

Ivy’s lush, green foliage can create a cover of shade that is difficult for the sun to penetrate. Because of this, water from rain, snow, morning dew, and even sprinklers can become trapped against the masonry. Over time, the combination of water and the holes and cracks created by the ivy’s roots can cause significant cracking and spalling.

In addition to damaging the masonry, trapped moisture can also encourage the growth of mold or mildew. Exterior mold and mildew growth can cause odor both inside and outside your home, as well as affecting your home’s air quality. This can be particularly harmful to those with breathing condition such as asthma or allergies.

3. Ivy invites insects

The same leafy coverage that prevents water from evaporating also provides the perfect home for all kinds of insects. Protection from predators and an abundant food source are just two of the reasons why climbing vines such as ivy can easily become host to insect infestations. Termites in particular have been known to take up residence in ivy; the network of branches, roots, and leaves often give these insects direct access to wood siding or trim around your home.

While ivy might add character or curb appeal to your home, it can also cause significant damage to the exterior. Chimneys, whether they are made of masonry or covered with a chimney chase, are particular susceptible to damage from climbing vines. If your home has ivy growing on the chimney structure, contact Lords Chimney today to learn more about removing the ivy and repairing the damage it may have caused.

Is Your Chimney Up to Modern Standards?

Owning an older home often includes beautiful original building features. One of the most sought after features in historical homes are fireplaces and chimneys; these original structures were built with quality materials and designed to last. However, as charming as an original fireplace is, it may not be up to modern building standards.

Older chimneys often have unique problems and different considerations than more recently built fireplaces. Because of this, it is important that homeowners with older fireplaces are educated about the state and condition of their fireplace system.

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How old is old?

An older home doesn’t necessarily mean an out of date fireplace. For the most part, “old” chimneys are more than 60 years old and are exclusively built with masonry. Many fireplaces built after the 1950s are prefabricated metal or factory built units; while there are still brick chimneys built after that time, a number may also be block chimneys.

Common problems in old chimneys

For older chimney and fireplace systems, there are a number of safety issues that are likely to occur.

  • Unlined chimney: One of the most common issues seen in older chimneys is a lack of a chimney lining. While it may be tempting to believe that a chimney that has been unlined for 100 years or more is safe to use, best practices indicate that all chimneys should be lined. Relining the chimney can improve the efficiency of your fireplace as well as protect the rest of your home from the heat and gasses created during combustion.
  • Chimney caps and crowns: Older chimneys often lack caps and crowns that meet modern building standards. All fireplace systems should have a chimney cap to protect the chimney from moisture, animals, blockages, and debris. Likewise, the chimney crown of many older homes is more likely to be degraded. Because chimney crowns are constantly exposed to the elements they are more likely to deteriorate faster than the rest of the chimney system. Repairing or relaying the chimney crown can ensure that your chimney is structurally sound.
  • Masonry damage: Although chimneys are built to last, long term exposure to the elements – especially without regular maintenance – can lead to masonry damage. Masonry joints are more likely to be affected than the bricks themselves, which can compromise the structural integrity of the chimney itself. The tuckpointing process can remove and replace old mortar without removing any brick. Doing this can help reinforce the chimney and protect the surrounding bricks from damage. Likewise, applying a waterproofing agent to the chimney can protect it against further water damage and help extend the life of the masonry.

Owning a home with an older fireplace system often comes with its own unique set of maintenance issues. However, by better understanding the structure and condition of your chimney you can continue to enjoy it for years to come. Contact Lords Chimney today for more information on how we can help you with the upkeep and maintenance of your older chimney, as well as make sure it is up to modern building standards.

Spotting Masonry Damage In Need Of Repairs

Your chimney does more than just decorate your roofline; it protects your entire fireplace system and helps keep you and your family safe. While chimneys are built to last and to withstand the elements, they can deteriorate due to damage, poor construction, or age.

In order to keep your chimney working well and in good condition it is important to be able to spot the signs of masonry damage. By knowing when your chimney is damaged, you can quickly enlist the help of a chimney professional to get it repaired and back in good working condition.

How masonry gets damaged

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Masonry is one of the strongest building materials available, which is what allows well-built fireplaces and chimneys to stand the test of time. However, even the most well maintained masonry structures need repairs over time. Below are some of the most common causes of masonry damage, as well as what repairs can fix them.

Water: Water and moisture from rain, ice, and snow can be some of the most damaging forces that affect your chimney. Because bricks are naturally porous, they may absorb small amounts of water. As the water absorbed by the bricks freezes, it expands and creates progressively larger and larger cracks and holes. This freeze-thaw can cause significant damage to the masonry in as little as one year, causing bricks to crack, chip, and spall.

In addition to affecting the bricks and mortar of the chimney, water can affect many other parts of your chimney system. The chimney cap and crown are also particularly susceptible to water damage due to their location; many chimney leaks are caused by damaged chimney caps and crowns. Chimney leaks can lead to damage to the flue and firebox, as well as damage to the walls and ceilings surrounding your chimney.

One of the best ways to prevent water damage is by having your masonry waterproofed. The waterproofing process involves coating bricks and mortar with a specially designed chimney sealant. Made for porous bricks, it keeps water out while still allowing gasses to pass through. Waterproofing products can also be applied to chimneys with existing water damage to slow or stop the deterioration process.

Settling: Over time, all homes are prone to settling. Settling can affect many different parts of your home, including your fireplace and chimney. Masonry fireplaces that are not built on proper bases may become damaged due to settling; this often shows up as cracks in the firebox or chimney.

Chimney or fireplace cracks caused by settling can be repaired using the detailed tuckpointing process. Tuckpointing involves the removal of the existing damaged mortar, replacing it with new mortar that matches the color and consistency of the original. This strengthens the masonry and prevents further damage.

Subpar materials: Sometimes, chimney damage can be caused by the wrong materials. If subpar materials were used in the construction of your fireplace or chimney, it may be more prone to damage. Likewise, mistakes made during installation can also affect your fireplace system. This is often seen in fireplaces or chimneys that are built by general contractors rather than skilled masons.

No matter what is causing your masonry damage, it is important to have it repaired as soon as possible. Contact Lords Chimney today to schedule your masonry repair appointment!