A stack of wood in front of a proper fireplace and chimney serviced by a chimney professional

What to Ask a Chimney Professional Before Hiring Them

Poorly maintained chimneys and fireplaces can cause all sorts of problems. Seemingly minor ash and debris in the fireplace can indicate the start of serious problems building up on chimney walls, such as toxic creosote and soot. Creosote is highly combustible and causes chimney fires. To stop this, specialist cleaning of chimneys and fireplaces is essential. So, here is a little advice on what to ask a chimney professional before hiring.

How Often Do Chimneys and Fireplaces Need Cleaning?

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) urges homeowners to get their chimneys cleaned at least once a year. Heavily used wood-burning fireplaces may need chimney sweeping done more often. A hint that you may be overdue for chimney sweeping is strong fireplace smells, debris falling into the fireplace, or smoke blowing back into the room.

Assess Your Needs Before Calling Chimney Professionals

So that you know what to ask before hiring a chimney sweep, you should do a basic visual check first. Check outside to see whether there appears to be any damage around the chimney cap and the immediate roofing surround. Also, see if there are any signs of animals appearing to live within the chimney or on the cap. Bird’s nests are a prime example.

Then check inside around the fireplace. Debris and heavy soot deposits falling from the chimney walls can be signs of animal life or structural damage. The tell-tale black tar signs of creosote are another sign that cleaning is due. You should discuss these issues with chimney cleaning companies when you seek quotes from them.

What to Look for When Hiring Chimney Cleaners

Two of the most important things to look for are good customer reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations. If the organization fails in this area, it can indicate poor service. Asking friends and family about local chimney professionals is a good start. Online review sites may also prove helpful.

Once you’ve lined up two or three potential cleaners, you can compare their experience, rates, and availability. A checklist can be a useful tool to assess their services.

Your Checklist of Questions on What to Ask Before Hiring a Chimney Sweep

1.  Do you have experience with the type of fireplace and chimney I have?

Chimneys come in various shapes and sizes, so you’ll want to ensure the cleaner you hire has experience with your type of chimney.

2. How much will it cost to have my chimney and fireplace cleaned?

This is an essential what to ask before hiring a chimney sweep. You don’t want a nasty surprise when the bill is handed over. A good local company won’t hesitate to come to your property for a free quote.

3. My chimney is way overdue for a cleaning. Will it cost more to sweep?

Again, you don’t want any surprises here. If you’re upfront with them on how long it has been between sweeping and how heavily the fireplace is used, they may need to quote a little more. When they do their inspection, unanticipated problems may come to light. Ask them how they will deal with this type of scenario as well.

4. Do you have any discounts or promotions for first-time customers?

This is worth asking for. After all, they want your repeat business.

5. What if something goes wrong during the chimney cleaning process?

Check whether they are fully insured for any likely mishaps. Don’t just take their word for it—ask who their insurer is and get details of the process if any structural damage occurs.

6. Is your work guaranteed?

Check what their service guarantees cover, including how long they last.

7. Can you provide references from past clients?

If you’re the cautious type, it’s worth looking at a couple of their previous clients.

8. I work away from home. Can you provide a definite day and start time to do the work?

Is there anything more irritating than waiting around all day for tradespeople that don’t turn up? You will want to know that they are guaranteed to turn up when they say they will. And in case they do have to reschedule at short notice that they will let you know at least 24 hours beforehand.

Your Local Chimney Cleaning Professionals in Northern Virginia

Six Penny Chimney provides high-quality fireplace and chimney inspection and cleaning services. We also repair damage to concrete and brickwork and remove animal and insect pests. If you’re a local Northern Virginian, we will readily visit your property and give a free estimate.

We will happily guide you around what to look for when hiring chimney cleaners.

Living room with proper heating and AC maintenance done to ensure safety for homeowners

Heating & AC Maintenance Facts Homeowners Should Know

Your comfortable home environment depends on your HVAC operating effectively during every season it’s needed. Regular maintenance is vital to have your system working at peak efficiency. For most people, the HVAC equipment’s complexity means they rely on qualified technicians to perform this work. But what should you expect from maintenance technicians, and how often should you schedule them? See these crucial heating and air conditioning maintenance facts homeowners should know.

Air Filters

Regularly changing or cleaning air filters for heating or cooling equipment is a primary maintenance task. It’s the single most effective heating and AC conditioning maintenance job you can do to keep your indoor air at a high-quality level.

Changing air filters is also relatively easy for most homeowners to do on their own. It’s not highly technical; it just relies on knowing which specific air filter to purchase and finding where it is located in your equipment. In most cases, you should be able to simply slide out or click the existing filter and install a new one in the same manner.

The type of filter and its location should be detailed in the user manual or technical specification accompanying your equipment purchase. If your equipment was installed before purchasing your home, an online search will probably retrieve the needed instructions. Or you can always contact the relevant call center to get the details.

Inspection and Detection

When an HVAC service call is scheduled, you should expect your technicians to provide you with a comprehensive list detailing the equipment inspection tasks. They should also discuss any minor repairs you can expect as part of the service call. For example, whether ductwork will be sealed where gaps have been detected or exactly what air duct cleaning will entail. Ensure you also discuss any concerns with them about odors, noises, or poor air flow that you’ve noticed.

Ask to have a look at the technicians’ checklist and see that it covers the following:

  • Thermostat testing
  • Checking and replacing air filters
  • Airflow tests
  • Checking the levels of refrigerant
  • Inspecting equipment connection points
  • Testing electrical connections
  • Examining blower mechanisms
  • Lubrication, tightening, and sealing of connection points and moving parts
  • Looking at drain lines and water collection pans
  • Identifying and notifying any pests or contaminants that have taken up residence in the ductwork, and
  • Reporting on the general condition of the system.

An important outcome of the final report is to give the owner a heads-up on the expected remaining life of the equipment. Any hint of equipment failure that may happen in the future without replacement or major repair is also helpful. Better to be prepared and have money set aside for such eventualities.

Some Common Problems to Focus On

HVAC equipment has some common fail points, mainly when heating and AC maintenance has been irregular. These include leaks in connector and drain lines and corrosion of metal parts where moisture accumulates, such as connecting wires.

AC units can often develop faults in circuit breakers or fuses. If airflow becomes a problem, check that the space around the unit is clear and open. Furniture or household items may have been inadvertently misplaced and be a hindrance.

Furnaces can fail for several reasons; thermostats malfunction, ignition switches fail, and blower motors stop. If a furnace is not pumping out heat in its usual manner, often the culprit is dirty filters hindering the free flow of air.

Scheduling Heating and AC Maintenance

Most maintenance plans for HVAC equipment include two service calls each year. One service will focus on inspecting, servicing, and any necessary repairs on the air conditioning equipment. Scheduling should be planned so that all work is done well before the hot weather begins. Similarly, the heating component will be serviced before cold weather sets in.

With a set maintenance plan, you minimize the worry of anything going wrong with your equipment when needed most during the peak of summer or winter. It’s not worth skipping maintenance even if you think you can get by for a year. Little problems can quickly turn into severe ones in a heavily used HVAC system.

Of course, an annual service will be satisfactory if you only have an air conditioner or a heating component.

HVAC Cleaning Services in Northern Virginia

Six Penny Chimney in Northern Virginia has an intimate understanding of the local weather and the impacts on your heating and cooling systems. We provide expert maintenance for chimneys, fireplaces, gutters, furnace flues, and HVAC ductwork. Book your service with us today

Clean air ducts in a well-lit and clean building hallway

7 Common Air Duct Cleaning Questions Answered

Opinions on how often air ducts need cleaning are mixed. For example, a new home heating and cooling system is unlikely to have a build-up of mold or dust and may not require cleaning for some years. On the other hand, old HVAC equipment or a location near an industrial estate may be exposed to elevated dust and contaminants, and annual cleaning is justified. Here are seven air duct cleaning questions, answered to give you the information to decide when services are needed.

1. Do Air Ducts Need Annual Cleaning?

The answer to this is — it depends. Deciding how often to have your air ducts maintained depends on the level of contaminants in your system. If pollutants have built to a high level, there can be health implications in breathing poor-quality air. An annual HVAC inspection should highlight any ducting issues that justify cleaning.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has examined the issue of air duct maintenance and has fallen short of recommending that annual cleaning is necessary. However, the agency has delivered some guidance on instances when servicing is indicated.

2. Does the Presence of Mold Justify Air Duct Cleaning?

This is undoubtedly an instance where servicing is necessary. If mold or fungi have found a suitable nook or cranny to lodge and grow, the problem will likely continue and could expand rapidly. Spores can be blown through the ducts into rooms, lowering air quality and causing health problems.

It can be difficult for you as a homeowner to view any mold, as parts of the system aren’t easily accessible. Technicians use specialized equipment to view inside the HVAC ducts. Ask the technicians to show where mold is present if you have any doubts.

3. How Can I Tell if Mold is Really Growing in the HVAC Air Ducts?

Substances like stains or debris may give the appearance of mold, though they are relatively harmless. For a reasonably small charge (under $100), you can get a sample vetted by a microbiology laboratory and confirm its exact nature. If the result shows a harmless element, you may save unnecessary air duct cleaning costs.

4. If Mold is Present, How are Insulated Ducts Cleaned?

Unfortunately, cleaning is impossible when the insulation material has become wet and then moldy. The insulation should be removed and then a new product inserted. You should make sure that the cause of the moisture and mold entering the HVAC has been identified and repairs made before replacing the insulation.

5. What Do I Do If there are Pests or Vermin in the Air Duct?

It’s bye-bye pests time. If you’ve heard animal noises or noticed an odor of rodents or insect droppings, the pests must be expelled. Either call in a pest controller or see whether local air duct cleaners will get rid of the wildlife and then clean the air ducts. Of course, you will want thorough air duct cleaning after dealing with this problem.

6. Is Visible Dirt and Grime Normal?

If heavy dust and grime are clinging to air vents, then this is probably a good time to consider getting the HVAC ducts cleaned. Continual build-up of dirt will affect air quality in your home, interfering with airflow through the system. In turn, the build-up will make the system work harder, becoming less efficient and raising your energy bills.

7. Should I Allow Chemical Biocides to be Applied in the Air Ducts?

After cleaning mold out of your HVAC, some service providers may want to apply a chemical biocide to destroy any residual spores and stop future infestations. There are pros and cons to the use of these types of substances, and you should judge their use in regard to the circumstances applying in your home. Any potential toxicity should be carefully assessed. However, there are EPA-approved disinfectants and mold-destroying products that should be relatively safe to use.

Local Air Duct Cleaners in Northern Virginia

If you’ve had to ask any of the above questions about your HVAC, then your system is probably overdue for air duct cleaning. At Six Penny Chimney, we provide thorough expert cleaning using Power Vac trucks with industrial strength equipment. After we vacuum dirt, grime, and biological substances out of your ducts, we then use additional tools to remove any clinging substances. Your HVAC will be fresh as a daisy when we’re finished.

If you’re a Northern Virginia resident, get in touch for a free no-obligation quote on air duct servicing. We can also look after your chimney and fireplace inspections, repairs, and any chimney sweeping needs.

Firewood stacked against a wall in a home that is properly preserving the life of their fireplace that is also burning well

5 Tips for Preserving the Life of Your Fireplace & Chimney

A classic wood-burning fireside adds character and coziness to your home and is an irresistible family gathering point in frosty weather. Keeping your fireplace and chimney in tip-top condition increases heating efficiency, minimizes wear and tear, and saves you money in the long run. See these 5 tips for preserving the life of your fireplace and chimney.

1. Regularly Remove Ash from Your Fireplace

Regular grate and combustion firebox maintenance does more than keep your fireplace tidy. It helps produce a clean-burning fire, which reduces the build-up of creosote and other damaging substances in the fire chamber.

As you burn wood, a layer of ash will continually form in the grate and around it. If the residue gets too high, it will hinder the flow of air needed around the firewood to burn cleanly and efficiently. But, at the same time, a small layer of ash helps start and keep fires burning, as ash has excellent heat-keeping properties. So, a balancing act is required to get the right amount of ash in the fire chamber.

Maintaining an ash layer around the one-inch mark and removing the excess as it approaches the two-inch level seems to work well. Ensure the ashes are cold before removing them, or use a metal bucket and scoop to avoid injury.

2. Use Seasoned Firewood

The type of wood you burn and it’s quality strongly impact whether your fire will be clean-burning or not. Whether you use softwood or hardwood for burning, it’s essential to ensure the wood is well-seasoned. By this, we mean that the wood is no longer green, i.e., it has been set aside and dried out enough that it will burn evenly and with little smoke.

Burning green wood works against preserving the life of your fireplace and chimney. The high moisture content in unseasoned timber causes creosote to develop at higher levels than seasoned wood. Creosote is a sticky tar-like substance that adheres to the walls and lining of the fireplace and chimney. Highly flammable, creosote causes numerous chimney fires every year.

Well-seasoned hardwood, such as oak, maple, and walnut, is the best type of wood for use in your fireplace. The dense structure of hardwood gives a longer-lasting higher volume of heat than softwoods.

3. Repair Damage Quickly

Chimneys are subject to a continual onslaught by the weather. Heavy rain, intense winds, frost, ice, and snow, can weaken and damage exposed chimney caps and tops. Over time, mortar in brick joints will deteriorate, and bricks can crack, split, and fall. Chimney caps can become damaged, allowing rain to enter the chimney flue.

It’s a good choice to make chimney repairs as quickly as possible, as left untreated, these structural faults will accelerate the deterioration process. A professional chimney cleaning and repair company can fix any damage and do a thorough inspection for any unseen problems.

4. Plan to Upgrade your Fireplace

Different types of fireplaces vary in both maintenance needs and longevity. They’re not all designed to last. For example, a modern wood-burning fireplace insert may only last ten to fifteen years before needing replacement.

Older fireplaces constructed with solid firebricks and cast-iron elements may last a lifetime, though chimney liners may need replacement. Over time individual bricks, tiles, or stone veneers in the fireplace may crack from the constant heat and need replacement as well.

Whatever type of wood-burning fireside you have, you’ll need to plan for repairs and replacement in your household maintenance budget. Damage to inserts or surrounds will do little to preserve fireplace life if not fixed rapidly.

5. Get Regular Professional Inspections

For peace of mind, homeowners should schedule a regular fireplace and chimney inspection and cleaning service. The National Fire Inspection Service recommends that services are performed annually. Qualified inspectors will examine the entire chimney structure for damage, hidden soot and creosote deposits, debris, blockages, and wildlife.

Chimney sweeping with the use of specialized tools can then be carried out to remove creosote, soot, and other toxic residues, along with any debris or animal life. This annual service is probably the most important thing you can do for preserving the life of your fireplace and chimney. It prevents severe problems and keeps everything in working order.

Local Expertise in Northern Virginia

Applying these 5 tips can help your fireplace and chimney last as long as possible. Six Penny Chimney in Northern Virginia is your go-to professional for all chimney inspections and sweeping services. Get in touch today to schedule our expert services.

4 Common Air Polutants Gathering in Your Home (And What to Do About Them)

Clean, high-quality indoor air is vital to our health. So, it may surprise you to know that the air in your home may contain pollutants at higher levels than outdoors. How does this happen? Well, there are many ways that contaminants and toxins can be brought indoors or produced inside and held in the air that you breathe. Here are four common air pollutants that may be gathering in your home and what to do about them.

1. From the Outdoors In — Radon

Uranium is present in many soils, and as it breaks down, it forms radon gas, releasing it into the atmosphere. Radon’s radioactive properties make it a contaminant to be excluded from the home as much as possible. The gas is implicated in thousands of lung cancer cases in smokers and non-smokers every year.

Radon typically enters homes through cracks and holes in the foundation and gaps in walls. Poor ventilation can then allow the gas to build up to dangerous levels. Radon exposure occurs in every US state.  

How to Remedy

While you cannot eliminate radon from your home, you can reduce it to safe levels. Inexpensive home testing kits are an easy, quick option to show the amount of radon in your home. An unsafe gas level is four picocuries per liter of air (4 pCi/L) and above. Professional technicians can seal problem areas in the house and install venting systems to bring radon to a safe level.

2. The Dangers of Particulate Matter

Eliminating and reducing common air pollutants in your home is a constant chore. This is especially so if you have an open fireplace or use unflued gas or kerosene heaters. As fuel burns, it releases what’s called particulate matter — a mix of tiny solid and liquid particles floating in the air. Smoke, soot, and ash, for example, are frequently found in particulate matter.

When these noxious chemicals are inhaled, they are detrimental to health, especially those who suffer from respiratory illnesses, such as asthmatics.

How to Remedy

You can minimize particulate matter caused by burning fuel by making sure fireplaces, chimneys, and flues are regularly inspected and cleaned. Air duct cleaning is also important in maintaining good air quality in your home.  

3. Molds are Common Air Pollutants

Molds travel through indoor and outdoor air constantly, and in low concentrations, don’t usually cause health problems to people. However, if they find a damp, dark area in your home, attach themselves, and start growing, then that’s a different matter. Mold can spread rapidly, covering large surface areas and damaging the underlying material they are growing on.

From a health perspective, molds can trigger allergies and asthma attacks.

How to Remedy

Mold can be removed with water and detergent and wiped or scrubbed off the surface. Vinegar can also be used by spraying the affected area, leaving for an hour, and then scrubbing off. However, to permanently stop mold, you must find the source of the dampness and fix the cause. For example, if a leak causes the moisture, get that repaired. If the air in your house is too damp, then improve the ventilation and consider investing in a dehumidifier.

4. Inhaling Dust Mites Cause Allergic Reactions

A common cause of allergies in many people result from exposure to dust mites. These microscopic spidery bugs feed off the skin shed by people and burrow into household dust, bedding, carpets, and other fabrics. They are present in most homes, breeding quickly in warm, humid environments.

While live mites themselves aren’t usually in the air we breathe, their waste and dead body parts are. It’s these particles that are inhaled and trigger allergies and asthma.

How to Remedy

The prevalence of dust mites makes them almost impossible to eliminate. However, their numbers are reduced by keeping humidity in the home low. Cleaning sheets weekly, airing blankets and bedcovers, and reducing dust levels in the house will help significantly. Certified asthma and allergy vacuum cleaners can trap more airborne particles stopping dust mite waste from getting into the air.

Local Air Duct Cleaning in North Virginia

The duct and filter components of HVAC systems operate to trap airborne particles, remove stale air and exhaust air and moisture into the outdoors. Therefore, one of the most important ways to eliminate or reduce common air pollutants is by regular air duct cleaning.

You will receive expert peace of mind service by engaging Six Penny Chimney in North Virginia to inspect and clean your chimneys, fireplaces, and HVAC air ducts. Get in touch for a free quote and speedy service to meet all your expectations.

Neglected Masonry Work

5 Devastating Scenarios If You Keep Putting Off Neglected Masonry Work

Bricks, mortar, and stone are excellent building materials from aesthetic and functional viewpoints. Properly constructed, homes built from these resources should have a long life, providing robust protection to their residents for many years, even centuries. However, like all homes, upkeep is necessary to maintain the exterior in top condition. The damage from natural weathering exposure to the elements can lead to severe and even lethal outcomes if put off for too long. Make sure that these five devastating scenarios from neglected masonry work don’t happen to you.

1. The Most Serious Problem with Damaged Masonry — Falling Bricks

A terrible outcome that can result from delaying repairs to damaged masonry is that the structure collapses and bricks fall to the ground. Whether it’s a wall, chimney, or other supporting structure, a single solitary brick falling from a height can quickly kill anyone unlucky enough to be struck by it. Imagine the emotional turmoil and guilt you would feel if a family member or passer-by was seriously injured or killed. So it’s a good reason to tackle any noticeable problems with stone or brick constructions sooner rather than later.

2. What Can Go Wrong with Retaining Walls?

Masonry retaining walls often suffer from failure due to the initial design. The soil and water load that the wall needs to keep back is often not adequately calculated. Consequently, the pressure on the wall can cause significant cracks, bulging, and eventual collapse.

As many retaining walls are built on property boundaries along public walkways and roads, an outward collapse can result in a devastating scenario. At the worst, pedestrians can be injured or killed. Private and public motor vehicles may be damaged, as could be public infrastructure. If you’re going to put off neglected masonry work repairs, check your property liability insurance cover. You could face a hefty bill!

Call in brick and mortar repair professionals to fix this problem. They’ll examine the structural design and advise you whether part of the wall can be repaired or will need a complete replacement.

3. Large Cracks in House Walls

Another problem with damaged masonry is the development of large wall cracks from small untreated cracks. These large cracks in walls can happen for several reasons. More minor untreated cracks can let in water, damaging joints and degrading the mortar holding the bricks together. This neglect causes bricks to loosen and the small gaps to expand over time. Bulging of the wall may occur with subsequent collapse. If left to get to this stage of disrepair, remediation work will be costly.

Foundation problems can also cause large cracks. For example, the roots of nearby large trees can damage the foundation. Earthquakes or floods can severely impact the house foundation as well. These types of events cause large structural cracks in the walls and can even result in the house being labeled as ‘condemned’ by local authorities.

As it can be difficult to tell the cause of the large masonry cracks, opt for professional inspection as soon as possible. If underpinning work is necessary, the earlier it’s treated, the less expensive the repairs will be.

4. Chimney Collapse from Neglected Masonry Work

Chimneys require regular annual maintenance. Continual exposure to wind and rain weathers away the mortar, and bricks can be damaged by debris. Brickwork can collapse, falling into the chimney shaft where it may block dangerous gasses from escaping out of the home. Once a fire is lit, it can cause the gasses to be forced back into the household atmosphere, which can be deadly. Crumbling mortar and falling bricks from the roof can also cause injury to passers-by.

It seems like a high price for simply failing to schedule an annual chimney inspection and cleaning.

5. Walkways

Another problem with damaged masonry often happens with stone and brickwork walkways. Soil shifting around and in between the path, heavy rains, and flooding, can cause dislodgement of paving. It’s easy for an accident to occur when walking on an uneven pathway. Just a toe or heel catching a loose or overhanging paver can cause a stumble, trip, and fall. And an awkward fall on a hard surface can easily result in broken bones or worse, particularly for frail older people.

Prevent and Repair Chimney Collapse with Expert Masonry Repairs

At Six Penny Chimney, we provide high-quality chimney cleaning and masonry repair services. If you have a home in North Virginia in need of chimney repair, get in touch with us. Our expert staff can also fix brickwork problems in patios, walkways, and retaining walls.