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The Washington Times  Wednesday November 7, 2007
Good Clean Sweep
 (top page article)

The Washington Post September 18, 2003
Giving Vent to Home Safety

washington times article


just a service call and inspection. Even if the fireplace isn't used, yearly inspections are recommended, primarily for structural integrity, Mrs. Laszlo says.

"Don't burn a fire in the fireplace until the interior and exterior of the chimney have passed a safety inspection," she advises.

If a fireplace is used three or more times a week, it likely will require a sweep when the burning season is finished, she says.

Wood choice is important when trying to prevent a buildup of soot and creosote in the chimney, she adds. Unseasoned, rotten, wet wood creates more problems, even if the fireplace is used less frequently.  Burning the evergreen branches from a Christmas tree in the fireplace can be extremely problematic, she says, because of the mess it will leave in the chimney.

Though loose soot can be brushed out of the chimney, third-degree creosote can be removed only with spray-on chemical treatment, she says.  Third-degree creosote is a flammable, thick buildup that can cause chimney fires.  It is caused by poor wood choices and burning habits.

Rotary treatment with chains can be used in severe situations to get rid of third-degree creosote, Mrs. Laszlo says.  The cost to remove it begins at $225 per flue.

"The key is to burn small, hot fires using hardwood," Mrs. Laszlo says. "That minimizes the accumulation of creosote and maximizes heat output."

People with wood stoves connected to a chimney should get them inspected at least every month, especially if they burn them many hours a day, says David Myers, owner of American Professional Chimney and Masonry Service in Hyattsville.

Until homeowners know how much creosote and soot the wood stove creates, many stove manufacturers suggest checking the chimney every two weeks, he says.

"It's more problematic with an older wood stove," Mr. Myers says.  "Manufacturers are now making stoves that burn much cleaner."

washington times

If nothing seems to be wrong with the chimney, video scans are a good way to get a closer look, especially with older homes, he says.  If someone doesn't want to pay to fix a fireplace chimney, it is best not to use the fireplace.

"You are burning a fire inside your house," Mr. Myers says.  "You want everything to be as safe as possible."

When the fireplace chimney is inspected, the furnace or gas chimney also should be inspected, he says.  Sometimes, it can be in worse condition than the fireplace chimney.

If the heat in the home has shut off and won't turn back on, there might be something wrong with the furnace chimney, Mr. Myers says.  To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, the furnace and the furnace chimney need to be cleaned and inspected annually.  Mr. Myers says he has sent clients to the emergency room before for possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

One time, a technician arrived at a home where the woman's furnace was on fire and she didn't realize it, says Joni Fontana, vice president of Johnson Power Vac Inc. in Northwest.  The company has offices in Alexandria and Bethesda.

"She kept smelling smoke, but she didn't know where it was coming from," Ms. Fontana says.  "She was sitting in the house with her cat drinking tea.  By the time the firetrucks got there, the whole first floor was on fire."

As part of properly maintaining a chimney, caps should be placed over the furnace and fireplace chimneys, she says.  Otherwise, sparks from the chimney could fly onto the roof, or the chimney could become the perfect place for animals to nest.

"If an animal gets stuck in the chimney, it causes a back draft, and carbon monoxide or smoke would come back down the chimney, or the animal dies there and you have maggots," Ms. Fontana says.  "You just need a chimney cap. It's so important."

Along with chimney fires, homeowners should be wary of fires started in dryer vents, Ms. Fontana says.  In September, the dryer in Alison Long's Bethesda home caught on fire.  Ms. Fontana's company serviced her home.

"I heard smoke alarms going off, and I ran downstairs and everything was on fire," Ms. Long says.  "It burned a hole in the wall. The fire department deduced it was from the vent in the back of the dryer.  I've since learned it is a very common thing.  It had collected junk over the years."

Hazards also can build up in vacation homes because homeowners forget to have them inspected, says Frederick Prince, owner of Prince Chimney Service in Northwest.

If a family goes for a vacation 10 years in a row and never has the chimney, furnace and dryer vents inspected, the family is asking for trouble, he says.

"The next thing you know, the neighbor is knocking on the door, saying there is a Roman candle coming from the chimney," Mr. Prince says.  "Have your chimney system inspected on a regular basis."


Johnson Power Vac (aka Johnson Chimney)  featured in The Washington Post

Giving Vent to Home Safety
Lee Fleming Special to The Washington Post
September 18, 2003; Page H2; Home Section

…"People don't think about dryer vents at all," says Walter Kerr, owner of Johnson Power Vac in Bethesda.  "But they do pose a safety hazard if not properly maintained."

…Most dryers were in the basement and vented out through "runs" or ducts, only four or five feet long.  Back then, he averaged five to 10 cleanings a year.  Today, he’ll clean five to 10 a week.

…A dryer vent clogged by a birds nest or lint buildup can lead to disaster.  Apartments and townhouses are especially prone to such blockages, Kerr says.  "With all those dryer and kitchen vents, birds have nice little cubbyholes to nest in every spring."  He adds, "It doesn’t take much more than a fist-size object to clog those openings.  If you don’t maintain them, at the very least, you could burn out your heating element."

…The best time to service vents is when the birds have stopped nesting, usually by late summer or early fall.  Clean out the vent area and the run, removing the nest and any other debris.  A bird guard -a mesh cage- over the flap can prevent a repeat.  This "clean and screen" procedure runs $175 to $225, says Kerr, no matter how long the run.

…Kerr recommends having vents cleaned annually.  Not only does this remove potential obstructions, but it is the only way to tell if your run has become disconnected from the vent and is spewing lint into the space between walls or floor and ceiling -a fairly common situation.

…Kerr’s "brush and vac" method uses flexible fiberglass rods with brushes that can get around the elbows (turns) of most runs, coupled with a high-powered vacuum system.  Because the vacuum is always running or the exhaust blows the trapped lint outside, the process is virtually mess-free.


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