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Why You Should Hire a Professional to Clean Your Chimney

Chimney Sweep in Annapolis MDYour chimney is critical to keeping your home and family safe. And one of the most vital maintenance tasks is periodic cleaning. A clean chimney and fireplace ensure optimum performance and safety. Fire safety professionals and the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommend homeowners have a Certified Chimney Sweep clean the chimney at least once annually. While you may be thinking about cleaning the chimney yourself, here are a few reasons why you should hire a professional:

Knowledge and Experience

Chimney cleaning is not as easy as it may appear. The flue is a dark, dirty, and compact environment. Chimney professionals go through an extensive training process to receive certification by national credentialing organizations, like the CSIA and the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG), for example. It is your assurance that you are hiring a professional who has the experience, equipment, and supplies to safely clean the chimney without damaging the structure or your home.

Spot Minor Repairs

A professional chimney sweep will also be able to spot minor issues before they become expensive repairs that an inexperienced homeowner may overlook. Problems like a damper that is beginning to rust, small cracks in the masonry, and water stains may seem innocuous to a DIY homeowner but are signs of potential trouble to a trained professional. And failure to make minor repairs can increase the risk of fire and create other health and safety issues.

Prevents Accidents and Injuries

Chimney Inspection In Russett MDCleaning a chimney can be dangerous work. It requires climbing on top of the roof to clean the upper flue chamber and remove any obstructions caused by small birds, pests, and debris. The American Ladder Institute reports that more than 130,000 people are injured every year, many seriously, in a ladder fall. Also, trained chimney professionals have the required protective clothing to prevent breathing in contaminants like creosote, soot, and dust that could fly around while cleaning the chimney.

Saves Time and Money

Hiring a chimney sweep will save you time and money. Chimney cleaning requires an investment in professional tools, equipment, and supplies. Without professional equipment, most homeowners may not be able to remove layers of creosote and other stains completely. A DIY homeowner may also inadvertently damage the masonry or other components that could result in an expensive repair bill. And using the wrong supplies or its improper application can result in injuries. Also, if the chimney is not thoroughly cleaned or you accidentally damage the flue liner, it can increase the risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Licensed and Insured

When hiring a chimney professional, it is essential to verify that they are insured and have a valid license to do business in your jurisdiction. It protects homeowners in the unlikely event something goes wrong. Homeowners can be held liable for any damages or injuries caused by an unlicensed contractor. You can even be liable if an unlicensed contractor is injured on the job. Also, chimney professionals who are certified by the CSIA, NCSG, or other national credentialing organization have demonstrated meeting or exceeding the required competency to perform their job safely and efficiently.

Why Chimney Cleaning and Fireplace Safety Matter

Annual Chimney Cleaning With regards to home safety, more goes on than meets the eye in your fireplace and chimney. Experts in fire safety are all in agreement that a yearly chimney inspection is vital, no matter what type of fuel is used in the fireplace; this fact seems like a perfect “red flag” regarding the potential danger of failing to check the condition of your fireplace and chimney. On the annual priority list for home maintenance, chimney cleaning is right up there with inspections because neglected chimneys cause thousands of hazardous chimney fires as well as a number of deadly house fires every year.


With each wood fire in your fireplace, toxic combustion byproducts exit through the chimney and, also, creosote is deposited in the chimney liner. Creosote is a highly flammable tar-like substance, and it shows up in several forms. All three types of creosote increase the threat of a chimney fire. Creosote buildup in dirty chimneys creates even more problems.

Chimney Fires

There is a widespread myth that chimney fires can be helpful because they feed off of and remove creosote. In reality, chimney fires are usually caused by the presence of excess creosote, and these blazes are extremely dangerous. Chimney infernos can burn explosively, damage chimney flues, weaken masonry, and lead to home fires that cause injury or death.

Some chimney fires are highly intense and impossible to ignore while others are just as potentially dangerous but may not provide clear-cut warnings of their existence. The following are noticeable indications of a chimney fire:

  • Loud popping and cracking noises coming from the chimney
  • Startling low rumbling sounds similar to a low-flying airplane or a freight train can be heard
  • Dense smoke pours from the chimney
  • Flames can be seen shooting from the chimney
  • Inside the home, there is an intense, hot odor

Obstruction Caused by Creosote

Obstruction Caused by CreosoteWhen homeowners skip routine chimney cleaning, creosote builds up layer upon layer. Unless the chimney is cleaned, creosote will eventually cause chimney blockage, which creates an additional hazard. When the toxic fumes created by wood fires do not exit through the chimney properly due to chimney blockage, those hazardous gases enter the home. Carbon monoxide, known as a Silent Killer, is among those gases.

Anytime you use your fireplace, it is important to have an operational carbon monoxide detector to protect you and your family from the deadly gas. Carbon monoxide is odorless, tasteless, invisible, and symptomless up to a point where those who have been exposed are unaware until it’s too late.

A Damaged Flue Lining or Firebox

If a chimney flue is damaged to any extent, no matter how seemingly small, your home and family are at risk. The purpose of the flue includes protecting the home from the intense heat of fires and from toxic fumes. It is seldom obvious that a flue is damaged, though bits of clay tile in your fireplace provide a good hint. A chimney inspection with a video check of the entire flue is the most reliable method for ensuring that your chimney liner is intact and your fireplace and chimney are safe and ready for use.

Call Complete Chimneys Today

It’s important to schedule a chimney inspection and chimney cleaning with fully trained chimney professionals. Complete Chimneys LLC is the best place to call in Maryland and it has been for decades. We offer high-caliber services at Complete Chimney, and we are fully devoted to delivering customer satisfaction, as well. Make sure your fireplace and chimney are in good condition and ready for cold weather. Schedule a chimney inspection, chimney cleaning, chimney repair, masonry rebuilds, and all other chimney services by calling 410-544-7600. For fireplace sales and much more, you are also invited to stop by our new Complete Chimneys showroom located at 8174 Ritchie Highway, located in Pasadena MD.


3 Most Common Chimney Problems

There’s nothing more elegant than a roaring fire on a cold winter evening to warm your home. But while you enjoy the warmth, your chimney can experience issues that can pose a safety hazard to you and your family. It can also negatively impact its heating efficiency. Regular ensures safe fireplace operation and maximum efficiency.

Excessive Creosote

Chimney Creosote BuildupExcessive creosote is not only the most common chimney problem, but it is also the most hazardous. And it is the number one cause of residential structure fires. Creosote is a natural byproduct of combustion. It is produced in both wood-burning and gas heating appliances. While most creosote is ventilated through the flue, some of this thick, tarry substance sticks to the wall ls inside the chimney. Each time the fire is lit, it forms another layer of creosote. A small amount of creosote is not dangerous, but excessive levels are highly flammable. The high temperature or a spark from a hot ember is enough to start a chimney fire that can quickly spread through an entire home. More than 1/8” of creosote is considered hazardous and should be removed, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).

Flue Obstruction

A flue obstruction is a common problem. Although it is more common in an uncapped chimney, it can occur in any chimney. A flue obstruction occurs when foreign objects such as twigs, small animals, or rodents are blocking the flue. Also, creosote and soot adhering to the mesh screen of a chimney cap can cause an obstruction. Since obstructions can partially or fully block the ventilation of smoke and fumes, it can be a severe issue. It can cause contaminants to back-up into the living space resulting in carbon monoxide poisoning.

Spalling/Cracked Bricks

Spalling/Cracked Chimney Bricks Spalling or cracked bricks are another common chimney problem. It is primarily a result of age and environmental conditions. It is especially common in areas prone to extreme temperature changes such as freezing temperatures in the evening followed by warmer temperatures during the day, also known as freeze-thaw.

Bricks are naturally porous, so they do absorb water. When the chimney was initially constructed, the bricks had a hard-outer shell for moisture protection. But age and environmental conditions eventually crack the hard coating. Tiny cracks develop in the surface, absorbing rain and melting snow like a sponge. And when the external temperature dips below freezing, the water trapped inside these crevices freezes and expands. This expansion widens the cracks even further allowing the absorption of more water during the next moisture event at warmer temperatures.

Also, moisture softens the mortar exposing gaps in the mortar joints. The continued freeze-thaw process can cause extensive masonry damage, including water leaks, cracks in the masonry and even cause bricks to loosen and fall from the chimney.

Preventing Chimney Problems

You can help minimize the occurrence of these common chimney problems with annual chimney inspections and cleanings by a qualified chimney professional. A yearly inspection can prevent minor issues from developing into major repairs. Annual chimney cleanings will ensure your chimney and heating appliances are safe for use.




Should I Reline and Insulate My Chimney?

Many older homes were built before modern building codes required chimney liners. Peeking inside an unlined flue of an early 1900’s home and you will probably notice burn marks, cracks and other damages indicative of one or more chimney fires. Today, most building codes require chimney liners. But they don’t last forever, and the liner will eventually need to be repaired or the chimney relined.

Why You Need a Chimney Liner

Durable Clay Liners That Are Good For ChimneysAn unlined chimney is an extreme fire hazard. It exposes the masonry to extremely high temperatures and increases the risk of a chimney fire. The high heat can also damage the masonry surface allowing carbon monoxide fumes to enter your living space. Testing conducted by the National Bureau of Standards more than thirty years ago revealed that unlined chimneys pose a significant fire and safety risk to the structure and its occupants.
The chimney liner serves four purposes: to keep flames away from combustible materials; to direct smoke and fumes through the vent; to protect the structural integrity of the chimney and increase the heating efficiency of your fireplace or heating stove.

Clay Liners

Clay tiles are the most common type of chimney liner. Clay is an inexpensive, durable, and fire-resistant material which are the reasons for its popularity. They are available in rectangular, square and circular shapes and a range of sizes. The tiles need to be correctly sized for the chimney to minimize creosote accumulation. The size and shape of the flue will determine the number of tiles required.
The chemicals produced during combustion can cause clay tiles to corrode, mainly from gas heating appliances. And a water leak can also erode the socket joints causing tiles to crack or fall off. Also, its effectiveness is reduced when tiles are not installed perfectly straight and flush against each socket joint. Although clay tiles are relatively inexpensive, it is very labor-intensive to install. So, if more than a few tiles need repairs, it will be more cost-effective to reline the chimney.

Concrete Liners

Concrete flue liners share many of the same advantages and fire-resistant properties of clay tiles but don’t corrode when using gas fuels. There is also less creosote accumulation when heating with wood-burning appliances. They are also referred to as cast-in-place liners because the cement is poured directly into the chimney. When the cement cures, it hardens into a smooth surface without any seams. It also increases the structural integrity of the chimney, making it an excellent choice for relining older flues. Like clay, cement is porous, and cracks can develop in the surface, especially during settling or if low-quality cement was used. Also, water leaking into the flue can lead to deterioration of the liner.

Steel liners

Durable - High Quality Steel Chimney Liners U.L. listed stainless steel liners are considered among the highest quality materials for relining chimneys regardless of fuel source. Steel liners have superior fire resistance qualities and unlike clay or cement, are also resistant to water, pests, and mold. Like other chimney liners, they require professional installation and must be correctly sized for the chimney. High thermal insulation is usually installed with the liner to increase performance and safety. They are also easy to clean and maintain, making them well worth the investment.

A chimney liner insulates the chimney protecting the integrity of the structure while maximizing heat from your fireplace to keep your family safe and your living space warm and cozy. Annual chimney inspections and cleaning can also help extend the life of your chimney liner.

Why You Need to Waterproof Your Chimney

waterproof chimneyOn rainy days many homeowners are inside where it’s nice and dry. Perhaps relaxing on the sofa with a good book or playing games with the kids to keep them occupied. But outside your chimney is in a battle and Mother Nature almost always wins. That’s because water is the chimney’s mortal enemy. And it’s not only rain. The pounding sleet and snow, freezing rain and even condensation can also wear down the chimney.

Over time moisture will soften the exposed bricks and mortar. The softened masonry is weakened further during the freeze/thaw cycle. You may even notice pieces of bricks and mortar on the ground. In more severe cases, entire bricks can fall from the chimney that can ultimately cause the structure to collapse. As the porous masonry soaks up the moisture, it expands during freezing. This process causes tiny cracks in the bricks allowing water to leak inside the chimney when it thaws. Water leaks can be especially dangerous. It can damage your flue liner, rust the damper and other metal components and increase the risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. Waterproofing your chimney will help equip it to win the battle against Mother Nature.

Make chimney repairs

chimney repairBefore waterproofing your chimney, it is essential to make any necessary chimney repairs. Otherwise, you are just preserving its already weakened condition which can lead to more extensive renovations in the future. An experienced chimney mason will perform tuck pointing to repair spalling and missing bricks. If the chimney has extensive damage, it may require rebuilding or a complete renovation.

Start with a clean chimney

Once the chimney repairs are completed, the next step is to clean the chimney. It’s critical to eliminate the dirt, grime, algae, mold, and other contaminants before the water sealant application. Dirt, fungus, and bacteria are not only an eyesore, but they can also damage the masonry. Use low pressure to wash the bricks as high pressure can damage them. When the masonry is clean and dry, it is ready for the waterproofing application.

Choosing and applying the water repellent

There are a variety of water sealants on the market with different strengths. But not all consumer products are best for all chimneys. And if it’s not correctly applied your chimney will still be vulnerable to water damage. It is highly recommended that you consult with a qualified chimney professional in your area. It is the best way to ensure you are using the right waterproofing product for your chimney. They will use an industrial-strength formula and guarantee its application with a five to ten-year warranty. You will need to re-apply the water sealant before the warranty expires to maintain its water protection.


Identifying the Reasons Behind Chimney Discoloration

As years and decades pass, chimney bricks often fade from the effects of blazing-hot sun. This is normal. Other types of chimney discoloration aren’t normal and may signal a need to address the problem immediately.

Various stains can appear on the exterior bricks of a chimney. Here are those that are most common, what they mean and what needs to be done about them.

White stains

Discolored masonry brickEvaporated water is the cause of white staining, or efflorescence, on your chimney. This may be nothing more than normal evaporation of rain, snow or ice. But it also can be a sign that water is getting into the bricks and mortar, which can lead to serious structural damage. Moisture trapped within the masonry also can encourage the growth of mold.

Green, blue and some black stains

These shades of discoloration on the surface of your chimney likely point to mold or algae. Both contaminants thrive on moist environments with little or no air circulation – such as inside cracks in the chimney’s masonry. Algae and mold, especially in large infestations, are known to present health risks to humans and animals.

Brown and some black stains

Brown and black (not mold) stains on a chimney, roof or exterior house walls can have several causes. The biggest concern is when the stains are caused by soot and creosote. When this happens, the reason they’re escaping the chimney needs to be identified quickly. In some cases, the root cause may be a problem with drafting inside the chimney. Another cause can be a chimney fire that burned and went out on its own before anyone was aware of it.

Rust stains

If there is rust on your chimney’s masonry, the most likely cause is corrosion and rusting on your chimney cap that is mixing with rain water. A damaged chimney cap eventually will allow water into the flue, where it will begin to erode sections of the chimney structure.

The value of professional chimney inspection and repair

While you may be able to spot signs of discoloration on your chimney, you probably don’t have the training or equipment necessary to resolve the problem safely and thoroughly. Certified chimney services professionals can diagnose the cause(s) of discoloration and quickly get to work to remedy the situation. For example:

Cracks in chimney masonry: First, we want to determine the location and extent of the damage. Then we can either seal coat the chimney or add fresh new mortar to open areas to prevent further water infiltration.

Mold or algae: If the growth of these contaminants originates from moisture being held in cracks in the masonry, we’ll get the problem fixed fast.

Soot Marks on Chimney MasonryCreosote & soot: We can remove these stains from the outside of your chimney and adjacent areas. We also can perform a thorough inspection to find out why these substances are exiting the chimney in the first place. After cleaning creosote and soot from the flue, we’ll be able to determine if a chimney fire has caused internal damage to the structure.

Rust: A damaged, rusted chimney cap needs to be replaced.

If you’re noticing discoloration on your chimney, the smartest move is to have one of our certified chimney technicians look at it. We’ll diagnose the problem and repair it properly and safely. To arrange an appointment or to get your questions answered, call Complete Chimneys of Pasadena, MD, at (410) 544-7600.

Why You Should Have Your Chimney Relined

A well-built chimney can withstand years of intense heat and toxic exhaust gasses and the damage both can  cause.  But even the best-made chimney won’t perform optimally forever.  This is why there are chimney liners.  Made from several different types of materials, chimney liners offer the added protection you need to extend the life of your chimney and avoid many of the repairs that otherwise would be inevitable once a chimney passes a certain age.

Chimney Relining in Annapolis MD

If you don’t have a chimney liner, consider installing one.  If you do have a liner, make sure to schedule yearly inspections with a certified chimney specialist to check for early signs of liner damage and get them fixed quickly.

Types of chimney liners

There are three main types of chimney liners:

  1. Clay tiles
  2. Metal
  3. Cast-in-place

Here’s a brief overview of each.

chimney repair in Russett MDClay tiles:

The most common chimney liner material, clay tiles are economical and generally perform well.  However, they’re not quick to absorb and distribute the rapidly rising temperatures in the event of a chimney fire, which can cause the tiles to crack and split and leave the chimney’s masonry vulnerable.


Metal chimney liners are typically made of aluminum or stainless steel.  Most often used as replacement liners for existing chimneys, these liners are highly durable when temperature insulation is included in the installation.  Metal liners are perfect for use with wood and gas fireplaces.

Cast-in-place chimney liners:

This style of liner is made from a poured cement-like product installed in the flue to provide a smooth, insulated path for heat and combustion gasses.  They add strength to the structural integrity of a chimney and can accommodate all fuel types.

Primary functions of chimney liners

The Chimney Safety Institute of America lists three primary jobs of a chimney liner:

1. Protect the building materials of the home proximal to the chimney.  When the fireplace is operating, intense heat travels up through the flue.  A quality chimney liner acts as a buffer to keep excess heat from harming parts of the home that surround the chimney.  Tests have shown that woodwork adjacent to an unlined chimney can catch fire in as little as three and a half hours.

2. Protect the chimney’s masonry from heat, moisture and combustion byproducts.  As strong as chimney bricks and mortar are, they eventually will deteriorate after years of intense heat, moisture and gasses.  A chimney liner protects against this deterioration, which can damage a chimney to the point the entire structure must be rebuilt.

3. Create a properly sized flue.  In order for fireplaces to operate at maximum efficiency, the right flue size is required.  Smoke and gasses must exit the fireplace system at a specific pace to avoid excess creosote buildup from wood-burning appliances and the creation of excess carbon monoxide from gas units.  Flue size in relation to fireplace output also affects drafting and burn-efficiency.

If it’s time to have your chimney liner inspected or repaired, Complete Chimneys of Pasadena, MD, is ready to help.  Need a new chimney liner installed?  Our certified chimney technicians will get it done safely and quickly.  Call (410) 544-7600 with questions or to arrange an appointment.