chimney sweep experts give advice on fireplace maintenance

As March 19th – the first day of spring – approaches, chimney sweep companies are preparing for an increase in service requests.

“Spring and summer are probably the best time to (maintain your chimney),” said Michael Schamens, owner of Quality Fireplace and Chimney Service in Waukesha.

Fall is also a busy time of year for chimney sweeps, but with the frequency of chimney use in winter and the cold temperatures employees can work in, Schamens said business really picked up after the cold season.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends annual inspections, but Schamens said most people do not meet this standard. Instead, he urges customers to make appointments after they blow a wooden string.

“If you burn a fire once a week in winter, you burn a string about every three years,” said Schamens.

Two fires a week would cause service every two years, and three fires would require annual runs, Schamens said.

Chimney sweeping basics

During a sweep, Philip Mueller, owner of the Clean Sweep Chimney Service in West Bend, first notices how dirty a fireplace is.

“The main job of a chimney sweep is to make sure a chimney is safe and clean,” said Müller.

After Müller has scraped off excess creosote, he checks the furnace for cracks or gaps between the bricks. Next, the status of the damper is evaluated. If the damper doesn’t close completely, smoke can fill the room.

During the cleaning process, a highly efficient particle air vacuum (HEPA) remains switched on to bring dust and dirt into the immediate vicinity.

Gas fireplaces also require maintenance

Gas fireplaces require a different approach to maintenance.

An important inspection point for gas fireplaces is making sure the gas lines are compliant. A safety clamp should be installed to prevent the damper from closing completely.

“If the flap is completely closed and you turn on your gas, you may not even know because you are not getting any smoke from the gas,” said Mueller.

Exhaust blockage is also a common problem. Mueller said birds often build nests in exhaust ports, causing ventilation problems.

The NFPA’s annual inspection recommendation also considers animal removal as a factor in inspections. Schamens responded to a service request for a smell coming from a chimney in Middleton in 1988.

Dead raccoons decayed on the chimney’s rain shelf, a worry that, according to Sham, is less common today.

Features of modern fireplaces require less maintenance and are easier to repair.

Mueller said new fireplaces are being built with better materials.

“The chimney is made of metal and there are very few problems with them,” said Müller. “The fireplace itself has fireproof panels.”

Fireproof panels protect the structure of the fireplace by reflecting heat towards the room. Mueller said replacing cracked panels is a common service request.

Chimney sweep training

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) offers a six-day training program at its headquarters in Plainfield, Indiana. Training and certifications are not required for chimney sweeps, but Mueller said they give candidates the knowledge they need to succeed.

“If I were to hire someone, they would be with me for a while until I had the feeling that they were familiar with the codes and were sufficient,” said Müller. “From a business perspective, I would pay for them (for CSIA training).”

Before Schamens and Mueller became chimney experts, they began their careers in various fields.

Schamens worked for a carpet cleaning company in 1983. He later applied to a chimney company and began a career in the business at the age of 17.

Mueller received his engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In college he worked at his friend’s chimney factory and flew with the Air Force Reserve during the slow winter season. When his friend decided to sell the business, Müller took advantage of it.

Mueller has 23 years of chimney repair experience and is the sole operator of the Clean Sweep Chimney Service. His business covers areas such as Waukesha, Germantown, Menomonee Falls, Cedarberg, Mequon, and more.

Schamens has 37 years of experience in chimney service. His business, Quality Fireplace and Chimney Service, serves Waukesha, Pewaukee, New Berlin, Oconomowoc, Sussex, Delafield and more.

Eddie Morales can be reached at 414-223-5366 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @emoralesnews.

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