If hanging stockings up the chimney annually is an annual tradition in your home, consider adding a chimney inspection to your to-do list.
Most chimney fires are caused by dirty chimneys, and most of these fires go undetected, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Slow-burning chimney fires are often not visible, but they can reach temperatures that damage the chimney and other parts of the house as much as larger fires. These disasters can be avoided with proper cleaning by a professional chimney sweep. Noah Reese has been inspecting and cleaning chimneys in the San Antonio area with Chimney Sweeping from Mike Wood for 12 years.
Company founder Mike Wood passed away in 2011. He founded the company in 1980. Reese, who had been Wood’s friend for decades, began his career helping Wood, who gave him a professional education. Reese is now the senior technician for the San Antonio-based company, which also performs dryer vent cleaning and roof repairs. As a good rule of thumb, Reese said homeowners should have their chimneys checked by a professional about every two years.
A: We access its safety factor and make sure that everything works properly. We make sure there are no obstacles that happen, especially here in South Texas. In spring and summer there are birds, raccoons and squirrels building a nest. We make sure these are deleted before you use them as this will hinder the draw. Pull is the chimney’s ability to drive out smoke.
Q: What else did you find besides birds, raccoons, etc.?
A: Wasps, bees, spiders. Every now and then we will come across a brown recluse. At the bottom of the chimney in the firebox you will come across scorpions, ants and millipedes. Occasionally we come across a snake at the foot of the chimney on the outside of the house.
Q: How is the chimney cleaned?
A: The first thing we do is look at it top down, make sure everything is in place, nothing has been damaged or misaligned. Once we look at the condition, we will determine whether it needs cleaning or not. Since we are in South Texas, some of these chimneys really don’t get much used.
Q: How do you sweep the chimney these days?
A: It’s still mechanical, you have to scrape it off. We call it scratching or sweeping. We use brushes with different calipers depending on the type and how the chimney is built. And for this type of work you will need a vacuum cleaner. In the past you saw pictures of street sweepers with a goose. The goose was the brush. They tied one rope around their legs and another around their necks and dropped it down the chimney. Of course, it would flutter around and cause a lot of excitement, scraping or brushing the chimney off. And once the goose was done its job and was no longer able to perform, the goose became dinner. Because of this, you can see a lot of old pictures (around 1700) of a goose used for this type of work. Once that didn’t work, they experimented with linen sacks with lots of stones. They’d slide the thing up and down the chimney and scrape out the walls. Then it finally went to a brush.
Q: When you say chimney, what part of the structure are you referring to exactly?
A: For us, the chimney is the whole. The fireplace, the outer part of it, the firebox where you put the logs. Chimney is a general term for the entire unit.
Q: Do most of the houses here have caps on their chimneys?
A: Not every house has it, some of the older houses, especially houses built in the early 20th century, may not have a cap. Hence, the caps we put on are very important to keep rain and living things out. And the other aspect of a cap that is really important, especially to us here in South Texas, is keeping birds out. Chimney sweeps are very common, hiking through South Texas, San Antonio twice a year. It is the only bird that can break into a chimney and build a nest. They are critically endangered and we have to be very careful when swifts migrate. We don’t want to disturb them.
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Q: what is creosote?
A: Creosote is an oil that builds up. Every tree species contains some oil. And what they recommend in South Texas is to burn oak. It has the least amount of oil in its structure.
Q: How much can people expect to have a chimney serviced?
A: It really depends on what type of chimney you have. Much depends on how difficult it is to get at everything you need to clean and how long it takes to clean it.
Q: What can people do to keep their chimneys cleaner?
A: Burn seasoned wood. Stack your wood outside, leave it outside, leave it uncovered. Let it go through a few wet and dry cycles to extract as much oil from the wood as possible. The oak takes about two years to season, other types of wood take even longer. Mesquite is definitely not recommended for burning in a chimney. It burns too hot and contains way too much oil. It takes a long time, years and years to flavor mesquite.
For more information on Mike Wood’s Chimney Sweeping, visit chimneymikewood.com or call 210-494-9293.