Frequently Asked Questions

Ray's Chimney Service Plus wants to help you to choose a service that's right for you. Browse the FAQs or contact us for personal assistance.
What are "The Three Levels of Inspection"?
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)'s 211 (Standard for Chimneys, Fireplaces, Vents and Solid Fuel Burning Appliances) is the standard upon which CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps base their services. This new standard now classifies chimney and venting system inspections into three levels—Level I, Level II or Level III. Each level of inspection has a specific scope of work and specific criteria.
Level I Inspection
This inspection is recommended when the chimney and venting system is easily accessible and when the homeowner is planning to maintain its current use. In general, this is the level of inspection performed in most homes. In a Level I inspection, a certified chimney sweep verifies that the chimney structure is sound and that the chimney is free of obstructions and combustible deposits, such as creosote.
Level II Inspection
The addition of a new home heating appliance or a change in the type of fuel a homeowner is burning requires a Level II inspection. This inspection level is also required upon the sale or transfer of a property or after an operating malfunction or external event that is likely to have caused damage to the chimney. The scope of a Level II inspection includes that of the Level I inspection plus the inspection of accessible portions of the attics, crawl spaces and basements. It may also include a performance test such as a smoke test or a pressure test and possibly an interior chimney video inspection if recommended by the certified chimney sweep.
Level III Inspection
When a Level I or Level II inspection suggests a hidden hazard and the evaluation cannot be performed without access to concealed areas, a Level III inspection is recommended. This type of inspection confirms the proper construction and condition of concealed portions of the chimney structure and the flue. Level III inspections are generally necessary when investigating an incident that has caused damage to a chimney or building, or where a hazard is detected and suspected.
Both the Chimney Safety Institute of America and the National Fire Protection Association recommend yearly chimney inspections to help prevent fire and carbon monoxide poisonings.
Chimney Sweeping
A standard cleaning ensures the removal of flammable creosote from the fireplace system (chimney flue, smoke shelf/chamber, damper area, firebox and cap). We clean fireplaces, wood stoves, and pellet stoves.
How often do I need to have my chimney swept?
This depends on a number of factors, starting with the type of fuel used:
To supplement or as a main source of heat undoubtedly requires an annual inspection or cleaning. Free standing wood stoves or fireplace inserts used to heat the home should be inspected and if needed,cleaned every year. Regular open fireplaces need to be maintained and cleaned on a consistent basis as well. Burning one to two cords of wood is often a good gauge.
Gas flues:
Gas is a clean burning fuel; however, today's high efficiency gas furnaces create some problems. The temperatures are much cooler and higher levels of water vapor are produced. The water vapor contains chlorides and combines to form hydrochloric acid, which accelerates the deterioration process inside the flue. Often times, blockages and collapses occur. This can lead to dangerous carbon monoxide fumes entering the home.
How do you clean a chimney?
We clean most chimneys from inside the home. Upon entering your home we are careful to find the best way for us to get equipment and personnel in and out of your home. We need some space in front of the fireplace to spread out the drop covers to cover the carpet and hearth. "Special Stuff" on the mantel or walls above the fireplace is safe. If you want to remove items on the mantel please do. We set up all needed tools and our vacuum to aid in dust control. We assess the chimneys condition noting any problems and proceed with cleaning.

We start by removing the grates and any ash from the firebox. While we are cleaning the firebox area we are checking for cracks in brick and missing or severely eroded mortar joints.

On "Pre-fab" model fireplaces we are checking for cracks in the back and side refractory panels in the firebox. Some hairline cracks are acceptable and a part of normal operations, however we are looking for larger cracks and gaps that will allow fire to reach behind the metal box enclosure of the fireplace. This can cause damage to the firebox making it unsafe for use. These panels are replaceable so do not fear. We can most likely find and replace old damaged panels making your fireplace usable again (if the unit is not obsolete).

On masonry chimneys we reach up inside the smoke chamber area with hand brush to clean the breast area and the sides where the larger brush misses.

Next, we either sweep the chimney from the roof or from inside the home in the following manner (whichever is most safe); we insert a steel wire brush attached to a flexible fiberglass rod and clean the upper smoke chamber area. The brush is pushed up or down into the flue, working in a scrubbing motion with sections of fiberglass rods added until the brush exits the top of chimney or penetrates into the smoke shelf area.

The process is reversed, and the liner is check for cracks, gaps and missing joints using a spotlight. We clean off debris that has fallen onto smoke shelf, damper area, and dust is swept out of the firebox. We vacuum off the hearth, and remove all equipment and drop covers from your home, complete our report, providing you with a copy and any explanations of corrective measures, get payment for the amount due, and thank you for the business.
How long will it take to clean my chimney and is there any MESS!!
It usually takes about an hour to clean most masonry chimneys including setup of drop covers, vacuum, tools, and cleanup. We guarantee absolutely No Mess in your home.

Pre-fab fireplaces typically take about 35-45 minutes.

Inserts can take from 1-3 hours depending on how often they are cleaned, the type of wood burned, and the way the stove is operated, (units choked down to a slow smolder type burning will produce more creosote, taking longer to clean.)
Is there a difference in chimney sweeps?
A few factors should be considered when hiring a chimney sweep: Do they have proper training and hands on experience? Are the sweeps certified? How long has the company been in business? These are the first things that should be considered. Your friends and neighbors rely on good companies that grow stronger through the years. Experience counts! References should be available from the company.
Why is my chimney smoking?
There are a number of different causes for smoking chimneys – air pressure differentials, changes in the weather, chimney height, clogged spark arrestor, creosote build-up, etc. We recommend an inspection to find the root cause and will provide you with a solution to this problem.
Why does my chimney need a cap?
A chimney cap keeps out the rain and snow. I have seldom seen an uncapped chimney over five years old that was not suffering from some kind of water damage. Go over to your fireplace right now and look at the back fire wall near the base. Take a screwdriver or coin and run it across the mortar between the bricks. Seem a little crumbly? Or maybe it's obvious just looking at it. Rain puddles up on the smoke shelf, mixes with creosote in the chimney and turns into a highly corrosive acid which seeps down and attacks the mortar joints on the back wall of the fireplace. The mortar becomes weak and presto, the bricks on the wall become loose.

Rain and snow can set off a bad smell in the chimney. This will happen in warm weather, especially if the chimney is dirty or has animal droppings on the smoke shelf. Rain also speeds the rusting of metal parts of your fireplace. Have you noticed if your damper is hard to move or frozen?

A cap keeps out birds, squirrels and other varmints. Their droppings accumulate in a huge, vulgar mass on the smoke shelf causing a bad smell, and is a breeding ground for mites and bacteria. A squirrel can wreck a house faster than a dozen two-year-olds. Once they get inside the chimney the only way out for them is through the damper. Raccoons love to raise their young in the nice dark and warm smoke shelf, just a couple of feet from your living room.

A cap keeps out leaves and debris.

A cap inhibits back-puffing. Back-puffing (fireplace smoke coming back into the house) can result from several factors. One of them is downdrafts.
I have rust stains on the top and running down the siding of my chimney. What causes this and what can be done about it?
Pre-fab fireplaces have a metal covering (chase top) to prevent water from entering the interior of chimney structure. The chase top is usually made of a cheap galvanized sheet metal. Over the years the metal coating wears off from sun, rain and other forces. Most tops have a low spot (concaves) that holds water. When you get pine straw and leaves blowing around some are bound to get stuck on the water that has collected during rain, snow, ice storms. Pine straw and certain leaves are very acidic when they are decomposing especially when sitting in water. The acid breaks down the galvanized coating and you soon get bare metal.

After a while the metal starts to rust and when water runs off the top during a rain, carries the rust with it down the side of your beautiful siding causing a stain that gets bigger over time. You may even hear water dripping on the inside of chase after a rain as the rust has pitted the metal allowing water to seep through. Then you know you have a problem. The rust stains on the outside of a chimney are the first clue as it can take several months for the metal to pit enough for water to seep through. The time to act is when you first notice rust stains not when you hear water dripping...

The best way to fix the problem is to remove old rusted chimney tops and replace it with a new one. A regular galvanized metal top made to fit properly, painted and sealed, will last much longer.
If I need any repairs or have problems with my chimney, can you provide a fix?
Yes. We do all major and minor repairs. If the repair is minor, we can perform the repair at the time of the cleaning. Regardless of major or minor repairs, we will provide a good faith repair estimate to fix the problem. In most instances, we do not exceed the cost estimate. If an extreme circumstance should arise, we will discuss the issue with you.
What is a flue?
A flue is another name for the fireplace chimney or another style venting system. It is not a damper.
What is the difference between a masonry and zero-clearance fireplace?
A masonry fireplace is a factory-built, metal firebox (heatilator style) that uses a masonry block chamber to circulate the heated room air. A zero-clearance firebox (prefab system) has an insulated metal jacket around the inner firebox that enables the unit to be placed right up against interior or exterior walls with "0" inches between the fireplace and combustibles. Heated room air is circulated within the fireplace system itself.
Why do some fireplaces require doors, while others have screens?
Some fireplaces are designed as heating systems. The airtight doors are an integral part of the overall system. The doors work by sealing the fireplace, which eliminates heat loss and allows you to completely control the fire.
How many hours of burn time can I expect to get from one burn period?
It is not uncommon for fireplaces to burn for five to eight hour periods. However, this depends on the wood used and the adjustment of the fireplace's air damper and air intake positioning.
Do you have information on the usability of a cord of wood?
Dry, seasoned hardwoods are the best for burning. The moisture content of wood is between 15-25%. It takes at least one year of drying time after splitting the wood to ensure that the moisture content of the wood is at the correct level. The fuel capacity of the wood also differs depending on whether you are using a hard wood or a soft wood. The amount of build-up does not change. A cord of seasoned oak will produce the same amount of build-up as a cord of seasoned pine. We recommend a mixture of pine, aspen, cedar, elm, maple, and oak wood, if possible.
What is creosote and how do I prevent it?
When wood is burned slowly it produces tar and other organic vapors, which combine with expelled moisture to form creosote. The creosote vapors condense and form a black substance in the chimney of a slow-burning fire. Creosote comes in three forms, 2nd and 3rd degree is the worst, causing chimney fires, a glazing, sticky, tacky roof tarring substance. This is what causes chimney fires. To prevent creosote from forming, you should burn vigorous fires with dry, seasoned hardwood. Your chimney should be inspected and cleaned at least once per year by a CSIA certified chimney sweep.
Can I regulate the heat output from a gas fireplace to maintain a comfortable room temperature?
Yes. Each gas fireplace can have multiple ways to regulate the heat output. Many are designed to operate with a thermostat control, allowing you to set the desired room temperature using a thermostat and the fireplace will automatically turn on/off according to the desired temperature.

Fireplaces can also come with a standard built-in high/low knob on the gas valve that enables you to vary the fireplaces heat output. Because you are varying the incoming gas, your flame height will naturally increase on the high setting and decrease on the low setting.
Can I convert my wood burning fireplace to burn gas?
Usually. Many fireplace manufacturers have highly efficient gas insert fireplaces designed for both masonry and factory-built wood burning fireplaces.
Will my gas fireplace operate without electricity?
Many gas fireplaces are manufactured with a standing pilot milivolt system as a standard feature. Standing pilots don't require electricity to generate power. Optional fans/blowers would require a 110V current to operate, which isn't necessary for the fireplace to fully function.
Can I convert my gas fireplace from liquid propane (LP) to natural gas (NG)?
Most fireplace manufacturers usually offer conversion kits to convert your fireplace between LP and NG
Do you clean dryer vents?
Yes. Depending on how many bends are in your system, the cost starts at $105.00 up to $145 for rooftop systems.
How do you know if your dryer vent needs cleaning?
If it is taking more than one cycle to dry your clothes, then you probably need your vent cleaned.