It can get scary!

Did a cleaning of chimney and woodstove in MacTier area recently.  Looking at installation and talking with customer, asking questions, came up with some interesting observations.

Insurance company, believe it is State Farm, had a consultant look at property as I understand.   Sadly the person said the install was okay, clearances okay, chimney okay.  All good.  A huge liability to the insurance company in this case.

I looked at chimney and told homeowner I did not think it was tall enough, although they had been told it was.  I took ladder off truck and went onto roof to make some measurements.  Well it seems this person who is a consultant does not know the building codes, B365 or any clue on woodstove installations.  Chimney needs to be either 3 feet (or 900mm) above roof where it comes out of the roof, good there.  They may have known this point.  Chimney also needs to be 2 feet (600mm) higher than any part of structure within 10 feet (3 metres).  Chimney was on lower roof than main residence, and was not that far from the other wall.. in fact at closest point around six feet and around eight and half feet to the peak!   Meaning it needs to be 2 feet above peak of main structure.  And it needs support to the roof as it is over 60 inches tall (factory built chimney).

Then inside, stove needed 17 inches clearance from combustibles at rear and had 9 inches clearance.  Now it did have a faux brick surface on wall, which consultant said allow reduction in clearances.  Wrong again.  Yes masonry can provide a 50% reduction, if it is away from wall with air space behind it; if it has airspace at bottom and top as well thereby allowing airflow on each side.  (measurements of distance from wall and distance from floor and ceiling are critical)  But this had none of this, simply attached to combustible wall.

And it had missing fasteners at stove pipe joints, another code violation.

The really bad part is these individuals are providing incorrect information to insurance companies, thereby increasing liability.  May cause a serious discussion between homeowner and insurance company if anything were to happen, as insurance company may argue it was okay and something had changed.   And is putting families at risk due to their confidence in these individuals and the information they provide.  Reality is it is happening.  When you get your chimney cleaned, hire a WETT Certified Chimney Sweep who can point out these violations and recommend how you can fix.

Why do the bricks in a wood-stove crack.

Most solid-fuel stoves (wood-stoves) built today and in use have fire bricks, or refractory bricks around the sides, bottom and some even on the top of the firebox.  These are made from clay and they crack.  This is nothing to be worried about it, it is a normal process as the bricks are constantly being taken from hot to cold temperatures which causes expansion and contraction to occur on each of these temperature cycles.
This is nothing to be alarmed at. Infact, when you think about it, it’s something to be expected.
Replacement of the bricks, rope gasket seals, stove glass and baffle plates are all consumable items in any wood-stove.  The brick may or may not how sign of wear but still may be weakened through.  This is why a Chimney Sweep should check the bricks and replace them if needed and why it is a great idea to always have a WETT Certified Chimney Sweep provide your WETT Inspection; especially in a home purchase!   Most sweeps will either replace the bricks as part of the service or charge a nominal fee of perhaps $5 or $6 per brick; with a small upcharge if bricks need cutting.  So brick replacement should not be something to worry about as it is simply part of normal service and maintenance process of owning a wood-stove.  Always hire a WETT Certified Chimney Sweep!

Powersweeping – the good, bad and ugly.

Power-sweeping what is it, why use it and what are pros and cons.

First if you look through history the sweeping has changed a lot and design technology has improved to make it better, safer and sometimes even less messier; all be it often at a much higher cost for tools.

The older push brushes did work, to a point.  But virtually any Certified Sweep today will have and use power sweeping is simply does a much better job.

Now initially power sweeping was okay, but limited in selection of tools for the job.  That has changed, with whips, mole brushes, chains, cable, etc.. a lot has changed.  From masonry tiles, stainless steel factory built, a tool exists for any job.  Rods also come in various sizes for fireplaces, liners, tile breaking, etc.

Frankly none of the earlier brushes are better than the newer ones in 99% of the situations.   There are a few situations in very old masonry chimneys where hand brushes offer some value, but most are able to be cleaned as well or better with the proper brush.  Part of challenge for sweeps in the variety of brushes needed and the cost which can be huge compared to the old style brushes.  Yes into the multiple thousands of dollars!

But do they work!  If your sweep does not use then you may wish to tell them to consider as you are not getting best job technology can provide.

As far as pros and cons there are many pros; actually virtually any aspect is better.  The cons are cost, the amount of items you as a sweep need to do properly and the risk of damage you can cause if the right tools are not used!

What are best tools.  Well there are a few the most well known being AW Perkins and SnapLok.  I have had and used Perkins for some time, but have switched to SnapLok as I find they have a much better assortment of heads and overall better suited to do the job.

Can a home owner do it themselves?  Difficult to answer but best answer is often not really.  The company who makes SnapLok does make a consumer version but only a single whip head is available.  The rods are no where near flexible enough to do the job well and the head is suited to a limited chimney design.  So it may work reasonable well in some but you have no idea how well in yours and is useless with anything other than the easiest to remove creosote.  They may work, they may not do a great job or worst case may cause damage.  Use at own risk and with discretion.


How do I get a WETT Certificate or get my system WETT Certified?

There is no such thing as a WETT certificate.

Nor can any appliance be WETT certified.

The inspector is the one who is WETT Certified!

What is provided is an inspection by a WETT Certified individual.  This individual will provide a CODE COMPLANCE inspection and provide a report.

Keep in mind to do the inspection properly the internals of the wood stove must be inspected as well.. missing refractory bricks make the stove uncertified.. and impact inspection results.

You should ALWAY get a WETT certified individual to inspect every system when installed, when purchased or on a regular basis with cleaning.

( Certified Chimney Sweeps will provide as part of the cleaning )

If I get a WETT Inspection – How long is it good for?

The nature of any inspection report, including one done by a Building Inspector, is such that it only is able to view, speak to and record what was present and seen at the time of the inspection.

Once the inspection is complete the inspector has no control or knowledge of any future changes, use or maintenance of wood burning system.

Consequently, an inspection report can only warrant what was seen and recorded at the time of the inspection and typically all inspectors will/should have that noted somewhere in their reports.

Some think it should be good for years to come, but realistically things change.  Parts wear, rust and deteriorate over time.  Use of systems, what is burned and how hot it is burned impacts system integrity as well.  Lack of maintenance, cleaning and factors such as chimney fires (of which 80% happen without knowledge of homeowner) all impact integrity as well.  Any changes or replacements of components can impact conditions as well.  Areas like stove pipes, refractory bricks and door gaskets are three typical wear areas which may be neglected; cleaning of system is yet another.

Because of this really the report and inspection is only VALID for the TIME OF INSPECTION and most will notate that on reports/if they don’t they should!

What is a Catalyst Combuster – And how does it work?

Some stoves have catalyst combusters as part of their secondary burn process.  The reason was or is that while many wood stoves today have secondary burn areas, many times the secondary burn areas do not ignite due to people not understanding and using the stoves properly.

The catalyst combuster was designed to provide a more fool-proof method for burning excess flue gases, provide additional heat and put less particles or emissions out chimney.

So just how does a catalyst work?

Well first the catalyst is not a filter, instead of capturing any particles the combuster uses a chemical catalyst to break unburned particles apart and lower combustion temperatures.  Typical either platinum and/or palladium is utilized to trigger the chemical reaction much the same as your catalytic converter in automobile.   The catalyst will convert the flue gases smoke into water vapor, carbon dioxide, and MORE heat!!

While the catalysis process is used in automobiles as mentioned, the woodstove is able to capture and use the heat generated in the process benefiting the users!   The emissions out of chimney are essentially  invisible carbon dioxide and white water vapor. Chimney emissions from a catalyst that is not function properly will be darker or sootier in appearance.

To work properly the catalyst must reach specific temperatures which is why in proper operation you divert flue gases around combustor during the warm up period.

Operating temperature of the combustors is typically around 500° Fahrenheit or 260° Celsius.

When operating the temperature of the catalyst may reach as high as 1300° Fahrenheit  or 700° Celsius.   These are maximum temperatures and operation above that may cause harm to the combustor or stove components.
If you have a combustor, are interesting in learning more or need maintenance on one contact.

What are the most common Home Inspection misses?

Well the title is a bit misleading.. lets focus on wood burning items first.

a) the number one item by far is missing fasteners in woodstove pipe connections.  Easy to see!  If they are missing those what else in home is being overlooked?  Perhaps simply lack of knowledge – but where else is that knowledge lacking?

b) the second item is missing firebricks or refractory bricks.  If the stove is missing bricks then it is not how it was tested for certifications.  It can not be used or should not be used until fixed.  An easy fix by the way – I carry bricks and woodstove screws with me at all times.

c) defects in single wall pipe – although no where near as common it is very dangerous.  Had a Barrie Home Inspector who missed a single wall pipe in Penetanguishene that was not completely closed – in fact when I tried it would not stay closed and had to be replaced.  Yet shown as okay by Home Inspector!  Clue when first fire when smoke entered room.  Had another one in Orillia by another Barrie Home Inspector where single wall pipe had several rusted pin holes right through to inside, taking pipes outside and holding up to light you could see daylight entering through holes!  That same stove was also missing screws at joints and refractory bricks in firebox.

d) system needs cleaning – around 80% of all systems I do an inspection on need cleaning – yet this simple item is often missed by Home Inspectors.

e) improper chimney height – many Home Inspectors are not able to accurately determine chimney height from the ground it seems.. and many fail to go on to the roof!

f) defects in chimney, chimney crown or flashing.  Another one you really often need to be on roof, up close and personal to see properly any defects.

g) improper identification of heat form versus insert.  This is very common it seems – but not as high on the list as heat forms are not as common as inserts, woodstoves, etc.

There are likely others.  Bottom line a Level 2 Inspection is necessary on any property sale/transfer as per NFPA 211.  Protect yourself and if the Inspector can not do a Level 2 inspection then find somebody who can.

Another Inspection …

Did another WETT inspection yesterday up in Sawlog Bay area yesterday.  Now Home Inspector had done review on home and said stove was okay apparently.  So how did they do?  Well not too bad for a Level 1 inspection.. which is why a Level 2 is so important!

But they did miss:

  • no screws or fasteners in pipe – none..
  • clearances for rear of stove insufficient
  • clearances for single wall pipe insufficient (by around 2 inches)
  • missing components inside firebox (essentially 2/3 of secondary burn area was missing)

Yes I had screws and added.  Yes I was able to reposition stove on ember pad and obtain clearances and still have proper ember pad extensions.. and yes I will be able to fix the secondary burn pieces on another visit.

But why was none of this picked up earlier?

Away for a bit.

I will be heading up north tomorrow or the next day for an break, will be back in 3 weeks.    I service wood stoves for several camps and get to enjoy some free time and good food in return.

Will have a family member monitor calls but won’t be available myself during that time.

Chimney Sweeping Tools

Chimney Sweeping, like many other trades is evolving all the time.  I have been using Perkins power sweeping tools for some time now and can say they are great, make no mistake about it.  However, I did try some SnapLok out a while ago and have since began switching all the tools over to the SnapLok.  SnapLok even makes an adapter for the Perkins and the screw thread rods.  (now when I say screw thread it is the professional thread and not the ones you find in hardware stores – totally different tread for some reason – hardware store tread is a normal tread the professional one is unique and custom tailored to make the job go faster).

But back to the SnapLok rods.  They are easier to connect and disconnect with the double snap action.  They also have a better selection of tools, with glaze removal tools, blockage removal tools, mole brushes and of course the power whips of various selections.  They also have a cool magnetic mount to hang from roof of vehicle or trailer.

Either way they are both great tools.  Now back to power sweeping.. yes they do a FAR better job than manual sweeping even with professional sweep brushes – which by the way are many times better than the ones you buy in hardware stores!!  Why.. well you do get what you pay for many times.. and the sad part is many will think a couple of strokes with hardware store brush and all is good until next year.  Maybe.. maybe not.

Just looked at a job last week where they were cleaning themselves and had a chimney fire last winter.  They did not even know they had a fire!!   Called me out.. I am going back to clean chimney and then run camera down to see if it can be saved or if a liner needs to be installed.  Bottom line is don’t fool around.. get it done right and done right the first time.  Chimney sweeping seems easy .. a good DIY job .. but sometimes it really is not the best for many DIY as there are too many hidden areas, too much you can’t see and don’t know.. save the risk and get a Certified Chimney Sweep to help.