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Chimney Check: Don’t give your chimney the cold shoulder; have it inspected now!

September 12, 2014

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The Chimney Safety Institute of America is rolling out a public awareness campaign, starting before National Chimney Safety Week, to provide homeowners with facts and resources so we can reduce the number of unwanted chimney fires during the 2014-15 heating season.

Some 24,000 fires related to the chimney occur annually, costing millions of dollars in property damage.

The awareness campaign is meant to highlight the need for residents to contact their local CSIA certified chimney sweep for an inspection of their fireplace or wood stove. That’s whether they are daily users or simply want to enjoy 1 or 2 fires associated with the holidays.

The chimney is one of the least-understood parts of the home, and it’s job is to safely funnel smoke from the appliance to the outdoors. But chimneys need to be maintained and inspected annually. Our nearly 1,500 CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps can determine if the chimney is in need of sweeping and/or repair. The CSIA pros can be a help with whatever type of heating appliance that you use in your home. The CSIA pros can talk to you about the flue, and what other appliances in your house, such as your furnace, share the same chimney! The CSIA pros can talk to you about frequency of use – whether it is a primary heating source.

They are trained to look for creosote, cracks, and any problems with the venting.

“We’ve just come from what was a historic cold-weather season in 2013-14, and this year, some parts of the country — in September! — have already experienced summer snow,” said Mark A. Stoner, president of CSIA’s national board of directors. “That’s the reason for Chimney Check Plus 2014-15.”

“The theme is, ‘Don’t give your chimney the cold shoulder’.”

In the opinion of Ashley Eldridge, CSIA’s director of education, too many fires related to chimneys and solid-fuel appliances are occurring. [See our roundup of fires in 2013-14 that included a serious chimney fire in Kansas City, in Oklahoma City, in Indianapolis, and in all areas of the country. We started seeing reports of chimney fires in late October 2013.]

The problem is so widespread that in 2014, CSIA created a brochure/pamphlet to give to firefighters, “After a Chimney Fire,” who in turn provide them to victims of fires they have been called to fight.

CSIA, a nonprofit that educates chimney pros and provides homeowner resources, has devoted a page on our website to Chimney Check Plus 2014-15. On it, you’ll see loads of resources, including a special news release that is being distributed nationally in support of National Chimney Safety Week, Sept. 28-Oct. 4. (Special thanks to Orion Safety Products, makers of Chimfex, Chimney Fire Extinguisher, for supporting distribution of that news release).

CSIA is working with news media as well as providing content to consumers directly in the form of videos on our YouTube channel. All of our material is share-able both on social media and traditional media. We’re on Facebook and Twitter (see the side of this blog!)

CSIA advocates safety — get that chimney inspected as soon as you can. Use our zip-code locator on csia.org. If you don’t have a CSIA sweep in your area, you can find a company that has membership with our sister organization, the National Chimney Sweep Guild.

If you don’t employ a CSIA certified chimney sweep, there’s no guarantee that they know the three levels of inspection or have knowledge of proper chimney construction or installation details. You don’t want a handyman unfamiliar with this information doing this type of work.

While CSIA has no control over pricing, we do have information on our website about what a typical inspection would include, with lots of useful info.

Be safe and inspect to protect.

 

 

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From DIY to disasters, Chimney Safety Institute of America is in the news

September 9, 2014

The Chimney Safety Institute of America is a peer-driven, 31-year-old nonprofit that is the go-to source for major media organizations when they want to do stories about the chimney sweep industry. Just ask Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs or NBC Today Show’s Rossen Reports, to name a few. CSIA certifies around 1,500 chimney sweeps and more than 300 clothes dryer exhaust vent technicians. They are proud to use our logos, knowing they carry a lot of integrity.

During the month of August, CSIA had a great opportunity to introduce ourselves to some new journalists who weren’t aware of us. That resulted in some nice publicity.

The publication Mother Earth News was nice enough to highlight us in their August 6 article, “Chimney Sweeps vs DIY.”

In MEN, contributor Bruce McElmurray wrote, “Subsequent to my previous blog on sweeping our own chimney I received notification from an organization that specifically certifies chimney sweeps. I was totally unaware of such an organization but in exchanging emails and perusing their website I have found that this non-profit organization is a good place to go if you don’t want to clean your own chimney … The organization is called Chimney Safety Institute of America and is a nonprofit that educates homeowners and certifies Chimney Sweeps.” 

Here’s a great passage from the Colorado-based blogger’s item that we are reproducing in its entirety.

“An inspection by a trained professional may be just as important, if not more so, than actually sweeping the chimney. Having someone who knows what to look for can save a lot of heartache later. Home heating fires are not limited to just a chimney although that is a major cause. Clearances to combustibles, inadequate floor protection, damage to chimneys or flues are all equally important. A professional chimney sweep will recognize these defects in an instant. A periodic inspection will go a long way toward heading off a chimney fire and help reducing the risk of a chimney fire or worse. Having a certified chimney sweep who knows what to look for can be a real asset to having a properly functioning woodstove. Many thanks to Chimney Institute of America for advising me that there is a certification process and the benefits of hiring a professional chimney sweep.”

Thanks to Bruce. You can read more about his unique experiences on www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com

Earthquake

CSIA also thanks California news station KTVU (Channel 2) for including Chimney Safety Institute of America in their August 26 story, “Crumbling chimneys a concern for many after earthquake.”  We were instrumental (thanks largely to Ashley Eldridge and Bob Ferrari) in connecting the journalists with a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep [Kirk Hart of Captain Kirk's Chimney Service in Sebastopol, California] that they could interview. And the televised story and article contained this nugget: “Because chimney service companies are an unregulated industry, many companies KTVU spoke to caution customers to check with the Better Business Bureau and the Chimney Safety Institute of America before hiring a business.” We agree! Thanks to KTVU.com’s Amber Lee for the write-up and taking the time to get the story right, using a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep as their go-to source. 

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CSIA is constantly working to ensure that homeowners, media, affiliated trades like firefighters and home inspectors, and other third-party industries, are aware of csia.org (and our free zip-code finder) so they have more information at their fingertips about how to care for their chimney and the heating device that it serves.

Contact CSIA Marketing and Communications Director Tom Spalding anytime at tspalding@csia.org for questions!

 

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National Chimney Sweep Training School students provide rooftop revelations

September 5, 2014

The wood-burning fireplace is a centerpiece of my 23-year-old home in metropolitan Indianapolis, but it’s sat unused for a decade. My reluctance initially had to do with ignorance — I wasn’t exactly sure how to work it. Then it was fear, as I have small children.

But now my kids are getting to be of age where we can give the furnace a break this winter and enjoy its cozy warmth.

Many homeowners are like me – that have a fireplace but haven’t necessarily used it, but desire to, or are at least intrigued by its operation.

My quest to get it usable began with a unique opportunity. I volunteered my house for the American Home Inspector Training Institute trainees, who regularly hold class sessions at the Chimney Safety Institute of America tech building. They gave my house a brilliant walk-through from garage to bedroom, but they did only a cursory check of the chimney, noting what appeared to be rust stains on the exterior surface. AHIT recommended hiring a qualified inspector, such as a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep.

So then I volunteered to have my system scrutinized for one of our National Chimney Sweep Training Schools; it was inspected on a hot Friday morning in August, and I had fingers crossed that it’d be in good shape. The August inspection meant if it needed fixing, I could get on a CSIA certified chimney sweep’s schedule, using the csia.org website to find one.

One of the great things about using CSIA certified personnel for an inspection is that the services they offer are typically above what’s required by the National Fire Protection Association 211: STANDARD FOR CHIMNEYS, FIREPLACES, VENTS, AND SOLID FUEL-BURNING APPLIANCES for a Level 1 inspection. (For example, an inspection doesn’t require that a chimney sweep ascend to the roof; CSIA pros typically do.)

The CSIA instructor, Rich Rua, walked the students step-by-step through the process, including documenting the scene by taking pictures, and putting down tarp to protect the carpet and surrounding area. He explained the safety gear that is needed. They had all the gear on hand to do a thorough inspection as well as what cleaning my flue required.

I have a Heatilator, a factory- built fireplace installed when the house was constructed in the early 1990s. Many homes in my neighborhood were built identically. My fireplace wasn’t used by the first owner, nor did it get much use when I purchased the house a decade ago. I have burned a Duraflame log for purely aesthetic reasons.
inside the house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(By the way, the National Chimney Sweep Training School, offered four times per year, is a great resource for folks interested in getting to be a certified chimney sweep or for those in the field who want to expand on their expertise. The last class is Sept. 22-27, and registration information is here.)

fireplace clean

Not only was the gear out for a sweep,  I also got my fireplace ash/debris cleaned out (a nice bonus – anytime you don’t have to lug in the Shop-Vac from outside.)

On the exterior side, the rooftop inspection revealed several issues, which will require me to dig into my pocket and pay for a qualified professional repair.

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My chase cover, or pan (see picture) has surface rust and the storm collar sealant to the chimney is deteriorating. This of course had nothing to do with how I used my fireplace, but rather was due to Mother Nature.  Fortunately, the flashing was fine, thus I didn’t experience water intrusion.

During the visual work-up, the training school crew looked at the height of my chimney, which indicated a problem:  I’ll need to have the chimney extended vertically by about a foot, to achieve the 3-foot height termination recommendation.

The right termination point is a necessity; on its own, roofs experience air current that’s independent of the chimney. As air moves across the roof, we don’t want the exhaust of the flue to be interfered with. An additional benefit of the flue being the 3-foot length is that it gives sparks to “arrest” or a chance to cool down as they travel up from the fireplace.

As you can see in the picture, I’ll also need to have a professional take a whack at the tall mulberry tree branch that likes to creep over our roof line and is protruding over the flue.

The training school crews also noticed that, although the rain cap prevented birds and other critters from entering, some spiders were living inside. Webs can impact a chimney flue’s performance, no question about that. CSIA certified pros are trained on how to understand why a chimney doesn’t work.

Over and above the requirements of the inspection, the training school students also examined my other home vents on the roof so they could see the difference.

They also saw the firewood that I had placed on the hearth that was in the process of seasoning. (Learn how to identify ready-to-burn wood by its sound in this CSIA video).

I listened as the crews consolidated their findings into one comprehensive report.

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Afterwards they provided me with a report so I understood what I needed to follow up with. I’ll need to make those fixes.

MORE: Watch a video about our National Chimney Sweep Training School, and see the types of hands-on lessons that are taught during the 6-day course.

I was impressed by the thorough nature of the chimney sweep inspection process, and glad to see what’s taught. I can’t wait to meet the next class of students. (If you are interested in learning how to become part of that class, e-mail me directly at tspalding@csia.org.) 

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 Author Tom Spalding is marketing and communications director for the Chimney Safety Institute of America. He joined the nonprofit in October 2013.

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Add chimneys to your post- #Napaearthquake assessment checklist

August 24, 2014

Following the Aug. 24, 2014 earthquake in Napa, California, the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) reminds homeowners on the West Coast that the integrity of your chimney may have been affected. An inspection of your chimney by a qualified professional is in order to ensure your post-earthquake home heating safety.

 

KTVU

Photo from KTVU-TV.

Your first concern should be the general condition of the exterior of the chimney and a concern that the chimney may also be so badly damaged or misaligned as to threaten people or property if it falls. If this is the case, immediately contact a chimney service professional and ask that the dangerous section is removed.

If you believe that the exterior of your chimney is basically sound, the immediate risk is lessened.

However, prior to using your fireplace, woodstove or furnace for the first time, the Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends a Level II chimney inspection to ensure that your chimney’s interior has not suffered damage from the earthquake which would allow the escape of heat, products of combustion, or hazardous gas, into your living space.

In a typical Level II inspection, a video camera inserted into the chimney flue (between the stove/fireplace) on a lighted rod is indicated. In California homes where that flue is shorter (10 feet, for example) it is possible to do a visual inspection without a camera if you have a clear line of sight.

(What is a Level II inspection? See http://www.csia.org/homeowner-resources/chimney_inspections.aspx)

Chimney issues are not uncommon as a result of an earthquake. The Association of Bay Area Governments states that the 1994 Northridge, California earthquake damaged 60,000 masonry chimneys beyond repair.

“All systems with flues in your residence that provide venting, including the chimney and furnace as well as the clothes dryer exhaust, should be inspected before re-use,” said Ashley Eldridge, director of education for CSIA.

More: A visual roundup of chimney damage from CSIA’s Storify account.

More: Broken chimneys a common earthquake casualty from KTVU-TV.

Chimney inspections and preventative chimney maintenance is best left to a qualified chimney professional, like a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. Find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and learn more about caring for your chimney and home heating system online at http://www.CSIA.org.

CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps have earned the chimney and venting industry’s most respected credential by passing an intensive examination based on fire codes, clearances and standards for the construction and maintenance of chimney and venting systems. They are also well versed in the characteristics of fuels available for home heating such as wood, gas and oil. This knowledge allows them to expertly diagnose and solve chimney and venting problems.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to chimney and venting system safety. CSIA is committed to the elimination of residential chimney fires, carbon monoxide intrusion and other chimney-related hazards that result in the loss of lives and property. To achieve these goals, CSIA devotes its resources to educating the public, chimney and venting professionals and other fire prevention specialists about the prevention and correction of chimney and venting system hazards.

We express our condolences to those impacted by today’s earthquake.

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National Chimney Sweep Training School inspiring for CSIA instructor

August 19, 2014

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Michael Segerstrom, a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep since 2004, is also a member of the CSIA board of directors and is a CSIA instructor. He taught at the National Chimney Sweep Training School in June — for the first time- and the experience left him inspired. This is an as-told-to article that appears in the August edition of Sweeping magazine.

This was my first full week of teaching the same group of students, not new faces every day, and teaching a class I had never taught before! The longest I had done was a 1-day, 8-hour class and I did it four times this year and I think as many times last year. I did a lot of 60 or 90 minutes classes at different trade shows.

I was nervous but I did have confidence going into it – a big confidence gain because I was asked.

Being able to work alongside guys who are legends or icons in the industry – guys like Tom Urban and Bob Fish and Ashley Eldridge. Just to be along side those guys. Inspiring is the word I would use.

Being in class, doing actual demonstrations and looking at guys when they see something for the first time, and being a part of showing that to them for the first time, is like watching when the light bulb goes off inside their head.

More: Sign up for the National Chimney Sweep Training School. (Hurry! The last class for 2014 will be held Sept. 22-27 at the CSIA Tech Center in Plainfield, Indiana.)

The study groups at night were good. Because we wouldn’t just study, but talk about the industry and the things that we’ve experienced, the new guys and those who have been doing it a while.

I really felt like I could make a tangible contribution to the industry. Not just by teaching off slides, but sharing my own experiences as it relates to things and answering guys’ questions and seeing most of them walk away CSIA CCS Certified at the end of the week.

It’s a pride thing. I want all of my guys to get 100s. But I understand that it is not an easy test to pass. You have to know what you are doing to pass the test.

Physically I was exhausted, standing on my feet for a week. And I almost lost my voice. By the time I got back to New Jersey my voice was just about gone.

I addressed the class on Friday, because I left and they tested on Saturday. The message I tried to deliver was, regardless of if you pass or fail tomorrow, take one thing that you learned, at least one thing, bring it back and try to implement it. Maybe it’s a new brush something that simple – just one thing and implement it.

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There were several times during the class where we talked about common-sense approaches that guys had never thought about. Where it never occurred to them to try that. Like Bob Fish; when he inspects a chimney, he puts a knee board in front of it! For me, having been doing this for 17 years that something I had never tried … and when he explained it to me, the light bulb went off in my head!

More: Watch a promotional video on the National Chimney Sweep Training School.

As an owner-operator I still work in the field, I still go out on all the repairs and most of the sweeps and inspections. So it was pretty intuitive. I think I was able to connect because I have current field experience.

You’ll learn things that you’ll take for the rest of your career that will make your jobs easier. That will make you better at your job, and in the end, make your job more profitable. Or your boss, if you are an employee.

If a boss was considering sending his employee it will make them better sweeps. Whether or not they pass the test, they will learn things that they will be able to implement right away that will make them manage their time better, make them perform services better, and in the end make them a more profitable employee to have.

This was 20 students in a room. They had to learn stuff, so we spent a lot of time together. I feel like I made some friends. I hope I see all of them again, and 10 years we’ll still be friends.

I hope they do real well in their careers whether they are owners or employees.

The way the class was put together, the order of things, everything flowed and fit – nothing dated or inaccurate … It was a really comfortable program to teach.

It was my first experience with what is taught at the National Chimney Sweep Training School. It’s a solid program.

More on Mike: Visit his company web page.

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CSIAccess e-mail newsletter for August 2014

August 11, 2014

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CSIA plans upgrade to Successful Chimney Sweeping manual; 2014-15 fees to stay same

August 7, 2014

Chimney Safety Institute of America is always trying to stay responsive to the needs of our chimney sweep community.

Following today’s meeting of the board of directors, CSIA President Mark A. Stoner announced some important changes to: CSIA’s Successful Chimney Sweeping manual; certification fees; waiting period for retests; a whitepaper on after-market parts; logo violations; and the popularity of csia.org.

** The Successful Chimney Sweeping manual and testing are scheduled for a full rewrite in the upcoming 12 to 18 months, which means a release date by 2016. The SCS manual was revised and updated in October 2011, the eighth edition. The subject material in CSIA’s in-person and online review, along with the exams, are improved on an as-needed basis or as warranted.

Stoner said as many as 1,000 sweeps will be contacted through the 2014-2015 study year to “help participate in the project by helping us understand your daily activities as a chimney professional in your area.”

Stoner says, “This will be the most comprehensive study on the chimney sweep trade that has ever been performed. This data will help us create the best possible manual, review and test in our industry’s history.”

Until a new edition is published, sweeps should continue to rely upon the 2011 edition of the SCS manual, along with the 2013 edition of the NFPA 211, and the 2006 IRC.

** The annual certification fee that CSIA charges will remain the same for 2014-15 — $159 for those who are also in the National Chimney Sweep Guild, and $209 for those that are not NCSG members.  Fees for books/reviews/exams will also remain the same. Our pricing is discussed in the certification renewal area of csia.org.

** The waiting period for re-testing following a failure of either the CCS or C-DET exam is now 14 days, instead of 30 days, effective immediately.

Sweeps or techs can still take the test as many times as they need if they fail within one year of the original testing date, and the fees are at a reduced rate.

** CSIA’s board is exploring the possibility of constructing a new multipurpose facility on land CSIA owns adjacent to our 10,000-square-foot Technology Center at 2155 Commercial Drive, Plainfield, Indiana. This facility would be designed to accommodate more classrooms and equipment, so we could offer additional year-round training, such as indoor masonry classes.  “We’ve opened up talks to look into the feasibility in building another building. This is a step in the right direction for us. Part of building anything is the cost, and how are you going to fund that cost,” Stoner said. “So we are starting off with a very conservative plan.”

** A portion of proceeds from CSIA’s annual auction, in concert with manufacturers donations, is being used to pay for a white paper on the use of after-market parts. That white paper will include testing at Intertek labs. CSIA is hoping the project will be finished this Fall to present to the National Chimney Sweep Guild members, as well as CSIA CCS chimney sweeps. We understand how important this issue is to our sweep population.

** The topic of CSIA and NCSG logo violators have been talked about on many social networking sites, and Stoner wants all sweeps to know we take the issue very seriously.

As the CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and CSIA Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician trademarks continue to gain value, it has become more common for those who do not hold the credentials to hold themselves out as certified. If you find that a non-certified person is using our trademark, please let us know via the reporting form on our website so that we can continue to protect our trademarks.

On that page, we list “how to report violators.” Put simply, what you need to do is send as much documentation about the violation as you can — that can involve getting yellow pages photocopies, a “screen-grab” on a website, photos of the offenders’ van or equipment, anything you can think of. Just one complaint is sufficient, and sweeps can be rest assured that our offices are diligent about taking every measure to ensure that the offender get compliant or remove all NCSG and CSIA material.

The board is also planning to review our procedures for potential updates. We’ll keep you posted on the progress and any changes that are made.

 ** We expect another record-setting year for csia.org, the industry’s No. 1 website for helpful consumer information, where homeowners can turn to. Google Analytics tells us that the number of page views to the site from Jan. 1-July 27, 2014 is up 15 percent (406,363 vs. 353,249) compared to the same period in 2013. Also, the number of individual web users is up 71.9 percent (179,306 vs 104,255) and sessions is up 61 percent.

CSIA.org is also up dramatically from the same period in 2012 and 2011.

How this matters to you? When our numbers go up, your numbers are going up.

“The average chimney sweep listed gets over 80 clicks annually from homeowners requesting their phone numbers,” Stoner said. “That means that is costs about $2-3 per lead from our site. In marketing terms alone, it’s one of the very best, least expensive types of advertising that you can do for your business.”

** Chimney Safety Institute of America is proud to announce that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has confirmed the integrity of CSIA course offerings, and our commitment to serving our U.S. military members. The “in-compliance” letter to us also stated, “The education and training opportunities that your institution continues to provide veterans and their dependents are appreciated.”

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