Meet a home inspector who speaks chimney sweep’s language

October 14, 2014

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — I asked Josh Amodio of Priceless Inspections in Utica, New York, fresh off the casino floor at the Flamingo Hotel on Monday morning, why he stopped by the Chimney Safety Institute of America booth at the Inspection Conference Annual Exposition & Trade Show.

“You spoke my language,” he told CSIA’s booth staff for this event, Steve Pietila and Tom Spalding.

Josh said he was referring to one of the Chimney Safety Institute of America’s primary functions — to reduce the uncertainty that many homeowners have with their chimneys. That uncertainty especially comes into play when home ownership is transferred. A house is no different than any other pre-owned item, in that the buyer is purchasing both what they see, and what they cannot see – such as the chimney flue.

(That’s why the National Fire Protection Association 211, the standard upon which certified chimney sweeps base their services, requires a Level 2 inspection upon the sale or transfer of a property.)

CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps are tested to these three levels of inspection and each level of inspection covers specific items depending on the individual appliance and venting system.

Josh, a construction industry veteran who has been growing his family-owned home inspection business for the past few years, said he is up front to his clients about the need to hire a chimney sweep, if the transaction involves a chimney.

“I don’t just recommend it,” Josh says. “I strongly urge that they clean it.”

On his Facebook page, we found this recent post.


In that regard, Josh has been speaking our language.

“Public safety is at the top of most people’s lists,” he said. “It’s not an artificial thing. Let’s really teach people about the safety of chimneys.”

New York home inspector Josh Amodio, left, with Tom Spalding of the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

New York home inspector Josh Amodio, left, with Tom Spalding of the Chimney Safety Institute of America.


Chimney sweeps and our relationship with home inspectors

October 13, 2014

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — According to organizers of InspectionConference.com — what’s billed as “the biggest inspection event of the year” — there are an estimated 20,000 home inspectors in the United States.

Several hundred of them are here at the Las Vegas Flamingo Hotel for three days of education and networking, and the Chimney Safety Institute of America is a trade-show exhibitor. CSIA believe in supporting this key affiliated trade, and this is our second consecutive year here.

ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) is here. Other well-known inspection organizations like American Home Inspectors Training Institute (AHIT), International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and Kaplan Home Inspection Training are exhibiting.

Attendees have come from across the U.S.

Many are thirty for more knowledge about venting of all types, and CSIA is happy to oblige.

“This is why we’re here, and why CSIA will be exhibiting at other home inspector trade shows in 2014-15,” said Steven Pietila, a CSIA certified chimney sweep and owner of American Chimney and Masonry in Portland, Oregon.

Steve, a longtime director on CSIA’s board and past president, will be teaching a 90-minute class on chimney inspections that occurs Tuesday. Steve says his presentation is focused on CSIA’s belief that home inspectors can be better informed about the complex nature of chimneys. Then they will then do a more thorough job for their clients (be it Realtors or home-buyers.)

“Our mission at this show is to promote the recommendation of using a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep for service and inspections of chimneys, vents, and the appliances they serve,” said Pietila.

CSIA’s team at this show, which includes Marketing and Communications Director Tom Spalding, came armed with brochures, educational materials, and referral cards, so that inspectors that have not heard of us can find a CSIA sweep using our free zip-code locator. Our website, CSIA.org, has been a popular way for us to showcase our dual mission of industry education and homeowner resources.

The inspectors we’ve met include Steve Broussard of Ithaca, New York, who already was referring his clients to a CSIA sweep without even realizing it. He said he was glad to know he was working with the best. Other inspectors we’ve met hail from Oklahoma, Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Utah, Colorado and Kansas.

Several inspectors we met in our booth said they plan to use CSIA.org as part of their service to clients.


Wood, still very good

October 10, 2014
Nearly 2.5 million households (2% of all households!) used wood as their primary residential space heating fuel in 2013, which represents a 38% increase since 2004. About 8% of households use wood as a secondary source of heat in 2013, making wood second only to electricity as a supplemental heating fuel. That's according to the new U.S. Energy Information Administration Short-Term Energy and Winter Fuels Outlook. Thanks to Pellet Fuels Institute for the information! Click the picture for the full report.

Nearly 2.5 million households (2% of all households!) used wood as their primary residential space heating fuel in 2013, which represents a 38% increase since 2004. About 8% of households use wood as a secondary source of heat in 2013, making wood second only to electricity as a supplemental heating fuel. That’s according to the new U.S. Energy Information Administration Short-Term Energy and Winter Fuels Outlook. Thanks to Pellet Fuels Institute for the information! The full report is available for you to read here as well. 


CSIA evaluation of after-market parts includes lab tests on fireplaces

October 10, 2014

The Chimney Safety Institute of America, working in collaboration with the National Chimney Sweep Guild, believes consumer safety is both organizations’ No. 1 priority.

That is why both organizations are reviewing proposed changes to NFPA 211 standards regarding the replacement of original fireplace components with after-market parts.

The changes being considered by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 211 Committee potentially limit or restrict what replacement parts can be used by chimney industry companies hired by homeowners with fireplaces.

CSIA’s role, in part, has been to conduct an evaluation, or white paper, regarding these parts.

CSIA began the planning process of creating the white paper in 2013.

The white paper is being assembled by Eric Adair, P.E. of Adair Concepts & Solutions, LLC. Eric is also a Director on the Chimney Safety Institute of America board.

As part of the white paper, CSIA contracted with Intertek, a Wisconsin-based independent testing lab.

CSIA has tasked Intertek to conduct an evaluation of replacement refractory panels, caps and grates in wood-burning fireplaces. Tests include temperature measurement.

“It is impossible to test every possible combination of parts and every scenario, but we are seeking unbiased opinions from Intertek, which is doing testing throughout October,” stated Mark A. Stoner, president of CSIA. “Use of after-market parts on existing fireplaces is common in the industry.”

CSIA’s white paper will raise awareness and assist decision-makers so they are aware of the critical issues involving after-market parts.

“What the white paper is doing is scientifically validating what has historically been anecdotal evidence — demonstrating through testing that the appropriate choice of after-market parts would not create a problem,” said Ashley Eldridge, CSIA director of education.

Here are two screengrabs from one of the reports being conducted Intertek on behalf of the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

Here are two screengrabs from one of the reports being conducted by Intertek on behalf of the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

This is the full statement by the NCSG, released Oct. 6, 2014:

“We believe consumer safety is the number one priority regarding this issue – how a restriction of aftermarket parts affects manufacturers or businesses is of secondary importance.

The position of the NCSG is to wait for the completion of the CSIA formal study regarding these parts. If every single aftermarket part turns out to be a safety concern then we will not support their use. If some parts function to the original specifications and are shown to add no more risk than the OEM parts then we are not opposed to their use.

We understand that manufacturers of factory built fireplaces state in their manuals, in general, to only use their listed parts. We understand the need for these manufacturers to limit liability and to provide a consistent product. We also believe there may be a legitimate place for aftermarket products meant to enhance or repair these products which address a different need than limiting liability and which may require separate standards regarding their use.

We note that many factory built fireplace manufacturers have been sold or gone out of business and that this has limited the availability of OEM parts for the portions of their products which wear out quickly relative to the lifetime of the fireplace and chimney such as caps, grates, screens, doors, refractory panels, or other parts.

We believe that not all aftermarket parts are equal in terms of safety risk. For instance a grate or cap built to the same specifications as an OEM part may not constitute a greater safety risk than the OEM part. However a wood burning insert installed in a factory built fireplace may pose a higher risk. That said – We don’t actually know the level of risk associated with replacement parts or add-on parts. If aftermarket parts are allowed, without regulation, then their indiscriminate use may cause a safety concern for consumers. On the other hand, if a blanket statement is issued to prevent all aftermarket parts being used under any circumstance, then a consumer, being told he must replace the entire fireplace every time a replaceable piece wears out, may buy a part that seems reasonable to him and unintentionally create a safety concern.

There are those on the one side of this issue who want a blanket statement which bans all aftermarket parts from being installed unless specifically listed by the manufacturer. They tend to imply that there are many fires or hazardous situations that have occurred, or may occur, from these parts. However, they have not provided evidence that this is the case. On the other side are those who say they have manufactured and installed thousands of aftermarket replacement or enhancement parts with no issues at all. But again, there is no evidence presented.

The CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) has undertaken and financed a study to find these answers. Are all non OEM parts which have not been manufactured or listed by the original manufacturer dangerous? Do some carry greater risk and some pose no more hazard than the original equipment? We believe these are questions which must be answered before codifying one set of criteria.

We invite those in our industry from all sides of this issue to throw their knowledge, statistics, and money into a cooperative effort with CSIA to bring resolution to this issue.”


Chimney sweeping: ‘Just about every part of it is better left to a professional’ | syndicated radio interview

October 6, 2014

Did you happen to catch a familiar voice on the radio this past weekend?

If so, you might have heard CSIA Education Director Ashley Eldridge’s 7-minute interview on the syndicated Real Estate Today on a radio station in your state. Hosted by veteran journalist Gil Gross, the topic of the Oct. 4 show was “Think Like a Home Inspector.”

Among the experts interviewed was Ashley. Listen to his segment here.

Here's a screen-grab of the website that features a Q&A between Gil Gross and CSIA's Ashley Eldridge.

Here’s a screen-grab of the website that features a Q&A between Gil Gross and CSIA’s Ashley Eldridge.

In the interview, Ashley talks about his own experience as a chimney sweep, the mystique surrounding the Mary influenced chimney sweep profession, and do-it-yourself techniques that the homeowner can employ. We even explain what can be done safely, and what’s best left up to a qualified professional such as a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. (And, you can locate roughly 1,500 of our professionals at csia.org/search).

Unless someone is willing to get on the roof and risk ‘dusting’ their house just about every part of it is better left to a professional. And frankly the mechanical act of sweeping of the chimney is not as difficult as the intellectual exercise of inspecting it. That’s where you really need a professional.

Q: OK, first off, I have to ask.  You are a professional Chimney Sweep – correct?

A: I have trained chimney sweeps for the past 30 years and before that swept thousands of chimneys for 14 years with my own company, everything from the White House to the smallest of homes.

Q: And do you actually have that distinctive chimney sweep’s hat and uniform?  Do you ever wear it on the job? Or is that just a Hollywood thing?

A: I did that in the late 1970s; early in my career I wore my top hat and tails; the tails got a little shaky climbing up and down the ladders. I know many of our sweeps do embrace the history of the chimney sweeping, but it does gets people’s attention and allow you to have a serious conversation with them.

Q: You mentioned the White House, what was that like? I take it that you aren’t just allowed to work and do whatever you want?

A: No; the Secret Service was there with us every step of the way. We wore booties. I went first when Ronald Reagan was president, we actually went into the Executive Manson, and up into the living quarters, as well as the West Wing. It was very interesting to see the history there.

Q: Let’s get to our houses though. Most of us with a fireplace know we’re going to have to get it inspected and cleaned sooner or later … but let’s start with stuff we can possibly do ourselves as homeowners.  What steps we can take to check out our fire boxes and chimneys.  What should we be looking for?

A: 1) Well the first thing you want to look for is any cracks or missing mortar or bricks in the fireplace itself — in the firebox of the fireplace. 2) Something else that would be indicative of a problem would be staining, some smoke stains above the fireplace opening; 3) You’d want to make sure that your damper opens fully and closes securely … in some cases there is mortar in the track, that means when you push on the handle it literally gets out of the track and gets very messed up in there, so it does not flip back and forth on that track. 4) We also recommend that if you use the grate should not be over 2/3rd the size of the fireplace opening, so if for example the fireplace is 36 inches wide the grate should be no more than 24 inches … we don’t want to put the largest possible grate in that fireplace, because then there’s the risk of over-firing it; 5) There shouldn’t be any gap between the inner and outer hearth. If the outer hearth is settling at all, then sparks can go down into that gap. If there are gaps between the fire brick and the brick facing, on that fireplace, smoke can actually use that as a secondary chimney. So you may see the smoke staining at the crown molding, you know, where the wall joins the ceiling, there, that would be an indication that smoke is moving into that space

Q: OK, how much cleaning of our fireplaces and chimneys can we do ourselves … and when’s the time to call in the pro like yourself?

A: Well, unless someone is willing to get on the roof and risk ‘dusting’ their house, just about every part of it is better left to a professional. And frankly, the mechanical act of sweeping of the chimney is not as difficult as the intellectual exercise of inspecting it. That’s where you really need a professional. I would expect that the average homeowner would be able to scoop up the ash and put it in a sealed metal container, but as you may be aware, every winter we hear about people setting their home on fire by putting those same ashes in a paper bag or plastic bucket and putting it on the deck out back. So you know a lot of stuff we take for granted, you have to be very careful with this, because the coals can nestle into that ash and stay live for days.

Q: For homeowners who do have fireplaces, how often should they get them inspected?

A: What we recommend, and what the National Fire Protection Association recommends, is that it be inspected annually. There are things other soot that can collect in the chimney.

Q: And, can the homeowner inspect the flue? It’s very hard to inspect, since it’s up the chimney a foot or so, where it’s dark, crusted with soot, and pretty dirty also. Can a homeowner even check the flue?

A: Sure. Well, actually what you do is open the damper … and shine a flashlight in through the throat of the fireplace, and take a yardstick or a poker and reach up in there as far as you can, and scrape the walls that you see. If you see a lot of crud falling off it then that’s a pretty good indication that the chimney needs to be swept. Professional chimney sweeps actually use a video camera so they can assess the interior condition of that chimney from top to bottom with a very close up view that you obviously wouldn’t get looking from the top or the bottom.

Q: Now, hardwoods are the best to burn – pine is the worst, I’ve heard that. But you can you explain why? And what each type of wood does to your chimney?

A: Really, it’s more a function of the moisture content (of the wood) than the species. Clearly, we favor seasoned wood. The BTUs being released in burning the wood are going to be used either to drive the moisture off, or to provide you with heat. So if you have wet wood more than 25% moisture content, not only is there a lot of moisture in the smoke, but it is more inclined to stick in the chimney. So the relative dryness of the wood is more important than the species itself. We recommend that the lighter woods like pine or poplar be used in the fall and in the spring when you don’t need a whole lot of heat, and save the hickory and locust and oak for the colder parts of the winter, when they tend to coal up and last much longer because of their relative density…. (Wood) should be cut to the size of your forearm, maybe 18 inches long, dried for at least 6 months and covered so that when it rains or snows, it doesn’t gather up more moisture.

Note: There was one question that Gil asked that did not air, but in which we filmed, about the difference between a jack-of-all trades person and a chimney sweep. Ashley replied, “We want to make sure the homeowner gets the best quality inspection from the best qualified person such as a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep.” You can watch his answer from a video upload to our Facebook page. Again, you can find a sweep using our zip-code locator at CSIA.ORG/search

Ashley Eldridge, conducting a taped radio interview with Real Estate Today syndicated radio, on Sept. 30.

Ashley Eldridge, conducting a taped radio interview with Real Estate Today syndicated radio, on Sept. 30.

Also check out our homeowner tips, including the most frequently asked questions.


It’s National Chimney Safety Week

September 28, 2014

National Chimney Safety Week is this week, and our goal is 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

Homeowners (or landlords of tenants) and those who run restaurants with fireplaces should 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 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.”

“Our 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.

This week, we’ll unveil videos on the ideal way to burn wood in your fireplace — and we’ll show you what NOT to burn!

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.


Why CSIA wants the insurance industry to understand the chimney industry

September 22, 2014

CSIA's booth at NAMIC CSIA's booth at NAMIC

The Chimney Safety Institute of America works to educate those in the chimney profession, but our dual mission also includes raising awareness about the need for chimney inspections, for those homeowners interested in fireplace or wood stove use. An inspection by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep (available at csia.org/search) can provide reassurance. But as many people as we reach on our own, isn’t enough. Awareness, as it stands, isn’t enough. Marketing on our own through such channels as Facebook and Twitter isn’t enough.

That’s why the Chimney Safety Institute of America, or CSIA, supports affiliated trade industries, such as home inspectors and firefighters. We exhibit at these organizations’ events and often also sponsor different activities there, to ensure success.

We’re adding some different wrinkles to the mix, and one of those is the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, or NAMIC. Like CSIA, this organization is based in Central Indiana. NAMIC’s 119th convention is being held in National Harbor, Maryland, and CSIA has one of the 100 exhibits in the Marketplace for Mutuals.

We’re delighted to be here. On Sunday, as we were setting up, we heard a few people look at our booth (No. 832) and express interested in our Twisted Chimney backdrop.

It’s likely that some in the insurance industry have never known that chimney sweeping is an actual industry and that there are, in fact, chimney sweeps. We’re looking forward to the opportunity at getting out the word and to talking about those who are affiliated with CSIA through having the CCS credential (Certified Chimney Sweep) and/or the C-DET credential (Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician) credential.


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