What the U.S. can learn as fire departments in England educate homeowners about chimney fires

September 9, 2015

[Credit: @jbaldyUK]

[Credit: @jbaldyUK]

You might think that of all places that know the value of a well-maintained chimney, the United Kingdom would top the list. After all, it was in 16th century England that the trend of fireplaces and chimneys really caught on.

Yet, despite that head start, chimney fires remain as much an issue overseas as they are in the United States (which averaged an eye-popping 22,700 fires from 2010 to 2012) and first-responders are doing something about it!

This week [Sept. 7-13] is “Chimney Fire Safety Week” in the UK and you’ll find fire departments from Cheshire to Wiltshire writing about the need for inspections prior to the 2015-16 winter burning season.

Richard Priest, head of Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service’s community safety team, tells residents in his jurisdiction to “make sure your chimney is ready for the winter months ahead, by a professional, qualified chimney sweep. With the colder part of the year looming, people will begin to start using open fires again. All chimneys and flueways should be cleaned and checked to ensure they’re free from debris and in full working order before the heating season.”

Priest continues: “A blocked or defective chimney can cause carbon monoxide poisoning as well as a fire. Make sure your chimney is swept regularly, depending upon what fuel you burn, and that you have working smoke alarms in your home, and test them once a week.”

Does this sound familar? It’s a drum that the Chimney Safety Institute of America beats quite frequently. CSIA in the United States frequently works with firefighters so they understand how to combat chimney fires. We also then educate the public. [We even publish a free public safety bulletin, and it’s on our website for anyone to download.]

VIDEO: CSIA teamed with Indianapolis-area fire department on outreach in 2014

“England is like us in many ways regarding the need for annual inspections,” says John Pilger, a past president of the CSIA who serves on CSIA’s board of directors and is the International Relations Committee Chairman for CSIA and the National Chimney Sweep Guild. Pilger, of Smithtown, New York, is also a former fire chief. “It’s great to have the firefighters internationally talking about fires, because everybody listens to firefighters, the experts in fire prevention and response.”

And what we learn from this is that chimney flue fires don’t discriminate –whether in London, England or London, Kentucky.

We’re seeing many social media posts about England’s Chimney Fire Safety Week.

Cheshire Fire & Rescue includes tips on its website that are applicable in the United States and, in many ways, mirror the public safety message of the Chimney Safety Institute of America. It states that the “most common causes of chimney fires” are:

  • Improper appliance sizing
  • Burning unseasoned wet wood
  • Infrequent sweeping and cleaning
  • Overnight burning or smoldering wood for long periods in wood stoves

Wiltshire Fire & Rescue Service offers some tips as well:

  • Don’t use flammable liquids such as petrol or paraffin to light your fire.
  • Don’t burn excessive amounts of paper or rubbish.
  • Don’t overload the fire with fuel.
  • When the fire is alight, check the loft space occasionally to make sure there is no smoke leaking from cracks, defective brickwork or mortar joints.

There are some great tips from Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes:

Top tips for safer chimneys

  • Always use a fire guard to protect against flying sparks from hot embers.
  • Make sure embers are properly put out before you go to bed.
  • Keep chimneys and flues clean and well maintained.
  • If you have recently opened up or about to start to use a fireplace, make sure it is inspected by a qualified person.
  • When burning wood, use dry, seasoned woods only. Never burn cardboard boxes or waste paper.
  • Inspect your chimney breast, particularly in the roof space. Make sure that it is sound and that the sparks or fumes cannot escape through cracks or broken bricks.
  • Ensure wood burners are installed and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Make sure the appliance receives enough air to allow the fuel to burn properly. Consider having a carbon monoxide detector fitted.

To find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to perform your annual inspection, check out the zip-code locator on CSIA’s website.

For more: https://www.facebook.com/firekills



CSIA increasing awareness of chimney inspection issues at a journalism convention

September 4, 2015

The Chimney Safety Institute of America has a special surprise waiting for attendees at the Excellence in Journalism convention to be held in Orlando, Florida Sept. 18-20.

In over 1,400 convention tote bags will be a business card with CSIA’s logo, and a chimney figurine zip-tied to it, with the phrase “Little Sweep, Giant Mission” on the front.

On the back? A promotion of CSIA’s National Chimney Safety Week, to be held Sept. 27-Oct. 3. The hashtag reads #SafeWarmHome in recognition of this year’s theme, which is built off of our Vision Statement. CSIA believes everyone should enjoy a safe, warm home.

Staff members at CSIA’s 10,000-square-foot headquarters in Plainfield, Indiana, spent two days assembling the items. We also discussed the potential impact of a positive reaction/reception to the idea from the media and journalism educators. The Excellence in Journalism 2015 conference is billed as the “journalism event of the year” and will be host to top news professionals from broadcast, print and digital newsrooms around the country, according to its website description.

They are newsroom decision makers, leaders, station managers, reporters, producers, content managers, editors, freelancers and educators.

VIDEO: Watch our how-we-made-it story for #EIJ15.

We hope attendees see our trinket and go to our special online page, csia.org/media; do a story or refer a colleague to do a story; be moved to locate the CSIA certified professional in their city, and do a story; or, perhaps, they’ll do nothing more than tweet a picture of the chimneyman along with the #safewarmhome hashtag.

While attention-seeking, this is no gimmick by CSIA. Television and print reporters are our allies in accomplishing CSIA’s public safety mission in reducing the number of unwanted fires.

PREVIOUS: Consumer Product Safety Commission latest figures for chimney fires. 

Since CSIA has over 1,600 CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps working in 48 U.S. states, it’s a worthwhile and newsworthy story that any reporter can do, to help readers or watchers of its news. (We also hope it demonstrates commitment that we work hard to make a valuable credential worth the investment to our pros!)

National Chimney Safety Week in the United States is Sept. 27-Oct. 3; it occurs just before NFPA’s Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 4-10.

If you are a reporter, go to CSIA.org/media for more!

Tom Spalding 





September’s here, and with it comes National Chimney Safety Week | What fireplaces get inspected?

September 1, 2015

 It’s hard to believe — until you see that the leaves on the trees have already started changing colors. Fall is just around the corner. The month of September starts hot and finishes on fire, in that it signifies National Chimney Safety Week, Sept. 27-Oct. 3.

Your house’s chimney is easy to forget. It’s not used every day, and for many people it’s been an afterthought since May or earlier. The fireplace and chimney are neglected until the moment they’re needed.

Don’t let that neglect turn into a 911 call.

“Fires in chimneys can start for a variety of reasons. They can be poorly built, or incorrectly designed, or the chimney flue sees a buildup of creosote over time,” says Ashley Eldridge, director of education for CSIA, based in Plainfield, IN. “If you’ve ignored the need for an inspection, you are taking a risk.”

Your chances of having another chimney fire increase if you’ve already had one. Chimney fires are not always a blazing infernos on the side of your house. They can be slow-burning, and you may not even know you’ve had one.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends annual chimney inspections, and cleaned when needed; your approach should be based on usage.

(Some homeowners even get a second inspection during the burning season!)

How do you find a professional chimney sweep? CSIA, a nonprofit formed in 1983, has a great resource right on our homepage — just put in your zip code.

What type of firebox needs an inspection? Wood-burning fireplaces/chimneys might come to mind initially, but so do gas-burning fireplaces. Natural gas or propane logs do not produce the visible soot and creosote as wood logs do, but they are depositing a fair amount of corrosive substances into your chimney.

Gas fireplaces should have their ceramic logs checked as they can deteriorate and clog the vents and pilot light. This will not only help prevent chimney fires, but fireplace issues as well, which can occur when the pilot light and other connections are not functioning correctly.

Take care of your chimney. One of the most relaxing things on a cold winter night is to sit by the cozy warmth of  fireplace.

While we’re at it; CSIA is a Weather-Ready Nation ambassador; we have a duty to let all know that the season is more than just leaves crunching under feet. It can also bring weather hazards such as strong storms with whipping winds, early season snows and floods. Don’t let dangerous fall weather catch you unprepared! With just a few simple steps, you can be weather-ready for whatever comes this fall.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Know Your Risk

  • Check weather.gov every morning before you leave home to make sure you’re prepared for what the weather might bring.

2. Take Action!

3. Be A Force of Nature

  • Inspire others to take action by showing your friends and family how you are prepared. You can tell them over the phone or in person, or tweet or post about it.

— Tom Spalding

(And additional thanks to writer Laura Nedig; we used excerpts of an interview we conducted with her for a 2014 blog post.)


Firefighters, chimney and dryer exhaust, and why CSIA exhibited at #fri15

August 29, 2015

ATLANTA, Georgia — You have to wear multiple hats when you exhibit at a trade show featuring firefighters from all areas of the country, first-responders that represent large metropolitan populations as well as tiny towns. Some are full-time departments; others are volunteer.

The multiple hats are necessary because attendees here at the Fire-Rescue International Show all have different concerns or needs to be met.

And the Chimney Safety Institute of America is here to serve ALL of them, believe it or not.

For starters, CSIA is different than most exhibitors. The job is to represent chimney sweeps and dryer exhaust technicians; other booths people are selling respirators, full-body decontamination towels, t-shirts and — yes, education.

For starters, we’re making sure they know about the vision statement of CSIA — that every family enjoys a safe, warm home. Some people asked about hiring a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. We showed firefighters (and their loved ones) how easy it is to use our free zip-code locator at CSIA.org/search. 

We provided tchotchkes that ingrained our message to the old and to the very young.

Boys shining their ccs and c-det smashlights.

A Madison, Alabama fire department captain on Friday told me (unsolicited) that he was pleased by Chimney Safety Institute of America’s presence, because we answered loads of chimney fire questions: “Glad to see you all have a booth here. This is definitely stuff that firefighters have to deal with.”

Dustin Spires, attendee.

We passed out many chimney sweep figurines — effective conversation starters about the chimney/venting industry’s precious history and bright future. 


Chimney sweep figurines, which we purchased (at a generous discount) from Wohler.

Thanks especially to Art Schlagen of Indiana and Blake Crocker of North Carolina who recently (and separately) earned their CSIA C-DET Dryer Exhaust Credential. Both are firefighters and allowed us to use their photo on two C-DET specific tradeshow backdrops. (The more the  merrier when it comes to better-trained professionals in the U.S., because the customer wins!)

Art Schlagen of Rescue Duct (left) and Blake Crocker of Smoke Alert (right).

We established, hopefully, relationships that will serve the purpose of providing homeowners with awareness. Several departments graciously agrees to try out CSIA’s “After The Fire” brochure, meant to educate chimney fire victims. There are a lot of fires that affect homes and businesses, and this fact sheet helps in their knowledge of what to do next. 

Several firefighters were excited to hear about CSIA’s certification opportunities, especially in areas where they reside that lacks one of our certified pros for 50 miles or greater!

Brochures on the table included “After The Fire” and also advertise our credentials — CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and CSIA Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician.

This is the last show of the 2014-15 budget season for CSIA that has included insurers (September, NAMIC in MD), home inspectors ;NAHI in Pittsburgh, ASHI in Philly, InspectorLab in Vegas), hearth professionals (HPBA in Nashville), and air duct cleaners (NADCA in Marco Island.) 

Have any questions? Want a copy of our brochures? Ask at tspalding@csia.org.

-Tom Spalding


The top-down burn. Why a CSIA instructor says it’s the best way to use your firebox

August 25, 2015
Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 6.10.53 AM

Seasoned firewood being prepared for a top down burn.

Ready to talk about top down burns? We are at the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Even though the heat of August and September hasn’t left us, some cool mornings are signs that Fall is just around the corner.

“It’s not pushed very much, but any of us that are around (expert mason/fireplace designer and CSIA instructor) Chris Prior know about this and use it. It takes a little longer to set it up but it definitely burns much better, much cleaner,” said Bob Fish, a CSIA instructor from Londonderry, Vermont.

So let’s get to it, with a fresh new video (featuring Bob) that will result in less smoke if you stack your firewood in just the right way, with just the right amount of wood.

VIDEO: Take it from the top; the best approach to firewood burning. A CSIA production.

Make sure that you’ve got your firewood ready, and that it’s seasoned.

1. Place your largest pieces of wood in the bottom of your fireplace or wood stove with the ends of the logs at the front and back (don’t let the logs run parallel to the fireplace opening).

Two large pieces of wood are stacked.

Two large pieces of wood are stacked.

2. After placing the bottom row, add levels of smaller logs on top of your large base logs until the wood is stacked to about half the height of the fireplace. Each layer of the wood is smaller than the layer below it.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 6.12.00 AM

3. Now it’s time to add your kindling, stretching it across the top of your wood stack with the biggest pieces of kindling going first and working your way up to just wood shavings on top of the pile, stopping just below the fireplace opening.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 6.12.17 AM

4. Light the wood shavings on the top of the wood stack – it should take just a single match or flame from an automatic lighter.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 6.12.39 AM

You’ll notice less smoke by lighting from the top, and you won’t have large logs collapsing down into smaller ones as the fire burns, which will help keep embers and ash from being pushed out into your living space.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 6.13.03 AM

The type of fireplace doesn’t matter. A top down approach, instead of log cabin style, should work very well. The trick that makes it work is that the volatile gases are forced to go through the fire before leaving the firebox.

The burn efficiency means less creosote in the chimney, long term.

The traditional method of burning firewood. We saw way more smoke, plus inefficient burning.

The traditional method of burning firewood. We saw way more smoke, plus inefficient burning.

Make sure that before you use your fireplace or wood stove, that you know the shape it’s in. That’s where a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep can come in handy. You can find a professional in your zip code by using the search engine locator on our website.

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Sky lantern inside the CSIA lab lifts learning

August 14, 2015

Chimney sweeps certainly have seen flames before, but not like this. A CSIA instructor wanted to demonstrate the principles involved with hot air, so he brought in one of those sky lanterns you see lit and allowed to float outdoors.

(A sky lantern, or Chinese lantern, is a hot air balloon made of paper, with an opening at the bottom where a small fire is suspended.)

CSIA’s laboratory is not 100 percent climate controlled, so it can get a little humid and warm on a hot summer day. It was a good place to show that even in a room full of hot air, even hotter air will show a tendency to rise.

“Hot air rises because when you heat air (or any other gas for that matter), it expands. When the air expands, it becomes less dense than the air around it. The less dense hot air then floats in the more dense cold air much like wood floats on water because wood is less dense than water. This floating effect in a less dense medium is called a buoyant force or a displacement force.” [source: UC Santa Barbara]

Hot air comes into play for chimney sweeps in regards to the homeowner and the function of their fireplace.

If your chimney is functioning correctly, the heated air from the fire is exiting up and out of the firebox. The chimney also exhausts the products of combustion — again, when it’s working properly.

The lantern in our demonstration (used as part of our two-day Chimney Physics class at CSIA) did not automatically float — the flame inside had to heat the air in the interior sufficiently to cause the full balloon effect, which took place after a few minutes. The balloon also had to overcome the weight of the safety string tied to the bottom to keep it in the instructor’s grasp.

WATCH THE VIDEO: Chimney Physics demonstration involving a sky lantern

CSIA Instructor Michael Van Buren of Essex Junction, Vermont, explained: “The whole purpose was to get across the fact that hot air rises, and to get them (students) to think of the house as a system — and to think about the house as a hot air balloon. To show that air rises up in a house.”

“As it burned, it got lighter,” Van Buren, who was teaching CSIA’s two-day course, explained. “Just a visual that they will remember. A kind of a wow visual … it gets the point across.” The video will be added to our online chimney physics course.

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Ashley Eldridge, CSIA Director of Education, added that the consumer can learn a lot from this lesson: “Most people are familiar with the concept that hot air rises. If you believe that, you have to accept that cold air falls. So the warm air is being displaced by the cooler/unheated air. ”

“That may be the reason your fireplace doesn’t work when it’s not especially cold – the temperature differential is not that great,” Eldridge explained.

Contact your local CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep if you have questions about any aspect of your chimney. Use our zip code finder if you don’t already have one in your community.





Chimney Safety Institute of America’s vision statement – Every family enjoys a safe, warm home

August 7, 2015

At the Chimney Safety Institute of America, one half of our mission is to educate and certify industry professionals.

By doing so, it helps us with the other half of our mission: Advancing public awareness.

Why is that?

Well, CSIA wants to make sure that when visitors looking to hire a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep (CCS) or a CSIA Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician (C-DET) pore through the over 1,600 options on the zip-code locator on our websites, they can be assured that they are getting tremendous value — someone that is committed to our high ideals.

The CSIA’s board of directors took that pledge one step further recently. In May, they held a strategic planning session that produced our first vision statement: “Every family enjoys a safe, warm home.”

Vision statement

As CSIA President Mark A. Stoner explained, “We want people to feel good about their fireplace and wood stove, and to not be afraid of it. We want them to understand how the chimney functions, as well as best practices. We want homeowners to respect and understand the dangers, so that their time spent in front of the hearth on a chilly Fall or cold Winter night can occur with more confidence and less risk.”

WATCH THE VIDEO: CSIA President Mark A. Stoner talks about what went into the vision statement. Features photos of the CSIA board of directors and guests hard at work.

There are an average of 22,700 unwanted blazes per year — nearly 63 fires per day — attributed to the fireplace, chimney, and chimney connector, according to the latest U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report on residential structure fires from 2010 to 2012, which was published in April. Little fanfare accompanied the release. CSIA believes that many residents and business owners are unaware of the risk — until the day when they experience a problem.

MORE: A roundup of chimney fires reported last winter.

“We worked on a new plan for us, and really, what would it look like if CSIA’s mission were fully complete? What would the United States look like if we were successful in our outreach?” Stoner said.

A screen shot from our video involving CSIA President Mark A. Stoner and CSIA's board of directors.

A screen shot from our video involving CSIA President Mark A. Stoner and CSIA’s board of directors.

“At the CSIA Technology Center in Plainfield, Indiana, we have a lab that is full of chimney gear and venting components and venting systems that we use to teach technicians, so when they come into people’s homes they are literally making people safer. They are helping homeowners’ lives to be better.”

Students in CSIA's troubleshooting gas hearth appliances couse work on equipment in the classroom in July 2015.

Students in CSIA’s troubleshooting gas hearth appliances course work on equipment in the classroom in July 2015.

Students of the National Chimney Sweep Training School learn about new tools in June 2015.

Students of the National Chimney Sweep Training School learn about new tools in June 2015.

Students enrolled in the 2-day Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician course take apart a residential clothes dryer during the July 2015 course.

Students enrolled in the 2-day Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician course take apart a residential clothes dryer during the July 2015 course.

Find a chimney sweep in your area or a dryer exhaust technician.


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