Summer smell? A CSIA expert on what may be causing that stinky chimney or odor in the fireplace

July 28, 2015

It’s a little-known fact that while we love our wood-burning fireplaces, they can stink. Especially in the warm-weather months.

Sometimes, that odor coming from the chimney is the result of an animal invasion — critters that have made their way into the flue (and died, or left behind unmentionables). But often, it’s the chimney itself! We just normally don’t smell it, until those hot, humid days.  When the chimney is operating normally the air is moving up, therefore we don’t smell it.  It always has that odor.

VIDEO: A CSIA instructor explains what may be causing your stinky chimney – and what you can do about it.

During the winter, as you build a fire, the air is drawn into the fireplace, makes its way through the throat and out the chimney top. That’s because the firebox temperatures are hotter than the outside air.

In the winter, air exits from the fireplace firebox and goes up and out ...

In the winter, air exits from the fireplace firebox and goes up and out …

During the summer, the situation is reversed. When it’s hotter outside, it’s not uncommon for air to come down the chimney. That may explain the “stinky” scent, said Ashley Eldridge, CSIA Director of Education.

In the summer, hotter temperatures work

… In the summer, hotter air works just the opposite …

“The smell doesn’t mean that the fireplace is improperly built or that there’s anything particularly wrong,” Eldridge said. “It’s simply a pressure issue.”

As we describe on the Chimney Safety Institute of America website Frequently Asked Questions page, the smell is typically due to creosote deposits in the chimney, a natural byproduct of woodburning.

The odor is usually worse in the summer when the humidity is high and the air conditioner is turned on.

A good sweeping will help but usually won’t solve the problem completely.

There are commercial chimney deodorants that work pretty well, and many people have good results with baking soda or even kitty litter set in the fireplace. The real problem is the air being drawn down the chimney, a symptom of overall pressure problems in the house.

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Some make-up air should be introduced somewhere else in the house. A tight sealing, top mounted damper could help, by reducing this air flow coming down the chimney. Or you can experiment by opening a window on the same floor. That could relieve the pressure so that the air is static and not drawn into the home.

Don’t discount that the problem may be due to an animal in the chimney.

A CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep is a good bet to offer an evaluation of what’s happening in your chimney, and may not only provide a solution, but also inspect the entirety of the chimney to assess the whole of the structure, before burning season.

Find one in your zip code by using our free locator.

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We’ll explain another issue with the chimney and what may be causing the odor in a later blog post.


‘Chimney-related incidents’ are no laughing matter

July 25, 2015
Want to see a rare look at the inside of two fireplaces and the flues that support them?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZUTMU3-WVk … via @JerryCvc

Want to see a rare look at the inside of two fireplaces and the flues that support them? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZUTMU3-WVk … via @JerryCvc

You may have seen in the news recently where a man in Arizona got stuck in a chimney after a prank nearly turned tragic in early July.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America, a Plainfield, Indiana-based nonprofit with a dual mission of providing industry education/certification along with homeowner resources, has written about the issue of people stuck in chimneys before. We use the news interest in chimney intrusion to highlight the general ignorance or misunderstanding the public has about the chimney.

Then we describe how it (the flue) works, what it looks like inside, its condition, and why the flue is incapable of allowing humans to squeeze through. Birds and raccoons, even snakes and squirrels, maybe. But not people.

Scott Hollifield, an editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, North Carolina, wrote about the “issue” in a tongue-in-cheek manner in the July 10 edition of his newspaper. [Posted here]. He writes, ” ‘Remember the chimney safety campaign slogan: “If you’re tempted, give it pause; ’cause your dumb a– ain’t Santa Claus’ …

He also wrote, ‘Up to 12,000 people each year could be stuck in chimneys if that many were stupid enough to try it. Don’t be a statistic’.”

Chimney incidents are no laughing matter. They’ve been deadly, for some unfortunate people who were trapped and not discovered.  We hope, even written sarcastically, that the publicity helps.

If you want to carry the conversation forward, visit our CSIA website “Frequently asked questions” page. Or, contact your local CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, by zip code. Find out what annual maintenance is so important!


Why masonry chimneys have to meet the 3-2-10 rule, and how a CSIA certified chimney sweep does the math

July 22, 2015

Graphic courtesy of the National Chimney Sweep Guild, Sweeping Magazine,

It is widely known that masonry chimneys are required to meet the 3-2-10 rule. This rule means that they must extend 3 feet above the roof penetration on the shortest side, and the top of the chimney must be 2 feet higher than any portion of the building structure within 10 feet.

This height requirement for masonry chimneys penetrating or adjacent to pitched roofs has been around for many decades. But why is this? I personally have been working on chimneys since 1997, and have been actively involved in the industry and with industry professionals for the past 10 years. I have asked this question many times, of many different folks in the industry. I have discovered that there is something of a divide in the reasoning behind the 3-2-10 rule.

One school of thought says that it is for safety, to make sure anything hot coming out of the top of the chimney, including flames or flaming creosote in event of a chimney flue fire, doesn’t catch the adjacent roof or building construction on fire.

But if this were true, wouldn’t there be stricter requirements for wood shake roofs? And maybe more lenient requirements for metal roofs? There aren’t different requirements. It’s the same, whether the pitched roof is rubber, asphalt, slate, metal, or cedar shake.

Another school of thought says that it is for performance, that this minimum height ensures that the chimney is tall enough to provide draft. And also that it will help prevent other parts of the building from hindering draft. But as we see in the field, meeting the 3-2-10 rule does not always guarantee those. Take for example the 3,000-square-foot, two-story home with a single-story family room addition in the back.

MORE: Other fireplace and chimney problems common for homeowners to be encountering.

There is a fireplace located on the gable end of this addition, and the chimney meets the 3-2-10 rule. But 15 feet away from the chimney is the second floor and attic of the main part of the house, well above the top of the chimney. This chimney can be subject to severe downdrafts and house pressure problems, even though it meets the 3-2-10 rule.

These are just a couple of examples where we can see that meeting chimney height requirements, regardless of our school of thought, may not protect wood shake roofs, or solve performance problems.

Taller is obviously better, especially with a wood shake roof.

Remember the 3-2-10 rule is the minimum height requirement. And sometimes we also have to take a forensic approach to solving house pressure and ‘makeup’ air issues.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America offers classes on chimney physics [find out more on this class], where these pressure issues are discussed at length. We also have to remember that if we are we relining a masonry chimney with a listed liner system, the chimney is required to meet the 3-2-10 rule.

Chimney height is not grandfathered and often times it didn’t meet the minimum height requirement when it was built. Listed solid fuel appliances that we install and/or connect to a masonry chimney will require the chimney meet 3-2-10 rule.

Many gas and pellet appliances that we install or connect to a masonry chimney will also have this requirement.
  A version of this article originally appeared in the June 2015 edition of the National Chimney Sweep Guild’s Sweeping magazine. Author Michael Segerstrom is NCSG Technical Advisory Chair. Michael, a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep since 2004, is also on the board of directors of the Chimney Safety Institute of America. You can reach him on his csia.org profile.


More venting pros at your fingertips: Over 1,600 CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps now available for hire

July 17, 2015

The Chimney Safety Institute of America is pleased to report that there are now more than 1,600 chimney sweeps in North America that carry our CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep® credential.

The number of CCS technicians is 8 percent higher than in December, and continues CSIA’s role as the go-to industry leader for chimney education and training.

“The CSIA certification is not easy to obtain, nor maintain,” said Ashley Eldridge, CSIA Director of Education. “But it is coveted, and it provides value to the chimney sweeps, to the companies that employ them, and to consumers.”

Eldridge said he is proud that the number of CCS sweeps has climbed from 1,485 in December to 1,614 in mid-July even though the exam is more difficult to master than in previous years.

The credential carries more weight, and it is more widely recognized than ever from a variety of influential organizations — from organizations like the American Society of Home Inspectors to the Pennsylvania Attorney General, to Fireman’s Fund insurance. Fireman’s Fund produced a white paper to its policyholders on how to avoid being a victim of a chimney fire, using CSIA’s expertise to craft their document.

The CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep® credential was established in 1983 as a method for homeowners to measure a chimney sweep’s technical expertise.  The CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep® trademark is a symbol of a sweep’s professionalism, understanding of, and dedication to their industry. Companies that use the trademark must have at least one certified individual on the job site performing or supervising the sweeping and/or inspection, according to CSIA’s Trademark Use guidelines. Those that get credentialed must sign the CSIA Code of Ethics, which promises the sweep will do right by the customer.

Some of the biggest benefits of CSIA certification, beyond the reputation enhancement, is the referrals that provides, as those with up-to-date certifications can be found on the CSIA website. The public can find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep using our free zip-code locator on the website, which attracted over 950,000 page views in 2014.

MORE: What you should look for in hiring a chimney sweep. 

Mark A. Stoner, president of CSIA, made increasing certification totals his goal in March 2014 during the National Chimney Sweep Guild annual convention. At the time, CSIA had about 1,400 certified chimney sweeps, and Stoner made it his goal to get to 1,900 — or higher. The CSIA board of directors estimates about 6,000 people work on chimneys in some capacity nationally.


CSIA certification is good for three years.

“We encourage chimney sweeps to get certified — whether they are newcomers enrolled in our National Chimney Sweep Training School, or veterans that are attending our 1-day review and exams, which are held across the country,” Stoner said. “And we encourage our certified professionals to renew every three years. They are doing so in great numbers because they know there is a real reliability in this credential. It tells the consumer that the sweep achieved the original and highest possible certification from a nonprofit organization that preaches best practices and sets a standard of care.”

Here's a map of all 1,600+ CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps!

Here’s a map of all 1,600+ CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps!

How does a chimney sweep get certified? We answer that question here.


The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends that people take a few steps when considering which chimney sweep will perform an annual inspection or related service on their chimney or vent. Because proper care and attention to service can help protect people from unnecessary fires and carbon monoxide poisonings, it is important to choose the professional wisely. While the CSIA recommends that people consider a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®, there are additional questions that should be asked to ensure that the person hired is a credible service technician.

You can find out more about “How to Hire a Chimney Sweep” here.


Practice #LightningSafety: That’s what chimney sweeps and dryer exhaust technicians do on rooftops!

July 13, 2015
The scaffolding was up outside of a house getting some chimney TLC by New Buck Chimney Sweep in Shreveport, Louisiana. Work was done under lovely skies. Photo courtesy of CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep Kevin Russell.

The scaffolding was up outside of a house getting some chimney TLC by New Buck Chimney Sweep in Shreveport, Louisiana. Work was done under lovely skies. Photo courtesy of CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep Kevin Russell.

There is one safety precaution that is a common-sense practice in the chimney/venting world. In the words of industry professional Tedd Cuttitta Jr. of Nanuet, New York: “We have always had a policy here. The first clap of thunder, get off the roof.”

That’s due, of course, to lightning.

Chimney and dryer exhaust maintenance is both an indoor and outdoor occupation, but no industry professionals we know will risk a tingle while on the shingle. That includes Cuttitta, a Chimney Safety Institute of America Certified Chimney Sweep and Dryer Exhaust Technician with Hi-Tor Chimney Sweeps And Relining Systems Inc.

Lightning is a concern with sweeps from California to Colorado — all regions of the country, in fact.

“We stay off the roofs and scaffolding if there’s thunder heard,” said CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and CSIA C-DET Technician Ken Hoelscher of Abbey Road Chimney Sweeps in Brookville, Ohio. “Because if you can hear it, it’s close enough to get you.”

We bring this up after some disturbing news from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (CSIA is a NOAA-approved Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador.) NOAA reports that 17 people this year have died from lightning strikes in the United States. NOAA says that ALL of these deaths were avoidable. This is double the average number of year-to-date lightning fatalities (8.8) over the past five years (2010-2014).

NOAA says there are several possible reasons for this, such as: more convective activity across the country; an improved economy resulting in more people taking vacations this summer; the possibility of people taking more risks than usual; and the element of chance. But the most important issue is behavior: People must go indoors when they hear thunder!

That’s what CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps do. (Keeping an eye on weather concerns, such as rain, is covered in our Successful Chimney Sweeping manual, one of the requirements of CSIA certification.) Our sweeps keep an eye on the clouds. (Rain and repair don’t always mix well with chimneys as it is.) They know, and YOU should know, there is no safe place outside, particularly with metal ladders and scaffolding!

MORE: Lightning myths debunked, courtesy of NOAA

“Bad weather can change something that’s normally accessible for inspection to inaccessible,” says CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep & C-DET Technician Lou Curley of Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. “I document that in the report. And, there’s no way I’d be on a roof for a big job in a storm, I’d reschedule.”

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A smartphone with a weather app is almost a must for those in the business, adds CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep Stephen Scally of Fireside Sweeps in Fremont, New Hampshire. “Thunder and lighting are a no go. Better be inside, or bad things happen.”

MORE: on NOAA and being weather prepared.

Safety precautions are just one reason why you can trust a CSIA credentialed professional to do the job right. Find a CSIA certified sweep technician or a C-DET dryer exhaust technician in your area.



Why the Chimney Safety Institute of America thinks about Christmas in July

July 8, 2015

  We know America is sweating (it’s summer, after all), but we’re thinking of sweaters.

Fireworks for you, firewood and fireplaces for us.

Christmas in July is a popular cliche, but it’s an actual thought process at the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

For starters, in the summer, CSIA is busy educating and training chimney sweep techicians so that they are ready to service America’s homes during the next burning season — in this case, 2015-16. That educaton is also occurring at popular summertime events such as The Gathering (on the east coast), the Golden State Chimney Sweep Guild (on the west coast), and all points in between.

Summer is when the CSIA Board of Directors meets annually at headquarters in Plainfield, Indiana. For two days this month, the board discusses our spending plans for the 2015-16 fiscal year, which begins September 1! We plan what will be our theme for National Chimney Safety Week (Sept. 27-Oct. 3) followed up by NFPA’s National Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 4-10) as well as how we’re going to help our CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps and C-DET Certified Dryer Exhaust Technicians get the word out about the crucial home-improving and life-saving work that they do, educating the media and homeowners.

We know that some people love their hearth from Fall through Spring, going through multiple cords of seasoned wood. For others, it’s all about one or two uses of the fireplace at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We know that people continue to need basic information about how the chimney functions and how they can use their chimney in the safest manner possible, and with less risk. [This is a good time to plug the need for an annual chimney inspection. You can find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep on our zip-code locator.]

We’ll continue to provide consumer training. (Have you visited our “Videos Helpful to Consumers” playlist on CSIA’s YouTube channel?)

For National Chimney Safety Week, CSIA is building it around two pillars. First, CSIA’s vision statement that was created in 2015 is that, “Every family enjoys a safe, warm home.” [Watch the video!]  Second, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released statistics for residential structure fires, and their study shows that 21,200 unwanted blazes were attributed to fireplaces, chimneys or chimney systems in 2012, with an average of 22,700 occurring annually from 2010 to 2012. The decline in fires illustrates that years of dedicated public-awareness efforts by the Chimney Safety Institute of America, individual chimney sweep companies, and industries such as insurers and firefighters, is making a dent in the fire totals.The outreach needs to continue.  [Read our blog post].

So, America, enjoy your wakeboarding. At CSIA, we’re thinking about winter!


School’s in session: CSIA chimney and dryer exhaust education heats up in July and August

July 1, 2015

CSIA instructors like Rich Rua, pictured at the CSIA Technology Center in November 2014, lead our 1-day CCS review and exam.

Landon Rothbauer, of Olde Towne Chimney Sweeps Inc., in Jeffersonville, Indiana, reacted after taking ad passing the 1-day CCS review/exam in November 2014.

Landon Rothbauer, of Olde Towne Chimney Sweeps Inc., in Jeffersonville, Indiana, reacted after taking ad passing the 1-day CCS review/exam in November 2014.

The months of July and August combine to mark a midway point in the chimney industry. In the summer, busy CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps make a lot of repairs at homes/businesses where the residents/workers used their fireplace or wood stove with regularity during the fall/winter burning season. Not long from now, particularly in colder climates in the United States, many sweeps will start getting inundated with phone calls from customers asking for their annual chimney inspection, particularly after Labor Day! The 2015-16 burning season will be here before you know it.

July-August are a busy month for us at the Chimney Safety Institute of America, as well as for the instructors who will be teaching courses here or at a popular and convenient regional locations. For chimney sweeps, it’s a great time to get smarter about a complex business.

That’s great news for homeowners, because any time their chimney and venting professional is more knowledgable, the customer wins.

So let’s get started. In these next two months, CSIA has four CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep Review and Exam opportunities — July 9 in Manchester, New Hampshire [sponsored by Lindemann Chimney], July 31 at the CSIA Technology Center in Plainfield, Indiana, then August 7 in Richmond [Sandston], Virginia and August 13 in Alpharetta, Georgia [sponsored by Chimney Solutions.] Click the location you’d like to register.

We have close to 1,600 CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps from coast to coast, and in-person classes like this are one reason why that’s so!

The CCS Review isn’t our only credential. We also offer the CSIA Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician credential, or C-DET. One of the perks is a listing on the csia.org and dryersafety.org websites, along with helpful consumer information! The CSIA Certified Dryer Exhaust Technician 2-day workshop/exam is set for July 29-30 in Plainfield. It’s an extremely valuable hands-on opportunity, even for professionals currently inspecting/cleaning lint-filled exhaust but who lack the credential. Review the special flyer we produced for the event. And remember, for National Chimney Sweep Guild and National Air Duct Cleaners Association members, the event is offered at a special price! Register here.

By the way, CSIA’s third National Chimney Sweep Training School of 2015 will be held August 24-29. [Registration information is here.] Ever wondered what it was all about? Check out this special CSIA-produced video, “Chimneys 101.”

For experienced chimney sweeps, you’ll want to take advantage of one of four advanced learning experiences:

Installing and Troubleshooting Gas Hearth Appliances: Service and installation, including appliance standards, combustion requirements, pipe sizing installation, troubleshooting, carbon monoxide testing, and fuel conversion. Led by knowledgable, veteran CSIA instructors Jim Brewer and Michael Van Buren. Held July 20-24 in Plainfield. (This class always is goodly sized and will be at full capacity! Registration information is here.)

Our "gas class" was quite popular in 2014.

Our “gas class” was quite popular in 2014.

Chimney Physics: Designed for the sweep technician that wants to go beyond basic servicing and diagnose and resolve chimney performance issues and air pressure problems. It’s being held August 10-11 in Plainfield, indiana and then again August 12-13 in Fredericksburg, Virginia [review the special Chimney Physics flyer we produced in conjunction with our sponsor of the event, the Mid-Atlantic Chimney Association.] Veteran CSIA instructor Michael Van Buren is in charge of both days of instruction. 12 CEUS-technical, codes and standards, health and safety, and CL. Register for the Indiana or Virginia events.

CSIA courses sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Chimney Association, such as the Chimney Fire Whitepaper class held in 2014, are always worth the expense.

CSIA courses sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Chimney Association, such as the Chimney Fire Whitepaper class held in 2014, are always worth the expense.

Masonry Repair for Chimney Professionals: It’s an intensive (and VERY affordable) class combining a short period of classroom theory followed by hands-on projects. Students, under the guidance of Chris Prior, wil learn how to mix mortar and how to lay brick as well as learning joint finishing, tools of the trade, and all aspects of chimney repair. It will be held Aug. 13-14. It’s a can’t miss opportunity at 12 CEUS-technical. Sign up here.

Chris Prior, our veteran mason instructor.

Chris Prior, our veteran mason instructor.


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