Blackburn Memorial ‘Tool fund’ a generous gift already helping chimney sweeps

March 30, 2015

One of our chimney sweep training school students displays the carbon monoxide detector, one of six that CSIA purchased using funds from the Steve Blackburn Memorial.

At Blackburns: CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep Jim McKee (l.), Bill Blackburn (Steve’s older brother), and Debbie Wiedwald, president of Blackburns Chimney Sweeps.  http://www.blackburnschimney.com/

At Blackburns: CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep Jim McKee (l.), Bill Blackburn (Steve’s older brother), and Debbie Wiedwald, president of Blackburns Chimney Sweeps.

Six professional-grade carbon monoxide detectors were the first purchases made by the Chimney Safety Institute of America from a newly created fund established in the memory of longtime chimney sweep Steve Blackburn.

The CO detectors were immediately put into use by students attending the National Chimney Sweep Training School field day held Friday, March 27.

“Because we teach chimney sweeps and chimney sweep trainees about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.  Having these available changes the game for us,” said Ashley Eldridge, CSIA Director of Education. “CO detection is a service that chimney sweeps can provide in the field to customers and if they weren’t already doing this for customers, it’s going to be a great add-on service.”

The purchase came just six weeks after the Blackburn Memorial Fund was established with a $5,000 donation from Blackburns Chimney Services President Debbie Wiedwald.

“The National Chimney Sweep Guild and the CSIA are extremely important to our company, and this memorial was a way for Steve’s legacy to live on,” said Wiedwald, Steve’s widow. “It’s a way to help the industry and make it better. That they have the right equipment is a good thing.”

Steve Blackburn, a longtime CSIA certified sweep who passed away in a plane crash in July 2011 on the way to a Chimney Sweep MIX meeting.

steve blackburn

Blackburn, who obtained his CCS credential from 1990 and kept it until his death, loved using tools and equipment, and was known to often modify a purchased product to make it easier for his employees to use in the field. “You know the adage, work smarter not harder?” said Jim McKee, Blackburn employee and CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep since 1991. “Steve just enjoyed making stuff.  He was innovative and creating ways to make the job easier.  He was always happy about doing well and learn new things and new safety items for all the sweeps.”

In talking about the new CSIA tool fund, Bill Blackburn, Steve’s older brother, added: “I hope it lasts forever.”

CSIA President Mark A. Stoner announced the Blackburn Memorial during the NCSG Convention annual banquet in Lancaster, PA. At the same time, Stoner also presented Wiedwald with a special president’s award, “The Unsung Hero,” for continuing Blackburns Chimney Services.

It was because of her leadership, tenacity, and determination that the company had the financial footing to prosper and to create the memorial. CSIA thanks the Blackburn employees and family.

CSIA Education Director Ashley Eldridge with Seth Hammer in a customer’s home on March 27, 2015. Seth is wearing a CO detector purchased with funds from the Blackburn Memorial.


When “thermal shock” inside a chimney flue creates a worrisome crack

March 29, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 11.02.21 AM





“Everybody hear that? everybody see it?”

That’s what Chimney Safety Institute of America Instructor Michael Segerstrom tells 29 students as they react to one of the most anticipated demonstrations that is part of National Chimney Sweep Training School. The idea is to show chimney sweeps what occurs, often unseen, within the chimney flue that is responsible for venting smoke from fireplaces and wood stoves.

That scenario is a chimney flue fire.

Instructors use a single clay tile, common in masonry systems; they light a fire inside and watch as the heat builds up in the tile. The flames burned for about 30 seconds before self-extinguishing. But during that process there is a clear “pop.”

MORE: See the video we took in March 2015 of a thermal shock demonstration.

“It gives you an idea,” Segerstrom tells the National Chimney Sweep Training School students. “We just put some crumpled up paper in there and lit it. It wasn’t even a creosote fire. It wasn’t an intense, hot burning 2,000-degree sudden occurrence event … But the temperature in there was enough where it heated up the inside surface faster than it could heat up the outside surface, so it caused it to crack.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 11.02.53 AM

CSIA instructors Rich Rua and Michael Segerstrom add the fuel for the demonstration — paper!








That’s why a clay liner in a chimney is not intended for combustion. It is intended to vent the flue gases from the outside.

What was unique about this week’s demonstration is that the tile didn’t explode or break apart, as it has in the past. It stayed firm and began to close back up. Segerstrom was able to put a thin receipt in the wedge.

“Sometimes the tiles will actually explode [watch that video!] when we are out here doing the demonstration, but this is actually good. If  (during a routine inspection of  a customer’s home) the chimney is dirty a little bit on the inside we might not even see the crack, especially if it was from a recent event where there was no erosion, or repeated expansion of it, it closes up and disappears. On the outside you can see it but from the inside with a little bit of soot … you might not even see it.

“We want to keep fire in the firebox and never let it happen in the chimney flue. So maintenance is really important. If a clay liner opens up like that, where that crack is , during a fire and there’s chimney right outside of it, and there’s improper framing clearances — 1 inch on exterior chimneys and 2 inches on interior chimneys during a fire, you could have heat pass through that crack and heat transfer to adjacent combustibles. During normal operation it might not be as much of an issue … you could actually catch the house on fire during the chimney flue fire.”

The students tried to pull the receipt out of the tile and couldn’t get it out without ripping it. It was wedged in tight!

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 11.55.53 AM

A retail receipt that’s firmly enclosed within the crack.







“If someone has a chimney flue fire and goes to use their fireplace, if they haven’t had anything repaired when that tile heats up again that crack is going to reopen.”

MORE: What to do if you have had or suspect you have had a chimney fire  “If not a fire threat, performance issues are still likely if every tile cracks because you lose draft at the appliance, lost draft at the stove or fireplace as air is sucked through  the cracks every time it heats up. There’s also potential for flue gases to pass through that crack when it heats up if there are other problems in the chimney – where smoke doesn’t want to leave so it wants to try and escape.”

At CSIA, we teach students how to recognize evidence of a chimney fire and how to approach fixing it (including documentation and potentially contacting an insurance company first!) Students also get to witness the effects of a full chimney fire scenario, including this new video, “Chimney flue fire,” also shot in March 2015 during the NCSTS.

MORE: Interested in the CSIA National Chimney Sweep Training School? We’re enrolling students for remaining 2015 schedule. Click here for information on registration details.


CSIA applauds media appreciation for fireplaces as practical and decorative

March 23, 2015

At the Chimney Safety Institute of America, we urge homeowners to understand how their chimney works so they can enjoy their home heating device — especially  the fireplace — to the fullest. We noticed quite a few articles over the past week that showed just how important the fireplace is from a visual standpoint.

As Jeffrey Fisher writes in The National Post, “People generally consider a fireplace to be an added bonus when purchasing a home. Whether it’s wood burning or gas, fireplaces are appreciated for both practical and decorative purposes. I always think a fireplace adds a focal point to any room and if it throws needed heat, even better.”

Over at Sustainable Life, Steve Law’s piece talks about the “romance of a wood-burning fireplace” but also includes this comment: Gas fireplaces are considered “equally aesthetic and functional.”

The Detroit News offers a lengthy piece on visually pleasing options for a unique part of the house, and the author isn’t talking about the living room couch, rather, the “wide-open fireplace mantels just begging to be decorated.”

And the Journal Times of Racine, Wisconsin has a profile on an entrepreneur who created a concept for fireplace covers.

We love it when people recognize the fireplace as an asset, and CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps can help you unlock its potential in your home — that starts with making sure the system is safe to use! Check out CSIA sweeps using our free zip code locator.



Rain, water, and common chimney issues in #Spring

March 20, 2015

Leaky chimneys. Raindrops in the fireplace. Water pooling on the tops of the chimney cap.

It’s that time of year — when we still have snowy days, but start seeing mostly rainy ones. It’s usually when homeowners take notice of the performance of their chimney, already one of the most taken-for-granted parts of a home.

The chimney performs several vital functions. Their simple appearance misrepresents their complex construction and performance requirements, and a chimney deteriorated by constant exposure can be a potential safety hazard — such as direct contact with water and water penetration!

This blog post is designed to address some of those issues. Keep in mind: water can be introduced to a chimney from other areas of the home.  Damaged gutters, overflowing gutters, downspouts dumping water near or on the chimney, and even gutters that are not sloped away from the chimney, can all cause water to show up in strange areas related to the chimney.

So, do these issues sound familiar?

Deteriorated metal or masonry firebox assemblies

• Rusted damper assemblies

• Rusted fireplace accessories and glass doors

• Rotting adjacent wood and ruined wall coverings

• Water-stained walls and ceiling

• Deteriorated central heating system

• Stained chimney exterior

• Decayed exterior mortar

• Cracked or deteriorated flue lining system

• Tilted or collapsed chimney structure

•The chimney stinks or smells. [When water mixes with creosote in a wood-burning chimney system, it can generate a highly disagreeable odor that can permeate a home!]

Let’s address what could be the culprit — flashing.  Many leaks are flashing related.  Why?  Because we see glued on, tarred on junk.



Once we find and explain the flashing problem, its now time to repair or replace it. Proper chimney flashing has two parts:  The step flashing, and the counter flashing.  The best practice is to cut a groove into the chimney at the top of the flashing and tuck and seal the metal into the structure.

Another issue is the cricket. A chimney cricket defers the water around the chimney instead of letting it pool at the rear of the chimney. It is a common building code that chimneys more than 30 inches wide need a cricket; CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps often find that the cricket isn’t there or find that the cricket is improperly installed. Sometimes there is a cricket on one side when there should be a corner cricket.


Then there’s spalling. 

We all see a lot of flaking chimneys in the area. Spalling is due to water absorption into the masonry.  Brick are like sponge.  They soak up all the moisture, when the water freezes it pops the faces of the brick off. The back-and-forth of cold-warm (freeze/thaw) is a big issue in climates such as Indianapolis.


Don’t forget furnace flues, which are often left out of the equation when replacing, inspecting, or removing a heating appliance.  They have had moisture condensing in them for years. We all see the higher efficiency furnaces being installed with no liner kit or the “abandoned” or “orphaned” water heater.

Furnace or boiler flue leakage can cause water problems.  This leads to moisture stains on the chimney and in the home.

Yes, efflorescence can be caused by rain water, but on chimneys it is often excessive moisture from flue gasses.

A good solution is to apply professional grade moisture protection to masonry structures.  This will definitely help prolong the life of these structures. Professional grade products allow the structure to breath, but do not allow water to enter.

Unfortunately, waterproofing  will not fix bad or spalled brick.

Now let’s talk about the roof of the chimney, the crown.  Most are cracked and are made of sand and mortar.  Few have proper bond breaks. Usually, you have 2 options. If the crown seems solid and is just cracked, not falling apart, we can apply a flexible mastic. If it is not solid, falling apart, or laid on plywood or wood shingles, it should be torn off and replaced.

Did you know that this is what a crown should look like?  It should be poured in a form, 4 inches thick, with a bond break and a drip edge — kind of like a soffit on a house.

Caps.  Some, made of plain steel or galvanized metal are rusting and hard to remove.  Just like our rusting flashing, common chimney caps made from galvanized metal and rust in a matter of years.  This can cause rust stains on the chimney. Caps keep out rain, animals, leaves and debris.  Stainless steel caps won’t rust.

The best chimney caps are large stainless steel multiflue caps that are custom made and completely cover the chimney top.

Moving inside the home.  When we look inside a masonry firebox, we should be looking for signs of water entry.

Water streaks, loose brick, or damaged firebrick can all be caused by water entry.

A lot of times the area will smell musty and damp.


This is also a good time to check for more evidence of settlement.  Look for separation between the profile and the firebox. This usually indicates settling of the chimney or hearth.


When you are checking any factory built fireplaces, make sure you take a moment to look for rust on any surface. Also, try looking through the air circulating grills for water stains or rust; you may be surprised at what you find.

Instead of a masonry crown, a prefabricated chimney has a sheet metal top called the “chase cover.”

Many of these covers are field fabricated and perform poorly.  They are prone to water leakage, water pooling and rust.

Water can show up at ceiling lines, in the firebox, and behind the louvers of the prefabricated fireplace.

If customers hear water dripping when it rains it is not uncommon that the storm collar has failed. As with all vents the storm collar needs to be a proper size and sealed to shed water away from the pipe.


Chimney Safety Institute of America addresses all the hazards associated with water and your masonry chimney in the homeowners section of csia.org.

Special thanks to CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep Jeremy Biswell of The Fluesbrothers Chimney Service in Kansas City, Kansas [View his profile] for insights into the issues with water in chimneys. Find Jeremy and 1,500 CSIA certified professionals in your zip code through our free search engine locator.


An engineer explains his impressions of CSIA and chimney sweeps

March 18, 2015

Eric Adair, P.E., has been on the CSIA board of directors since 2004. In this 30-second video, hear from Eric about why he believes CSIA certification is so effective – it’s because the people who want to get certified and stay CSIA certified aren’t just satisfied at doing the bare minimum.


“No, I’m not a chimney sweep,” Eric Adair says with a smile. “I’m an engineer.”

Adair is on the board of the Chimney Safety Institute of America, an 11-person volunteer team that guides the nonprofit CSIA’s policies, educational curriculum, and training. He isn’t a stranger to the chimney and venting world, even though his main tool is a ruler, not a rod.

Adair said he has experienced “very dedicated, very passionate people in this industry” that have a thirst for knowledge that CSIA helps to quench. “Everybody I’ve seen at CSIA and who comes through CSIA, definitely wants to step up their game, they are not just satisfied doing the little bit to get by. They want to promote safety of the chimney,” Adair said.

MORE: Eric Adair talks about his admiration for CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps. [Video]

Adair began his career performing HVAC design work before joining Simpson Dura-Vent, [now known as M&G Dura-Vent] in 1996. Adair’s work for Dura-Vent was in product development and design related to venting systems and chimney-related components.

That chimney connection landed him an invitation to the Chimney Safety Institute of America board of directors, where he has served since 2004.

“Before I was involved with this, chimney sweeps I knew were obviously part of the industry,” Adair said. “I didn’t realize the level of technical expertise that they really need to be to be successful in the job.”

As for CSIA certification, Adair is a believer.

“Certification has value,” Adair said. “It shows from multiple sources. On one hand it shows value because you are demonstrating you have knowledge and you have gone through a certain amount of training/expertise; it is a marketable resource because now you can show it, demonstrably. You can you show your customers ‘I have done this. And I believe in safety, I believe in knowledge, I believe in training. That takes them to the next level. I think a sweep in this industry definitely needs it.”

You can find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep in your area very easily. Just search for one for free on CSIA website, where you can e-mail the individual, see a map and phone number and an address.


Insurer: Chimneys are beautiful, but they need maintenance, too

March 17, 2015

An indoor fireplace in CSIA’s Technology Center laboratory that we use for wood-burning purposes. It will be inspected and cleaned by students in 2015.

Chimney Safety Institute of America loves it when insurance companies (small and large) take the initiative and inform their customers about the need for annual chimney inspections. That’s what happened in December, when we publicized the collaboration between CSIA and major carrier Fireman’s Fund. Both organizations collaborated on a white paper so homeowners could get smarter about their home heating.

Kudos to another insurer, Benjamin Pure Company, for an outstanding post this week: “CHIMNEYS ARE BEAUTIFUL; BUT THEY NEED CLEANING TOO.”

Pure writes, “Chimneys add charm to a house structure. However, they need cleaning too. Sounds [like] a daunting task? Worry not. You can hire chimney sweeping services. You can easily find them on the internet.”

The article then lists Chimney Safety Institute of America as a resource, discusses levels of inspections. Pure’s post finishes with this thought: “Only experts can tell you what level of inspection your chimney needs. Uncleaned, clogged chimneys don’t die a slow death; they kill… with fire. So, beware. Hire licensed chimney sweeping services and maintain safety of your house.”

You can find a qualified inspector for chimney sweeping using the free zip code locator on CSIA’s website. Be safe, and inspect to protect.

An indoor fireplace in CSIA’s Technology Center laboratory that we use for wood-burning purposes. It will be inspected and cleaned by students in 2015. This is view looking from the fireplace and into the bottom of the chimney system.


Using a moisture meter in the field to distinguish wet firewood from dry firewood

March 10, 2015

The National Firewood Association has newly published a primer on what type of moisture content is ideal for those who want to know the right type of fuel to burn!

NFA’s blog post, released this week, suggests that you should aim for wood that’s between 15 to 20 percent moisture content for the best results.

Wood over 20 percent moisture content is hard to light, and over 25 percent will make a sizzling sound when it burns. At 30 percent you will see water bubbling from the end, NFA says. Conversely, you don’t want the firewood to be too dry, as it results in a very hot fire that’s difficult to control and can warp and crack your stove and/or chimney.

On Chimney Safety Institute of America’s homeowner resources page, we address the reasons why you want well-seasoned firewood.

Well-seasoned firewood is easier to start, produces more heat, and burns cleaner. If your wood is cut 6 months to a year in advance and properly stored, the sun and wind will do the job for free. If you try to burn green wood, the heat produced by combustion must dry the wood before it will burn, using up a large percentage of the available energy in the process. This results in less heat delivered to your home, and acidic water and creosote deposited in your chimney.

CSIA VIDEO: “Why wet wood is a waste.”

Now, how do you guarantee the wood you are getting is ideal?

Methods that experienced wood burners use (if they don’t have a moisture meter handy) to determine if the wood is sufficiently dry or is good fuel would include sensory indicators. They range from odor, wood weight, the condition or “checking” on the cut edge of the wood, separation of bark, and a musical ring that two pieces of dry wood make when knocked together.

CSIA VIDEO: “What seasoned firewood should sound like.”

But, you should go to the trouble of using a meter, because the data is quantifiable.

The National Firewood Association suggests that when you are buying firewood, you take four readings with your measurement tool, including on the face of the wood, dead center; with that, you can determine the actual moisture content with a fair degree of accuracy.

CSIA VIDEO: Struggle with having enough seasoned wood? Buy two years’ worth.

Some CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps recommend to their customers that they resist the temptation of immediately burning the firewood that’s freshly bought, and instead give it time (and protective conditions) to age appropriately.

CSIA VIDEO: “How to select firewood.”

The Alliance for Green Heat took note of National Firewood Association’s important blog post and stated on its Facebook page: “All firewood dealers and energy auditors should … show the homeowner what the moisture content of their wood is. Especially when you are having wood delivered, test the wood BEFORE its dumped. Ask the firewood dealer if he can bring a moisture meter. Otherwise, you can pick one up at hardware for about $20.”

If you have questions about firewood and other solid fuel use as it pertains to chimney performance and safety, contact your local CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. Use CSIA’s free zip code locator.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 886 other followers