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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 3.29.03 PM


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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 5.36.14 PM






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.


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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 3.29.21 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 3.29.03 PM

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,043 other followers