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Magic Sweep Blog

Decorate Your Mantel For the Holidays

The fireplace mantel is a focal point in most home decor. Many families take family photos in front of the fireplace, and the mantel is decorated and beautiful for the occasion. Nothing adds to your holiday experience quite like a crackling fire and a beautiful hearth.

Fireplace Face Lift Decorate Your Mantel For the Holidays Image - Chesapeake VA - Magic Sweep

You can make sure your mantel looks the best it can when you upgrade a tired fireplace. Our Magic Sweep masons are able to fix small cosmetic issues with your hearth, or reface the whole thing completely with the brick or stone of your choice. This is a great way to finish off a remodel and have a matching mantel to go with your holiday decor as well!

Choose Your Mantel

You do not have to keep the mantel that came with your house. You don’t have to continue to use a mantel that you aren’t happy with. Maybe you don’t have a mantel at all! Magic Sweep can help you out. Our technicians can remove or cover an unsightly mantel, or build one from scratch that compliments your fireplace and your personality, even to custom specifications.

Installing a New Fireplace

You might have the mantel you want, but your fireplace is old, rusted, or worn out in general. You can raise your fireplace’s safety and efficiency by choosing an insert that fits right into your existing fireplace. Choose an option that complements your existing mantel, and your entire hearth will have a new look–and save you money in the long run!

Inserts and stoves are more efficient than traditional open fireplaces and will save you money year-round.

Clean Fireplace for Family Gatherings

Your mantel is part of a larger system that should be kept clean and functional. You can make sure your fireplace is photo-ready when your family gets together by scheduling a routine chimney sweep. A clean chimney means a hotter, more efficient fire, less smoke, and more fun. Schedule a chimney sweep if you haven’t had one in the last year, and don’t worry about dirt, debris, and creosote messing up your holidays.

Safe Holiday Decorating

When you are decorating your mantel for the holidays, hanging stockings and more, make sure that you are being safe. Stand your Christmas tree far enough away from the hearth that it will not reach the fire even if it falls. Do not hang stockings or decorations while the fire is lit. Make sure they are removable for when the fire is burning. Secure garland with staples or hooks so that it will not fall into the fire. When it comes to your chimney, you may not be able to attach hooks to it. Ask a Magic Sweep chimney expert before attaching hooks or hanging decorations onto your masonry chimney. Check out this message for more holiday safety tips.

The holidays are a great time for your family to gather around a beautiful and warm fireplace. Do not let your time be ruined by an unsafe hearth and don’t let your pictures be ruined by an unsightly mantel. Call Magic Sweep today at 757-523-2400 and ask a hearth expert how to make your mantel look its best this season.

Where Have the Birds Gone?

This spring you might have had a visitor or two in your chimney. The best indicator that you have had birds in your chimney is the chirping and chattering taking place in your flue. You might not be able to see them, but you’ll hear them. Usually, when you find animals in your chimney, you can call a certified chimney sweep to have them removed. This is not the case with chimney swifts. Chimney swifts, are federally protected and cannot be removed or harmed while nesting.

Chimney Swifts Love ChimneysWhere Have the Birds Gone Image - Chesapeake VA - Magic Sweep Corporation

Chimney swifts historically nested in hollow trees across the US. As the trees were cut down and land was developed, these birds had no place to go. They found an alternative in similarly shaped hollow towers that are plentiful in North America–chimneys! Chimney swifts are prominent in the Hampton Roads/Tidewater area, and some homeowners are surprised to find them in the spring. Others plan for their arrival each year, because if a mating pair nests in your chimney, they will be back. The only way to stop them is to install a proper cap that will keep them out.

Schedule a Chimney Sweep Now

If you have had chimney swifts nesting in your flue this spring and summer, they should be gone now, and left a mess for you to clean up. Nesting materials, feathers, droppings, and other debris is probably still in your chimney, and it’s all flammable. In order for your chimney system to be safe and efficient, it needs to be clean and functional.

When you schedule a chimney sweep with Magic Sweep, you can rest assured your chimney will be cleaned of debris, soot, creosote, and ash. Our technicians come into the home and leave everything just as it was upon arrival. With a special vacuuming system, brushes and tools, we will also leave your chimney flue clean and safe for your winter fire!

Prevent Animal Intrusion

You can avoid nesting chimney swifts by installing a cap at the top of your chimney. A cap should have a mesh portion that keeps animals of even the smallest species from getting in. Environmentally-conscious homeowners can even choose to support chimney swift conservation by building a chimney swift tower. In some communities, neighbors can band together to build structures to help maintain the chimney swift population, while protecting chimneys.

At Magic Sweep, we want what’s best for the environment, but our first priority is the safety of our customers. If you let chimney swifts into your chimney flue accidentally, or on purpose, it is important that it is cleaned before your first fire. Call Magic Sweep today for a chimney sweep. If you want to prevent their arrival next year, schedule an inspection to ensure they cannot penetrate the system.

Schedule an appointment today by calling 757-523-2400 or schedule online.

Combustibles Too Close To Chimney Or Fireplace

So, you have just been told you have combustibles in contact with your chimney or fireplace. Now what?

During an inspection or estimate, someone mentioned to you that you have combustible material (studs, framing, plywood, even sheet rock) either too close or in actual contact with your masonry fireplace and/or chimney.

These brings up many questions:

  • How much clearance is required?
  • How did this happen?
  • Is it a problem?
  • Am I required to do anything about it?
  • What can I do about it?

How much clearance is required?

Current building codes call for four inches of clearance on the back wall of the fireplace (because this is where the fire is hottest) and two inches of clearance on the fireplace side walls and the smoke chamber walls. Interior chimneys (built inside the home) require two inch clearance while exterior chimneys (built outside the home) require one inch clearance to combustibles.

How did it happen?

The answer to this can be two-fold. In many cases, your fireplace and chimney was built before the building codes existed or before building codes recognized the need for clearance. In Virginia, this generally means before 1973 but that date is not absolute as some cities and counties required clearance to chimneys and fireplaces before that time. In other cases, the people who built the fireplace/chimney and the house ignored the requirements to provide adequate clearance to combustibles. This certainly was common in the first few years after clearance requirements went into effect but unfortunately we still see this from time to time in current construction.

Breast Wall Fire Image - Chesapeake VA - Magic Sweep Corporation

Is it a problem?

Well, it certainly can be. Inadequate clearance to combustibles is cited in many fire reports, and ultimately that is the reason building codes were updated to include clearance requirements. But what about the millions of homes that were built without clearance to combustibles, they aren’t all burning down are they?, you might ask. No, they aren’t, at least not most of them. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is this – combustibles in contact with your fireplace or chimney may cause a fire and it is hard to predict when that will be. In most fire reports we see, the cause of the fire is multi-factored with lack of adequate clearance being one of several factors that led to the fire.

Some of those other factors include:

  • Other construction defects
    Defects such as inadequate wall thickness around the fireplace or smoke chamber. Fireplace and smoke chamber walls are required to be eight inches thick, which generally means two courses of brick. If the mason skimped on brick and only used one course of brick and there is no clearance, that is a significant problem.Corbel03 Image - Chesapeake VA - Magic Sweep Corporation
  • Pre-existing damage
    If the chimney has damage such as soft or open mortar joints, cracked flue liners, loose bricks, etc and improper clearance this would represent a problem as well. Pre-existing damage may be the result of age and normal deterioration or some sudden occurrence event like a chimney fire or lightning strike.
  • Unlined chimney flue
    A chimney built without a flue liner and with improper clearances poses a great hazard. Current thinking is that unlined chimneys are unsafe to use.
  • Long duration fires
    Masonry fireplaces can absorb a lot of heat but will ultimately transfer that heat through the walls. In a typical “entertainment oriented” fire of two to four hours the structure doesn’t get hot enough to ignite combustibles. But if the fire is kept going for long periods or multiple days the heat will transfer through the masonry and ignition of nearby combustibles is possible. Long duration fires often occur during power outages where the fireplace is the only source of heat.
  • Time
    Combustibles like wood dry out when exposed to heat, even low levels of heat over long periods can lower the ignition temperature of nearby combustibles, especially if they are in contact with the heat producing appliance or device. This is known as pyrolysis and is the cause of many fires, especially around appliances that run for long periods like wood-stoves or heating systems. With pyrolysis, the ignition temperature of the combustibles is gradually lowered (over many years) until spontaneous ignition takes place. For this reason, you shouldn’t assume that because you haven’t had a problem in fifty years that you won’t have a problem. The likelihood of a problem actually goes up over time due to pyrolysis.
  • Chimney FireWood In Chimney Image - Chesapeake VA - Magic Sweep Corporation During a chimney fire, the temperature in the chimney can exceed 2000 degrees. This can be enough to ignite combustibles adjacent to the chimney.

Am I required to do anything about it?

This is another great question with uncertain answers. If your fireplace/chimney was built before the building codes required clearance then your system should be “grandfathered” and you are (probably) not legally required to make corrections. Since this question involves many considerations such as the age of your home, laws and ordinances that were in effect at the time of construction, etc it is beyond the expertise of your chimney service professional to make this decision for you. Another question is “Should I do anything about it?” Even if you aren’t legally required to make changes to the system it may still be advisable to do so. After all, the codes were changed due to a known fire risk. Consider all the factors noted above and weigh that with your own personal tolerance for risk.

What can I do about it?

There are a couple options for repair. One option is to have a carpenter/framer remove the combustibles that are in contact with the fireplace or chimney, and move them back to achieve the recommended clearance. Another option is the installation of some type of zero-clearance liner system, which might be a liner for just the chimney or a liner for the fireplace and chimney. Some inserts are approved for installation in chimneys without clearance. Liners are a good option when there may be concealed combustibles in contact with the fireplace or chimney, as the concealed areas are harder to evaluate, access and repair.

National Fire Prevention Week Oct 8-14

National Fire Prevention Week Image - Chesapeake VA - Magic Sweep CorporationFires cannot be prevented 100 percent of the time, and no matter the cause or the location, they result in loss of health, life, and property. Fires are deadly, and according to US Fire Administration , it was to blame for 3,275 deaths, almost 16,000 injuries, and $11.6 billion in property loss in 2014. That year there were 1,298,000 reported fires, which showed a significant decrease since 2005. Less fires, means less loss, but this number is still too high. That is why the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) makes it a priority to raise awareness each October during the National Fire Prevention Week.

Community Awareness

During National Fire Prevention Week October 8-14, your children may learn about fire prevention in school. The local fire department may put on activities for families and the community, and even your local government may get involved. This is a time to talk about fears, plans, and prevention. This annual event can be a reminder to change smoke alarm batteries, and brush up on the family emergency plan . Whatever you do, there are many resources available to help you discuss fire danger with your family. Visit www.firepreventionweek.org for information and print-outs, activities for children, and more.

Fire Prevention

You can decrease your fire risk by being vigilant about home management. Neglecting appliances like the clothes dryer or heat appliances can result in fire. Neglecting routine upkeep like replacing faulty wiring and electrical boxes can also result in fire. You should never operate a fireplace, stove, or clothes dryer during the night. Most fires happen while the family is asleep, and escape is less likely. Other things you can do is to hire professionals to clean your dryer vent and chimney systems.

Fire Safety Tips

  • Schedule routine chimney sweeps and inspections to insure your system is clean and safe for use.
  • Burn only properly seasoned wood in your fireplace, insert, or stove. Burning other items can decrease efficiency, increase fire risk, and create more pollution.
  • Keep decorations and furniture away from the hearth and chimney. Place large items far enough away that they cannot reach the flame even if they fall.
  • Use the damper or glass doors to control an unruly flame.
  • Always use certified products and services to ensure they have been tested and adhere to local and federal safety regulations.
  • Practice fire safety and make sure your family and guests practice fire safety.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms, and replace the batteries twice per year.

House fires, RV fires, apartment fires, and wildfires are not always preventable. Not all fires are predictable or preventable, but a chimney fire is. If you maintain your chimney system and use it properly, you should not have a chimney fire. It is our goal at Magic Sweep to keep your fire safely within the fireplace. Call Magic Sweep to find out how we can keep your family safe and warm this winter.

Learn The Difference Between Gas And Wood Stoves

Homeowners love fireplaces, but it’s not always possible to construct a fireplace and chimney system in an existing home. In fact, it can be impossible either because of logistics or because of cost. A great option for homeowners who would like to use fire heat and want the beauty of a crackling fire is to install a stove. At the Magic Sweep showroom, we get a lot of questions about gas and wood stoves. Here is the lowdown:

Difference Between Gas And Wood Stoves Image - Chesapeake VA - Magic SweepGas Fuel

When you choose gas fuel, you are choosing the most efficient option. Gas stoves are highly efficient, safe, and perfect for zone heating. They come with the added convenience of low-maintenance, high-performance products that are easy to light (sometimes with an easy on/off switch), and temperature control. Gas stoves should be piped up, either through the ceiling and out of the house, or through an existing chimney. Because gas burns so efficiently, and the stove uses most of the heat for the room, there isn’t much heat left to push up the chimney. A properly-sized flue keeps the byproducts from the fire moving up and out, the system efficient, and the fire safe.

Wood Fuel

Wood is a great option for homeowners who have access to their own wood supply, or a local supplier. These stoves are efficient and safe, especially the products we sell at Magic Sweep. However, even the best wood stove products can see a significant drop in both efficiency and safety if they aren’t operated properly.

  • Only burn properly seasoned wood in your wood stove.
    Burning trash, clothes, and other materials in your wood stove can lead to excessive ash, creosote, and soot.
  • Clean ash out of the stove regularly.
    Too much ash can cause wood to smolder, leading to less heat, and more creosote and soot. Keep 1/4 inch of the ash on the bottom of your stove to serve as an insulator.
  • Use the damper to help light the fire and control the flame.
    Do not burn a fire with the damper completely closed. This causes the wood to smolder and burn too slowly and incompletely.

Visit Our Showroom!

Whether you use wood or gas, a stove is a great option for any homeowner. While wood is a popular option, it isn’t as convenient as gas, and many homeowners wince at the idea of hauling and splitting wood, let alone the wood dust and ash that comes with a wood stove. When you let Magic Sweep help you decide on your stove, we can show you the full range of styles and designs for both wood and gas. Manufacturers have created designs to complement traditional and contemporary decor, even creating realistic logs for gas stoves to look just as pleasing as a wood stove.

You can call Magic Sweep today at 757-523-2400 or visit our showroom at 938 Providence Road in Chesapeake, Virginia.