All posts by swedesweep

18 Need-to-Know Facts about storing firewood

firewood

There’s a lot to know in how to purchase, season and store firewood, not only to keep you safe but to save money. This is the third post in a series of three that will explain how to purchase, season and store your firewood.

1) Cut firewood to the proper size logs you will be using. A typical length of wood for most fireplaces and stoves is 16″.

2) Cut firewood at least 3″ shorter than the firebox width. It is better to have wood too short than too long.

3) Always split the wood before storing it to reduce the time to season the wood.

4) Split firewood in various sizes for a variety of uses–as kindling to start a fire or larger in diameter for maintaining the fire. Cut wood in a range between 3″ to 6″ in diameter.

5) If possible, split the wood into triangles. The wood stacks better and won’t roll off like they would with round logs.

6) Stack firewood away from the house to reduce the chance of insects, mice, rats and other critters from your home. Ideally, the wood stack should be at least thirty feet away from your home.

7) Do not expose firewood to the rain or snow or it will “re-hydrate” and will no longer be seasoned. When there’s the threat of rain or snow, cover the wood with a large tarp or plastic sheets or old steel roofing.

8) Firewood will not season if it is continuously and completely covered all the time. Adequate airflow is critical to allow wood to season. Wind and sun will help to season the wood. Put the wood stack in an area with the most amount of exposure to the wind and sun.

9) When the moisture leaves the wood, the firewood may shrink as much as 6%-8%.

10) Do not stack firewood taller than four feet high or the stack will become unstable. In addition, stacking wood exactly four feet high makes it easier to determine how many cords you have.

11) Stack firewood with the bark side up. In case of rain, the bark will help to drain off the water from the wood.

12) Arrange firewood so it is neatly stacked, parallel and aligned.

13) Do not stack firewood directly on the ground because the wood will absorb moisture from the ground covering, will create rot and/or mold, and will decrease airflow. Instead, raise the wood off the ground, as on pallets or railroad ties.

14) Place your wood stacks on relatively level ground if possible to reduce the chances of collapse. Support each side of the wood stack to avoid accidents from falling wood. If you don’t use a wood rack, you can support one side of the stack with a tree on one side and posts on the other side.

Tinder kindling firewood
Photo credit: outsidedads.com

15) Wood can be divided into three sizes for wood burning: Tinder (about the size of a pencil lead), kindling (no thicker than your thumb), and fuel, about as thick as your wrist. Stack your woodpile into all three of these sizes.

16) Tinder consists of the dead twigs from the lower branches of trees and shrubs. It should snap off easily when bent and should be no shorter than your outstretched hand and enough to fill a circle made with your hands for one night’s fire.

17) Look for kindling from branches that are dead or down. Kindling should be about as long as from your elbow to your fingertips fire and you should have enough for a generous armload for one-night’s fire.

18) Fuel should be about as long as your arm and you should have a stack about as high as your knee for one night’s fire.


BONUS TIP: A little-known but efficient way to burn a fire is called an “Upside Down Burn.” This may take a little more time to set up but will give you a longer burning and cleaner burning fire. This method places larger pieces at the bottom and smaller wood pieces on top, placing just kindling at the very top. Each layer of wood is smaller than the layer below it. An added benefit is that this fire burning method will also create less creosote buildup in your chimney. [Video credit to the Chimney Safety Institute of America]

14 Need-to-Know Facts about Seasoning Firewood

Firewood that has been seasonedHere are some interesting facts that will help you season your firewood for your fireplace or stove.  Seasoning your wood is critical not only for safer fires, but to reduce creosote buildup in your fireplace or stove flue pipe and to reduce pollutants into the atmosphere.  This is the second post in a series of three that will explain how to purchase, season and store your firewood.

1) Only burn seasoned firewood. Wood should be aged at least six to twelve months and sometimes longer, depending on the density of the wood, species of wood, and climate.  Soft woods only need six months whereas hard woods can sometimes take up to two years.

2) The moisture content of wood should be between 15%-20%, never to exceed 25%. Homeowners can purchase moisture meters from most hardware stores.

3) Freshly-cut wood has a moisture content of about 50%.

4) Seasoned wood will create a clear hollow sound when knocking two pieces of wood together. Non-seasoned wood will create more of a dull thud sound.

5) Moisture in the wood is held in by the bark. Removing the bark before seasoning the wood will reduce the time to age it.

6) Aged wood will be lighter in weight than regular wood because there’s less moisture.

7) Seasoned firewood will change colors. Instead of a lighter color in new wood, the seasoned firewood will appear gray or dark brown.

8) You will notice the center of the wood will crack as it ages.

9) When burning wood that hasn’t been aged long enough, not as much heat will be produced because of the loss of heat due to evaporation of moisture.

10) Don’t trust a wood supplier to be honest with how long the firewood has been aged. Firewood that hasn’t been split and/or has been just thrown into a large woodpile will not be seasoned properly.

11) Experienced wood burners will purchase firewood at least six months ahead of the season to guarantee that the wood has been aged long enough. It’s always best to buy your wood in the off-season when it will be cheaper and firewood is more plentiful.

12) Burning firewood that isn’t aged long enough will be harder to start, will create a smokier fire, will produce less heat and will create a faster build-up of creosote in the chimney flue.

13) Anytime you burn wood, creosote is created.  We chimney sweeps divide creosote buildup into three categories–Stage 1, Stage 2 and Stage 3.  Stage 1 and Stage 2 creosotes are easily removable with a normal chimney sweeping whereas Stage 3 is far more difficult to remove. Stage 3 creosote is also known as “Glazed Creosote” because of its shiny appearance and it is highly flammable and more likely to cause a chimney fire.  Glazed creosote is much more expensive to get rid of from your chimney flue lining due to the difficulty of removal.  The chances of creating Stage 3 creosote is much higher when burning unseasoned wood.

14) Seasoned wood produces less smoke and increases efficiency; therefore less pollutants into the atmosphere.


Have your chimney inspected on an annual basis and sweep if needed before using your fireplace. The best way to find a qualified chimney sweep is to go through the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

10 Need-to-Know Facts About Purchasing Firewood

Split firewoodHere are some interesting facts that will help you purchase firewood for your fireplace or stove. If you do it right, you will save money while keeping your family safe and toasty.  This is the first post in a series of three that will explain how to properly purchase, season, and store firewood.

1)  When you buy firewood at a gas station, supermarket, hardware store or big box store, you have no idea how long it’s been aged, if at all. These convenient bundles may be fine for a campfire or beach bonfire but not for your fireplace or stove. Plan ahead.

2)  Buying firewood by the bundle is the most expensive way to purchase fuel for your fireplace.

3)  The price for firewood varies dramatically from wood supplier to wood supplier and from region to region so shop around.

4) Common woods vary from region to region. As an example, here in Southern California, the most common woods are avocado, eucalyptus, pine and oak. Eucalyptus and avocado have a lot of oil in the wood so they create more creosote buildup in your fireplace or stove flue pipe. Pine, because it’s a soft wood, is great to start a fire. Once a fire is established, throw on the oak, a hard, dense wood that will give you a long-lasting, hot, clean-burning fire. Avocado, eucalyptus and pine will be less costly than oak but oak will give you a longer lasting, cleaner fire.

5) Pinyon pine, another type of wood found in the Southwest United States, as well as wood from fruit trees are also good quality firewood found here in Southern California.

6) Some chimney professionals will tell you to never burn eucalyptus or avocado woods. Both avocado and eucalyptus, because of the high oil content, can produce more creosote buildup than other woods, even if the woods are aged long enough. This creosote buildup makes it even more critical to have your chimney inspected on an annual basis as specified by the National Fire Protection Guidelines.

7) Use a reputable wood supplier. Not only will they be more honest about how long the wood has been aged but also more honest about the quantity of the firewood you purchased. If you suspect that you have been shorted by your local wood supplier, contact your weights and measures office before you use the wood.

8) Never buy or burn firewood that has been treated with stain or paint. This includes construction scraps which is treated wood. The chemicals can be toxic when burned.

9) To save money, buy unseasoned wood. An added benefit is that you’ll know for sure how long the firewood has been aged since you’ll be aging the wood yourself.

10) Buy firewood from local sources! Bringing wood from one region to another increases chances of transporting insects from their origin. Invasive species of insects can devastate the local forests where there are no natural predators or defenses to stop them. In some states, regulations and quarantines have been instituted to restrict the movement of firewood.


Be sure to have your chimney inspected before using your fireplace. It is critical to have your chimney inspected on an annual basis as specified by the National Fire Protection Guidelines which say, “Chimneys should be inspected on an annual basis and swept if necessary.” To find a qualified CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, make sure to go through the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

A Chimney Cap is Essential, Even During The Summer

Many people think that the sole reason for a chimney cap is to keep the embers from starting the roof on fire; however, there are so many other benefits to a chimney cap, even during the hot summer months.

A chimney cap will keep the critters out!

About a month ago, I received a panicked call from a woman who was looking out of her living room window and saw a raccoon scurrying along her neighbor’s roof and entering her neighbor’s chimney. After witnessing this, she immediately called us to install a chimney cap on her own chimney. It’s not uncommon for raccoons to enter chimneys, even in urban areas. She even took a photo of the raccoon and sent it to me! (See photo below.)

Get to know these creatures…

Without a chimney cap, a raccoon can enter a chimney
Photo credit: C. Black

Female raccoons will seek out open chimneys to climb down and create a nest to have their babies. In fact, 85% of the time when there’s a raccoon inside a chimney, it’s a female raccoon. The smoke shelf in the chimney (behind the damper) provides a safe, dark place away from predators. Male raccoons are a major predator to the babies because males consider the kits as more male competition.

Raccoons are more active during the spring, summer and autumn and tend to be nocturnal animals. Females usually give birth in April or May and will have up to eight kits at a time but typical litters of two to four are more common. Once the babies arrive, removing a raccoon becomes more difficult because you’re then removing not only the mother but her kits as well.

When the kits have reached five months of age, kits will venture out with their mother to learn how to climb and hunt. Kits become independent anywhere from 8-12 months of age.

The downside to raccoons

Raccoons carry dangerous infectious diseases such as Raccoon Roundworm, an intestinal roundworm found in their droppings that can infect other animals as well as humans. Raccoons can also be infected with rabies. They have sharp teeth and will typically not attack unless they feel threatened or cornered or if they feel their kits are at risk.

Removing raccoons from chimneys

Mama raccoons are fiercely protective of their kits so removal should be done by trained animal removal professionals! Here’s a comprehensive nationwide directory for professional wildlife trappers.  These animal removal experts can use special trapping systems that can be mounted to the top of the chimney flue.

Do not light the fireplace to smoke out the raccoon! Not only is this inhumane but the smoke and heat will kill the mother and kits, making it harder to remove the dead animals from the smoke shelf area. Also, to light the fire, you have to open the damper which may encourage the raccoon to come into the home instead of up the flue pipe.

Use a rope with knots tied about one foot apart and throw the rope down the chimney, tying the rope to the top of the chimney. This rope needs to be long enough to reach the bottom of the chimney into the smoke shelf behind the damper. The rope will help the raccoons and the kits to climb out of the chimney. Keep in mind that a mama raccoon can be heavy so make sure the rope is strong enough and tied off properly at the top.

Place repellent in a bowl inside the firebox.  Repellents can be Cayenne pepper, or a bowl of ammonia, or a commercial dog or cat repellent such as “Dog-Gone” or “Boundary” which can be found at most pet stores. If you have a tight damper, the smell may not penetrate into the smoke shelf area, in which case you may have to throw the repellent down from the top of the chimney.

In addition to the repellents, place a radio inside the firebox during the day. Also try scaring them out by using a broom to make loud noises inside the fireplace. These creatures don’t like loud noises. Putting a bright light or flashlight inside the firebox may also make the raccoons uncomfortable since raccoons are nocturnal animals.

After the raccoon leaves

Once a raccoon leaves the chimney, which will typically be at night, cover the top until a chimney cap can be installed. Be sure that all the kits are gone as well before covering the top. You don’t want to trap the babies inside.

In addition to raccoons, chimney caps will keep out birds, roof rats, squirrels and other critters. Unfortunately due to the wide mesh of the cap that is required by code, chimney caps will not keep bees from entering the chimney to build a hive.  Here’s more information about bees and bee removal.

Chimney caps are very important!

Chimney caps not only prevent animals from entering your home through the chimney, they prevent embers from landing on a roof or in your trees, causing a fire. The caps with a solid lid at the top will also prevent most of the rain from coming into the flue which can deteriorate the chimney from the inside out.

Contact a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to install a chimney cap today, before you get an unwelcome critter in your chimney!

 

 

 

A gas valve inside a fireplace is dangerous!

Gas valve located inside a fireplaceThis occurs more often than you think. Upon inspection of a fireplace, we find the gas valve for the fireplace is located INSIDE the firebox.  The fact of the matter is, if the valve is located inside the firebox, then the valve has to be removed, capped off and relocated.

According to the California International Residential Code and National Fire Protection Association 54 (also referred to as the National Fuel Gas Code), the “appliance shutoff valves…shall serve a single appliance and shall be installed within six feet of the appliance it serves, and shall be readily accessible and permanently identified.”

In addition, “…appliance shutoff valves installed in fireplaces shall be removed and the piping capped gastight…..”

If you think about it, having a gas valve inside a firebox is not a good idea. Who wants to turn off a valve by having to stick your hand inside the firebox while a fire is going?

Another key point to this issue is “readily accessible.” The gas valve must be where it can be easily seen and within view. It should not be located in a crawl space, inside a cabinet or around the corner in a hall.

If you have a gas valve located inside your firebox, contact a licensed plumber who specializes in gas to cap off the gas pipe and relocate the gas valve.

10 Things to Never Burn in a Fireplace

Gas can pouring gas inside fireplaceTrue story: When I was growing up, we lived next door to some wonderful neighbors. John (not his real name) was a California Highway Patrolman and we highly respected him. His wife became best friends with my mother. My brothers and I became friends with their four sons. One winter, John was trying to get a fire started with green wood. Because the wood had a high moisture content, he couldn’t get the fire started. John went and got a gas can and poured some gas on the wood, not knowing that there was smoldering wood below the grate from the previous night’s fire. The fire instantly exploded. John jumped back and spilled the gas can on top of himself which instantly lit him on fire. John was burned over 75% of his body and almost died. He was in the hospital for months recovering and he suffered a great deal of pain from those burns for the remaining 45 years of his life. This event had a major impact on me and every time I see or hear about someone pouring gas on a fire to get it started, I instantly think of John. If this doesn’t inspire you to be careful and watch out with gas cans, I don’t think anything will.

Burning a fire in your fireplace is one of the simple pleasures in life but there are certain items that should never be burned in your fireplace.

Paper

Rolled up newspaper used in priming the flueJunk mail, newspapers, magazines, and trash (such as cardboard, pizza boxes and Styrofoam) may contain plastic, chemicals, glues as well as ink that can be toxic when burned.

Identity fraud is rampant, leading people to burn credit card statements and other documents that could create a nightmare if it gets in the wrong hands. Buy a paper shredder instead. Fly-away embers from burning paper can plug up a chimney cap or, even worse, if a cap isn’t present, these embers can land on your roof or on your neighbor’s roof. Using a few pages of newspaper to start a fire is fine but avoid using the colored advertising slicks.

Green wood

Wood should be aged at least six months, but better a year. To get around this, order your wood from the wood seller in the spring, have it split and stacked ready to go for when the cold season starts. Don’t trust the wood lot when they say that the wood has been aged. The moisture content in the wood should be between 15%-20%. Green wood will give you a smokier fire, will smell bad and will create more creosote build-up in the flue, setting you up for a dangerous flue fire.

Fuel Accelerants – Gasoline, lighter fluid, kerosene

In addition to the reason demonstrated above, accelerant fluids can produce a fire that can quickly get out of control and will produce a toxic odor that can damage your lungs.

Pressure-treated wood

Construction scraps or wood that has been chemically treated, painted or stained such as plywood, paneling or particleboard can be toxic when burned. This also includes furniture and the old wood from that deck or fence you removed from the backyard last summer.

Christmas trees

While the Christmas tree may seem like it’s dried out, it contains resins that may explode when burned. It can quickly create a fire that is out of control.

Christmas wrapping paper


The ink from Christmas wrapping paper can be toxic when burned. Also, the flyaway embers can either clog up the chimney cap if you have a chimney cap, or if you don’t have a cap, the embers can land on your roof or your neighbor’s roof and start a fire.

Plastics

Burning plastic can create cancer-causing dioxins, a highly toxic chemical that builds up in human tissue. It also produces fumes that are harmful to your throat and lungs. The smoke can create damage to the environment.

Synthetic fabrics

For the same reason as burning plastic, synthetic fabrics should not be burned due to the toxic chemicals produced.

Coal or charcoal products

These products are only intended for outside use because of charcoal-induced carbon monoxide poisoning that can be caused. Leave the charcoal to your outside barbecue.

Certain Plants

Smoke from plants that contain urushiol, such as poison oak, poison ivy or poison sumac, can create a serious allergic reaction to the nasal passages, throat and lungs if the smoke is inhaled.


Remember that your fireplace is not an incinerator. Buy a shredder for your paperwork and dispose of your garbage and any processed or treated wood properly. Have fires in the fireplace in a responsible way for the safety of you, your family and the environment, and stick to burning properly-aged wood in your fireplace. Don’t take unnecessary chances!

Chimney windcap

Wind Caps Solve Fireplace Smoking Problems

Feet in front of fireplaceEnjoying a warm fire on a cold evening is one of the simple pleasures in life, but not when that beautiful crackling fire is accompanied by the eye-burning scent of smoke.

There are a number of causes for fireplace smoking problems, many of which are easily remedied. If you live in an area prone to wind, such as the coastal or mountainous regions, or even off of a canyon or hillside, there is a very simple solution–a chimney wind cap.

The difference between a standard chimney cap and a wind cap

Standard chimney capA standard chimney cap prevents embers from landing on the roof, prevents animals and other critters from entering the home through the chimney and prevents rain from going into the chimney system. These standard chimney caps, however, will not necessarily prevent wind-induced down drafts.

The wind cap, on the other hand, has the same benefits as a standard chimney cap but due to its design, it has the added benefit of preventing wind from going down the flue, causing smoking problems in your home.

What is a wind cap?

WindcapA wind cap works on the same premise as a weather vane.

The specially-designed wind cap rotates on a turret, turning its back to the wind while allowing the smoke to exit the flue.

The wind currents flow over the wind cap, instead of going down the pipe. The air current going past the cap creates a venturi effect (partial vacuum) in the pipe, helping to prevent the down draft that creates the smoking problem. The hood of the  wind cap also prevents horizontal rain to enter the flue pipe.

Where to find wind caps

Unlike universal standard chimney caps, wind caps must be custom sized to fit to the flue pipe. This requires taking measurements of the inside diameter of the flue pipe, the outside diameter of the flue pipe as well as the shape of the chimney flue. The measurements can be tricky, especially for the odd-sized or the odd-shaped flue pipe.

These wind caps have to be special ordered to fit properly. It is recommended to hire a professional chimney sweep to measure, order and install a wind cap. To find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, go to the Chimney Safety Institute of America’s website.

One precaution with a wind cap

Please be aware that wind caps cannot be installed on pre-fabricated fireplace systems due to the U.L. listing on the pre-fab fireplace. Wind caps can only be installed on masonry chimneys or wood stove pipes.


Smoking problems can be easily resolved. Don’t just accept a fireplace smoking problem. Nothing should take you away from enjoying your warm cozy fireplace on a cold night–one of the simple pleasures in life.

Chimney Sweep girl

DIY Chimney Sweep

Chimney Sweep girlAbout once a year, I receive a phone call from a homeowner who wants to sweep his own chimney. The first thing I say is, “You will only do it once.” Here are 5 reasons why, if you try to sweep your own chimney, you will definitely call a professional chimney sweep the next time!

1) IMPROPER CHIMNEY SWEEP EQUIPMENT

The proper chimney sweep equipment is expensive. Some people mistakenly think that you can use a regular home vacuum cleaner to vacuum the fireplace ashes. Even a ‘shop vac’ vacuum cleaner will potentially create soot and dust to blow back into the room because standard vacuum cleaners don’t have the special filters that prevent the fine particulates of soot from getting through the filter. These fine particulates of sooty and oily dust can leave a dark residue on carpet, furniture and window coverings, creating permanent damage to your home. You will forever be cleaning the black sooty residue from every nook and crevice in your home. In addition, because home vacuums are not designed for soot, you will ruin your home vacuum cleaner.

Another situation is in the case of prefab fireplaces. These systems require a very specific type of brush. Using improper brushes or brushing with too much force will potentially disconnect or damage the pipe, requiring replacement of the flue pipe. Once the flue pipe is disconnected, you’ve compromised the joint and the entire flue system must be replaced.

2) CREATE EXPENSIVE DAMAGE

Not long ago, I received a call from a Do-It-Yourself homeowner who decided to clean out his free-standing stove. He took apart the pipe and realized that he had gotten in over his head because he didn’t know how to put the pipe back together. Because he took the pipe apart incorrectly, the pipe had to be replaced because he had compromised the joints in the pipe. In addition, when he took apart the pipe, soot went everywhere in his living room, creating extensive damage to the flooring, furniture and window coverings. The room even needed to be painted. Many times a professional chimney sweep doesn’t even have to disconnect the flue pipe because he has invested in the appropriate equipment and training to do the job properly and without any mess.

3) CREATE A MORE DANGEROUS SITUATION

Do-It-Yourself homeowners don’t understand how chimneys are built. Simply pushing the creosote down the flue pipe, the creosote lands in the offset area of the chimney behind the damper called the smoke shelf. Untrained homeowners don’t understand that the smoke shelf must be vacuumed out with the appropriate type of vacuum. If the smoke shelf is full of creosote, the homeowner has now moved the creosote, which is highly flammable, closer to the heat source in the firebox. That homeowner has now created more of a fire hazard than what he was trying to prevent.

4) SAFETY OF THE HOMEOWNER

ladder against houseWhen a homeowner isn’t accustomed to being on a ladder or he doesn’t know how to safely get on and off a roof or how to walk on a roof without falling, the homeowner is endangering his life or potentially suffering a crippling injury.

Homeowners may not have safe ladders for their roof. Professional chimney sweeps will have ladders tall enough. According to OSHA, “ladders must extend at least three feet above the point of support” which is where the ladder rests against the roof eave.

In addition, professional chimney sweeps have special “feet” attached to the bottom of the ladder called ladder “levelers” to prevent slippage, to stabilize the ladder and to adjust to uneven ground.

5) INSPECTING THE SYSTEM

The most important part of sweeping the chimney is inspecting the system. Because a homeowner hasn’t had the proper training and education, the Do-It-Yourselfer will not know what to look for after the system is swept. Will that homeowner recognize a cracked flue lining? Or a disconnected flue pipe? Or if a termination cap is blocking the flue pipe or not venting properly? And what about the chimney system’s general condition? It’s important to know what to look for. These are all potentially dangerous situations that a homeowner will not recognize.

HOW TO FIND A QUALIFIED CHIMNEY SWEEP

Make sure you use a chimney sweep certified through the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). CSIA Certification is a nationwide standard and provides the most highly trained chimney professionals who must sign a strict code of ethics. Here are 5 things to consider when hiring a local chimney sweep. 


There are many maintenance projects a Do-It-Yourself homeowner can do on their own to save money, but when it comes to your safety and the safety of your family and your home, homeowners should leave certain maintenance projects to the experts. Know your limitations!

How to Avoid a Dryer Fire During a Flex Alert

Dryer fireHere we are in July and we’re all enjoying the beautiful summer weather that’s common here in beautiful San Diego, but this heat has created some unintended consequences.

Due to the extreme summer heat throughout the region and the resulting high electricity usage, the manager of the state’s power grid has issued a Flex Alert Warning for the entire state of California. As part of the Flex Alert, consumers are advised to reduce electricity use from 2:00pm until 9:00pm.

Besides raising thermostats to at least 78 degrees, consumers are being urged to avoid using major appliances until early morning or late evening. One of the appliances they specifically addressed is dryers.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were an estimated 15,970 fires per year due to washers and dryers in the United States between 2010 to 2014. Because of the very high incidence of a dryer fire, we highly recommend that you never go to bed with the dryer running.

I know that we all should comply with saving energy during this Flex Alert by doing our laundry late at night but it’s important to stay safe as well. I speak to several people every month who call me because of a dryer fire. Yes, it happens, and it happens often enough that we should all be aware of the dangers of going to sleep while the dryer is running.

For more information about dryer safety and how to reduce the possibility of a dryer fire, check out my blog post “18 Important Tips for Dryer Vents.”

In the meantime, enjoy your summer!

15 Facts about Bees in Chimneys

Beekeeper on top of chimneyIt’s that time of year again when our phones are ringing off the hook with customers calling about bees in chimneys.  If it’s any consolation, you are not alone if you have this problem.   We’ve noticed an above-average number of bee calls over the past five years here in San Diego.

Here are 15 facts that will help you in dealing with bee problems in chimneys:

1. According to San Diego County officials and local bee companies, 70%-80% of beehives in the county are now Africanized.  For that reason, we leave bee extractions to the bee experts.

2. We recommend contacting a licensed bee company as soon as possible if you see any possible bee activity, whether around the chimney or anywhere around your house exterior or yard.  Africanized bees are very aggressive and can be dangerous.

Important Information About Bees

3.  Bees are important to our Eco-system.

4. Bees are the only insect that produces food for humans.

5. Our food supply is dependent on pollination from bees.  Honey bees are responsible for pollinating approximately 80% of all fruit, vegetable and seed crops in the United States.

A honey bee pollinating a flower6. Not only do bees pollinate plants, but they also produce honey and bee’s wax.

7.  If at all possible, do not use a company that kills the bees. Instead, find a company that will relocate the beehive instead of killing the hive.  The San Diego Beekeeping Society has a list of local companies that do live bee removal.

8.  Bees tend to swarm from March through October but more in the spring and autumn.  They tend to swarm in the heat of the day.

9.  If you observe the bees within the first few hours, you can light your fireplace to discourage them from creating a hive.  If you wait more than a few hours, DO NOT light your fireplace because the bees will have had time to start building a hive in the chimney flue.  Lighting the fireplace with a hive present in the chimney will liquefy the wax and honey and will make it virtually impossible to clean the mess and will attract future bees.  Also, the wax and honey are combustible materials and can start a chimney fire. In addition, lighting a fire with a hive present in the chimney can cause smoke to back up into your home, resulting in smoke damage inside the house and health issues for the people and animals in the home.

Removing Bees from Chimneys

10.  If you notice bees coming into your home, respond immediately.  Ignoring the bees only gets more expensive and creates more damage.  Honey can seep through the masonry and walls and can cause mold, rotting, bad odors and will attract other insects such as ants,  wax worms and bee moths.

11.  If the hive cannot be relocated, hire a reputable bee company that will also remove the hive, not just kill the hive.  Leaving a hive in a chimney will only invite more bees.

12.  If the hive is located in the chimney, insist that the hive be removed going up, not going down.  If the hive is pushed down, it will land in the area of the chimney system called the smoke shelf.  Once it lands in this area, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to remove all of the hive, wax, honey, and dead bees.  In addition, if the hive is pushed down, it may land on top of the damper which makes it impossible to open the damper.

Preventing Bees From Returning

13.  Once you’ve had a bee problem, you will be more prone to bees returning.  Even if a hive is removed and the chimney has been swept, the previous bees will have left behind pheromones which will attract future bees.  Unfortunately, even if the chimney is swept, the pheromones cannot be removed and there is no way to sterilize a chimney flue lining.

14.  Many bee companies will recommend putting a screen over the top of the chimney flue.  Because bees can get into any area as small as 1/4 inch, we have seen pest control companies putting window screen over the top of the chimney which is against building code.   In California, building code requires the spark arrestor part of the chimney cap to be 5/8 inch.  Unfortunately, this larger mesh will allow bees to enter the chimney.  Putting window screen over the top of the chimney will create a smoking problem, causing smoke damage in the house and potential health issues.

Chimney cap15.  Consider installing a top sealing damper.  Original dampers are located at the bottom of the pipe, closing the flue pipe from the bottom.  In this case, even if the damper is closed, bees can still enter the chimney above the damper and build a hive inside the chimney.  Instead, a top-sealing damper is located at the top of the pipe and seals the chimney at the top, and helps tremendously in keeping bees from entering the chimney.

The top-sealing damper is a flat metal plate located inside the chimney cap.  The plate is spring-loaded and has a cable that comes down into the firebox and is attached to a bracket on one of the sidewalls.  When the cable is pulled down, the plate seals against a thick rope gasket.

IMPORTANT: Top sealing dampers cannot be installed on systems that have artificial gas logs or a log lighter.  Also, these special dampers are only designed for masonry chimneys and not for prefab fireplace systems or free-standing stoves or stove inserts.

We have found that top-sealing dampers have been very successful in preventing bees from entering the chimney.  However, with the aggressiveness of the Africanized bees, these bees have been known to eat through the gasket of the top sealing damper, or still be able to get past the damper plate if there are any small openings.

bees coming in through masonry chimneyKeep in mind, the top sealing damper solution will only work if the bees are entering through the top of the chimney into the chimney flue.  If the bees enter through an opening in the brick or mortar or any other opening, a top-sealing damper will not work.  In that case, a hole will have to be created in the chimney structure or chimney chase to remove the hive and then sealed back up to prevent further bee intrusion.

We have to stress that with Africanized bees, a top-sealing damper is not 100% bee-proof.  It’s intended as a compromise between keeping the bees out as best as possible and still being able to use the fireplace while still keeping the chimney in compliance with building code.


Bee problems are not to be ignored.  If you’re having a bee problem in your chimney, contact a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep for further information.