Category Archives: General

Birds in Chimneys

Birds on top of chimneyAs I’m sitting in my office working, I can hear the high-pitch chirping from some obviously newly-hatched baby sparrows just above my office window. I’m not surprised by the chirping. I’ve been watching the mama bird building her nest on a ledge just above my window for several weeks. During her time building her nest, every time we walk below her nest, she quickly flies away, only to return when we are out of sight. I don’t mind the nest, nor the sound of the constant chirping of the chicks. I don’t even mind the bird poop below the nest on our walkway. It’s the circle of life and I love it.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who is dealing with new nests during the spring. We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from homeowners who are concerned that birds are coming into the chimney. Here’s some information that you need to know.

Are the birds INSIDE the chimney?

“Are the birds INSIDE the chimney?”  That’s not a dumb question. Just because you hear bird noises coming from the chimney, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are INSIDE the chimney.

Prefabricated chimneys have a metal flue pipe with a termination cap at the top. Birds like to hang out at the top. Their chirping through the metal flue pipe creates what I call the “Megaphone Effect.” We chimney sweeps have gone out to homes many times because homeowners insist that these feathered friends are inside the chimney, only to determine that they are just hanging out at the top. The good news is that no birds are inside the chimney.

Once the birds get into your chimney

The bad news is that if birds do get inside the chimney, they’ll fall down on top of the closed damper or behind the damper in the area called the smoke shelf. Then the bird gets trapped. Once the bird lands in the smoke shelf, it’s extremely difficult for them to get out on their own.

Once the bird has flown into your chimney, that chimney is now considered its natural habitat. This makes it a felony for anybody to remove the bird or active nest from its natural habitat without a special wildlife permit. Due to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, there is a potential $15,000 fine per bird, nest, or egg as well as possible jail time and confiscation of any equipment or tools involved with the removal of said birds.

Chimney sweeps have been targeted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as frequent violators of these federal laws. Many chimney sweep companies simply didn’t realize that it’s against the law to remove birds from chimneys and what kind of potential heavy fines they are opening themselves up to. For that reason, we recommend contacting animal rescue organizations who have the wildlife permit.

After the birds are gone…

Chimney CapThe best way to deal with birds getting into your chimney is prevention. Once birds are gone from the chimney and the nest has been abandoned, we recommend having the chimney inspected and swept to remove any nesting material. In addition, installing a chimney cap will prevent future birds as well as rodents and other critters from entering the chimney.

To find a qualified chimney sweep company to install a chimney cap, make sure you use a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep through the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

We have a responsibility as humans to care for our wildlife. We can live in harmony with these precious creatures. Soon enough, I know I’ll miss that sweet chirping just outside my office window.

Gas logs on fire in fireplace

16 Tips To Know About Artificial Gas Logs

Gas logs on fire in fireplaceGas logs are so very convenient–no fuss, no mess; instant on-instant off; clean burning to the environment as well as very little creosote build-up in the chimney.

Before making that decision, there are several things to take into consideration first. To help you, here are 16 tips you need to know when deciding on artificial gas logs.

1) First things first, analyze the pros and cons of gas logs to make sure that you know all the facts to make an informed decision.

2) If your fireplace isn’t plumbed for gas, consult with a licensed plumber who specializes in gas. Depending on where the gas is located, the cost for routing the gas to the fireplace may be cost-prohibitive which may be a deciding factor in the decision to install gas logs.

3) Choose which type of gas you will be using–Natural Gas or LP (propane).

4) Determine if you want vented or unvented (vent-free) gas logs. Keep in mind that unvented gas logs are illegal in many states, including California.

5) Decide on how you want to start and control your gas log set: Match Light; Manual Safety Pilot or Remote Control.

6) Have the chimney inspected and swept if needed by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. Make any necessary repairs to the system so you can start with a clean slate.

7)  Purchasing a gas log set with a lifetime warranty on the logs is a good investment.  These better quality logs have the added benefit of looking more realistic.

8)  Gas log sets that have white-color logs (such as Birch or Beech woods) will darken up from flame impingement (sooting) and after a while, may not look so nice.  A certain amount of flame impingement is natural.  Artificial gas logs that are darker in color (such as oak) will still have flame impingement but it won’t be so obvious.

9) Measuring the firebox to determine the proper size of gas logs is absolutely critical. If a gas log set is too large, the log set will sit too far forward and you may have gas spillage into the room. Here is how you can measure your firebox:

Measuring for gas logs

A) Measure the front width of the firebox
B) Measure the width of the backwall of the firebox
C) Measure the depth of the firebox from front to back
D) Measure the height of the firebox opening
E-1) Which side is the gas stub location: Left? Right? Rear? Floor?
E-2) How far does the gas stub extend into the firebox:
E-3) What is the distance from the gas stub to the firebox floor:

10) There should be a minimum of 3″ on each side, from the gas logs to each side wall. (For Manual Safety Pilot systems and Remote Control Gas log systems, the clearances are more. See manufacturer’s instructions for sizing.)

11) When installing gas logs, the manufacturer’s instructions will show how the logs are to be positioned on the grate. This is critical. If the logs are not positioned correctly, you can have gas spillage into the room. A professional installer will use a special gas-detecting tool to detect gas spillage. After the installer has tested the placement of the logs, don’t ever move the logs. They are supposed to be positioned in a very specific way. Note: Simply using a “soap bubble test” will not detect gas spillage into the room.

12) Adding small black lava rocks, realistic glowing embers, black glass, pine cones, acorns and wood chunks will enhance the beauty and the realism of the artificial gas logs. Some gas log manufacturers have also created “cracklers,” which are devices that replicate the sound of a wood burning fire.

13) Completely covering the gas burner tray with sand, silica or vermiculite  is important. Otherwise, flame impingement (sooting) on the gas logs can occur. Also, sand in the burner pan can prevent overheating.

14) Install a damper clamp to lock the damper in a FULLY OPEN position. A damper that is partially or completely closed will allow for more heat from your fireplace but will also allow gases to enter into the home which is extremely dangerous.

15) Always make sure that your gas logs are not on at the same time as your furnace or central heater. If you do, you can lose the draw from the fireplace so instead of the gases going up the flue, they can enter the room instead. Remember: One on at a time, never on at the same time.

Bonus Tip to Enhance the look of Gas Logs:

16) Before installing artificial gas logs, paint the firebox black, using a high temperature paint. This brings all the focus on the beautiful gas logs instead of the smoke-stained walls from previous wood-burning usage.

Artificial gas logs provide convenience, an attractive and realistic display of a wood fire while clean burning to the environment and to your chimney.

25 Important Tips to Hire a Contractor

Contractor with tool beltA true story: About ten years ago, a friend of ours decided to do a major remodel on his house, basically doubling the size of his home. He did his due diligence in researching contractors and he narrowed it down to three very qualified candidates. Then he went to the California State Licensing Board website to research the contractors and found that two out of the three contractors had suspended or revoked licenses. Of course, the contractors didn’t bother to tell our friend this critical information. This is why it’s imperative to check out your contractors. Fortunately, our friend was a very discerning homeowner and avoided potential issues from an unscrupulous contractor.

Here are 25 essential tips to know before hiring a contractor. These tips will protect you as the homeowner from scammer contractors. (This information pertains to California. If you’re in a different state, check your own state’s contractors state licensing board.)

1) Any work done to your home that amounts to $500 or more (combined labor and materials) requires the contractor to have a state contractor’s license.

2) Check the contractors through the California State Licensing Board (CSLB) website. You can check the license from the contractor’s license number, the contractor’s personal name or the contractor’s business name. This website is an exceptional resource and easy to navigate. The CSLB website will show the contact information for the contractor, type of business entity, the date the contractor’s license was originally issued and when it expires, the status of the license, the classification of the license, bonding information, workers’ compensation information, and personnel list.

3) If the work is under $500 but is part of a larger project, a contractor’s license is still required even for the work under $500.

4) Projects cannot be broken down into smaller jobs to get around the $500 limit.

5) Ask to see the contractor’s license badge issued by the CSLB.

House made from contractor tools6) Verify that your contractor is not “borrowing” someone else’s contractor’s license. This is more common than you think and is illegal. A contractor cannot do any work with a license unless he is listed as the owner of the company or is a bona fide employee of that contractor. When you check the contractor’s license on the CSLB website, there is a page on the license detail that shows a list of personnel with the company.

7) The CSLB website will show if the contractor’s license is active, inactive, revoked, suspended or expired.

8) Check the license history of your contractor as well as any pending or prior disciplinary actions. Here’s how you do that:

Pull up the contractor’s license
Click on “License”
Click on “Complaint Disclosure. This will show you any citations that the contractor has received.
Click on the citation number and it will give you a detailed list of citations.

You can also find out a list of citations by calling the Legal Action Disclosure telephone number for the CSLB.
California – Northern Region: 916/255-4041
California – Southern Region: 562/345-7656

9) If a contractor has a contractor’s license, the license number must be shown on ALL forms of promotion and advertising. This includes all documents including letterhead, contracts, business cards, telephone yellow pages, newspaper ads, vehicle lettering and any other form of advertising. It also includes website, social media, TV and radio commercials.

10) Contractors who are NOT licensed must state in all forms of advertising that they are not licensed and cannot perform any work greater than $500.

11) Make sure contractors have the proper contractors license for the work they’re doing. As an example, you don’t want a contractor with a specialty license in landscaping to be doing your electrical work.

In California, there are 4 types of contractor’s licenses: “A” (General Engineering Contractor); “B” (General Building Contractor); or “C” and “D” (Specialty Licenses). The general contractors licenses can work in any field whereas the specialty licenses are limited to the type of work the license is issued.

Typically in the chimney industry, the specialty licenses would be C-29 (Masonry) or C-61/D-34 (Limited Specialty – Prefabricated Equipment). There is no specific category of contractor’s license for chimneys and fireplaces.

12) The California Contractors State Licensing Board website provides information about the contractor’s workers’ compensation insurance. In case of an employee’s injury or death on a job site, the homeowner potentially would be liable to pay for any medical bills. Workers’ Compensation is for your protection as a homeowner!

13) If the contractor does not have employees, the CSLB website will indicate an exemption from having the workers’ compensation insurance. If the contractor with an exemption on file then shows up at a homeowner’s property with employees, those employees are not covered in case of injury or death, leaving the homeowner potentially liable to pay for any medical bills.

14) All roofing contractors in California must carry workers’ compensation insurance even if they do not have employees.

15) Contractors are required to have a Contractor’s Bond in the amount of $15,000. This bond guarantees the work and performance of the contract. A homeowner should make sure that the contractor’s bond is current and not expired.

16) Ask to see proof of general liability insurance in the form of a “Certificate of Insurance.” Verify that the insurance is current and has coverage of a minimum of $1 million aggregate.

17) If building permits are pulled, the contractor must have a valid state contractor’s license that is in full force.

18) If building permits are required, the contractor must verify workers’ compensation coverage or have an exemption from coverage if the contractor doesn’t have employees.

19) Get at least three bids from contractors. Don’t be rushed into making a decision. Look online for reviews and do a Google search to ensure that the contractor is not a scammer.

20) It is against the law for a contractor to demand more than $1000 or 10% of the full contract price, whichever is less, for a deposit on any home improvement project.  Pool contractors have different requirements for deposits.

21) Pay the contractor according to the schedule of payments stated in the contract. Do not let payments get ahead of the work. This is for your protection as a homeowner.

22) Certain work in a home also requires that the contractor has a special Asbestos Certification if they are performing any asbestos-related work.

23) It is illegal for a contractor to do work in a declared disaster area without a state contractor’s license.

24) Here’s a valuable check-off list to screen contractors.

25) Here is contact information for the California Contractor’s State Licensing Board.
Toll-free automated Assistance – 1-800-321-2752
Disaster Hotline – 1-800-962-1125
Northern California General Complaint Information – 1-800-321-2752
Northern California to report unlicensed activity – 916-255-2924
Southern California General Complaint Information – 1-800-321-2752
Southern California to report unlicensed activity – 562-466-6017

Contractor’s licenses, workers’ compensation insurance, contractor’s bonds and general liability insurance are all for the protection of the homeowner. Hiring unlicensed contractors is asking for potential problems that, in the end, will cost far more financially and emotionally.

Always check out your contractors!

[Photo credits: Adobe Stock Photos]

St. Florian – Patron Saint of Chimney Sweeps

An image of St. FlorianWhat do chimney sweeps, firemen and soap makers have in common?

May 4th is the day we commemorate St. Florian as the patron saint of Linz, Austria and Upper Austria, chimney sweeps, firemen, and soap makers. In 1184 A.D., St. Florian was adopted as the patron saint of Poland. Typically in artwork, St. Florian is depicted as a Roman officer with a lance in one hand and a bucket or pitcher in the other hand, pouring water over a village, standing in front of a millstone.

Florian von Lorch was born about 250 A.D., in Austria. Florian was not only a high-ranking commander in the Roman army serving Noricum, a province of the Roman area of Austria, but he was also responsible for organizing and training an elite group of 7,000 Roman soldiers to fight fires.

He secretly converted to Christianity during a time of major persecution against Christians. When a Roman investigator discovered he was not following orders to participate in persecution against Christians in the territory, Florian confessed his religious faith and refused to abandon his religion. He was sentenced to death shortly thereafter in 304 A.D. by fire, a common method of killing Christians during that time. Before he was to be burned at the stake, Florian announced, “If you do, I will climb to heaven on the flames,” so instead of being burned, he was flogged, flayed and then drowned in the Enns River with a millstone tied around his neck.  For that reason, he’s also called upon to protect people from floods and drowning.

In some areas of Germany, the name “Florian” is equivalent with “fireman.”   Not coincidentally, May 4th is also celebrated as International FireFighters Day.

So on May 4th, be sure to wish your favorite chimney sweep, fireman and soap maker a Happy St. Florian’s Day!

3 kids in front of fireplace

A Chimney Sweep Company is Born!

the future chimney sweep in front of fireplace
Me with my 2 brothers at about the age I started cleaning my very first fireplace!

This is the first of what will be many posts about chimneys and fireplaces. This first post is responding to a very common question we get asked all the time–-“How in the world did you decide to become a chimney sweep?” The response to this common question seemed a great way to start off our new blog!

When I was a child, growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s, I never imagined in a million years that I would be a co-owner in a chimney sweep company. In fact, ironically, one of my chores as a 10-year-old little girl was cleaning out the fireplace. I detested the job so much that I figured out a way to clean it out with minimal time and effort. When the firebox was clean, I lined the bottom of the firebox with aluminum foil. When I went to clean it out, I lifted out the grate and carefully rolled up the foil and, VOILA’, the fireplace was instantly clean. Whoever said that “Necessity was the mother of Invention” was a genius.

About 20 years later, back in the mid-1980’s, a very close friend of ours and his wife decided to start up a chimney sweep business. Living in beautiful San Diego, we actually laughed at them. After all, how much of a need was there for a chimney sweep in sunny San Diego? After further thought, we realized that just about every house in San Diego has a fireplace.

About that time, the population in the City of San Diego was about 900,000 people and in the county there were 2 million people, so doing the math, that meant a heck of a lot of chimneys. Nine years later, in 1994, our friends decided to move back to Sweden which was where he grew up and so we bought their business.

About that time, we had two little boys, ages 1 and 3, who were the joys of our life. Rick and I both worked many hours in our respective jobs (Rick as a service manager in the automotive field and me as an administrative assistant in the corporate world) and we regretted the fact that we were missing out on our kids’ lives. By buying the chimney sweep business, it allowed us to manage our time more effectively and be the parents we wanted to be. We ran it as a home-based business and we were able to work our chimney sweep schedule around our kids’ activities–school, play dates, Cub Scouts, Little League, Boy Scouts, water polo, swim team, cross country meets, and school theatre productions. We still worked a lot of hours for our business but we were able to work around our kids’ schedules. That parental involvement has paid off. Those two little boys are now 21 and 23 and have turned into the great young men that any parent would be proud of.

So when I think back to when I was 10 years old and grumbling and griping about the dirty job of cleaning out the fireplace, I have to smile and realize that the chore I despised the most as a child would ultimately provide us with a way to be active and involved in raising our own two sons. Ahhh….the Circle of Life!