by Shelly Dark

It’s flue season.

While many people focus on the upcoming influenza season and prevention methods, local chimney sweeps and fireplace professionals make efforts to remind Carroll residents that summer/fall should also be flue season.

Yes, it is time to have your chimney checked for safety before the first burn.

Yearly, an average of 22,000 structural fires are caused by fireplace/chimney issues; surprisingly, nearly half that number spark from a kitchen stove or oven.

It’s nearly impossible to hear the term “chimney sweep” without picturing soot-faced Dick Van Dyke dancing around with his mystical cohort Mary Poppins in the 1964 award-winning Walt Disney film.

It’s a charming but misleading image.

Chimney cleaning and routine maintenance are far from whimsical routines. In fact, some Carroll chimney sweep business owners are retired career firefighters whose background and passion lend themselves nicely to chimney maintenance and fire prevention.

 Get Your Ash Out of the Chimney

Make Your Chimney Santa Ready

Dennis Dell, owner of Ash Away Chimney Services and retired Anne Arundel County firefighter, uses catchy memorable phrases like these on his webpage in an effort to improve awareness of chimney safety and fire prevention.

During his 27 years with the Anne Arundel County Fire Dept., Dell noticed a gradual decrease in calls for chimney-elated house fires.

“I believe that the decrease in calls was directly related to increased awareness,” says Dell. “[That coupled with] an increase in routine maintenance, prevention methods, and the use of chimney sweeps,” Dell adds.

A lifelong Carroll resident and Westminster High School graduate, Dell hopes to see the same decrease in Carroll.

Gary Brewer, owner of Autumn Chimney Sweeps, started his company in 1980 while working as a firefighter for Baltimore City.  Brewer, a Carroll resident since 1992, retired from the fire department after 25 years and, like Dell, hopes to help protect homeowners with maintenance plans.

“I like to get my clients on a regular service plan depending on their burning habits,” says Brewer.  “We care about Carroll residents.  We’re a small company, but we are big on fire safety.”

Chimney professionals urge all homeowners to install a chimney cap to avoid costly rainwater damage as well as prevent animals from entering the chimney and possibly the home.

Dell recalls many oddities found in chimneys throughout the years, but vividly recalls an encounter with a mother squirrel that he will never forget.

“I climbed the roof of a three-story house,” said Dell, “And found eight baby squirrels, alive, in the screen in the chimney.  They started to squeal and holler and carry on and you could hear their mother busting branches running through the trees.  You never know how ferocious a momma squirrel can be until she’s staring you in the face on top of a three-story roof.”

Brewer agrees and recalls once finding a deflated basketball on a chimney smoke shelf, solving a long-time mystery for one homeowner who could now explain how the basketball “magically disappeared.”

“Chimney caps act as an animal guard as well as a spark arrester,” suggests Brewer.

Carroll resident Carl Larkin, owner of Fireworks, Inc., operates a retail fireplace and BBQ grill showroom in the historic Coca Cola building in Westminster.  Larkin works closely with local chimney sweeps. Residents who shop at Fireworks usually do so because they want to make a change – perhaps to convert an open wood fireplace to a pellet or gas insert, allowing homeowners to abandon the chore of hauling wood for the convenience of push-button glow.

Larkin is a National Fireplace Institute certified Master Hearth Professional and his work is integrally related.

“I’m not a chimney sweep and it’s not my business,” says Larkin, “But I have to be acutely aware of what they do because I’m the guy who changes the purpose of the chimney and we have to be sure that any new equipment we install will also be compatible with chimney safety.”

Larkin stresses the importance of chimney compatibility, especially with changes in use.

“Today’s fireplace choices are highly efficient and the chimney becomes a critical part of that performance,” says Larkin.  This is especially true of older homes erected prior to decades of upgrades in structural codes for fire safety.

Additionally, all residents should have dual purpose smoke/carbon monoxide detectors in homes and regularly replace batteries.  Carbon monoxide detectors are often our first line of defense for unseen issues originating from our fireplace.

Carroll residents have many choices for local chimney sweep companies.  As with all consumer choices, residents should shop around.

“Do your due diligence,” warns Larkin.  “Check reviews and credentials and make sure MHI license is valid.  If the license is valid, you know they’re insured.”

In general, chimneys should be inspected yearly, the average cost of which is about $75.  The cost for a sweep, if needed, is about $150, and frequency will depend on burning habits.

“We don’t call it a cleaning because a chimney is never fully clean,” Dell adds.

Sweeping Facts About Chimneys

  1. The biggest destroyer of chimneys is rain water – masonry absorbs like a sponge. It then freezes, thaws and cracks.
  2. Having your chimney crowned and a cap installed is the most important pre-maintenance repair you can do for your chimney.
  3. Chimneys that do not get used or go dormant, fall apart faster than those used and inspected.
  4. Chimney cleaning takes, on average, 30 minutes to one hour.
  5. The chimney industry is more recognized; codes are being more enforced to ensure safety.

  Source: Ryan Viens, Fidelity Chimney & Hearth

Chimney List

Need help during flue season? Here are some of the local experts.

  1. Ash Away Chimney Services
    934 Ridge Rd, Finksburg
    410-871-1999 or 877-686-1888
  2. Autumn Chimney Sweeps
    1209 Marclee Rd, Finksburg
  3. Fidelity Chimney and Hearth
    3154 Baltimore Blvd, Finksburg
  4. Firesafe Chimney Sweeps
  5. Jonathan Duct Cleaning & Chimney Sweep
  6. Miller’s Chimney
    111 John St, Westminster
  7. Westminster Chimney Sweep Inc.
  8. Fireworks Inc.
    525H Old Westminster Pike, Westminster