Unlike other cold weather climates – parts of Vermont, Minnesota and Wisconsin – Chicagoland homeowners don't generally burn fires to heat their homes. It's for the ambiance.
That hasn't made the area any less susceptible to a successful chimney sweep business. Just ask Michael Boudart of Cary, President of 40-year-old Lindemann Chimney Service.
"Chicago's a good market," Boudart said. "Chicago was settled a long time ago – a lot of old homes and a cold climate."
During the winter, Chicagoland chimneys generally are pouring out water vapor from the furnace or hot water heater even when they aren't escorting smoke to the outdoors – often when there isn't even a fireplace in the home.
Since many homes in the area are 50 to 70 years old, those chimneys have been facing the wear and tear of water vapor condensing, freezing, thawing, and repeating the cycle for dozens of years, Boudart said. It takes a toll.
"All those freeze-thaw cycles with those wet conditions over time beat up chimneys," Boudart said. "So there's a lot of chimneys that need tuck points and repairs just as a component of mother nature beating them up."
Lindemann, which is based in Lake Bluff and services McHenry, Lake, Cook, DuPage and Will counties, provides chimney inspections and cleanings that ensure a safe burning experience when homeowners decide to light a fire.
Over time, a material called creosote builds up in chimney walls, formed from soot and smoke traveling through the chimney. The material is flammable and provides a risk for chimney fires, Boudart said.
"Chimney cleaning is done and has come about for safety," he said. "Creosote can build up to the point of thickness when it can potentially become its own fuel source and start a fire. ... That can cause a big problem."
Other than spilling smoke back into the living room, a chimney fire has the potential to crack the tiles of the flue – an expensive repair.
Tiles also can crack due to the freeze-thaw cycle. Lindemann identifies problems in the tile using a flue camera.
"You push this camera up the flue, and we're looking at the interior surfaces of our chimney to look for any defects, cracks, defects in the mortar joints," Boudart said.
Like getting a swimming pool in working order, repairing a fire place can have a significant impact on a home's value, Boudart said.
"People do like their fires for the holidays," he said. "People like their fires when company comes over."
Fireplace safety tips:
Tips to keep fireplaces, chimneys and homes safe:
Make sure your chimney flue is clean. Creosote and tar can build-up and invite house fires. Also, birds, bees, squirrels, raccoons and other wildlife can nest in the flue and cause fires or infestation. A regular inspection, cleaning and sweeping of the firebox, flue and chimney cap can ease worries. It also improves efficiency and saves energy dollars.
Make sure your damper is open during fires to let hot smoke escape. Many people call the metal passage-closing apparatus a “flue” but it’s really a “damper.” Dampers can break, freeze or be blocked by an animal nest. Other apparatuses called top-sealing chimney dampers can ice-over when rain freezes, then fail to open. Pull the chain to make sure the spring-loaded chimney-cap sealer lifts and lowers -- or don’t light a fire.
The fireplace screen keeps hot sparks from reaching your carpet, wood floors, pets and family members. Always keep the screen closed during and after fires.
Keep all combustibles like baskets, decorations, kindling and firewood supplies away from the firebox. And never burn magazines, wrapping paper, plastics or painted wood – their fumes can be toxic. Never burn pizza boxes, Christmas trees or stacks of paper or cardboard.
Don’t leave a fire unattended – stay nearby.
Use a heavy-duty fireplace grate under burning firewood so hot logs don’t roll out.
Keep fireproof gloves and metal tools near the operating fireplace.
For excessive fireplace smoking, open a nearby window or door for a time to increase oxygen flow. And make sure your smoke detectors and carbon-monoxide detectors are tested and equipped with fresh batteries.
Source: Lindemann Chimney Service
About Lindemann Chimney ServiceWhat: A 40-year-old chimney sweep business that inspects, cleans and repairs chimneys in McHenry, Lake, Cook, DuPage and Will counties.Where: 28915 N. Herky Drive, Lake BluffMore info: call 847-918-9016 or visit www.lindemannchimneyservice.com