Archive for December, 2012

Chimney and Fireplace Safety – Mike Holmes

December 25, 2012

Mike Holmes: Keep Santa’s chimney safe

Mike Holmes | Dec 21, 2012 3:02 PM ET
More from Mike Holmes

Alex Schuldt / The Holmes Group

A fireplace can add the perfect cozy ambiance to any holiday get together. But one that is not maintained can pose a huge threat to your family’s safety, possibly causing a chimney fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • A fireplace that doesn’t function properly is a serious safety risk to our families. Ideally, we want the smoke going out and the heat coming in (and maybe Santa, too).

There are many types of fireplaces: traditional masonry wood-burning fireplaces, gas, electric, wood pellet, even those that run on alcohol. But no matter what type you have, it needs proper maintenance — and so does its chimney.

Annual fireplace and chimney inspections should be part of your home’s regular maintenance schedule. Among the problems you can run into if your chimney isn’t maintained is a chimney fire, which can spread in a matter of minutes to your entire home.

Every working chimney’s flue must be inspected and cleaned every year — no exception. This will help make sure there isn’t a block or a crack in the flue that can lead to toxic fumes — such as carbon monoxide — entering your home. Even a hairline crack, once heated, can open to as much as a full centimeter.

A cracked flue also lets heat and smoke travel to other areas in your home, which is dangerous. Creosote builds up a lot quicker if there is a cracked flue in a wood-burning fireplace. Creosote, or soot for short, is extremely combustible. It’s basically tiny unburned flammable particles that accumulate inside your chimney’s walls. If creosote builds up, it just takes a tiny spark to start a chimney fire — which chimneys aren’t built to withstand.

A proper inspection of your fireplace can also reveal if the damper has a tight seal. Sometimes bits of mortar fall from inside the chimney. This can stop the damper from completely sealing. If it doesn’t seal properly you’ll lose heat. That’s a big waste if energy efficiency is what you’re after (and who isn’t these days?).

Your fireplace’s ash pit also needs to be checked; once every other year is enough. But if the ashes seem soggy and hard to remove, you might have a leak. If that’s the case it’s better to fix this sooner rather than later.

Chimneys are prime spots for water damage and leaks. The masonry and mortar can absorb moisture. If there’s anything screwed to the chimney, like an old television aerial, it just gives more points where water and moisture can come in. When they do, the mortar and brick will deteriorate over time.

A good inspector will check the bricks, mortar, chimney cap and flashing. If your chimney’s mortar is deteriorating, the bricks will get loose — a huge vulnerability that will allow more water to penetrate into your home’s structure. To fix this, the mortar needs to be repointed, which means scraping out the old mortar and refilling it with new. It might sound like an easy job but you need to find someone with a bit of skill and practice. A bad job will be obvious — it won’t be pretty.

Proper sealing is crucial where the chimney’s base meets the roofing material. There should be metal flashing here. If it’s missing, poorly installed or needs repair, water can get under the shingles and rot the roof deck underneath.

Most routine chimney repairs aren’t expensive. But if you don’t correct the problems quickly they can become a major safety hazard — with a major price tag to go along with it.

(A gas fireplace should get checked out once a year by a gas technician. I know this sounds expensive. But it’s not as expensive as a catastrophe — I can tell you that much. If your gas fireplace isn’t working the way its supposed to, it can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning and even death.)

If your home has a wood-burning fireplace you should find a WETT (wood energy technology transfer) certified technician. The installation and maintenance of wood-burning systems isn’t regulated in Canada. But a WETT technician has been trained to give a basic visual inspection the right way. Anyone who is WETT-certified has a photo ID card. If you’re not sure the professional you’re hiring is WETT-certified, ask to see their ID card. Check that it has a valid sticker with the current year.

Most homeowners are scared to ask to see any proof of certification — be it an electrician, plumber, general contractor, home inspector, even a doctor. But every pro will be happy to show you. Any real professional is proud of their certifications and the amount of time they’ve invested in their craft. They might even give you a pat on the back for doing your homework. I know I would.

Before you light your fire this holiday season, make sure your fireplace can handle the heat. Because where there’s smoke, there could be fire.

Catch Mike Holmes in his new series, Holmes Makes It Right Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit For more information on home renovations, visit

Cottagers CAUTION!! Cold Weather Can Bring Mould

December 2, 2012

Hello Friends,

Below is an actual email exchange I had with one of my wonderful clients who just completed his first season in his brand new cottage. He went up for a brief visit this weekend and was met with a serious problem. Thankfully, I was able to give him some simple suggestions that will work. I have changed the names to protect his privacy.

From: Carefree Cottager

Sent: Sunday December 2, 2012 6:21 PM

To: Joseph Simon

Subject: My cottage

Hi Joe. Hope you are doing well.  Without getting into too many details on an email, suffice it to say, Renata and I visited the cottage Saturday evening and were horrified to find serious, active mold on all the windows, clothes in the Master closet etc. I know Monty mentioned this and you provided a suggestion. We cleaned to the best of our ability but there were many hard to get to areas. The moisture in the house was actually being controlled by a de-humidifier but that wasn’t sufficient. You provided me the name of a colleague of yours up north (forget his name and coordinates). Should I be consulting him, or can you assist me? I can also, if need be, use my own HVAC guy from my business. I need to know 2 things:

How to best control the moisture going forward and how to get rid of the mold in my house. I want to also understand the nature of the health risk as it stands and whether I should be avoiding further use of the cottage until it is resolved.

Monty is going tomorrow to have a look. Most of the readily apparent mold was removed as per your instruction to Monty.

Please let me know your thoughts.

Thanks very much.

Concerned Cottager

Sent via BlackBerry on the Bell Mobility network

Hi Concerned,

I am assuming that your windows were dripping and that was the source of the moisture in your cottage. Monty mentioned to me that his windows were dripping as well.

Dripping on your windows is caused by the warm moist air in your home contacting the cold windows and the moisture in the air condenses on the windows similar to what happens to a can of cold soda when removed from the fridge.

There are two strategies to prevent this from happening.

Firstly, we must reduce the moisture level in your home.

Secondly, we must reduce the temperature in your home.

I suggest you employ both strategies.

The way to reduce the moisture level in your home is to admit dry outside air into your home. This can be accomplished simply by leaving a window open about 3″. (In my home, there is always a window open. It reduces excessive moisture and provides clean fresh ventilation air to keep my home healthy and fresh.) Leaving a window open will of course add cold air to your home and will increase your energy bill. Another problem is that there is no way to control this method since you will not be present most of the time. You can install an HRV, which is a heat recovery ventilator. This automatically brings in the right amount of fresh dry air, exhausts stale humid air and transfers much of the heat from the exiting air to the fresh air, thereby saving energy. This appliance will cost around $2,000 installed properly but will pay for itself over time in energy savings.

The second strategy is to keep your house at a cool temperature to reduce the contrast in temperature between your home and the surface of your windows. This will reduce the condensation of your windows.

You must make sure not to keep your house cooler than the minimum temperature that your furnace can safely operate. Typically this is around 60 deg. F but you must check the furnace manual for your specific model.

Regarding the mould, I would just spray the affected areas with bleach and wipe them down. It would also be a great idea to run a HEPA filter while you are up at the cottage to ensure the air you breathe is always safe and allergen free.

If it is impossible to wipe away the mould, you might have to employ the services of a mould remediation professional. I am pretty sure that Clayton from Link would know someone in your area.

I would recommend you contact Clayton at Link ClimateCare in Beaverton. He will be able to help you with these items and is also very familiar with the weather challenges and construction practices in your area. I have copied him on this email so he will be aware of the issue when you call him.

You can reach him at 1-877-426-7831.

Please feel free to contact me at your convenience to discuss this further. You can call me anytime.

Best Regards,

Joseph Simon

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