What Does A Chimney Sweep Do?

NFPA211 inspections and Certified chimney sweeps.

What is a chimney sweep, and what do they actually do? Let me make it clear now, they are not just a janitor breaking their back to sweep your flue. A Certified chimney sweep is a fire inspector. If a chimney is in disrepair and not safe for use the system is simply not cleaned. Because the chimney sweeps in a position of liability. If a system is not safe for continued use because of internal flue/firebox cracks it should not be used. In my early years I have had homeowners burn anyways after I cleaned the chimney even though I told them it was unsafe. And then the cracks get worse and worse. Then the heat of the next fire causes thermal expansion and the cracks get bigger and bigger, the bigger the crack, the more heat and combustion gasses escape the chimney into the home. This has caused homeowners, fire damage, and personal injury from carbon monoxide poisoning. This is why our service is defined by the NFPA211 as an inspection. A component of an inspection is sweeping the chimney. If all looks good after the rooftop and firebox inspection then we sweep the flue to remove creosote off the interior flue walls to INSPECT AGAIN. We looked at the flue walls for cracks, gaps, perforations and defects of any kind that could cause a reduction of flow, but also weak points that will allow heat to escape the system.

We take homeowner safety seriously, which is why we hold our technicians to the highest standards. The standards we created as fire restoration experts. Over the years I have seen many systems fail. Each one of those circumstances taught me that God does not care about our building code. If you don’t pay close attention on maintaining your system and ensuring it’s optimized performance, you may unfortunately experience an operating malfunction or even a fire loss, and personal injury.

I am the President of the Oregon Chimney Sweeps association. The oldest guild in the nation formed in fall of 1978. The OCSA Certified Chimney Sweep credential is earned by those who have passed an intensive 100 question examination based on NFPA211 fire codes, clearances to combustibles requirements, and standards for the IRC Building construction codes and maintenance of chimneys and venting systems. I have learned a lot over the years. Since 14 I have been extremely perspicacious about fire and how it works.

What does that mean for you, the homeowner?

It means when you choose a sweep don’t look for the cheapest deal. Search for a Certified Chimney sweep technician who has an outstanding reputation, then you can be confident you’ve made a good choice. There’ll be no question whether the man or woman on the job is experienced, qualified, knowledgeable, and professional, you’ll know they are based on excellent eye contact and assertive communication skills. They know more than they know. And if they don’t know they can admit they don’t and quickly source the correct information for your niche situation. Why? Because I have coached them through the process. Mentorship is invaluable and I love being a coach and helping others see what I can see. They have to be because I am very direct and brutally honest.

The OCSA has been a key in fire safety for 45 years.

The OREGON CHIMNEY SWEEPS ASSOCIATION, Inc, a non-profit organization, was formed in the fall of 1978 for the following purposes:

To promote the interest of all persons in preserving life, limb and property from loss due to flue fires, other solid fuel related fires, and other hazards associated with residential heating.

To protect, preserve and enjoy the history of our forefather chimney sweeps.

To provide and promote a standard of excellence by which all Chimney Sweeps and its membership sweeps may be judged.

To promote fire safety in the home.

To establish and maintain a liaison with the State Fire Marshal’s office and with the State Building Code Inspector’s Office.

To conduct advertising of an educational nature.

To discourage the fixing of prices or territorial limits.

A Chimney Sweep attired in black clothes and top hat may bring to mind the happy-go-lucky Mary Poppins characters. He is much more than that. He is a civic-minded small businessman. His main concerns are Fire Safety and Energy Conservation within his community.

When a Chimney Sweep cleans a chimney, he uses brushes to remove all the build-up of soot and creosote from the flue system. These deposits of soot and creosote are responsible for chimney fire damage that totaled an estimated $4.7 million in Oregon during 1986.

provided by the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Now it is an average of 1 Billion per year in fire related damage per the NFPA.

Chimney Sweeps are helping reduce that figure by confronting the causes; dirty chimneys, improper wood and gas heater installations AND unsafe chimney conditions. Most Masons that build chimneys are not certified by the NFPA211 code and don’t know vital things that they should. The Chimney Sweep is part of the energy conservation movement.

He is involved directly because he knows that a clean burning system allows combustion to burn hotter and cleaner, using less fuel and saving fuel dollars.


Chimney Sweeps also encourage the use of wood for heating fuel because it is a “renewable resource.” Wood is an efficient and economical energy source with an increasingly important role to play in the future of the Northwest United States. This is why there is a Federal Biomass Tax credit. If you buy a 75% efficient wood stove you get 30% of the total cost back as a tax credit with a cap at $2000. These new stoves are so clean burning they burn less fuel, burn longer and when you look at your chimney, you cant even see smoke come out of the top. The best value I have found is the New Regency I1500 wood fireplace insert.

It’s installed with an insulated stainless steel chimney liner through your old inefficient masonry fireplace or zero clearance fireplace. It costs $5500-$7,000 depending on the length of chimney liner you need and access required to safely reach the top of your chimney.

But then subtract the $2000 you will get back on your taxes. It’s the best bang for your Buck in my opinion. The best part is if the power goes out from a winter storm. This fireplace will heat your entire house!

Member Sweeps of the OREGON CHIMNEY SWEEPS ASSOCIATION, are professionals. You can look to member sweeps for competent assistance in keeping your chimney flues clean and answering related questions. Whether you are enjoying a log fire in the evening or heating your whole home with a wood heating stove, this can mean peace of mind for you and your family.

Finding a reliable and knowledgeable chimney and venting company can be challenging, especially since there’s no industry-wide standard or regulation. That’s right…anyone can slap a sign on their truck and call themselves a chimney sweep.

But do you really want just anyone in your home?

How do you know if the sweep is making valid recommendations or quoting you a fair price? How can you be sure they’re making things safer and better… and not worse?

Do they even know what they’re talking about or what they’re doing?

We don’t think keeping your home in great condition and your family safe and warm should be so difficult. That’s why we exist.

For 45 years, the OCSA members have made it easier for homeowners to find reliable, experienced, highly trained chimney and venting professionals to tackle maintenance, installation, and repairs.

We’ve created a standard of excellence in the industry by providing expert-led education and training to industry professionals. Because homeowners deserve the highest standard of care – a level of care only the best-trained pros can provide.

Certified chimney sweep professionals are sufficiently educated and trained to perform their jobs in the field, we believe it’s equally important (if not more so) that professionals who hold a state credential act ethically when interacting with customers. That’s why each OCSA Certified sweep must also agree to our  CODE OF ETHICS.

So, if you have high standards for the chimney pros coming into your home, look for a company that’s above the rest. We have high standards because you want to be sure your family is safe when you start your fire inside your house.

SW Portland Chimney Rebuild

Check out this beautiful before and after!

This chimney was cracked, loose and crumbling, from the top down, 30 courses. It looks like the crown was built with 12”x16” flue tiles when they should be 16” x 16”. The condition is due to saturation decay. When a chimney crown does not have a proper chimney cap to direct all water away, slowly, over time, moisture absorbs into the chimney. Then freezing temperatures cause an expansion and contraction that break the mortar joints and brick. This chimney was leaking into the home.

We rebuilt the chimney using new old town red brick and specialty sourced tan Belden brick to re create the unique pattern. We then tuck-pointed the chimney from the rebuild line down to the ground 100%. Finally we installed a proper custom stainless steel chimney cap and applied a water seal treatment.

Is your chimney leaking? Is mortar falling onto the roof? If so, call us for an estimate to fix it, and fix it right the first time. 503-758-4710.

Before Rebuild
After Rebuild
Before Rebuild
After Rebuild

Lake Oswego Wood Insert Install


Check out this before an after!
This fireplace chimney was not safe for continued use for multiple reasons. This chimney was originally constructed incorrectly. The interior flue passageway had no chimney liner. The chimney is way too short for how large this fireplace is, it should be about 20 feet tall for this large of a firebox opening. Many people have attempted to modify this chimney to make it draft. Our best recommendation was a new wood stove insert installed into the masonry fireplace and vented through the chimney with a 6 inch diameter stainless steel chimney liner, with a 3’ pipe extension. We installed the Napoleon EPI 3 wood stove insert with contemporary black fireplace face trim, installed with a new 6“ x 14‘ stainless steel chimney liner kit.

Call us today for an estimate for a new gas or wood appliance! 503-578-4710.

SW Portland English Tutor Chimney Rebuild

Completed rebuild


The English tudor is one of my favorite timeless designs. We tore this chimney down to the roofline and rebuilt it and installed all new roof and masonry counter flashing with ice and water shield. We will return to apply two coats of siloxane masonry water seal treatment and a proper sized chimney cap powder coated and painted brown to match the flashing! 

Woodland, WA Split Face Brick Chimney Rebuild

During rebuild
Rebuild complete, cast concrete crown poured
Painted with elastomeric paint and custom chimney cap installed.

This customer has been dealing with this leaking chimney for 16years. There were several companies that attempted to fix the chimney. The homeowners had a brand new roof installed by HomeMasters. The owner,  Bill Whitlow and I,  have been friends for many years. After they installed a new roof, the chimney still leaked. It was not the roof, it was the chimney!  Bill called us in to get the job done right.
We found when we tore this old chimney down that it was very poorly constructed from day one. Unfortunately, we see that a lot. Shotty masons cut corners all the time and perform work that rarely complies with American Masonry Institute standards. We demoed this chimney down to just below the roofline, mitigated all the inferior masonry and rebuilt the chimney with structural split face concrete block, reinforced with rebar and grouted all the internal cells. We installed new custom fabricated brown masonry counter flashing to match the new roof. Then we poured a formed a concrete crown. We returned 28 days later, cure time for masonry, to pop off the forms, installed a new proper stainless steel chimney cap, and painted the chimney with two coats of high quality elastomeric masonry paint. All this work performed on a brand new roof system. Canvas tarp protection and foam. The new roof is in perfect condition and still holds the HOMEMASTERS WARRANTY!
Everyone is very pleased. In the homeowners words. “I got lots of bids, but you were the only one who wanted to teach me how to do the job the right way”
We are happy to serve.

New Designer Fireplace in Historic Irvington District

New Designer Fireplace in Historic Irvington District

The state of this chimney and fireplace was too severely damaged to repair. The chimney suffered from saturation decay and the masonry below grade was severely deteriorated from the gas emissions of the furnace. There was no liner, causing gas emissions to vent through the chimney which could potentially cause carbon monoxide poisoning. The chimney had to be completed removed and replaced. The chimney has now been rebuilt, reinforced with rebar and tied to the structure of the house at the joist using chimney straps. 

Salvaging the existing fireplace tile surround would be tricky, the customers decided to have the fireplace tile re done at this time as well. They selected this gorgeous custom tile from Pratt & Larson. 

Take a look at the the before and after photos. 

Our customers are very happy! They now have a structurally sound, functional and BEAUTIFUL fireplace to enjoy for the holidays and many many years to come!

Thinking of remodeling your fireplace? Give us a call for an estimate. We would be happy to make your dreams come true! 503-758-4710.

Fireplace BEFORE remodel.
Chimney BEFORE remodel.
Chimney AFTER rebuild.
Fireplace AFTER remodel.

Chimney Liner Options Explained for the Homeowner

Homeowners often get confused when they hear that their chimney needs to be relined.

The first thought that may come to mind is, “What the heck does that mean?”  This writer will attempt to explain – in laymen’s terms – what relining is, why it may be needed, and all of the options available so that you can make an informed decision about your chimney repair.

Simply put, relining means installation of a new flue liner.  However, the process is far from a simple undertaking and requires a professional to do the installation work.

If you have been told that your chimney needs to be relined, the reason may be that the flue liner is damaged, misaligned, missing mortar joints, it is sized incorrectly, or that there is no flue liner at all.

Flue liners have been required since 1927 by code to serve two purposes: First, to allow for the smooth passage of smoke and toxic flue gasses to exit the home without restriction, and second, to reduce the exterior temperature of the chimney during use.

Flue liner damage may, and often does, occur during a chimney fire, lightning strike, foundation movement, or piering (moving the chimney back into position and installing piers to hold it in place).

Over time, flue mortar joints exposed to rain and acidic flue gasses deteriorate and disappear altogether. Gaps in the liner due to any of these damages can be a serious hazard.

After a qualified professional chimney contractor has evaluated your particular chimney, s/he will offer one of the following methods for relining:


Vitreous Clay Tile Chimney Flue Liners

These have been used since the 1900’s and are a readily available and relatively inexpensive construction material. Tile flue chimney liners crack when there is a temperature differential of 500 degrees (as during a chimney fire), and will eventually soften and spall especially if exposed to condensation in a gas flue.

At the time of original construction, the mason installs the tiles ahead of the masonry surrounding them which allows him to make certain that the tiles are straight and the joints are smooth.

Relining with tile is difficult, if not impossible, to do except for very short sections.  For this reason, very few contractors will offer this option. If the option is offered be sure to ask how they are going to do the installation, what equipment is used, and how much masonry will need to be removed from your chimney in order to access the interior.

In some cases, it is impossible to reline with tile without tearing down all or part of the chimney, and that is why most chimney technicians offer to reline with steel instead.


Stainless Steel Chimney Liner

Stainless Steel chimney flue liners are a more modern product.  All stainless steel flue liners are U.L. listed or tested to U.L. 1777 Standards, which means that they have been subjected to a series of tests including three 10-minute 2100-degree burns.

Steel flue liners will withstand exposure to a chimney fire of short duration, but can become damaged in long-burning fires. Steel liners come as rigid or flexible, and in different grades i.e. 304 grade stainless, which is very heavy, or 361 Titanium/stainless steel, which is lightweight, yet sturdy.  Your chimney technician will know which type is best for your particular application.

Most flexible steel liners can be custom-shaped to fit the flue as well.

Most also require the addition of insulation in the form of foil-faced ceramic wool blanket or Thermix insulation. This keeps the liner warmer and reduces heat transfer to surrounding masonry. With the proper amount of insulation a “zero clearance” installation can be achieved.  This is important if combustible materials nearby do not have proper clearances.

Removal of the original tile flue liner is often necessary in order to gain the necessary room for a properly sized flue liner.  Anytime a liner is inserted inside the old liner it is “downsized,” or smaller than the old liner.

The interior dimensions of the flue liner are critical to the operation of a fireplace or wood or gas appliance, and if too small or too large will not draft or function properly.

The International Residential Code indicates specific liner sizes which must be adhered to.

Unfortunately, not all chimney technicians have the equipment needed to remove tile flue liners, so it is important to check the liner size before it is installed.

The typical flue liner serving an open wood-burning fireplace should be 1/10th the size of the fireplace opening dimensions. In most cases, stainless steel will be the first, or only option offered due to its popularity.


Cast-in-Place or Ceramic Chimney Flue Liners

Cast-in-Place or Ceramic Chimney Flue Liners are the best, and consequently the most expensive liners available today.  Cast liners are listed or tested to U.L. 1777 Standards and for zero-clearance applications.

The benefits of this type of liner are that it can be sized exactly to the appliance it will be serving, can be used for multiple-flues in the same chimney, and actually strengthens the chimney.

Cast liners are installed by using a heavy rubber tube which is inflated inside the chimney.  A mix is poured around the tube and left to cure overnight. While the mix is poured it seeps into holes or cracks in the chimney which strengthens the structure. The next day, the tube is deflated and removed, leaving a hard, ceramic flue liner.

No matter what type of flue liner you decide to use, if you do not feel comfortable with the liner option offered by your chimney technician, get a second opinion.

Be sure to do your research on the company you take advice from and check their website for information on their years in business, methods of relining offered, and their training, certifications, and licensing.

For more details on each type of flue liner see my other articles on chimneys.com.


NFPA Level 2 Inspection and Cleaning

Hire a certified chimney inspector from Portland Fireplace and Chimney to perform an NFPA Level 2 inspection and cleaning on your fireplace and chimney. This is a 24 point inspection complete with photos of your system, a resultant condition report of your system and an estimate for repairs if there are any needed. Once the inspection is complete, you will know the exact status of your fireplace and chimney and can make an informed decision on the best course of action to have a safe and functioning fireplace for you and your family to enjoy.

Portland Fireplace and Chimney Inc. Commercial

Protect your home and investment with quality craftsmanship from Portland Fireplace and Chimney Inc. We take a “fix it right the first time” approach. Select an established chimney professional that knows the fireplace and chimney building and safety codes.

Are you looking for a reputable, locally owned company with a history of professional service and customer satisfaction? Portland Fireplace and Chimney Inc. provides outstanding service to thousands of customers every year. We have been serving the Portland-Vancouver area since 2007.

Portland Fireplace and Chimney Inc services the greater Portland metro area. We are your one stop shop contractor for everything fireplace. We start by performing NFPA 211 inspections and cleaning service. Then we take the time to educate you about the history of your home related to your fireplace. We provide the highest quality inspections by getting in the attic, crawlspace and taking at least 25-30 high resolution photos and a video camera inspection of the interior firewall as necessary. All to ensure your education of three vital aspects of a chimney in the PNW.

Signs your chimney needs cleaning

We do cleaning as part of a NFPA Level 2 24 point inspection complete with photos of your system, a resultant condition report of your system, and an estimate for repairs if there are any needed. This way you know the exact status and can make an informed decision regarding what is needed to be able to have a safe and functioning fireplace.

Call us today at 503-758-4710 to schedule a inspection and cleaning.