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The Inside Outside Guys ~ Inspect Your Chimney for Your Family’s Safety

From The Detroit News | By Ken Calverley and Chuck Breidenstein

DETROIT, August 24, 2023 ~ Cooler evenings and the smells of autumn inspire many of us to seek alternative heat sources in the home.

One such choice is to build a wood burning fire in the fireplace. But the National Fire Protection Association cautions us to proceed with care.

An additional warning comes from Jeremiah Campbell, owner of Brickworks Property Restoration in Macomb County. His observation is blunt, honest and to the point: We are intentionally building a live fire inside our home not realizing that 30% of house fires began as a cozy fire in the fireplace.

And 90% of these are triggered by a buildup of soot in the firebox, smoke chamber and chimney.


August 27, 2023 ~ Chuck “The Inside Guy” Breidenstein and Ken “The Outside Guy” Calverly offer the knowledge and resources you need to make the home of your dreams a reality. Catch them every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon on 760 WJR.


Soot is a black, powdery substance consisting largely of carbon produced by incomplete burning of organic matter like wood.

After the Great Fire of London, a building code change mandated smaller chimneys which made it ever more important to keep them clean.

In the absence of the modern tools and techniques used today, young boys were indentured to clean the flues with scrapers and brushes while their masters sold the soot piles to farmers for fertilizer and were known to occasionally light a torch under the boys to speed them up.

Thousands of lives are lost in the U.S. each year due to fires triggered by deteriorating masonry, including everything from improper construction to cracked flue liners, use of softwoods for fuel, creosote buildup and incomplete exhaust of the hot smoke and gases from the fires.

With the average age of a home in this country nearing the half-century mark, there is ample need for good inspection and repair services for homeowners.

Campbell has created a 10-point checklist for his trained field technicians to employ when inspecting a chimney that includes insertion of a camera in the chimney to look for failing and cracked tile.

This comprehensive inspection includes the camera scope earlier mentioned as well as a visual inspection of the exterior looking for visible cracks, delamination, gaps and general deterioration.

The cap and crown are examined for proper slope, cracks and any signs that water may be allowed to leak into the assembly.

Water, whether from wet brick outside or a leak from the top inside, can cause damage over time as the freeze/thaw cycles of our climate tear the structure apart.

Also included is looking to ensure proper clearance from combustibles like wood siding and examination of the smoke chamber and damper where creosote typically builds up and function is lost to rust and decay.

Another point of failure often discovered during the exam is where the masonry construction penetrates the roof. The gap between chimney and roof frame should be “bridged” by mechanical step flashings and ringlet counterflashing let into the masonry, but many older homes simply depend on the application of roofing tars to seal the joint, and these will predictably fail.

The firebox itself can be a point of concern and contribute to failure, so Campbell’s experts examine the firebox and fireplace for gaps and cracks, excessive soot, and missing or broken bricks.

These issues and others can also affect draft, which can contribute to back drafting of the exhaust smoke into the home, a phenomenon many have experienced.

The team like the one from Brickworks can professionally clean and repair chimneys, including installation of a proprietary lining system to help restore old and damaged liners. If you are contemplating enjoying the benefits of a solid fuel fire this fall, or if you have retrofitted a gas burning device to your existing masonry chimney, the Guys strongly suggest a call to professionals and ask them to take a look at your chimney.

Like most true construction professionals, they can be found at InsideOutsideGuys.com.


For housing advice and more, listen to “The Inside Outside Guys” every Saturday and Sunday on 760 WJR from 10 a.m. to noon, or contact them at InsideOutsideGuys.com.