Summer Chimney Maintenance

All chimneys need maintenance and summer is the best time to do these tasks before the busy fall season arrives. Many problems can be avoided or mitigated before they become serious and expensive repair issues.  Here’s some of the most common issues to look for.

Bricks or stones spalling or flaking off. Masonry chimney exteriors take a beating during the winter months by exposure to harsh weather, and can have noticeable damage by springtime. Rain year-round does not help the issue. If you see spalling or flaking bricks, or find pieces of brick on your roof or yard, this is an indication that the bricks have been saturated with water, and subjected to freeze/thaw cycles. Soft type bricks, which are commonly used by masons are more susceptible to water penetration than hard type bricks and may show significant damage in just a few years. Deteriorated or missing mortar joints also need to be addressed in order to prevent water from entering the inside of the chimney where it can cause further damage.

Sooty smell or bad odors coming from the fireplace. Have the chimney cleaned by a professional chimney sweep to remove smelly, flammable creosote. Spring is the best time to get a sweep out quickly. Note: if you suspect that there are dead animals in the chimney call an animal removal expert first, and then call a chimney sweep. The sweep may also offer a deodorizer for the chimney.

Leaking inside the house around the chimney, or walls and ceilings near the chimney. This is usually a flashing problem that can be corrected by installing new J and Counter flashing around the chimney and/or sealing it with silicone, however, sometimes cracks or holes in mortar can cause leaking as well.

Rusting, metal crown on prefabricated chimney, water inside the chimney chase or firebox rusting. Have a new metal crown made with breaks in the corners to the center to encourage water runoff. These are all custom-made and measurements must be taken first. Make sure the proper flashing and ran cap are installed. Do not use different manufacturer parts – to do so can be a fire hazard.

Masonry chimney crowns crack, deteriorate, and lift from the top row of bricks due to exposure to weather, expansion from heat, or improper installation. The cement crown is the primary part of the chimney that keeps water out of the flue, firebox, and damper where moisture can cause mortar joints to deteriorate and dampers and metal fireboxes to rust.

For more information, visit our website at

Grilling Safety Tips

With another holiday here, there will be hundreds of thousands enjoying an outdoor cookout.  Here are a few safety tips to make sure you avoid any disaster while grilling.

General grilling tips

  • Propane and charcoal BBQ grills should only be used outdoors.
  • The grill should be placed well away from the home, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Keep children and pets away from the grill area.
  • Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill.
  • Never leave your grill unattended.

Propane grills
Before you use your grill for the first time each year, be sure it’s in working order and ready to use. A few simple guidelines can help:

  • Check the major connection points between the gas (propane) tank hose and the regulator and cylinder, and where the hose connects to the burners. Tighten if loose.
  • Check the gas (propane) tank hose for the potential (gas) leaks. To do that:
  • Turn the propane tank on. Apply a light soap and water solution to the hose using a brush or spray bottle. If there is a gas leak, the propane will release bubbles around the hose (big enough to see).
  • Once you’ve determined your grill has a gas leak by smell or by administering the soapy bubble test and there is no flame, turn off the gas tank and burners. If the leak stops at that point, get the grill serviced by a professional before using it again. If the leak doesn’t stop, call the fire department immediately.
  • If you smell gas while cooking, move away from the grill and call the fire department immediately. Do not move the grill.

Charcoal grills

  • There are several ways to get the charcoal ready to use. Charcoal chimney starters allow you to start the charcoal using newspaper as a fuel.
  • If you use a starter fluid, use only charcoal starter fluid. Never add charcoal fluid or any other flammable liquids to the fire.
  • Keep charcoal fluid out of the reach of children and away from heat sources.
  • There are also electric charcoal starters, which do not use fire. Be sure to use an extension cord for outdoor use.
  • When you are finished grilling, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container.

Smoke Damage in Penn Valley PA

DSCN2116A customer in Penn Valley Pennsylvania purchased a new oven from a big box store and had them install it.  The delivery men installed the oven, and then proceeded to turn it on while instructing the home owner to allow the oven to run for a half hour prior to turning it off.  As she signed all of the papers and watched them leave her house, smoke began to fill her kitchen.  She immediately turned off the oven and noticed that the men who installed it, never took out the plastic out from the inside.  This caused the home not only to be filled with smoke, but also have a strong odor of burnt plastic.  In the photo,the cabinet looks clean and without any damage, but as the dry sponge shows, the a thin residue was built up on the cabinets and surrounding walls.

Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar – Part 1

Apple cider vinegar is said to be a natural remedy for many ailments. In 400 B.C.E Hippocrates (the father of modern medicine) knew about apple cider vinegar’s antibiotic properties and recommended it to his patients for its healing properties. Since then it’s been valued by many cultures right up to modern times.

Apple cider vinegar has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. Among the ailments it’s said to cure are allergies, acne, high cholesterol, joint pain, weight loss, rheumatism, arthritis, gout, dandruff, chronic fatique, candida, sore throat, gum infection, sinus infection, flu, acid reflux, leg cramps and ear infections. It’s also used to help dissolve kidney stones, lower high blood pressure, and it’s also been shown to help with type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity.

Even though vinegar is acidic, when we take apple cider vinegar it has an alkaline effect in our bodies. The fact that apple cider vinegar causes our pH levels to become more alkaline could play a large part in it’s curative properties. It also reacts to some toxins in our bodies, converting them into less toxic substances. Our bodies need a slightly alkaline pH balance to be healthy. The typical Western diet creates an acidic pH in our bodies, and many health problems are attributed to this. Taking a tonic containing apple cider vinegar can help restore alkalinity, and therefore assist the body in getting rid of some of the health problems listed above.

Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar – Part 2

In researching the health benefits of apple cider vinegar I’ve found a lot of anecdotal evidence – stories from people of the beneficial effects of taking apple cider vinegar. There isn’t scientific evidence to back up all of these claims, but of course unless the studies have been done there won’t be. Lack of scientific evidence doesn’t imply that it doesn’t work.

There was at least one study done on the effects of apple cider vinegar which used acetic acid – the acid component of vinegars. Now, I’d argue that apple cider vinegar is more than just acetic acid. In fact, apple cider vinegar consists of both malic acid and acetic acid. Being made from apples it would also contain pectin, as well as potassium, which promotes cell and tissue growth. Apple cider vinegar also contains almost all the minerals, vitamins and trace elements that our bodies need. Which leads me to suspect that some of the studies that are being done are fairly worthless exercises in determining the value of apple cider vinegar if they aren’t actually using apple cider vinegar in the study.

Because science allows us to break things down into their component parts in order to understand how things work, I think too often scientists only see things as their component parts, missing the whole concept of the synergy found in nature. Everything has the potential to be more than the sum of its parts.

Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar – Part 3

The health benefits of apple cider vinegar will vary depending on the ingredients and process used in making it. Commercial production can use wood shavings, and other vinegars as the base (speeding fermentation), changing the makeup of the end product. You’ll get the greatest health benefits from apple cider vinegar that is made from organic apples, fermented using traditional methods, raw (unpasteurised) and unfiltered. If you can’t find good quality apple cider vinegar you could try making your own. This apple cider vinegar recipe has recipes for two methods of production. The one which uses whole apples will be of better quality for medicinal purposes, the one using scraps is quicker to make. You could make both so that you have something to use sooner while you wait for the whole apple batch to ferment.

Be sure to avoid taking apple cider vinegar neat (undiluted) as it eats away at tooth enamel and can cause burns to the sensitive tissues in your mouth and throat. There have also been reports of apple cider vinegar supplements (in capsule form) causing permanent tissue damage of the esophagus. So use apple cider vinegar in liquid form, diluted with water.

A simple tonic can be made from 1-2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey in a cup of warm water.

For more information, visit our website at

Mold Allergy


Like any allergy, mold allergy symptoms are triggered by an overly sensitive immune system response. When you inhale tiny, airborne mold spores, your body recognizes them as foreign invaders and develops allergy-causing antibodies to fight them. After the exposure has passed, you still produce antibodies that “remember” this invader, so that any later contact with the mold causes your immune system to react. This reaction triggers the release of substances such as histamine, which cause itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing and other mold allergy symptoms. Molds are very common both inside and outside. There are many types, but only certain kinds of mold cause allergies. Being allergic to one type of mold doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be allergic to another. Some of the most common molds that cause allergies include alternaria, aspergillus, cladosporium and penicillium.

When It’s Not An Allergy

Although a mold allergy is the most common problem caused by exposure to mold, mold can cause illness without an allergic reaction. Mold can also cause infections or irritant and toxic reactions. Infections caused by mold can lead to a variety of problems from flu-like symptoms to skin infections and even pneumonia.

An irritant reaction is caused when substances from molds called volatile organic compounds irritate the mucous membranes in the body. Symptoms of an irritant reaction are similar to an allergy and include eye irritation, runny nose, cough, hoarseness, headache and skin irritation.

Risk Factors

A number of factors can make you more likely to develop a mold allergy, or worsen your existing mold allergy symptoms, including:

  • Having a family history of allergies. If allergies and asthma run in your family, you’re more likely to develop a mold allergy.
  • Working in an occupation that exposes you to mold.Occupations where mold exposure may be high include farming, dairy work, logging, baking, millwork, carpentry, greenhouse work, winemaking and furniture repair.
  • Living in a house with high humidity. If your indoor humidity is higher than 60 percent, you may have increased exposure to mold in your home. Mold can grow virtually anywhere if the conditions are right — in basements, behind walls in framing, on soap-coated grout and other damp surfaces, in carpet pads, and in the carpet itself. Exposure to high levels of household mold may trigger mold allergy symptoms.
  • Working or living in a building that’s been exposed to excess moisture. Examples include leaky pipes, water seepage during rainstorms and flood damage. At some point, nearly every building has some kind of excessive moisture. This moisture can allow mold to flourish.
  • Living in a house with poor ventilation. Tight window and door seals may trap moisture indoors and prevent proper ventilation, creating ideal conditions for mold growth. Damp areas, such as bathrooms, kitchens and basements, are most vulnerable.

For more information, visit our website at

Pre-Purchase Mold Inspections

So, you’re ready to purchase a new home and you want to make sure that everything is fine prior to settlement.  You hired a home inspector, radon inspector, exterminator to check for termites and even went so far to hire a roofer to make sure the shingled roof is water tight.  But what about the possibility of mold?  Most realtors will never bring up a mold issue, and most will also explain that in all of their years in the business, they never had a mold inspection.  But why not?  Because when a mold inspector enters the home, it could easily jeopardize the sale if the test comes back positive.  Let’s face it, people put too much trust in realtors and forget that they work on commission the same way that waitresses and bartenders do, but you wouldn’t normally take financial advice from a waitress just because she smiles when she asks you if there’s anything you need, right?  So why would you put all of your trust into a realtor whose main objective is to sell homes for the commission?

Now it’s not to say that all realtors will mislead you, because I have done business with some that go way beyond their responsibilities for their clients to insure that they are protected.  But most realtors loathe the fact that their client has contacted a mold inspector to check a home, especially if their the listing agent. An inexpensive mold test could potentially save you thousands of dollars if mold is discovered.  If there’s no evidence of mold in the property, it’s not a waste of money, but rather piece of mind to know that the air you’re breathing is safe, and there isn’t an underlying problem which will cost you money down the road.  If you are buying a new home, you should seriously consider a mold test to protect yourself against costly remediation after you moved in.

Pollen Counts


Hundreds of thousands of people suffer from hay fever, and this season is shaping up to be one of the worst in years. The late spring has compressed the season, and there’s been little rain to wash the pollen out of the air. Tree pollen is very large and very obvious, but wild bluegrass and other turf grasses are blooming as well, which is contributing to this mega-tsunami of pollen.  Last Thursday, the tree pollen count was very high — 4,852 grains per cubic mete. Grass, mold, weed and ragweed counts were absent. Very high pollen levels — greater than 1,500 grains per cubic meter — tend to affect most people who suffer from the pollen types that are in season. Symptoms may become more severe during days with high pollen levels.

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, roughly 7.8 percent of people 18 and over in the U.S. have hay fever. All told, 35 million Americans suffer from hay fever, which stems from pollen released into the air by trees, plants and grasses. If pollen is inhaled by someone with allergies, the person’s immune system mistakenly kicks in to fight what it perceives as foreign antibodies. As a result, the immune system releases histamines into the blood, causing sniffling, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose and other common allergy symptoms. Hay fever also triggers asthma attacks, and if your allergy symptoms become increasingly severe, be sure to contact your physician to see if you’re at greater risk of getting asthma or an asthma attack.

•Minimize outdoor activity when pollen counts are high. Peak pollen times are usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

•Shut windows in your house on days when pollen counts are high. Avoid using window fans that may draw pollen inside. Vacuum at least twice a week. Shut car windows.

•Dry laundry indoors. Sheets hanging on an outside line are an easy target for blowing pollen.

•When mowing the lawn or gardening, wear a filter mask.

•Take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes after you go outside.

•Take over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, nasal spray or eye drops.

•If these actions do not help, people with allergy symptoms should consult a physician to see if they need to see a specialist or need prescription-strength medicine.