By Valerie Tucker

According to the 2019 National Fire Protection Association’s ( Standard 211, “Chimneys, fireplaces and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance and repairs shall be done if necessary.”

Even if homeowners don’t use their chimneys often, birds and squirrels build nests and other types of matter can block the flue.

Homeowners can find experts who build and repair chimneys, sell and install wood and pellet stoves and deliver wood to provide the heat. Sometimes the chimney needs more than sweeping, said Jay Leland, owner of Sidney-based Leland’s Masonry. He started doing masonry in his teens, and with more than two decades of experience, he and his team have faced nearly every type of chimney building, maintenance and repair challenge. This time of year is always busy.

“Usually, I get a call after something has happened,” he said.

That first chimney inspection can require some complicated detective work, he said. For example, an older but well-built and lined chimney might only need some repointing, which is the process of replacing deteriorating mortar between the bricks or stones. Aged flashing, which seals the chimney where it exits the roof, also can loosen and deteriorate and allow water to leak in. Leland said some seemingly insignificant cracks, holes and leaks are a warning sign of a failing chimney that could lead to a devastating house fire.

“I always inspect the mortar for holes or deterioration, the liner for cracks or other damage, and I check the flashing around the chimney and the roof,” Leland said. “I can usually tell whether the chimney has been maintained properly and if it needs some basic work or if it’s time to replace part or all of it.”

James Haskell and Mark Pearson, co-owners of J & M Logging in Augusta, have supplied firewood for customers in central Maine for more than two decades. Mark’s wife Laurie said her office phone has been ringing steadily as the nights get chillier and shorter. The company is working long days to fill orders as fast as they come in.

“We sell split green and seasoned wood and ash in lengths from 15 to 23 inches,” she said. “That’s all year-round, but this time of year is especially busy.”

Last year’s winter season started in October, she said. Later, logging contractors faced a combination of deeper snow than usual and a warmer and wetter spring, which severely limited the available supply for everyone.

“Last year, we had the winter that never ended, so everyone wants to be ready in advance for this one,” she said.

Standard wood stoves and pellet stoves have become more efficient and affordable. Becky and Wayne Tibbetts, owners of Somerset Stone & Stove in Oakland, sell both types of stoves. The company also cleans and services stoves and sells premium softwood pellets and stove accessories.

“We care about the safety of our customers, which is why we’ve extended our services to include licensed chimney cleaning and inspection services,” Wayne Tibbetts said.

Rocky’s Stove Shoppe & Chimney Services on Route 3 in Augusta also provides chimney cleaning and inspections by National Fireplace Institute-certified technicians, said co-owner Ashley Goslin.

“Creosote (unburned residue) can stick to the inside of the chimney, and that can catch fire,” she said.

Creosote buildup is tied to the firewood’s density and water content.

Andrew Allen, owner of A. W. Allen Firewood in Farmingdale, said that the denser and drier the firewood, the better it will burn and the more heat it will produce. Hardwoods generally make better firewood than softwoods. Since a tree can have up to 50 percent moisture, burning green wood wastes money, creates creosote and provides inadequate heat.

“If you see moisture coming from the end grain, your wood is still wet,” he said.

Seasoned wood has less moisture because it has been cut and covered to air dry for at least six months. Kiln-dried firewood, even though it’s more expensive than seasoned, is still less costly than oil.

Firewood Suppliers:

A.W. Allen Firewood, 156 Maple Street, Farmingdale; 623-6002.

J & M Logging, 853 Civic Center Drive, Augusta; 622-6353.

Chimney Cleaning, Wood & Pellet Stove Sales, Installation & Service:

Rocky’s Stove Shoppe & Chimney Services, Route 3, Augusta; 622-3410.

Somerset Stone & Stove, 1078 Kennedy Memorial Drive, Oakland; 465-9800.

Chimney Construction & Repair:

Leland’s Masonry, Sidney; 272-6161.