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SMOKE CHAMBERS AND SMOKTITE
by Michael A. Varney, CEO
I started sweeping chimneys in 1975 thoroughly convinced that the best defense against a chimney fire was a combination of good chimney maintenance and an educated consumer who used good burning techniques. My opinion today remains unchanged even though a whole new industry was born based on the lack of proper maintenance and uneducated consumers.
I abandoned the maintenance end of the business in 1980 and built a successful poured masonry lining/relining/ construction company. We ran four crews year round and continued relining thousands of chimneys through the '90s when we began vastly expanding our research and development. Ultimately, we ended up in the manufacturing business, with the help of Allan Barnes of Bradford, England, when we introduced our first product, Thermocrete.
As we have developed and improved our products over a period of several years, it came to our attention that a very important area was generally being overlooked by the industry: the smoke chamber. Over and over again in conversations with professional sweeps from across the country, we found the smoke chamber was a major area of concern. Improperly built, poorly functioning, misunderstood by the home owner and difficult to repair, the complaints were endless. Add to that the fact that it is not a visible danger and many homeowners balked at the prices being charged to make the necessary repairs. At trade shows and workshops sweeps approached us for ideas and help.
These requests, together with the interesting philosophies of a guy by the name of Ken Robinson, got me thinking. In my 30-something years in the fire service, I had never seen a structure fire as a result of a chimney fire in a lined chimney but I had seen many structure fires as a result of bad smoke chambers in "lined-to-code" chimneys. I checked with others in the fire service and it seemed to be a common problem - a dangerous problem - that was missed completely due to the generalized wording of the fire reporting system that developed the national statistics we all used.
Smoktite is a new highly insulative ceramic product that is sprayed on smoke chambers sealing holes and gaps and creating a coating that is impervious to acids, vapors, and water and it's good to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit! Smoktite was introduced to chimney professionals in the summer of 2002 and is now being used by hundreds of chimney professionals across the country.
The Smoktite system is not only easier than other options, but also lightweight and portable enough to be on every sweep's service truck. Smoktite can be used to seal, smooth and insulate a smoke chamber -- without removing the damper frame or adjacent brickwork. This is especially helpful for technicians installing stainless steel linings in fireplaces because Smoktite allows them to seal the bottom termination and the complete smoke chamber in one simple operation.
We started in this service industry reacting to the needs of the community. Because we knew there had to be a better, easier way, we started digging for information and knowledge, probing codes, talking to other professionals. To really be of service to our customers, we needed to be pro-active which drove us further into research and development. Then we had to find a way to share this knowledge with our colleagues. We are exceptionally pleased to have introduced a product that simplifies the work day of "the chimney guy". We worked hard to get it right. We tried to go the extra mile to help our chimney professionals educate their customers by including free literature with diagrams to explain the process. We are truly gratified to get calls and letters from these same tradesmen who just want to say "Thank you" or give us a pat on the back. Here's what some of them had to say:"
"Having cleaned, inspected and repaired over 12,000 fireplaces, I can say the #1 place I see structural fires [due to] masonry fireplaces is the smoke chamber. . . Until Smoktite, there really hasn't been a good way to get up into the chamber to fill voids, holes and breeches. We are so happy with Smoktite and the way it hardens, that we recently purchased our third system."
"We have found in several level one inspections, numerous [questionable] areas in these smoke chambers. The process of spraying Smoktite is …quick, simple and profitable . . . anything else is just a band-aid"
"We have found Smoktite to be an extremely valuable product for our repair crews . . . The spray gun applicator allows them to get into areas that were once difficult to reach . . . where we once had to remove portions of back firewalls . . . we have found that they are doing many more [restorations] than before."
"…a process that would take me the better part of the day, I can now accomplish completely in approximately a half an hour. . . I am glad I added [Smoktite] to my arsenal of tools, it has made my company more efficient and it is a great money maker."
"The Smoktite [system] has made my job a whole lot easier and will only increase my business. It is absolutely a wonderful product and easy to use."
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