Musings from Quince

Chim-Chiminy….Fun at Home, not really!

Well, well…..just when I was ready to get serious about a few decorating tips, something came up over the last several days which I feel compelled to write about!  Those of us who live in houses, whether owned or rented, indeed are aware that on occasion, certain types of unpleasantries must be dealt with in a timely fashion or else the situation at hand will only worsen, requiring even more $$ and time to correct.  I think it was 5 days ago that sounds began emanating from the fireplace in my dining room.  The damper is always closed, of course, but it sounded like a critter or 2 had found a way to get right down to the grate at the bottom.  My 3 cats were all sitting in a row, right under the damper, staring in wonderment, waiting for something to somehow fly or run out; a couple of days later, a rather nasty odor, downright gross, began to fill the dining area, and I surmised something must be (there’s no delicate way to say this) dead in the chimney.  Ugh….with temps. in the high 90’s you can imagine my dismay….I checked out the basement to make sure it wasn’t the source (no problem) and then noticed outside that a few maple tree branches had grown quite a bit and were now hovering over part of  the roof, providing a natural springboard for critters to use as they scampered about from branch to branch.

Mr. Chimney Sweep, c.1910

Per usual, things like this usually happen at the very end of a work week, or during a holiday weekend, so I figured I’d call my chimney sweep on Sunday to set up a Monday appt.  In the meantime, I solicited advice from an assortment of friends and family on what they would do.  ALL of the male species told me to just open the grate, let the dead whatever fall out, and dispose of it.  Are you kidding me????  Look, I can set a mouse trap with the best of them, and even dispose the mouse & trap when I have to (this acquired skill took me quite awhile to master), but I draw the line on this one. Molted snake skins don’t freak me out either, but this is something I just will not do….I also note that none of the men volunteered to come over and take care of this for me!  All the gals said….”Chimney sweep, of course!”

So, I started calling my chimney sweep, (who henceforth shall be known as “Tim”) and finally reached him.  I could hear the lack of enthusiasm in his voice once I told him what I needed help with, but I guess he could hear the state of desperation in my voice….he rearranged his day and showed up this morning…..the stench at this point was nauseating, and he immediately identified the smell as that of a decomposing squirrel…great…I’ll spare you the goriest of details, but I am forever indebted to Tim for “getting things taken care of”!  He admitted this was the worst part of his job and had a few stories to tell about similar situations (again, I’ll spare you the gory details).

I know it seems hard to believe at this point, but the days of frosty mornings and chilly nights are less than 3 months away, so you want to be  totally prepared to participate in the delights of a wood-burning fireplace.  I recommend the following:

1) Make sure all chimneys are capped.  These caps can be installed from the outside, for about $275 in about 15 minutes, and they last a lifetime! (Mine is being installed as soon as the parts come in).

2) Keep dampers closed when chimney not in use.

3) Find a reliable chimney sweep for fireplace maintenance – you’d be surprised at what can collect (creosote, etc.) along the walls of the flue during a typical winter season. 

4) Keep tree branches trimmed away from all rooftops to prevent a fire hazard, and to discourage critters from scampering over your rooftops, potentially creating problems!

Thank God for Tim!

Tim, Chimney Sweep, 2010

I’d just like to say how happy I am that there are people out there to take care of things like this!  Now, if I could only get rid of the orange-vanilla room deodorizer (this is what they use) permeating every square inch of my house….time to turn on the attic fan and let it go crazy!

About 12 years ago, when I lived on/near UVA grounds, the damper of my chimney got stuck and I had to call the fire department…..4 fire trucks showed up en masse after what seemed like an eternity, completely blocking off the residential circle I lived on. The house had completely filled with smoke and I was starting to panic….one of the firemen walked up my driveway in full garb carrying an axe, prepared for most anything!  Even he had a hard time unjamming the grate….it was in December, freezing cold, and we had to open all the windows while the giant fans blew out the smoke.  I remember at one point I had about 6 firemen standing in my living room – one of them was a gal, and she and I started talking about the Christmas wreath I had hung over the fireplace mantel! Imagine that!  Even then there was an opportunity to discuss home aesthetics with another professional.
Well, I’m anxious to hear if any of my readers have had similar experiences with their fireplaces.  I really love those comments, so keep them coming!

7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I am glad the drama is over. Now I am worried about my chimney!!

Comment by Jamey

If you hear strange sounds coming from your chimney, DON’T open the damper! I’ll send Tim over!

Comment by sharonmanering

Where on EARTH do I begin?
The truth be told, I was disappointed to find photos only featuring Tim. He looks like a nice enough masked man, but I’d have preferred a pic of the kitty line-up. Perhaps by that point even they were hiding under the covers wearing one of those funny masks?
Anyway, I find men who do this type of work so incredibly brave and sexy. Between chimney sweeps, divers who go in to hideous bodies of water to help rescue people and firemen who are called by a home aesthetician who has forgotten to check if the damper is stuck before lighting her kindling …..well, the rest of mankind can just get BEHIND those with a Y chromosome and a diving mask, fire/gas mask or that cute little flimsy paper thing Tim wore which NO WAY IN HELL could mask (no pun intended) the smell of that corpse. You made me laugh. Again. XOXOX

Comment by 50andfeisty

Hey, I’m definitely with you on the brave part, not so sure about the sexy part….I did, however, when I was in college, date a firefighter who was so hot he absolutely smoldered…oh, excuse me…back on track…if the guy who serviced my chimney at my previous home had left the damper OPEN like he found it (yes, I assumed it was open, as it had been open for years)I wouldn’t have had half the Cville Fire Dept. hanging out in my living room! Lesson: always be sure to check damper status BEFORE lighting super-saturated kindling from Plow & Hearth!!!

Comment by sharonmanering

Ah, such fond memories of home invading creatures both alive and dead. Flying squirrels rolling nuts around in the attic all night, mice scurrying up and down the inside of the walls, munching wires and insulation, petrified pets found years later: lizards and turtles like little dried sculptures. We even had a huge owl come down our chimney. He got soot all over the place and came to rest on a curtain valance. The net we made of my sisters crinoline skirt, coat hangers , a broom stick and friction tape lasted just long enough to get the thing to the door before the talons tore through. Both my sister and the bird were pissed. A maggoty possum in the tool cabinet one August was really nasty and the dead rat in the heat ducts was another winner. It took weeks for the odor to go away. Thanks for the memories Tweety. Vicks under your upper lip really does not work. SAB

Comment by Stewart Brown

Nothing like an articulate brother-in-law to dredge up stories of the past…thanks, Stewie!

Comment by sharonmanering


I am surprised that the animal-rights activists are not picketing your house….
I looked on Fox and the other networks to ensure all was safe for you.
Better resolution for this problem next time, is to invite them out with Biscotti and fruit juice or a soothing Latte rather than having some Neanderthal types chasing them down.
Chip & Dale will certainly appreciate the softer touch next time.

All the Best,

Kona Dog

Comment by Kona Bertolami

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