HVAC cleaning technicians wear many hats besides those of mere chimney sweeps and air duct cleaners. They're also adept cell-phone retrievers (air ducts), daring rooftop climbers (dryer vents, chimneys), and often, animal control. Because of the warmth generated by various HVAC components, animals frequently seek shelter within, often with a not-so-favorable outcome for either the animal or the system involved. Sensitive readers may want to skip this article (but before you go, rest assured the service involving the squirrel babies below had a happy outcome).
Case Study #1: Baby Squirrels Around the Furnace Flue
The image above was taken by one of our technicians who was called to install a chimney cap on a furnace flue. When he reached the top of the ladder and was about to peer down, a female squirrel came bounding out of the chimney, startling him. When he gazed down into the chimney, he saw the reason for her frenzy: three tiny furless bundles, huddled together next to the warmth of the furnace flue.
Squirrels have a talent for building platforms made out of sticks and other debris, inside chimneys. In this house, a new flue had been fashioned to run up through the middle of an old, unused chimney from an octopus furnace. The squirrel mother had chosen prime real estate for her brood: within the chimney but outside of the main flue, close enough to the heat source to enjoy its warmth, but not so close that it would ignite.
The sight of the babies melted our technician's heart, as well as that of the homeowner. Animal control was called, and the nest and squirrels were transported safely to another location. The old flue and the new flue were covered and capped to prevent further animal intrusion.
Case Study #2: Duck (dead) in the Fireplace Flue
Sometimes the first (unfortunate) indication that a homeowner has an animal stuck in their fireplace flue is a rancid smell emanating from the firebox, which was the case here. After arriving at the property and inspecting the fireplace, the technician diagnosed the problem as a dead animal on the smoke shelf. Located in the chimney throat, behind the damper, the smoke shelf can be a difficult area to access. Our technician donned rubber gloves and reached over the damper but could not reach the animal. He then used a powerful vacuum hose to lift it from the smoke shelf, at which point he was able to reach it and pull it out from behind the damper. Once the duck was removed, he ran the vacuum hose several time across the length of the smoke shelf to ensure no debris or feces remained behind. He then swept the rest of the chimney and finished it off on top with the installation of a chimney cap.
Case Study #3: Mother of All Squirrels' Nests in the Fireplace Flue
In this case, after a homeowner removed a squirrel from their fireplace, our technician was summoned to place a cap on the fireplace flue to prevent a recurrence. When our technician climbed to the rooftop and peered down into the chimney, he observed a dense collection of sticks and leaves completely obstructing the flue. He informed the homeowners that had they lit a fire in their fireplace, they would have smoked their house out, which is to say that the nest obstruction would have prevented the smoke from exiting their house through the chimney, leaving it nowhere to go but inside the house.
To clear the obstruction, our technician aggressively pushed a chimney cleaning brush up through the nest and pulled down, repeating a few times until the debris fell in a large pile into the firebox, from where it was removed. He then swept the rest of the flue with wire-bristled brushes. The firebox and smokeshelf were thoroughly vacuumed to remove any remaining debris. As is customary, the final step in any chimney cleaning process--especially if animal intrusion is involved--is to install a chimney cap to prevent re-entry. In this case, the homeowner elected to have their furnace flue capped as well, since a clogged furnace flue can result in carbon monoxide backing up into the home.
Every Flue Needs a Cap!
The common thread in all of these cases, of course, is an uncapped flue or uncovered chimney. Chimney caps and covers are sold, or can be custom-made, in any shape or size and a huge variety of materials, such that no flue can excusably be left uncovered. A chimney without a cap is essentially a hole in your roof. It is a lot less expensive and much less trouble to simply cover a flue than to wrestle with the fallout from a deceased and decaying animal, an obstruction in the form of a nest, or the risk of fumes backing up into the home because of a clogged utility flue.
Ready to cover that hole in your roof by installing a chimney cap?
Many thanks to our technicians Ben S and Roy S for lending their expertise and contributing photos for this article.