Your home is inviting to all sorts of creatures — birds and other animals — during the spring. While many of us are eager to go outdoors after a historically cold winter, critters are looking to go inside. We can tell from tweets, social media posts and website search engines that homeowners have this problem.
This is why the Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that as part of your spring home inspection, a qualified professional certified through our organization can help you safely retrieve an animal (depending on your community’s laws). They can take steps to prevent others from returning, according to Ashley Eldridge, CSIA Director of Education.
Wild animals frequently mistake uncapped chimneys for hollow trees, and the inside of a chimney is not conducive to any easy escape. A dryer vent guard might have broken and you don’t realize there’s no cap to bar wildlife.
“The thought of one of those animals in those places probably hasn’t crossed your mind. But if you have heard those noises, please don’t ignore them,” Eldridge says.
What types of animal intruders will you face? Every region has slightly different challenges to consider.
Tim Smith, CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep with Chimney Sweeps of America in Lebanon, IN:
“Over the years we have encountered many different animals in chimneys and dryer vents. Birds, squirrels and raccoons are most common. Some of the stranger ones are owls, ducks, bats, flying squirrels and a very large black snake.”
Smith was called to a customer’s home about an animal in a fireplace. They had seen a tail going down in the ash dump, and the client said it looked like a snake. “I kind of laughed it off figuring it was likely a chipmunk or something. The ash pit door outside was at ground level and had rusted away, a real easy access for little critters.”
Smith grabbed his flashlight and stuck his head in the fireplace to have a look down in the ash pit.
“Much to my surprise, I saw about a 5-to-6 foot-long black snake coiled up. I’m not too keen of snakes but I poked at it with the fireplace poker, it slithered out the door and into the bushes.”
Smith installed a new door and cover.
One other anecdote from Smith about an animal encounter: He was at a customer’s home, opened the damper and “just then a squirrel jumped down, ran over me, around the room and then straight into the bathroom.” He went into the bathroom with a net and caught it.
Jay Walker, CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep with Jay Walker Enterprises, Tallahassee, FL:
The types of critters that Jay Walker has encountered in Florida chimneys include pigeons, wood ducks, squirrels, various birds, snakes, raccoons, and house cats! House cats and snakes are found because they were going after chimney swift babies in a nest.
Chimney swifts are birds that learned to nest and roost in chimneys and air shafts; these federally protected birds are the only birds that can fly up the chimney after they enter it.
In dryer ducts, Walker has encountered rats, squirrels, skunks, snakes and possums.
John Pilger, CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep with Chief Chimney Services in Smithtown, N.Y.:
A common discovery in his days doing animal retrieval were rodents or mice in the dryer vent and squirrels in the chimney flue.
There are two types of issues involved.
An active squirrel can cause a lot of damage. “Squirrels go crazy,” John says. They’ll make a beeline for the outdoors, injuring themselves when they run into glass or furniture.
A remedy can be two-fold. In the house, open a door or window and create a path for the creature to scurry from indoors to the outside. If you are not afraid of going up on your roof, you can lower a rope down the chimney that the squirrel can climb to go escape.
It’s important to not laugh off animal intrusion; animals will leave behind their droppings, a very real issue that can pose a health hazard when the chimney pulls air down … and when the flue is blocked, it can cause carbon monoxide poisoning or (for wood-burning fireplaces, smoke).
The CSIA recommends a chimney cap, which has a mesh covering that allows combustion gases to escape while it stymies animals’ efforts to get inside. The mesh may discourage creatures from entering but won’t prevent all animals from entry. The mesh size recommended in most parts of the U.S. is between 3/8th of an inch opening and 1/2 of an inch is recommended.
Regarding the access to dryer vents, CSIA recommends you replace a defective outside flap but DO NOT install any covering that might cause lint or debris to build up or be unable to be ejected from the duct-tube by the normal discharge of air resulting from the drying of clothes inside the dryer tub.
Here are ways to prevent animal intrusion:
*Use chimney caps with the appropriate mesh openings that allow combustion gases to escape while limiting animal entry. (This is also recommended also by theCanadian Wildlife Federation.)
*Use a top mount damper
*Close your damper (done from inside the home). Note: With fireplaces fitted with gas logs, the damper is required to be left open unless the gas log is vent free or vent less set.
*It is recommended that a knowledgeable technician holding the CCS credential (for chimney sweeps) and/or the C-DET or Dryer Exhaust Technician credential access the chimney during the annual inspection as to the ways to prevent the various creatures from entering the house.
Keep in mind that under absolutely no circumstances should you try to smoke an animal out of the chimney. The Humane Society says a trapped animal or babies too young to climb out may be killed. If the squirrel is not trapped, try to encourage him or her on their way with noise.
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