Two years ago, as I was recovering from a bad fall, I created a Black Duck Chimney Facebook and Instagram page. I was reluctant to take this step because I knew what was involved in maintaining a social media site and the pitfalls that come along with the territory. However, I quickly realized the power of social media for advertising and communication. I was interacting with people that use the platforms as their primary communication tool. Messenger makes it quick and easy to answer questions, while picture posts of jobs shows many new people our capabilities. I also realized that as long as I held up my end of the bargain and offer quality products and services, the negative feedback issue can be muted. In fact, your followers become your cheerleaders for new work. This new form of interaction does not replace strong interpersonal relationships though. It can get you the lead and help with communication, but it cannot help with those bonds that are forged with time spent together. There is little more rewarding than returning to a customers house for the 10th year in a row and helping them get set up for another year of burning. It is those kinds of relationships that I try to create with my customers. Social media is here to stay, and the experiment is just beginning. I am excited and a little fearful to see where it is headed, but I know that face to face is still the best way to communicate. So log off, and go do more things that make you forget to check social media!
We have started a challenge in our household to purchase as many things as we can that are made in the USA.
This is not a political statement or a effort to create jobs, but rather a realization that when we buy a
quality product it lasts longer. This started for me with tools. Once I was using tools on a daily basis
to make a living, I quickly found out that Chinese stuff seems to break at the least opportune time.
Sometimes it just looses effectiveness gradually and the quality of my work suffers as a result. So, to
give my customers the highest quality work, I had to buy the highest quality tools. I started with Wiss
metal shears, and Milwaukee power tools (even though most of them are made overseas now). Then I replaced
my imported $150 MIG welder with a $1000 Miller-matic. It is a night and day difference. My welds are cleaner
stronger, and require less rework. The set-up time is significantly reduced because of a well engineered
tool. Even if we can't buy American, we try to buy quality. This is the "buy once, cry once" philosophy.
German chimney brushes, Duluth work clothes, Canadian wood stoves and chimney, and even a French goggle
and snorkel set. What we have concluded is that manufacturing is not the issue because even the Chinese
getting pretty good at it-see your iPad or iPhone as evidence. It is the design (including material selection)
that makes or breaks a products quality. Good design is hard and requires talented and creative people to
do it. Good design is also 99% invisible (which is a great podcast BTW) meaning that you never notice the
good designs because they just work like they are intended. Think electrical power distribution, UPS & FEDEX,
and your iPad. My seven year old daughter can run most functions on an iPad because the design is so
instinctive that it does not require much thought. To her, the design is invisible, the device just does
she wants it to do.
Not all things "Made in the USA" are of better quaity either. Even on our shores, a bad design will make a
bad product. Even a good design with a bad execution in manufacuring will make a bad product. It seems to
come down to this: if all activities done with excellence and pride of workmanship, quality results. The
motivation has to be more than making a dollar to achieve excellence. There has to be a bigger purpose.
These are the things I try to consider as I venture into some minor fabrication/manufacturing with
Black Duck Chimney. Lately, I have been making a lot of custom fireplace doors. I have been trying to use
the principles of good design, good materials, and consistent execution of the process. The result is a
product that fits into the intended environment, works as it should, and lasts a long time. I also hope that
people can see, through my workmanship, that I serve a bigger purpose. I want to build a strong business, not
just make a quick buck. I want to model strong work ethic for my children. I want to leave a legacy in my
community. I want to honor my God with the work of my hands. These bigger purposes are what make a better
product, and I think we lose much of that when we only shop based on price.
The propane companies hate me. I came to this realization a few months back when a customer was telling me how they were now being charged for tank rental because they weren't buying enough propane. They went from buying 1500 gallons of LPG a year to about 500. I don't fault the propane companies, they need to make a living too, and they can't have tanks all over West Michigan and only fill them once per year. The point of this post is that there are significant savings to be had heating with wood or pellets. The customer mentioned above is saving about $2,000 per year, every year, in fuel cost - even with the tank rental fee. For most installations, that is around a 1.5 year payback. There are not many other energy saving projects (at any cost) that have that kind of return. If you heat with propane, you should seriously consider a wood or pellet stove. New stoves are clean, efficient, safe, reliable (even in a power outage), and charming. There is no denying that wood heat is a "different kind of heat". My wife told me this morning, as we were watching the snow disappear and the drizzle come down, that she liked it better when it was 10 degrees, snowing sideways, and a roaring fire in the stove. Winter becomes a lot more tolerable when it is 76 degrees in your favorite reading spot. What are you waiting for? The in-home consultation and estimate are free of charge. Call today - 269-686-9321
I have not posted anything in quite a while. This is a good thing, because it means I am doing things that are actually profitable. Black Duck has had another growth year, and we are excited to have met the goals that we set for ourselves. The year did not come without challenges, but we met them head on. The growth was not only in our sales revenue, but also in our knowledge of the industry, procedures, and experience. We are leaner, more efficient, producing better quality product and service, and are delivering an all around better experience for our customers. We feel like we are hitting a stride, and are satisfied in the decisions we made that brought us to be business owners.
Profit comes in many forms. Monetary forms of course, but also contentment in your vocation, satisfaction that comes with serving others by providing valuable products and service, gathering of knowledge and skill just to name a few. I believe that every business exist to make a profit - this is capitalism at the core. However, it makes the whole journey more fun when you focus on serving others, and the dollars take care of themselves.
So, in this Holy Season, don't forget the words of Christ, "What does it profit you to gain the whole world, but forfeit your soul." Focus on things that matter, and you will be profitable. Our bank account will not be of much significance when we see Christ.
Water seems to be everywhere this time of year. There is the soggy ground from the snow melting, April showers pushing those May flowers, swollen rivers, and the general dampness that permeates this season. Being the weird chimney guy that I am, I usually relate things back to what I think about for 10 hours a day – chimney’s hate water. I am talking about masonry chimneys of course. There are 5 main ways that water hurts chimneys:
1. They are hard to flash around when roofing. Because chimneys are plumb to the world, and most roofs are not, water runs down the roof and into the side of the chimney. If you flashing is intact, it will simply run around the chimney and off the roof. If your flashing is compromised, it is anybody’s guess where the water will end up. Flashing should be inspected every year for damaged or dried up caulk. A chimney cricket (the cutest name in construction!) can be built to divert water around the chimney. This is the best type of remedy. You have to think like water.
2. Rain, freeze, thaw, repeat. You will see brick faces start to pop off and you will find them in your yard. Masonry products are very porous and they absorb water easily. If your brick faces are saturated and then it freezes, your chimney will soon look like the surface of M-222. Chim-Saver water proofing is the best fix for this problem. It is an ionizing water repellent that is warranted for 10 years. It is different than a sealant (ie Thompson’s) in that it breathes and lets moisture out, but repels it from going in. It is very cool stuff.
3. Inside-out. Rain falling into a chimney will eat away mortar from the inside out. The rain water mixes with the sulfur in the creosote and makes sulfuric acid. By the time it is noticed on the exterior of the chimney, the mortar is gone. Your chimney is a big pile of bricks with nothing holding it together. Every chimney should have a chimney cap – period.
4. Inside-out part 2. Many chimneys are built with multiple flues. One or two for fireplaces, one or two for furnaces, hot water heaters, etc. When a natural gas or propane appliance is vented into a masonry chimney, it is only a matter of years before the chimney will be destroyed. It is much like the rain problem described above because one of the bi-products of burning gas is water. When your furnace is running, the inside of your chimney will be dripping wet from condensation. An aluminum liner is a must for a gas appliance vented into a brick chimney.
5. Unseasoned wood. Wood should be dried to 15-20% moisture content. When the MC is higher, you lose a lot of energy turning water to steam, and then the steam turns back to water inside your chimney and brings a lot of smoke particles with it. The result is that gooey black creosote that you will see dripping at the top of your chimney. If you see this, your wood is too wet. By the way, this is the stuff of chimney fires. It burns hot and long, usually damaging your chimney and burning a wall or two in the process.
You have to be diligent to keep water out of your chimney, but most fixes are long-term and do not require a lot of maintenance. Otherwise – ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
It is that time of year again - chimney fire season. Many of the calls I get this time of year are for plugged chimneys or post chimney fire clean-up and inspection. The pattern is faily predictable - the weather warms, fires are burned low, the weather cools again, fires are burned hotter, and the creosote that was deposited ignites. Add to this that by March, most of us have burned through our "good" wood, and are tapping into the green stuff that we set aside for next year. Most of the time, the culprits are wood furnaces, fireplace inserts without a stainless steel liner, and pre-1990 wood stoves.
The best case is that the fire is caught in time, the fire department called, and a chemical "bomb" is dropped down the flue. This usually puts the fire out quickly, but creates an incredible mess in the house. You can plan on moving out for a week while the cleaning crews come in and remove the chemicals from every surface in your house. Some chimney restoration is usually involved to repair caps and cracked tiles.
The worst case is that the flue tiles fail and fire spreads to the adjacent walls. A full blown house fire is the result, and you can imagine the rest of the story.
The good news is that the risk and threat of a chimney fire can pretty much be eliminated. The following is a list of the most important preventive measures:
- Wood furnaces should always have a stainless steel liner. If there is a chimney fire, the stainless steel can withstand the temperatures.
- All fireplace inserts should have a stainless steel liner all the way to the top.
- Pre-1990 wood stoves should be upgraded with modern, clean-burning, models.
- Chimneys must be matched to the appliance for size and class
- All chimneys should be cleaned and inspected annually.
Don't wait for a fire, call Black Duck Chimney today to make sure you are burning safely.
PS. When was the last time your dryer vent was cleaned. More house
Y'all ran me ragged this year! But who is complaining? We are on the backside of our busy season and this year was one of growth for Black Duck Chimney. I would like to thank all of my repeat customers who put their trust in me for another years service, and to all my new customers who I met for the first time this year. One of my favorite parts of this job is to be able to return to a home every year that has a stove that I installed. It is fun to be able to help them maintain their system, answer questions, and catch up on another years progress. There are many people returning to wood heat or trying it for the first time this year due to the tax credit that was available. (the high energy prices help too) Many are often surprised at how easy it can be to heat with wood. Modern stove technology allows us to heat safely, cleanly, and responsibly with wood. I hope this is a trend that continues and that people return to the realization that every home needs a hearth.
The last few days I have walked outside in the morning to just a little coolness in the air. Maybe it is just a shock because of the heat and humidity we have had this summer, but it immediately reminded me that fall is creeping up on us quick. Is your heat source ready for the winter? Give us a call to be sure.
BTW: Have you noticed that energy prices are creeping up again? As soon as demand returns, we could be looking at much higher gas, oil, and propane prices. Ensure yourself against energy prices with a new wood stove or insert. It is usually no more than a 2 year payback. If you wait for our government to make us energy independant, you will be waiting a long time! Do it yourself by purchasing a new wood stove - the only widely available renewable energy source. And don't forget about the bio-mass energy tax credit. Up to a $1500 tax credit for all wood stoves and inserts that we sell. See the tax credit tab on this site for more details. (
Today is the first day of summer. From this point on, the days will be getting shorter -
like a slow slide into the burning season. A month ago, any thought of fall or cooler weather
was far away, but on the longest day of the year you can't help but give it a quick thought.
Now,I don't want to be a downer because there is still lots of summer to enjoy. In fact, we haven't
even started on many of our favorite summer activities. There is pleanty of beach time, summer runs,
grill-outs, our annual bachelor-fest weekend camp-out, and other favorite pass-times still to come.
There is also the general pause and rest of having to heat your home. For 7-8 months of the year,
you have to worry about thermostats, hauling wood, starting fires, and keeping a habitable living
space. But for now, you can just relax and let the season of summer do its' work on your wood pile.
The dry air and summer sun drive that moisture out of the wood fibers and leave the tell-tale check
marks on the end of your wood. Every once in a while, I will walk out to the wood pile and insure
that physics still works. Moisture still seeks equilibrium and wood still drys. One of those laws
of nature that you can count on as a constant. As the summer progresses, the checks get bigger, the
wood gets dryer, and the smell changes from the strong, sweet odor that you get from freshly cut
and split wood, to a more subtle, gentle scent. All part of the wood burning experience. So, get
out there and check your checks! But make sure you enjoy the summertime first, the wood isn't going
Have you ever heard anyone say, "I love March, it is my favorite month."? Me either. As Garrison Keillor said, "God gave us March so that people who don't drink would know what a hangover feels like." This sounds about right. It seems like it is always cloudy and damp, the ground is wet and muddy, the yard looks like the trees puked on it, and it is stuck right between the beauty of winter, and the hope of spring. March is a good month to cut wood though. If you get it split and stacked, it will be dry enough for winter, and it is nice and cool - good working weather. March can also serve as a time to rejuvinate for the upcoming summer season. Around the Waite house, it seems like summer is just a blur of activity. Sometimes it is nice to have a month like March to just decompress and get ready for the things to come. March also is the time when I like to plan. What projects to I want to get done before fall? What will I plant in the orchard & garden this year? What will we do with the landscaping to try and add to the oasis that is our home? I guess March has its place in the rythem of life. We just need to take our cues from nature and just be dormant one more month before we burst forth into spring! BTW: I saw the first crocus shoots today, we are almost there!
Matt Waite - Chimney Guy Owner Black Duck Chimney MI Mechanical Contractor - Specialty Wood & Gas