River City Chimney & Hearth: Service & Safety Inspections Right In Your Back Yard
Written By: Shawnelle Alley
Karen and Ron Waschkowski, owners of River City Chimney and Hearth located in the Bent Tree area, have serviced over 8,000 chimneys from 2003 to current, according to Ron. “Our services include sales, installations, inspections, repairs, cleaning, sweeps and inspections of gas and wood burning fireplaces,” Ron said. In July 2013, they celebrated the grand opening of the River City Chimney and Hearth showroom, and Ron said, “Our dream was always to have our own storefront.”
The Washkowski’s experienced a desire to embrace their dreams after Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer; she is in her 4th year as a survivor. Ron said, “Wellness caused us to take the leap. We are really glad we did. Now our customers have a showroom to see a variety of installed product and options.” He added that
people should follow their dreams; life is short.
In explaining the chimney sweeping process, Ron said, “We are very clean and thorough. We inspect based on NFPA 211 (National Fire Protection Agency), using the most current manual.” He said, “Tarps are laid out in the house. We use a special vacuum that filters the air to keep soot out of the house. A chim-scan (camera) is attached to the brush and is run up the chimney to inspect the structure and flue.” He added, “Defects are not always visible without the camera.”
Ron said he would tell first-time gas or wood-burning fireplace owners the importance of safety: keep the fireplace and chimney clean and inspected, have a mid- to large-size fire extinguisher and proper smoke and heat detectors in the home. “I encourage families to have an exit strategy and to know where the gas shut-off valve is located.
“One of our services is to locate the gas valve in the basement and label it for the homeowner. We want them to be able to go right to it and sometimes they don’t know where to locate it until we find it and label it fireplace for them,” Ron said.
There are a wide variety of materials available to personalize a customer’s fireplace. Ron said popular choices are brick, marble and stone. River City Chimney and Hearth offers “a wide variety of beautiful fireplace accessories and several high quality brands of wood and gas fireplaces, inserts and stoves,” Karen said.
Ron added that they sell a lot of Astria, Ironstike and Heatilator products.
“They are high quality fireplaces and Heatilator is made right here in Iowa. We want to support Iowa’s economy as much as possible; if it is made here and sold here, all the revenue stays in the state. I am loyal.” Ron said he believes they can be supportive to U.S. manufacturers and have a great product. “We also carry Napoleon, Valor, RSF and more. We also sell and install caps, dampers, fireplace doors and screens,” Karen said.
New construction installations take about a half a day and installations in existing structures take 1-2 days, according to Ron. He said they help their customers stay with the era of their structure. If the home is a large Victorian, Ron said he will help the homeowner find the best product to fit the 15 application. He acknowledged this is one of the fun parts of his job because he loves happy customers. Karen added, “We have an extended line of product and the latest EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) approved units.” The units meet or exceed emission standards.
Karen said, “Some people use fireplaces for ambiance, or to save money; they put out a lot of heat.” Ron explained that their fireplaces have a high efficiency rating of about 70 percent, which is high for fireplaces.
Relining chimneys is a common repair, and Ron said sometimes the flue is cracked. He said hearth and mantle work are available and Mark Sornsen & Sons subcontract to install these products, which often are granite, marble, stone and wood – all custom-made.
River City Chimney and Hearth has multi-fuel stoves, which burn wood pellets or corn, according to Ron. “These are really popular in a healthy economy and a source of heat with a renewable resource.” He said, “We should use our natural resources and wood burning is a clean with today’s technology. Emissions are measured in grams per hour and pellet stoves have lower emission levels.” Ron travels to Missouri to train others in the industry.
Karen said it is common for the fireplace to fog up upon initial ignition, but the glass clears quickly as the temperature rises. “We wanted to create a space in the showroom that is very cozy and visually inviting. We want to show customers options from the contemporary to traditional in style,” she said.
According to Ron, it is very important to have both gas and wood burning fireplaces inspected and cleaned annually. He said, “Propane has an additive, methanol, which causes a buildup of residue in the burner assembly. Bugs and spiders love this stuff and nest in it, blocking air flow. The soot build up can restrict ignition.”
Because people live in different environments, sometimes they are unsure of the product that would work best in their home. Ron said they help people explore their options by discussing things like lifestyle and architecture.. For more information, people can “like” River City Chimney and Hearth on Facebook, visit
the website at www.rivercitychimney.com. Visitors are welcome at their showroom.
The River City Chimney and Hearth motto is: “We provide safety, comfort, and peace of mind.”
Ron said the person who had the most influence in his life was his deceased father-in-law, Bob, who was the owner of RD Blue Construction. “I miss him every day; he was a constant and wise voice. Bob was a mentor and a highly respected business man.” Karen said her mother, Carolyn Blue, has remained their biggest emotional support and has had unwavering confidence in their vision. Ron and Karen, married 24 years, have four children and seven grandchildren.
Karen would love to go to the Kentucky Derby and Yellowstone National Park some day. Ron has a dream to take Karen to Germany to visit his father’s family and see a World Cup soccer game. Ron’s father was an immigrant who came to America to study agriculture and fell in love and stayed.
Ron said he understands the value of hard work and learning. Karen encouraged Ron to get his general education diploma and enroll at Iowa Western College for his associate degree and his CSI Certification. Now he takes continuing education courses, including a mandatory 12 hours of OSHA training yearly. Karen said, “There is so much more to sweeping and repairing chimneys and abiding by safety procedures than the public realizes.”
River City Chimney & Hearth
23767 McPherson Ave.