Temperatures are dropping and many homeowners are starting to think about their fireplaces for the cold season. Watching the flames as you burn logs in your fireplace might be one of your favorite things to do. They can create a cozy, comfortable atmosphere in your home. But if your chimney hasn’t been cleaned recently, there may be a hidden danger lurking. If not maintained properly, a fireplace can be a hazard if there is too much creosote in the chimney flue. The leading cause of home fires associated with fireplaces and chimneys is highly flammable creosote buildup, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Creosote in the chimney can’t be prevented entirely, since the combustion gases from every wood fire leave some deposits behind. It is possible, however, to keep creosote to manageable levels. Learn about the dangers of creosote buildup and what you can do to fight it.
What is Creosote?
Creosote is a tar-like deposit in chimney flues from toxic combustion gases and particulate matter created in a wood fire. The concentrated makeup of the gas depends on the type of wood being burned and the amount of moisture in the wood. The only logs that should be burned in a fireplace are seasoned, which means they have low moisture content. If green or unseasoned wood is burned, a much greater volume of harmful smoke is released plus the fire is far less efficient. As creosote coats the inside of the flue, the chimney passageway through which smoke is supposed to exit narrows. This causes an obstruction, which further restricts ventilation.
Stage 3 – The creosote becomes hardened and is much more difficult to remove. At this stage, it will also begin to drip like candlewax when it reaches a high enough temperature.
Why is Creosote Dangerous?
- If you come into physical contact with creosote, you may notice rashes or other reactions.
- Creosote can cause sensitivity to light or even symptoms that mirror chemical burns in your eyes. This risk is why you should always rely on an expert to safely clean your chimney.
- If you breathe in creosote particles, you’re very likely to develop respiratory issues over time.
Creosote is a Fire Hazard – The main issue with creosote is that it’s extremely flammable. As the amount of creosote inside the chimney flue increases so does your risk of a chimney fire. And not only can a chimney fire completely wreck your chimney and mantel, but it can also turn into a destructive and deadly house fire.
The other problem with creosote is that it doesn’t go away on its own; it grows in a kind of self-perpetuating cycle. Creosote accumulates due to a lack of open ventilation, which causes the creosote to coat the walls of the chimney flue, which narrows the passageway, which restricts ventilation even more, which in turn causes more creosote to accumulate inside the chimney flue until something (total blockage or a fire) renders the structure completely unusable.
How to Get Rid of Creosote Buildup
Because it forms naturally when fuel sources are burned, trying to prevent a fire from creating creosote is a bit like trying to prevent a fire from creating smoke. The presence of small amounts of creosote in your chimney isn’t an issue – it’s a buildup of creosote that’s problematic. You can reduce the rate at which creosote compounds by making sure that your chimney is adequately ventilated; if you have any reason to suspect that the chimney’s inner mechanisms aren’t working properly, then have it inspected as soon as possible. You should also have the chimney professionally cleaned at least once a year, as this will interrupt the growth cycle of the creosote and prevent it from spreading out of control.
Some homeowners turn to creosote sweeping logs to help reduce creosote buildup. These can help you remove some creosote from your chimney but they will never remove it all. However, depending on the stage and severity of your creosote problem, they may not help at all. Remember that even if you use creosote sweeping logs early and often, they cannot replace a thorough chimney cleaning.
You can help keep your home cozy and safe this season. For more fireplace safety tips, read the recommendations provided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Contact the Fire Damage Experts
Despite the vigilance of homeowners to protect their homes, fires still happen. When they occur, they can cause serious damage. Even if you get the fire out quickly, soot damage can still lurk throughout your home and cause significant problems. In the unfortunate event that you’ve experienced fire damage this season, know that you don’t have to go through the cleanup process alone. Contact the experts at Xtreme Home Improvement to get your house back to normal as quickly as possible. Our fire damage restoration and cleanup services are put into effect quickly to guide you from crisis to recovery, all while keeping you informed of the process. With the equipment, experience and expertise required to get the job done right, our professionals are available 24/7 every day of the year to help restore your home after a disaster.