In recent years, fireplaces, wood stoves, wood pellet stoves and furnaces have become very popular as economical, renewable, carbon-neutral heating methods. As the cost of fuel oil and propane increase, even more people are turning to wood as a more economical heating option.
But there are downsides to wood fireplaces and stoves. One of the biggest ones is that burning wood as fuel produces smoke, and wood smoke contains pollutants including both solid particles and gases.
As the smoke cools while it works its way up the chimney and comes in contact with the much cooler chimney pipe or liner, those gases liquefy, combine with the solids, condense into liquids, and become something called creosote.
Creosote is a gummy, combustible substance than coats the inside of a chimney. Depending on the temperature of the smoke, it can liquefy and form a tough coating that lines the inside of the chimney, or it can mix with other solids to produce a fluffy, flaky, porous substance that builds on itself and eventually plugs up the chimney.
Either way, creosote buildup is a very dangerous thing because creosote is highly combustible. It can cause chimney fires, which are no joke. They can burn as hot as 2,000° Fahrenheit. In fact, more than a third of all home fires in rural areas, where wood is most often used as a primary heat source, begin in the chimney.
Stage One. Stage One creosote buildup is flaky and easy to remove. It comes right off when the chimney sweep works his or her brush through the chimney.
Stage Two. If creosote isn't removed while it's in Stage One, it can begin to harden and adhere to the inside of the chimney. It takes on a gummy, tar-like consistency that gradually hardens into a crusty coating that must be removed with powered, rotary chimney cleaning equipment.
Stage Three. If the chimney is neglected even after Stage Two creosote has formed, the fire hazard becomes critical. The creosote forms a highly-flammable glaze that can be ignited by the heat from the fireplace or stove, and fuel a chimney fire. Stage Three creosote usually cannot be removed without damaging the chimney liner. Usually the liner will have to be replaced.
Please note that a standard chimney sweeping does not include removing Stage Two or Stage Three creosote, nor repairs to the chimney if needed. These services are available at an additional charge which will be explained to you before the work is done.
The good news is that the risk of chimney fires can be greatly reduced by regular chimney maintenance.
The most important part of chimney maintenance is having your chimney inspected and professionally cleaned by a qualified chimney sweep at least once a year, preferably in the fall, before the start of the heating season. Clean chimneys don't catch on fire.
An annual inspection can also detect other chimney problems that can be easily corrected before they become big problems that threaten your family's safety -- or your bank account.
A professional chimney sweep will look for problems like weather damage to bricks and mortar, cracks, loose or damaged chimney linings, or bird or animal nests during the inspection.
In addition to regular chimney maintenance and cleaning, here are some other rules to reduce creosote formation and reduce the risk of chimney fires:
We also provide chimney repairs, custom chimney cap installations, and many other chimney-related services. Please click here for more details.
We are proud to be members of the National Chimney Sweep Guild and the Chimney Safety Institute of America. We perform all of our chimney maintenance work to the highest professional standards.
For more information about chimney sweeping, chimney repairs, or any of our quality services, please contact us or call us at (817) 589-1632.