Chimney Care 101
Home improvements and maintenance are imperative for keeping your property healthy. Chimney care is no exception, and you’ll want to ensure your chimney is clean enough to safely light fires.
The Importance of Chimney Maintenance
Conducting annual chimney maintenance is crucial to ensuring your fireplace and chimney operate effectively and safely.
Regular chimney care goes a long way toward ensuring your home’s safety. Typical chimney maintenance should be focused on clearing any debris that obstructs smoke from venting out of your home.
These obstructions can be anything from leaves and branches to animals nesting. It’s vital to clear out any obstruction to ensure proper smoke flow. Failing to do so can lead to toxic pathogens seeping into your living space from fireplace smoke.
During maintenance, you should also inspect your chimney for any operational hazards from wear and tear. If your structure is considerably damaged, water from rain storms can seep into your home, damaging walls and contributing to mold growth. Cracks in your chimney’s foundation can also allow toxic smoke in.
How Chimney Care Leads To Fireplace Safety
Anytime you start a wood fire, combustion byproducts are formed, like creosote and soot. A dirty chimney causes the vast majority of chimney fires. Investing in proper chimney care can significantly improve your fireplace safety.
Your chimney maintenance should also include cleaning any built-up creosote or soot. When burning a fire, creosote is released and adheres to the interior walls of your chimney.
When you burn wood, the combustion process releases creosote through smoke, which is essentially unburned wood particles. The smoke cools as it passes through the chimney, leaving condensation on the walls of the flue lining in the form of creosote.
Creosote is a black or brown residue that can come in many forms. At first, the buildup may be light and easy to remove. But with each fire in your fireplace, creosote can build up, thicken, and glaze.
The Dangers Of Creosote
Coagulated creosote poses a severe threat to your home’s health.
The chemicals released are corrosive and can damage the flue liner over time.
However, the biggest danger of creosote is its high flammability. Because creosote consists of unburned wood particles, it’s highly combustible.
If the temperature within the flue is correct, the creosote inside could ignite and cause a chimney fire.
The temperature required to ignite creosote is surprisingly low, capable of being ignited with temperatures as low as 451 degrees Fahrenheit. For context, most wood burning fireplaces burn in excess of 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The buildup required to ignite creosote can be as minimal as an eighth of an inch.
This combustion happens quickly, and within a matter of seconds, your chimney walls could expand and crack, allowing the fire to reach your attic, nearby walls, and other flammable areas in the home.
Proper chimney care is imperative toward mediating creosote buildup, creating a safe environment for you to light fires.
Chimney Fire Prevention Tips
Taking the correct precautions toward your chimney care can go a long way toward fireplace safety. There are a few maintenance actions you should take to help prevent future fires.
Burn The Right Wood
Choosing the right wood as part of your chimney care can play a prominent role in decreasing soot and creosote release. As a general rule of thumb, you should only burn wood that has been cut, split, and stacked for six months to a year.
This ensures that your firewood has the proper moisture content to burn thoroughly. Fresh wood will not ignite as well as older wood, leaving it more susceptible to releasing creosote through unburned wood particles.
The wood you burn should ideally be around 20% moisture content. For reference, greenwood is around 100% moisture content.
When storing your wood, make sure the stacks are surrounded by airspace, as this assists in the drying process. Look for cracks on the end of your split wood, as this is an indicator moisture is draining out.
Don’t Use Liquid Accelerants
Using materials such as gasoline, kerosene, or lighter fluid can be extremely dangerous when used to start a fire. These liquids can cause an out-of-control fire your chimney won’t be able to handle. Never use these liquids to help facilitate an indoor fire; there are various safe fire starter alternatives on the market.
Properly Regulate Your Fire
Maintaining the size and temperature of your fire is crucial to preventing chimney fires. In the spring and fall, burn smaller loads of wood than you would in the winter. This helps reduce the amount of heat produced. When fires get too hot, many people close the air intake, as this depletes the fire of air. Oxygen starvation is one of the leading causes of creosote creation, and burning smaller fires can help reduce the risk. If possible, know how hot you are burning your fire to minimize the risk of creosote ignition. Surface thermometers and probe thermometers are safe for measuring a fire’s heat.
Do you remember the last time you scheduled a fireplace and chimney inspection?
If the answer is no—read our blog to learn why chimney inspections are so important.
Additional Chimney Maintenance Tips
Waterproof Your Chimney
Damage from moisture and the elements can cause significant problems for your system’s structural integrity. Investing in a waterproofing service for your chimney can drastically reduce the rate of elemental wear and tear.
Check Mortar Joints and Bricks For Damage
During chimney care, inspecting bricks and mortar joints play a critical role in preventing water damage. Inspect your chimney for any cracks in the structure. If necessary, invest in professional chimney tuckpointing. Tuckpointing refers to repairing mortar and bricks that are either damaged or becoming loose. This helps mediate the potential damage your home could endure from rain and storms.
Conduct A Chimney Inspection
Simply looking at your chimney isn’t enough to find all the potential problems. Many chimney problems are underlying issues that need a professional service to fix.
Inspecting your chimney is an effective way to ensure creosote buildup is cleaned and the structural integrity is in good shape.
The National Fire Protection Association states you should inspect fireplaces at least once a year. Annual inspections help maintain the safety of your chimney, keeping your home safe.