Have you noticed black chunks or flakes falling into your chimney? These flakes might seem like ordinary ash or soot, but they can actually be a sign of dangerous creosote buildup.
What exactly is creosote, and why should you be concerned about it? This blog will explain everything you need to know about this tar-like substance, including:
What Is Creosote?
When you burn wood in your fireplace, you create a byproduct of unburned materials called creosote. This thick, tarry substance hitches a ride with smoke up your fireplace and sticks to the flue, creating a black buildup.
There’s no way to avoid creosote—every time you burn wood, you create a small amount of it, which isn’t immediately dangerous. So, why is it a problem? Over time, you end up with creosote deposits in your chimney, which are highly flammable. Deposits can cause a flue fire, which has the potential to spread and create a full-blown house fire.
Creosote buildup can also restrict airflow in your chimney, making it more difficult for smoke to escape. If your chimney isn’t working as well as it usually does, you may have a buildup problem.
What Causes Creosote in Chimneys?
Wood always creates some creosote, but certain conditions lead to more buildup:
- Unseasoned firewood: Have you ever tried to burn freshly cut firewood? You probably noticed that it didn’t burn well and created a ton of smoke. That smoke contained lots of creosote. Always burn seasoned wood if you want to avoid a quick buildup.
- Low flue temperatures: Smoke travels up your flue easily when it maintains a high temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Lower temperatures cause creosote to condense and stick to your chimney. How can you avoid low flue temperatures? Always burn strong fires and consider swapping out your metal chimney liner for clay tiles.
- Restricted airflow: When smoke doesn’t have enough space to travel up your flue, it sits for longer and deposits more creosote on your chimney walls. Make sure your damper’s always completely open, and call a chimney sweep if you still notice limited airflow.
What Does Creosote Look Like?
Creosote looks different depending on what stage it’s in. Fresh creosote looks like black dust, but it can start to look like black flakes, crunchy chunks, or thick tar when it accumulates.
Understanding the 3 Creosote Stages
Your chimney inspector may describe your creosote buildup as stage one, two, or three. But what do these stages mean, and how bad are they? Here’s an explainer of the three creosote stages.
Stage One: Dust
After you burn several fires, you’ll notice a thin layer of soot in your chimney, which is stage one. During this stage, creosote is easy to remove. While stage one isn’t an immediate cause for concern, it’s important to remove it before it progresses to stage two.
Stage Two: Flakes
If you don’t clean your chimney during stage one, creosote will continue to build up in your flue and turn into black flakes. These flakes are more difficult to remove than stage one, but removal is still possible. If you notice stage two creosote, call a chimney sweep as soon as possible before it progresses to stage three.
Stage Three: Thick, Tar-Like Buildup
Third-degree creosote looks like thick pieces of tar stuck to your flue. You need to move fast to avoid a chimney fire if you’ve made it to stage three. Stage three eventually turns into glazed creosote, a highly concentrated fuel that catches fire easily. A chimney fire caused by glazed creosote is practically impossible to put out, so you should never use a chimney that looks like it’s filled with tar.
How To Get Rid of Creosote Buildup
Now that you know what creosote is and what it looks like, you’re probably wondering: How do I get rid of it? The answer depends on the creosote stage you’re in.
Your chimney sweep can remove dust with a chimney brush during stage one. An easy way to ensure you catch creosote in stage one is to schedule an annual chimney inspection. Your chimney cleaner will assess your flue for dust buildup and clean it out during their visit.
Stage two creosote is more difficult to remove than dust. Your chimney sweep will typically use a drill with a rotary loop, which spins cables around your flue to knock off built-up flakes.
Once you reach stage three, the removal process can cause damage to your flue liner, so you might need an entirely new flue. If your chimney cleaner is comfortable attempting a removal, they will likely use a compound that dissolves creosote into a powder.
Are You Due for an Annual Chimney Cleaning?
Approved Home Improvements offers a thorough inspection and sweep starting at only $119.
Schedule a Chimney Sweep To Keep Your Home Safe
Many homeowners assume their chimney is problem-free because they can’t see what’s happening inside. In reality, they may have a thick buildup of creosote that’s one spark away from causing a house fire. If you’re unsure if your gas fireplace or wood stove is safe to use, schedule a chimney inspection right away.
Do you need a chimney sweep in St. Louis? Approved Home Improvements offers several chimney sweep packages starting at $119. During every sweep, we inspect your chimney for issues, clean your flue, and provide written documentation of any damage. If you have stage two or three creosote, we can clean your flue to bring it back to new or repair your chimney with durable clay tiles.
Get in touch today to schedule your chimney sweep or learn more about our chimney services.