What Causes Chimney Fires and How to Prevent Them
Your chimney’s job is to house fires—but when those fires happen in the wrong place, they can pose a threat to your home and safety. Unfortunately, many homeowners don’t realize that their chimney is dangerous until after a fire breaks out, and in some cases, the resulting damage can go unnoticed for years.
To prevent a costly fire that could put your home and family at risk, you need to understand what causes chimney fires in the first place. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about preventing chimney fires.
What Are the Top Causes of Chimney Fires?
Chimney fires occur when something burns inside your flue or at the top of the chimney instead of in the firebox. The most common items that catch fire inside your chimney are:
Creosote is a black, sooty byproduct of burned wood that travels up the flue liner when you use your fireplace. Over time, creosote sticks to the flue, creating a flammable flaky, sticky, or hardened buildup. When the flue temperature rises, creosote can easily catch fire.
According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), temperatures of 451 degrees Fahrenheit or higher can ignite creosote, and even a minor amount of buildup is a fire risk.
Even if your chimney is entirely free of creosote deposits, other debris can still catch fire within the flue. If you don’t have a chimney cap covering the flue opening, twigs, leaves, and other flammable materials can fall inside and get stuck. Animals may also bring food and nesting materials into your chimney, putting you at risk for a chimney fire.
What Happens During a Chimney Fire?
Fireplaces are designed to withstand high heat and smoke—but even the most durable chimneys can’t survive a flue fire without damage. That’s because chimney fires can reach over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. These high temperatures can crack flue tiles, melt mortar, damage masonry, and degrade liners, creating a pathway for fire to enter your home.
You may not notice a chimney fire occurring, despite the damage being caused. Slow-burning chimney fires go undetected until a professional notices warped metal, cracked tiles, or a misshapen chimney cap. You’re more likely to notice a fast-burning chimney fire, which can cause loud rumbling or popping noises, clouds of black smoke, and a pungent smell.
Four Chimney Fire Prevention Tips
Keeping your chimney clean and free of debris is the best way to prevent chimney fires. Here’s how to do it:
Schedule a Yearly Chimney Inspection
One of the most important—and overlooked—ways to prevent a chimney fire is scheduling regular inspections. Chimney experts can spot damage that’s impossible to see without professional equipment, including dangerous creosote deposits and cracked flue tiles from past fires.
Once your annual inspection is complete, you should repair any damage and opt for a chimney sweep. During a sweep, your chimney professional can remove creosote buildup and other debris that could catch fire. If the creosote buildup is severe, you may need to replace your chimney liner.
Want more tips to help keep your chimney in top shape?
Only Burn Seasoned Firewood
Those twigs from your backyard may look like great kindling for your fire, but wet wood is one of the biggest causes of creosote buildup. That’s because wet wood doesn’t catch fire easily and burns more slowly than dried firewood, releasing more smoke and unburned particles.
Buying pre-seasoned firewood from the store is the easiest way to know it’s dry enough to burn. If you have a few logs drying in the garage, the CSIA recommends buying a moisture meter to ensure your firewood has a moisture content between 15 and 25% before you burn it.
Limit Creosote Buildup With Proper Airflow
High heat helps fires burn more cleanly, and fire needs plenty of airflow to gain volume and warmth. Maintaining airflow is simple as long as you fully open the damper, crack a window while you get the fire going, and keep your fireplace doors open when in use. Smoke will travel more quickly up your chimney and leave fewer creosote deposits along the flue liner.
Another way to encourage airflow when you light a fire is to warm up the flue. Holding a lit piece of newspaper inside the flue helps eliminate cold air that can prevent smoke from traveling up the chimney.
Install a Chimney Cap
If you have bird nests, acorns, and twigs that could catch fire in your chimney, you need a new chimney cap. Chimney caps block debris from getting inside your flue while allowing smoke and air to escape, reducing your risk of a chimney fire.
Selecting a chimney cap that blocks external debris from entering without interfering with your chimney’s draft is crucial. A professional can help you choose the right material and size for your chimney before installing the cap.
Enlist the Experts to Eliminate the Causes of Chimney Fires
When it comes to chimney fires, ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s crucial to perform regular maintenance to uncover potential hazards lurking inside your flue before you light a fire.
The telltale signs of creosote, animal intrusion, and fire damage aren’t always easy to spot. That’s why you should bring in the experts at Approved Home Improvements. Our team has been helping St. Louis homeowners prevent chimney fires for over 30 years.
For only $178, we clean your chimney, use a camera to spot dangerous creosote buildup, and perform the most thorough visual inspection to find problems with your masonry, flue, and chimney cap. If we notice issues, our team will return within 10 days to perform repairs, or they’re free. That means you won’t have to wait weeks—or months—for peace of mind.
Take the first step in chimney fire prevention today by contacting Approved Home Improvements for an inspection.