As temperature is dropping in the Roanoke Valley, people are thinking of different ways to keep their families and home safe and warm. A great way to ensure your family stays warm this winter is to use your fireplace.
Starting and keeping a fire going is excellent, as it keeps the environment cozy and comfortable. You want to spend time with your family and friends, while sitting beside the fireplace. However, if you haven’t cleaned your chimney in a while, you should know the existence of a toxic substance, lurking within the shadows.
Known as creosote, it is a by-product which forms when you burn fossil fuel or wood, when there isn’t enough air for complete combustion. As a result of this type of combustion, it creates substances, which travel with the smoke, to the top portion of the chimney. Once the smoke comes in contact with the moisture and air, it cools down, resulting in the formation creosote.
Why is it Dangerous?
Due to the build-up of creosote, your chimney will no longer be efficient, as it hinders airflow significantly.
Is there any other reason why you should pay attention to this substance?
For starters, if your skin comes in contact with creosote, it will cause extreme irritation or rashes.
When you start cleaning the chimney, there is a high chance that this substance will irritate your eyes. It can cause symptoms which are similar to chemical burns such as cornea damage and sensitivity to light.
If you inhale creosote, it will irritate the linings in your lungs, which can cause respiratory problems in the future. Prolonged exposure to this substance increases the chances of suffering from cancer on the scrotum and skin.
All these problems help you understand the dangers, if you don’t take the necessary action to clean your chimney. However, one significant hazard of creosote is how it can cause a fire to break out in your household, damaging everything in its wake.
When this substance starts accumulating in your chimney, it creates a flammable layer.
Wait, isn’t this part of your house built to withstand fires?
It is, but chimney fires cause a lot more problems than you can imagine. For example, the flue lining and masonry have limitations on how much heat they can handle without any complications. However, chimney fires cause the temperatures to rise beyond this limit, putting the remaining parts of your household are at high risk.
Stages of Creosote Buildup
Now that you understand the dangers of Creosote, you need to learn how to identify the different stages of accumulation.
In the first part, the smoke leaves traces of soot, an unburned carbon particle with a soft texture. You can identify this substance if the walls of your chimney have a brown or black coating. You only need a brush to clean soot, making it easy to get rid of these particles.
Its flammability depends on the concentration of these substances in your chimney. Soot forms due to the presence of moisture in the logs. As a result it prevents the wood from combusting completely.
During this phase of creosote build-up, it becomes even harder to remove all the leftover substances from the chimney. The fire causes the formation of bubbly, flaky, or crunchy particles, which are flammable by nature. You will face this problem, if you have a fireplace, with a glass door.
Although it looks like flakes, they are quite hard, making it impossible to get rid of them with your brush. Over time, these substances will restrict airflow, impacting the efficiency of your chimney. Professional chimney sweeps use specialized tools, to remove these substances.
The last stage is exceptionally challenging to remove, due to the nature of this substance. When the temperature isn’t enough to combust the wood completely, it causes the formation of a glassy and black substance. As a result, it looks like tar running down your chimney.
In the situation of a fire, this substance acts as fuel, allowing it to spread to various parts of your house. There are several reasons which explain the build-up of creosote in your chimney. For example, inadequate insulation decreases the temperature, making it harder to burn wood. Also, if the flue size doesn’t meet the requirements of your chimney, it can lead to this problem.
If the creosote build-up reaches stage 3, then the professionals have to use special tools or chemicals to get rid of these substances.
How to Minimize Build-up of Creosote
The most obvious way to manage the situation is to reduce the accumulation of this dangerous substance. While you can’t stop production of creosote, you can take the following measures to minimize proliferation:
Check the Quality of Wood
Stay away from artificial logs, as they leave significant amounts of creosote, every time you burn them. You should make sure the wood has the least amount of moisture. If the logs have water in them, it becomes harder to burn at the right temperature. As a result, they will start producing considerable amounts of creosote.
There are several ways to ensure the logs are dried out completely so they produce minimal amounts of this substance. For instance, you can cut the logs into smaller pieces, making it easier for the moisture to evaporate. You can also place the wood close to the fireplace to remove the water content. Don’t buy logs with an airtight cover, as they prevent the wood from breathing. Due to the presence of moisture, they try to release it into the atmosphere. The tight packaging prevents the water from escaping, making it challenging to burn them in the fireplace.
Ensure there is Adequate Airflow
Airflow is the most critical factor which determines the amount of creosote the wood produces while burning. When there isn’t enough circulation, it will result in the formation of soot, which will stick to the chimney. If it doesn’t have an opening, there is a high chance this situation escalating.
Always take a look at the grate and ash bin, to ensure they are clean, before you start the fire. Make sure the damper allows sufficient volumes of air to enter the chimney. You can increase the flow by installing a metallic blower or fan in this area. If you still find there isn’t enough air coming through, you should get in touch with the professionals as soon as possible.
Keep Your Fire at the Right Temperature
If the wood doesn’t burn at the right temperature, it will produce different types of by-products, which are harmful to you and your chimney. The fire will produce substances, which move with the smoke and stick against the walls, as it isn’t hot enough to combust them.
Once the fire reaches a specific temperature, these by-products will catch fire, making it precarious for everyone in your household. By ensuring that the wood burns as hot as possible, you can avoid this situation entirely. Keep in mind that if the walls of the chimney are extremely hot, it prevents the accumulation of these substances.
You can mix the wood with coals and burn the two together, as the latter ignites at a higher temperature. As a result, they will ensure the temperature at the chimney is enough to avoid creosote build-up.
Never Choke the Fireplace
One common reason why the fire is unable to reach the right temperature is that you tried to burn several wood pieces simultaneously. Sometimes, your friends or family members want to add more logs to the fire, as they believe it will die within an hour or so.
When there are too many pieces, it obstructs airflow, which causes creosote build-up. Also, it causes the moisture to spread between the logs, making it challenging to get a fire going. The best practice is to add one piece of wood at a time, to ensure there is sufficient time to burn.
By following these tips, you can prevent the build-up of creosote in your chimney. Now that you are aware of the dangers of this substance, you know the importance of keeping this part of your household clean as often as possible.
While you can purchase all the necessary tools in the market to clean your chimney, you should avoid this practice at all costs. Exposure to creosote is no joke, as this substance can cause significant number of problems to your health.
Contact the professionals at Patriot Chimney to inspect and clean your chimney every year, so that you never have to worry about creosote build-up. As a result, you can ensure your household gets maximum heat from the fireplace. Think about it; it is a lot cheaper to get a professional, rather than spending large sums of money frequently to replace your chimney!