Living in a home with a fireplace comes with many benefits. A warm, crackling fire creates a cozy atmosphere. Fireplaces can also be more efficient and cost effective than home heating systems. There are multiple benefits to having a fireplace as a feature in your home. However, the benefits of a fireplace system come with a price: maintenance and upkeep. In order to keep your fireplace and chimney operating properly and safely, you need to make sure to keep on eye out for potential hazards. One of these hazards is creosote.

What is Creosote?

Creosote is a byproduct of wood combustion. When wood burns, the smoke and particles exit the home through the chimney. Often, the temperature inside the chimney is cooler than the materials passing through it. This temperature difference causes condensation. The condensation can leave behind a residue that sticks to the walls of your chimney. This residue is known as creosote.

Creosote can produce odor and has a number of different appearances. For example, it can be black or brown. Creosote also varies in texture. Creosote can be:

  • Dry and flaky
  • Tar-like (sticky and dripping)
  • Hard and shiny

Although it comes in several different forms, creosote is usually easy to spot.

The Danger of Creosote

Creosote can put your chimney and home in danger. The buildup along the walls of your chimney can ignite. This can cause chimney fires, which can then spread to the rest of your home. In fact, creosote buildup is the leading cause of chimney fires. This is why the National Fire Protection Association recommends having your chimney cleaned annually.

Managing Creosote Buildup

Lots of creosote buildup can spell danger. However, there are ways to minimize buildup.

  1. Only burn seasoned firewood. It is very important to only burn dry, well-seasoned wood in your fireplace. Newer wood contains more moisture than seasoned wood. The more moisture the wood has, the more smoke is created when it burns. Smoke turns to creosote, so it is best to minimize the amount of smoke produced.
  2. Make sure your fireplace has adequate airflow. Proper air flow will help your fire burn as efficiently as possible. Sufficient air flow will allow your fire to burn hotter, which will burn more of the combustion gases that otherwise turn into creosote.
  3. Efficient fires are always better than slow-burning fires. Smoldering fires, especially those burning from wet wood, cause more condensation than hot, efficient fires. Make sure to arrange your firewood properly so that you can ensure a cleaner burn.
  4. Try not to use artificial logs. Artificial logs create more combustion gases than natural wood. These gases then condense and produce creosote.

Call Your Local Chimney Sweep

Creosote can cause plenty of problems in your home. From unpleasant odors to increasing the chances of a chimney fire, creosote is not something to ignore. The National Fire Protection Association recommends you have your chimney cleaned by a professional chimney sweep at least once a year. Annual cleanings address creosote buildup early on and prevent severe problems like chimney fires. The chimney experts at Sootmaster are happy to assist you with chimney sweeps and creosote removal.


chimney cap

Caps, Covers, & Damper Repairs

Living in the south, mainly along the Gulf Coast, then you know there are lost of rain storms. Actually, we get more rain than anywhere else in the country, including Seattle. The ranking of the most amount of rainfall goes as follows: Mobile, Pensacola, and Seattle in 41st.

This region has such a big deal about rain when it comes to chimneys and fireplaces. As the Chimney Safety Institute of America explains, “water, not fire, causes most chimney damage.”

“Whether masonry or factory-built,” says the CSIA, “prolonged water exposure can result in cracks or gaps in chimneys where creosote can collect and increase the risk of fire or where noxious gases can escape into your home and expose your family to carbon monoxide.”

Fireplaces, Chimneys and Leaks

In basic terms the problem with fireplace and chimney leakage is that water combines with the creosote that remains from fires to form an acidic mixture. Over time that mixture can eat out the silica in the mortar joints.
Once the joints are no longer secure, moisture — remember all that Gulf Coast rain — can get into the house through the chimney. For example, if water comes in through the chimney and is released under the shingles it can lead to the need for a roof replacement.

Also, without proper sealing, heat from fires can travel into areas which should not be exposed to heat, dry out wood, and in some cases actually cause the wood to catch on fire.

In fact, according to a staff report by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are about 22,000 fires a year which are associated with fireplaces, chimneys and chimney connectors. Such fires can cause substantial damage and in some cases may lead to fatalities.

Also, without caps it does happen that birds and animals get into fireplaces. Sometimes nests are built and in some cases animals unable to get out die inside chimneys and fireplaces. Noises and odors can result from such problems.

Caps, Covers and Dampers

You can protect your household with caps, covers and dampers. Caps with spark arresters are devices that go over the flue. They keep out both moisture and animals, plus they help prevent sparks from leaving the chimney. Covers are at the top of the chimney, go around the flue, and protect against moisture. Dampers are inside the chimney itself. They can help create a proper draft to achieve the best fire, plus when closed they prevent animals from getting into the house.

Cap, Cover and Damper Services

We can install, repair and maintain caps, covers and dampers. We inspect such devices as part of our basic chimney sweep services. We have many devices in stock and can recommend the equipment which is right for your fireplace and chimney, whether it is masonry or metal, new or historic.

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