Who doesnt enjoy a blazing and crackling fire to warm the home when the cold winter winds begin to blow? But to ensure a safe experience, like your HVAC furnace, it is important to have all your chimney components evaluated and cleaned on a yearly basis or after burning a cord of wood, whichever comes first.
What is Creosote and Why is It Dangerous?
Creosote is a byproduct of burning wood or coal. Of course, coal burning is mostly a thing of the past, but firewood is still very popular, despite the fact that processed and packaged fire logs have taken the market by storm over the past few years.
Fire logs also produce creosote, even if it is to a lesser extent. Keep in mind that pellet-burning stoves also produce it. Heres how the process works; when you burn wood to produce heat, gasses are produced that do not efficiently burn away.
These gasses now condense into liquid form. The liquid sticks to the inside of your chimney walls and/or liner. Over time it dries in the form of creosote.
Insidiously, it continues to build up, layering on like a stalagmite, on the surface of your chimney liner or your flue tile every single time you and your family enjoy a fire.
Why is this dangerous? This is a highly flammable substance that can quickly erupt into a blazing chimney fire if subjected to a high enough temperature. That is why it must be removed periodically.
To make matters worse, creosote is also a cancer-causing carcinogen. If you begin to get a back-draft into your home, breathing this is a very bad thing.
Removal by Chimney Sweeps or Commercial Products
Hiring a chimney sweep is the traditional way to clean the inner surface and restore safety to the home. Granted, sweeping is not as big a trade as it used to be, but it is still around.
Sweeps will use a special steel brush to scrape it off. Its a messy job but someone has to do it. Commercial products are also available and are effective to varying degrees.
Dont be fooled by the marketing hype on many of these products; they dont all remove creosote, some of them chemically alter it, leaving it in a state that is much easier to scrape off.
In many cases, this can make the job easy enough so that the homeowner can do the job and save some money on the labor end. If you do decide to tackle the job yourself, there are a couple of points to keep in mind.
First, keep your fireplace doors closed when sweeping; as stated above, this is a messy operation. No doors? Block the opening up securely with something to keep the ashes from migrating into your living room.
Secondly, tackle one section at a time. Start at the top and work your way down. Use a powerful flashlight and check your progress as you go; be sure to get it all.
The bottom line? Hire a pro or take your time if doing it yourself. It is an investment in the safety of your family.