Did you know that there are more than 20,000 chimney fires every year? And an overwhelming majority were the result of excessive creosote in the chimney. It also means that most chimney fires are entirely preventable with responsible chimney care and maintenance.
Creosote is a natural by-product that is produced during combustion. It is a black or brown tarry substance. Some of the residues stick to the chimney interior as contaminants are expelled through the flue. Creosote continues to accumulate with each fire and is flammable in excessive quantities. Regular chimney care and maintenance can prevent an excessive accumulation of this and other substances.
Hire a Professional Chimney Sweep
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and national fire safety experts recommend annual chimney inspections. It is the first step for proper chimney care and maintenance. Professional chimney sweeps follow industry guidelines established by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). During a basic inspection, the chimney sweep will visually inspect all accessible areas to assess its condition. And if the technician determines that the chimney needs cleaning, the chimney sweep will take care of that for you, often in the same visit.
Only Burn Seasoned Firewood
Firewood that has been seasoned for at least six months has a low moisture content. It produces more heat with less smoke, soot, and creosote. And your fire will stay hotter for more extended periods too. Avoid using “green” or freshly cut wood. Unseasoned wood has a high moisture content which produces a lot of smoke, soot, and creosote. Due to the higher water content, your fire will burn at lower temperatures and faster. You will also use more wood fuel and will need to clean your chimney more often.
Scoop up Excess Ash
As you continue to burn firewood, ash will begin to pile up underneath. It is recommended that you clean the firebox at least once per month when using the fireplace. You can do this by scooping the ash into a metal container. Leave about one inch of ash on the floor of the firebox to help improve the heating efficiency of your fires.
Close the Damper
After the fire burns out or when you are not using the fireplace, be sure to close the damper. It will prevent the cold outside air from mixing with the warm indoor air. Closing the damper will also keep out moisture in the event it rains or snows. And it will protect your fireplace from downdrafts that can occur when a gust of wind blows down the chimney covering your living room in a blanket of soot and ash.
Watch for Smoke Signals
Anytime you notice a smoky fireplace requires further investigation. It could be from burning unseasoned wood, a water leak, excessive creosote, or an obstruction, to name a few. Check the damper, chimney crown, and chimney cap for any signs of rusting, cracking, or other damages. Also, make sure there aren’t any pests or debris blocking the flue. If you are unable to locate the source of the smoke, schedule a service call with your local chimney professional before lighting the fireplace.
Check the Bricks
With exterior brickwork exposed to winter weather and the interior masonry exposed to high temperatures and hot embers, makes them susceptible to cracking. Cracked bricks are not only a source for water intrusion, but it can also severely reduce the structural integrity of the chimney. Be sure to repair any broken or missing bricks and mortar as soon as possible. Also, consider applying a waterproof sealant to lock out moisture and prolong the life of your chimney.
Cap the Chimney
Install a chimney cap. A damaged or uncapped chimney allows moisture to enter the chimney system. It also enables small animals, pests, and debris to obstruct the venting of toxic fumes that can cause carbon monoxide to flow back into your living space. The chimney cap is a simple and affordable safety device that is attached to the chimney crown. It allows smoke and fumes to vent while preventing the intrusion of water, pests, and debris.