If you use your wood-burning fireplace, the chimney is going to collect its fair share of creosote and soot. There’s nothing you can do about that. But there is something you can do about how much buildup is added to the chimney each burning season.
The reason this is important is because creosote is highly flammable and is the cause of most chimney fires each year in the United States. You should schedule annual service from a certified professional to do the bulk of the cleaning, but you also can do your part to help keep your chimney clean between chimney sweep visits.
First thing to know: smoke = creosote
Creosote is formed when wood smoke condenses in a chimney flue. Although the process can be a little scientific, the simple way to see it is: the more smoke, the more creosote.
If you’ve run a fireplace for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that sometimes wood can burn and produce minimal smoke, while other times a huge amount of smoke comes off the fire. Your goal is to burn fires that produce as little smoke as possible. Here are three ways to do it.
Burn only dry (seasoned) wood
Recently harvested logs still contain considerable moisture, which makes considerable smoke when burned. Logs that have been allowed to dry for six months or more will not produce huge amounts of smoke.
Additionally, hardwoods like walnut, oak, sycamore and ash burn hotter and usually aren’t as smoky as softwoods like pine, redwood, juniper and fir.
Ensure a proper draft (air flow)
For wood to burn efficiently, it needs the right amount of oxygen. Air flow is what allows for intense burns with minimal amounts of the wood left unburned and less smoke created in the process.
Elements that will affect how much air gets to your fireplace fires include:
Air-tight house: If little or no air can flow into your home, little or no air flow is going to be available for your fire. If you suspect this is the case, crack a window or two when using the fireplace.
Faulty damper: The damper that sits above the firebox is there to regulate air flow. If it’s rusted or damaged and can’t fully open, you may not be bringing enough air into your firebox. Have the damper inspected and either repaired or replaced.
Obstructed flue: Leaves, twigs and other tree debris along with the nests of squirrels, birds and other small animals can create a major air-flow obstruction inside a chimney. A proper chimney cap will block these obstructions, so if you have no cap, get one installed. To have obstructions cleaned out, make an appointment with a professional chimney sweep.
Never burn anything except actual firewood in your fireplace
While firewood does produce some smoke that leads to the formation of creosote, it doesn’t produce nearly as much as items such as painted wood, pressed board, cardboard, clothing, plastics and paper products.
It is never advisable to use anything other than tree logs as fuel in a wood fireplace, stove or insert. Aside from excess smoke, these materials can produce fumes that are full of dangerous (and possibly deadly) toxins that should not be inhaled by people or pets.
Need help with chimney issues? High’s Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, provides certified chimney sweep, chimney inspection and chimney repair services to ensure the safety and integrity of your chimney/fireplace system. Get your questions answered or schedule an appointment by calling (301) 519-3500.