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Why and How to Minimize Creosote Buildup in your Chimney

House FireChimney fires can be deadly. Even though chimneys are designed to withstand high temperatures and stop a fire from spreading to your home, they can fail if creosote in your chimney catches fire. Creosote is a highly flammable chemical compound that builds up in your chimney. A stray spark or high temperature in your chimney can ignite it. Chimney fires fueled by creosote can get to up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This can cause the chimney liner to crack and allow flames to spread to your home.

What is Creosote?

Smoke from a wood burning fire contains wood particles, gases, and other chemical compounds. As these combustion byproducts cool on their way up the chimney, they condense along the chimney walls. This condensation is what turns into creosote.

Creosote is extremely flammable. As it builds up, it passes through three stages. Each progressive stage is harder to remove than the last.

First Stage Creosote

When creosote forms, in the first stage, it is flaky and easy to remove. Professionals can quickly get rid of it with a basic chimney brush.

Second Stage Creosote

As more creosote builds up, it changes. It thickens and hardens into a shiny, glass-like compound that can’t be removed with a brush. Second stage creosote requires professional removal. CSIA-certified chimney sweeps typically use a power drill with a rotary loop to remove it.

Third Stage Creosote

If creosote continues to build up in a chimney, it moves on to a third stage. Third stage creosote is a thick, sticky tar-like substance. It is the most flammable at this point. It is practically a concentrated fuel. Third stage creosote also required professional removal by a CSIA-certified chimney sweep. In most cases, professional grade chemicals will be used to remove it. In severe cases of extreme buildup, it may be necessary to remove and replace the chimney liner.

You can prevent creosote buildup from reaching the third stage or causing a chimney fire by following the best practices recommended by the NFPA.

Creosote in ChimneyHow to Minimize Creosote Buildup & Prevent a Chimney Fire

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1896 to help prevent house fires. They develop safety codes and best practices to reduce fires based off of their research. They are an authority on how to minimize creosote buildup and prevent chimney fires. Here are there top recommendations:

  1. Only burn dry, seasoned firewood.
    Freshly cut wood is packed with moisture that makes it difficult to burn and produces dense black smoke filled with combustion byproducts. Allowing firewood to season, or dry out for at least six months, helps it to burn completely and produce less smoke.
  2. Never burn artificial logs.
    Artificial logs produce more combustion byproducts than regular wood which significantly increases creosote buildup.
  3. Build hot, clean burning fires.
    Stacking firewood with enough space between the logs for oxygen to circulate will produce a hotter, cleaner burning fire. If you consistently build efficient fires like this, less creosote will build up in your chimney because your fires will produce less smoke.
  4. Make sure the fire gets enough oxygen.
    Open the damper in your fireplace before you light a fire to ensure it will get enough oxygen. If your fireplace has glass doors, it is a good idea to leave them cracked open slightly so that air can circulate.
  5. Reduce condensation by warming up a cold flue.
    If your chimney isn’t well insulated, the flue can reach low temperatures. Lighting up your fireplace when the flue is cold will create more condensation and larger creosote deposits. You can easily warm up the chimney by rolling newspaper up to make a torch, lighting it and holding it up in the chimney. When you notice the smoke from the torch rising straight up, you’ll know that the flue is warm enough.
  6. Schedule an annual chimney cleaning and inspection.
    The NFPA recommends an annual chimney inspection and cleaning because they have found that it is the most effective way to reduce the risk of a chimney fire. Professional chimney sweeps are trained to spot issues in your chimney that may pose a safety risk or increase creosote buildup. We also have the tools and training to safely and efficiently remove creosote.

Following these six recommendations will help you protect your home from a dangerous chimney fire. If you are looking for professional chimney cleaners that you can trust, give us a call at High’s Chimney Service. Our CSIA- and CCP-certified chimney technicians serve residents in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC.

Fireplace Cleaning Tips for Your Spring Cleaning Chore List

Fireplace and chimney cleaning are very important in keeping your appliance looking good, running safely and operating at peak efficiency. You can do some cleaning tasks yourself; others are best handled by a professional chimney sweep. Let’s take a look.

Do it yourself

Glass fireplace doors: If your fireplace doors are smudgy and unsightly, you can use a household window cleaning solution and paper towels to remove the buildup and make the glass shine again.

Fireplace Spring CleaningInside the firebox: This is a two-step process: first, shovel or vacuum out the ashes and small wood chips, then use a mixture of warm water and dish soap with cleaning rags to remove soot buildup on the inner surfaces of the firebox. Gas-burning fireplaces require only basic cleaning and wiping down with soapy water.

Cleaning the surround: If you have a surround made of brick, tile, rock or other material, you may notice some discoloration proximal to the opening of the fireplace. This is normal smoke stain and can be cleaned with soap and water. For all surface cleaning in and around the fireplace, you can purchase specially formulated cleaners at your local hearth store or most hardware stores.

Chimney sweep services

When you get deeper into your fireplace and chimney system, most cleaning tasks are best performed by chimney sweeps, who have the training and tools to do the job safely and correctly.

Fireplace damper: Over time, dampers become coated with soot and smoke byproducts and can stop functioning properly. When a certified chimney technician cleans your damper, a thorough inspection of the device also will be performed to spot signs of damage and ensure the seal is tight.

Cleaning the flue: Wood-burning fireplaces create a substance known as creosote when in operation. Creosote is sicky and flammable. If regular chimney cleaning isn’t performed, it can build up in the flue and lead to two serious problems:

  1. Chimney fire
  2. Air-flow obstructions

Both problems should always be avoided and, fortunately, with annual chimney inspections and cleanings, they will be.

Once inside a chimney, creosote can present as a soft, sticky substance, but it also can turn hard and slate-like, making it very difficult for the average homeowner to remove. Professional chimney technicians have special tools to break up solid creosote and thoroughly remove it from your flue without damaging the chimney.

Inspection during cleaning

Not only do chimney pros have the tools and skills required to clean creosote and obstructions (twigs, leaves, animal nests, etc.) from your chimney, they also have the expertise to inspect your fireplace system for early signs of damage. Areas and components covered during an annual inspection include:

Chimney Damage and RepairChimney crown – check for cracking/deterioration

Chimney cap – make sure mesh is intact and the device is securely mounted

Exterior masonry – inspect for cracks in bricks and mortar and areas of decomposition

Chimney flashing – check for warped or missing sections

Chimney liner – ensure the liner is sound and undamaged

Interior masonry – make sure no damage exists from chimney fires or long-term moisture

These and other parts of your chimney can be repaired, rebuilt or replaced, as needed.

Spring is a great time to work together with a chimney services professional to get your fireplace and chimney in clean, tip-top shape for the coming season. High’s Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, is ready to help with all chimney cleaning, inspection and repair tasks. Schedule an appointment, or get your questions answered at (301) 519-3500.

Protect Chimney with Water Repellent This Spring

Chimney Cracks InspectionOne of the best ways to prolong the life of your chimney is to have it professionally sealed with a high-quality water repellent. As chimneys age, small cracks can begin to appear in the bricks and mortar joints, which will allow water to get in. Once inside, water begins to damage the chimney structure, leading to an unsafe operating environment and costly repairs.

Here in Maryland, our cold winters are hard on chimneys. Any chimney with even a small leak is susceptible to further damage when water freezes within cracks and then expands, making larger cracked areas for more water to infiltrate. The solution in most cases is professionally applied water repellent.

What is chimney water repellent?

There are several types of spray-on water repellent. Some are water-based, others are solvent-based. Your certified chimney services technician will know which is the best type to use based on the condition of your chimney.

The top water repellent products are vapor-permeable, which means they’re able to release water vapors that otherwise could pass into the bricks when the chimney is being used. With a good repellent, you’ll prevent 99.9% of water penetration into the bricks. When you have your chimney sealed, it’s actually better in some ways than a brand-new chimney.

Benefits of using a top-line water repellent on your chimney

  • Save big money on future repairs to fix water-damaged masonry
  • Keep your chimney in a safe operating condition
  • Say goodbye to damage from freeze/thaw cycles
  • Most repellents are environmentally friendly
  • Coating resists fungus and mildew
  • Coating protects against efflorescence (water staining)
  • Maintains the natural look of your chimney (not a glossy finish)
  • 10-year warranty when properly applied

How chimney water repellent is applied

In most cases, your chimney service expert will choose a water-based repellent. If your chimney has been sealed in the past, often a solvent-based coating will be used for added strength.

Prior to application, the external surfaces of the chimney will be thoroughly brushed and cleaned to allow for maximum adherence of the sealant. At this time, areas of brick and mortar that need repair will be addressed. The product is then sprayed on in the correct volume to create a solid seal.

Why have a professional do the job?

Highs Chimney ProfessionalsIn addition to ensuring that your chimney is properly prepared for the seal coating and applying the repellent in accord with manufacturer’s exact specifications, it pays to have a certified chimney technician perform this work for other reasons.

Chimney’s need regular inspections and occasional repair work to keep them running at the highest safety and efficiency levels. In fact, virtually every fire-safety organization in the U.S. recommends annual chimney inspections and cleanings.

Your chimney technician can perform a thorough inspection while on the service call to add water repellent. This inspection can turn up issues within the chimney structure that need to be fixed to prevent extensive damage down the line.

A spray-coating job can be done in conjunction with a complete chimney cleaning to remove flammable creosote from the flue. Excess creosote, which forms when wood is burned, is the primary cause of chimney fires in America.

You want your fireplace and chimney to be safe and highly efficient. So do we. If it’s time to have your chimney seal-coated with a strong water repellent, or if you need your system inspected or cleaned, High’s Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, is ready to help. To arrange for a service call, or to get your questions answered, reach us at (301) 519-3500.