Creosote and Fireplace Safety
If you’re concerned about keeping your home and family safe, creosote and fireplace safety is something to become familiar with and understand how it can pose risks to you and your home.
With nippy weather, it’s nice to have a cozy fire going to keep the chill away. While we in Southern California think of our climate as warm, the weather can get cold with average differences between daytime and nighttime temperatures more than 40° in the cooler months, particularly in areas away from the coast.
If you have a wood-burning fireplace in your home, the ambiance it provides is unbeatable. Who doesn’t love the idea of sitting by a fire on a cold night, the sound of crackling logs and the woodsy aroma surrounding you as you settle in?
And if the electricity goes out, having a wood-burning fireplace means you can stay warm, have light while it's dark and even do some cooking if you need to.
However, it does have its cons. It is quite costly to run. And if you are concerned about creosote and fireplace safety, a wood-burning fireplace requires annual maintenance to avoid its excess buildup that can lead to fires.
In this article, we discuss creosote and what you must do to ensure fireplace safety in your home.
What is Creosote?
Creosote is a byproduct of a fire burning natural fuel, including wood. It is composed mainly of particles of charred wood, combined with vapors cooled to a liquid and dried to a semi-solid state, and other organic compounds.
This substance can be found in the smoke that rises from the open flames of a fireplace. As the smoke travels upward, it combines with cold air and water near the top of the chimney. This combination solidifies creosote and this sticks to the chimney walls or the liner.
Is it the Same As Soot?
While soot and creosote are both byproducts of fire, they are very different. Soot is black and powdery and composed of carbon.
On the other hand, creosote is a dark brown residue that can be seen on the inner walls of chimneys and stovepipes. Compared to soot, creosote can be sticky and flaky. They can appear shiny and hardened while sticking to the surface.
Why Is Creosote Hazardous?
Health Risks. A chimney with creosote buildup can make you and your family sick. Among the health issues that come with creosote exposure are:
Skin irritation, rashes or lesions
Eye irritation and vision problems
Problems with kidneys and liver with prolonged exposure
Fireplace Safety. Creosote is extremely flammable. A thick accumulation poses a risk to fireplace safety. The risk of a chimney fire compounds as the amount of creosote inside your chimney flue (the duct by which smoke and waste gases exit the home) increases.
When creosote accumulation starts, the problem unfortunately does not resolve on its own. It all begins with a lack of open ventilation. This is the main cause of creosote buildup.
As the creosote starts to coat the walls of the chimney flue, it causes the narrowing of the passage through which air can flow. This in turn, restricts ventilation even more.
As the ventilation gets more restricted, the amount of creosote buildup also increases. It becomes a cycle of ventilation restriction and buildup that increases the likelihood of a fire starting in your chimney and worse, spreading to surrounding areas in your home.
What Causes Creosote Buildup?
Creosote buildup results because of poor burning practices. The usual suspects?
✔️ Adding too much wood in the firebox
✔️Using damp or green wood
✔️Limiting the amount of air that fuels full combustion in the firebox
To minimize the amount of creosote buildup in your chimney, here are our suggestions:
✔️ Build smaller fires
✔️ Use dry or seasoned wood to build your fire
✔️ Allow sufficient air in the firebox
Other causes for creosote buildup not caused by improper fire building practices up are:
✔️ Cool flue temperatures. When the flue is colder than normal, smoke going up your chimney will condense and cause creosote to form on the inner walls.
✔️ Oversized flue. In older homes, fireplaces are vented into a masonry chimney which may make it too large to support the fireplace itself. This causes the smoke to linger in the chimney and allows creosote to form and build up.
Following proper fire building practices go a long way in keeping creosote accumulation to manageable levels. However, it’s still important to have your chimney maintained to avoid problems.
The Levels of Creosote Buildup in Your Chimney
The presence of a small amount of creosote in your chimney should be no issue. The important thing is to not allow it to accumulate to the point of being a health and safety hazard.
There are three levels by which creosote buildup is measured:
First Degree Creosote. This is the creosote that develops when ideal fire building conditions are met. This means that the fire is from dry wood and has had lots of air. First degree creosote will resemble soot because it will be a light powder at this stage.
Second Degree Creosote. This type of buildup typically happens when you have glass doors to your wood stove or fireplace. The buildup will look like shiny black flakes and are tougher to remove than the light powder of first degree creosote.
Third Degree Creosote. This poses the greatest risk. It happens when flue temperatures are low and the combustion of wood fuel is incomplete. The buildup is a tar-like coating and the likelihood of a chimney fire occurring becomes high.
Chimney Maintenance is a Must
If you have a wood burning fireplace in your home, chimney maintenance is necessary to prevent fires. Aside from following proper fire building practices, it’s important to have a professional inspect and clean your chimney at least once a year.
How people will clean your chimney will depend on what degree of creosote level you have:
First Degree Creosote. To remove powder-like creosote, a technician will use a special brush to sweep away the buildup.
As in all cases, prevention is still the key. Good fire building practices along with regular chimney maintenance will go a long way in preventing any chimney or house fire resulting from creosote buildup. In the unfortunate event that fire does happen to you, we can help.
Five Star Restoration is a top rated restoration company specializing not only in water damage, but also fire and smoke damage. We know how devastating it is to have a fire in your home.
Damage goes beyond the fire itself. There will also be smoke and water damage if the Fire Department puts out the fire.
Let us help you quickly get back to normal with our clean-up and damage containment services, and full repair and reconstruction.
We have technicians on standby 24/7 to quickly respond to your emergency. Call us today at (951) 368-2227.
Tags: Creosote and Fireplace Safety, fireplace safety, creosote buildup, fireplace maintenance, chimney maintenance