Can I Prevent Creosote Build-Up?
Many chimney fires in Wisconsin are caused by creosote buildup. Creosote is a highly flammable chemical compound that creates build-up on chimney walls when you burn firewood. Thick creosote buildup is tough to remove and a severe fire safety risk. There are many home remedies, and products that people claim can prevent creosote buildup. Unfortunately, the truth is that there is no silver bullet to stop your fireplace from producing creosote when you use it. However, there are four proven ways that you can reduce creosote buildup and prevent a creosote-fueled chimney fire.
What is Creosote?
To understand how to reduce creosote buildup, it is helpful to know what creosote is. When you burn fuel, like firewood, the fire produces ash, smoke, carbon monoxide, and other combustion byproducts. Creosote is a combustion byproduct that forms when particles and chemicals in the smoke interact with condensation on the chimney walls.
How much creosote is produced by your fireplace depends on how efficiently it burns. An efficient fire burns hot so hot that it burns up most of the wood. This means less smoke and other combustion products are created. That is why efficient fireplaces create less creosote.
You can control two factors that play a significant role in fireplace efficiency: airflow and the quality of firewood.
How Can You Reduce Creosote Buildup?
There are four effective methods to reduce creosote buildup:
Only burn seasoned hardwoods.
“Seasoned wood” is firewood that has a low moisture content (20% or less) that’s dried out for six months to a year. There are two ways to test if the wood is seasoned. You can use a moisture meter that measures the moisture content in the wood. Or you can use your senses. Dry wood feels lighter. When you hit two pieces of seasoned wood against each other, you’ll hear a bright cranking sound. If the wood makes a dull sound, it isn’t dry enough.
Use ample kindling to build a hot fire.
When you stack up wood in the fireplace, make sure to include a good amount of kindling underneath the firewood. Never use lighter fluid to start the fire. Lighter fluid may cause the wood to ignite quickly, but it won’t help you create a long-lasting, heat-efficient fire.
Ensure the fire has enough air.
Fire needs oxygen. You should always open the fireplace damper so that air from outside can fuel the fire. Call on a chimney service technician if your fireplace isn’t getting adequate airflow, even with the damper completely open! Most likely, there is an obstruction in the chimney flue that’s reducing airflow. When the chimney is obstructed, using your fireplace could result in a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning if the chimney can’t vent properly.
Schedule a professional chimney cleaning each year.
There are three benefits of investing in a chimney sweep each year. The first benefit is that it reduces the risk of a chimney fire by removing fresh creosote deposits. The second benefit is that cleaning the chimney improves airflow to the fireplace. The third benefit is that the chimney technician will inspect the chimney and fireplace for signs of damage or wear and tear that may need to be repaired. Identifying chimney problems early can save you hundreds of dollars and reduce the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning and house fires.
Why Reduce Creosote?
If you can’t prevent creosote buildup, why should you try to reduce it? The reason you should follow these four creosote reduction practices is that creosote can build up quickly. This is especially true if you frequently use your fireplace. There are three stages of creosote buildup. Your risk of a house fire or carbon monoxide poisoning from a creosote-filled chimney increases if it progresses to stage two or three buildups.
First stage creosote
First stage creosote or first-degree creosote buildup is mostly soot. It can be removed easily with a chimney cleaning brush and is unlikely to cause a chimney fire.
Second stage creosote
Second stage creosote or second-degree creosote buildup looks like shiny, glass-like black flakes. It is tough to remove. It requires specialized chimney sweeping equipment—the risk of a chimney fire and obstruction increases at this stage.
Third stage creosote
Third stage creosote or third-degree creosote buildup is thick and tar-like. It can harden into a blackish glaze. It can become thick enough that it severely reduces airflow through the chimney.
Removing third-degree creosote without damaging your chimney is extremely difficult. Chimney sweeps often use a combination of strong-professional grade cleaners and specialized cleaning equipment. In some instances, the best solution is to remove your chimney liner and replace it with a new one.
Third-degree creosote buildup is a serious fire safety risk. If it ignites, it can burn for hours at extremely high temperatures.
By following our four tips to reduce creosote buildup, you can prevent second or third-degree creosote from clogging up your chimney.
When you light up your fireplace, the last thing you want to worry about is a chimney fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Follow these tips to protect yourself and your home. If you are looking for a certified chimney sweep in the Greater Milwaukee area, call our chimney service team at Burlington Fireplace & Solar!