The chimney is more than just an architectural structure in your home. It has an important function which is to carry toxic gases emanating from the fireplace, furnace, or stove out of your home. As you unwind in front of your fireplace and bask in the sparkling flame, the condition of your chimney is probably the farthest in your mind. However, the truth is, if you do not spare a thought for the health of your chimney then that relaxation might not last. This is because dirty chimneys are prone to chimney fires, which can lead to injuries and can also damage structures as well as homes.

Warning Signs

prevent chimney firesTo prevent a chimney fire one must be sure it’s clean, that the chimney doesn’t have a massive buildup of soot or creosote, and is properly build. Some factors may warn you that the chimney might go up in flames. Whenever the following signs appear, it’s best to call a professional chimney sweep or to get rid of it immediately:

  • Loud popping and cracking noise and a lot of dense smoke. It can create an intense smell that emanates out of your chimney;
  • A massive buildup of a dark brown or black powder in your chimney, which can be creosote or soot. Creosote flakes and pieces found on the roof or ground are also a cause of worry and should be cleaned immediately;
  • The warped metal of the damper, a warped metal smoke chamber connector pipe or a warped factory-built metal chimney;
  • Cracked or collapsed flue tiles, or tiles with large chunks missing;
  • Discolored or a distorted rain cap;
  • Damaged roofing material, which is mainly caused by hot creosote;
  • Cracks in exterior masonry;
  • Evidence of smoke escaping through mortar joints of masonry or tile liners.
  • Chimney fires can be explosive and easily conspicuous to neighbors and passersby.

However, some are less dramatic due to the fact that they do not get enough air to fuel them and one would only notice during a chimney inspection. Still, they can cause damage to the chimney structure.

Creosote causes Chimney Fires

Chimneys serve fireplaces and woodstoves by expelling byproducts of combustion like unburned gases, carbon dioxide, and tar fog and as they go up, they hit the walls of relatively cooler chimney liners and condensation occurs. The residue formed is called creosote. Creosote is a tar-like, sticky, and crusty hardened residue and when built up in the chimney walls for a long time can result in a chimney fire.

What are the effects of chimney fires on:

Factory Built Metal Chimneys

Most factory-built metal chimneys require special tests before they are installed. These include testing the ability of the chimney to withstand high flue temperatures without sustaining damage. However, if there is a chimney fire, damages might still occur and factory-built metal chimneys will need to be replaced if damaged in any way.

Masonry Chimneys

Regardless of whether the flue is older, tile-lined – chimney fires in a masonry chimney can melt mortar, crack tiles and damage the outer masonry material. This happens mostly when thermal shock occurs causing tiles to crack and mortar displaced. This gives leeway to flames and is extremely hazardous.

How to Prevent a Chimney Fire

  1. Use dry wood. Wet wood does not burn as hot as dry wood and churns out more smoke. Wet wood often leads to rapid creosote buildup.
  2. Clean your chimney. It is often easy to tell if the stove pipe needs cleaning, i.e. when the smoke does not draft up but comes out of the door.
  3. Burn your wood stove daily. Burning wood stove hot enough on a regularly will help prevent the buildup of creosote.
  4. Use creosote remover powder. This is a powdery substance that when put in woodstove before burning a hot fire turns the creosote into a powder. This does not in any way substitute for cleaning your chimney, but rather helps reduce creosote and minimizes chances of a creosote chimney fire.
  5. Burn the hardest firewood you can find. Softwood has a lot of pitch in them which also contributes to the creosote buildup and chimney fire.
  6. Regular chimney cleaning. Ensure regular cleaning of your fireplace interior including the floor. Also, vacuum and ensure you wear protective gear while cleaning your fireplace.
  7. Consider installing heat-proof glass doors. This will help to improve your fireplace’s efficiency. The heatproof doors can also keep embers from entering the interior of your home. If you have these types of glass doors already, clean regularly with a paper towel.
  8. Look out for soot buildup. Though soot is softer than creosote, it is also highly flammable and should be cleaned regularly.
  9. Whenever you detect smoke inside your house emanating from the fireplace, troubleshoot and immediately correct any problems. The smoke is probably due to creosote buildup, a dirty chimney, or soot.
  10. Consider installing a stainless steel liner. Pick one that can withstand even the highest temperatures thus keeping the fire embers contained.

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