For millions of households not only around the country, but here in Houston as well, a wood-burning fireplace is both a major and supplemental source of home heating. Its soothing warmth makes a house feel warm and inviting even when the weather outside is bitterly cold. However, as lovely as the flames are to look at, there is a secret threat lurking amid them that you may not be aware of. Creosote is what it’s called, and it’s not something you want to overlook.
What Is Creosote?
When you burn a fire, creosote is a pollutant that is naturally formed during the chemical reaction of combustion. It’s a viscous, greasy substance that’s extremely flammable. All it takes is a spark from an ember to light the chimney. Unless creosote is removed, creosote will continue to accumulate with each fire. Creosote is most commonly seen in wood-burning flames, although it can also be found in the combustion of liquid fuels such as gas. Consequently, whether using a wood-burning or gas fireplace, homeowners must keep an eye on creosote accumulation.
Every year, thousands of chimney fires occur across the country, resulting in millions of dollars in property damage. Fires that originate in the chimney can quickly spread throughout the house, causing serious injuries and even death. Most chimney fires, according to fire experts, are caused by too much creosote in the chimney.
Homeowners should inspect and get a Houston chimney sweep at least once a year, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and fire safety specialists. A creosote buildup of 1/8″ or more is deemed excessive and should be removed to avoid the risk of a fire. There are a few other things that homeowners can take to reduce creosote buildup in their chimney:
Only use seasoned firewood.
The moisture level of wood that has been seasoned or dried for 6 to 12 months is significantly reduced. The fire will burn hotter for longer while producing less smoke and creosote.
Freshly cut (green) wood, on the other hand, has a high moisture content. At a lower temperature, the wood will burn more quickly, producing a lot of smoke and creosote residue. Keep in mind that where there is smoke, there is creosote.
Don’t put out the fire.
To breathe and continue to burn, a fire needs oxygen. There is no fire if there is no oxygen. When lighting a fire, make sure the damper is completely open. The damper can be adjusted to control the flames, but be careful not to cut off too much oxygen. Low-temperature fires produce more creosote.
Smoldering should be avoided.
Many homeowners let their fire smolder until it goes out on its own. At lower temperatures, more creosote is formed when the fire burns out. It is preferable to put out the fire rather than leave it to smolder. Spread the wood and ambers in the fireplace to put out a fire, then scoop up the cooled ash to cover them with baking soda. To avoid carbon monoxide back-up into your home, wait until the fire is totally out before shutting the damper. Also, a burning fireplace should never be left unattended.