Not so long ago we received a call from a new customer who lives in Howard County. She was asking what is creosote and how to deal with it. We will tell you the same as we told her. Creosote is a highly flammable residue that can build up in chimneys and cause serious problems. These problems can especially serious if they go unnoticed for years. This article has been written to educate homeowners about how creosote is created and why it is dangerous.
What is creosote?
Creosote is a sticky, highly flammable substance that is a natural byproduct of chimney smoke. Creosote builds up inside of chimneys over time.
How Does Creosote Form?
You now know what creosote, but before starting on how to deal with it we first need to understand how it forms. Smoke from burning wood cools as it exits the chimney. In some cases, the smoke cools to the point that it does not exit the chimney. The cooled down smoke sticks to the internal parts of the chimney forming into creosote. Creosote is sticky and highly flammable. Creosote can form from burning any kind of fossil fuels, but it tends to form most quickly in wood-burning fireplaces. Here’s what happens, phase by phase.
Phase 1: Wood or similar materials burn, and the smoke is carried away via the flue outdoors – everything is working as it should. However, that smoke is both very hot, and filled with a lot of particles, including particles of carbon and oils that were vaporized by the fire. As the smoke travels, these particles combine and hit the sides of the flue, getting attached. At first, this forms only a light layer of slightly sticky, burnt materials that can be scrubbed away with little difficulty.
Phase 2: Over time, creosote builds up to a thicker layer. If you’ve ever seen fresh asphalt on a road, you have some idea of what this substance looks like. The combination of heat and resin from wood creates a tarry substance that’s thick, sticky and quite difficult to remove. At this point, it takes a lot of scraping to get rid of the creosote, and the job is best left to professionals.
Phase 3: In time, the creosote layer becomes literally baked onto the inside of the chimney, a thick, hardened substance that may ooze or drip when exposed to high temperatures. Because this version of creosote is so thick and durable, it can be extremely difficult to remove. At this stage, it may also be causing problems with your chimney airflow.
You can probably see that creosote can become pretty annoying. But what makes it dangerous? Well, that baked and blackened substance can burn and exude fumes over time. Particularly in fireplaces used for heating, those fumes can enter your house and circulate around, where they cause all kinds of health problems. Notable issues include:
There is a second set of dangers associated with creosote pertain to situations that could result in chimney fires.
Chimney flues are designed to encourage airflow as much as possible. After a lot of creosote build-up, airflow decreases. This means that more heat stays in the chimney, exposing both chimney materials and the creosote to more heat than they would otherwise endure. This also occurs with clogged or mismanaged chimneys!
Creosote itself is flammable. Due to its composition, it can be very hot and can be very difficult to put out. Unfortunately, the chimney is one of the worst places in a house for this kind of fire to start: Chimney fires can quickly spread to the roof and throughout a house, and many devastating house fires start in the chimney, often caused by unknown creosote deposits.
Tips on Preventing Creosote from Building Up
Since creosote can be difficult and expensive to remove, the best solution is to prevent it from building up at all. But what can the average homeowner with a fossil fuel fireplace do about this? Here are several chimney maintenance tips to keep in mind:
Choose the Best Fireplace & Stove Fuels
You can reduce the amount of creosote buildup by burning fuels that will have the least impact on your chimney. For wood-burning fireplaces, that means only using fully dried, “seasoned” wood with no moisture, which will create very little residue when it burns.
Stay Away from Chemical Cleaners
Chemical cleaners are special logs or sticks you can buy and burn in your fireplace to help reduce the amount of creosote that forms. You have to burn chemical cleaners every time you use the fireplace for them to be effective, but if all you have is green wood, then chemical cleaners can help decrease creosote buildup in your chimney.
Schedule a Professional Chimney Inspection Every Year
Without a doubt, regularly chimney inspections and sweeps are the best way to prevent creosote buildup. It is also very important for the health of your fireplace! And family. If you don’t know the history of your fireplace or how well it was maintained in the past, then you don’t know how much creosote was built up before you started using the fireplace. On the other hand, if you’ve been using the fireplace for years without an inspection, even more creosote could have built up during this time. Either way, a professional inspection is a good idea: Fireplace and chimney experts can take a look at the health of your chimney, see what the creosote levels are, and recommend the best cleaning options.
You can find out more by contacting us at All Pro Chimney to arrange an inspection or ask more specific questions about your fireplace and chimney!
Every town has myths of their own. In many cases, those myths are born as a way to explain a particular situation. When it comes to fireplaces, people tend to have some interesting but wrong ideas about them. Maybe they’ve been told a myth by a trusted relative or well-meaning friend. Maybe they’ve heard these myths and believed them because it’s “common knowledge.” Let’s look at some of the most common myths about fireplaces and separate the fact from fiction.
You Don’t Need to Have Your Chimney Cleaned or Inspected if You Don’t Use it a Lot
Many people believe that just because you only have a fire in your fireplace a few times a year, you can skip having your chimney cleaned and inspected. That is a dangerous assumption to make. A lot happens over the course of the year. Just because you’ve only burned wood once or twice during the winter doesn’t mean you can skip cleaning and inspection. This also applies to situations where you never use your fireplace at all. The weather can take its toll on your chimney and fireplace, animals may build nests in your chimney, and your chimney may have cracks in the masonry or stovepipe due to overheating and extreme temperature changes over time. This is why chimney inspections are not only necessary but also mandatory in Howard County, MD and surrounding areas.
You Can Clean Your Chimney Easily and Do Just as Good of a Job as a Professional
If you’re a do-it-yourself (DIY) type of person, you may have read on the Internet that you can clean your chimney easily and skip the yearly chimney sweep cost. The reality is that unless you have the proper tools and experience to clean chimneys, you could still be leaving dangerous creosote in your chimney which requires a fair amount of scrubbing to get rid of and without the right equipment, you won’t get your chimney clean. You also may miss some problems with your chimney that a trained sweep will recognize. A trained professional will see small problems that need to be fixed before they become big problems by performing a chimney inspection. Finding problems early saves homeowners the headache of costly repairs. Trying to inspect and clean your own chimney is generally a bad idea.
Home Remedies Work Well to Clean Chimneys
This one is a particularly popula myth in Howard County. Some homeowners will search the internet a read about a “cool home remedy” for keeping your chimney clean. Maybe it’s burning a particular substance along with your logs to clean your chimney, or maybe it’s a new way to clean your chimney like tossing a burlap bag filled with rocks down your chimney instead of using the proper tools. These home remedies may sound attractive, but they don’t get your chimney clean and put you in danger. They also do nothing towards ensuring your fireplace and chimney are safe to operate.
Pine and Soft Woods Cause Creosote Buildup
You’ve probably heard the myth that creosote is caused by burning soft woods such as pine. While pine has a fair amount of resin, creosote is created regardless of what type of wood you use. There is no such thing as wood that does not cause creosote over time.
I had a Metal Liner Installed and Therefore Don’t Need Chimney Cleaning
People have metal liners installed to protect masonry chimneys and fireplaces from the heat and the weather. Although metal liners do help your chimney remain in good condition, they still need cleaning. Creosote will build up on metal liners just like it will on any other material.
Chimneys and Fireplaces Aren’t Safe
Chimneys and fireplaces are very safe as long as they are maintained and inspected annually. The danger comes when they aren’t serviced properly.
Burning Wood is Bad for Air Quality
With clean burn technology, fireplaces are cleaner than ever. The air both in the home and out the chimney is cleaner than ever due to new technology in fireplaces and woodstoves. Regardless of wether, you are using central heat or a wood fireplace, toxins are being emitted in the air. Fireplaces provide the benefit of using less energy to heat smaller spaces. Central heat uses significant amounts of fuel to heat your entire home. Fireplaces and stoves focus on heating specific rooms. They don’t waste energy heating unoccupied space. As a result, fireplaces have a much lower impact on the environment than central heating systems.
When it comes to your household safety and also if you try to keep your budget tight, trusting common myths about fireplaces can become more of a problem than a solution.
This time of year, we see signs of Spring everywhere we look. The birds are chirping, the grass is growing, and small animals can be seen running from place to place. Unfortunately, your chimney could be one of the destinations the animals seek. Animals of all kinds have been known to make their homes in chimneys. Animal nests in chimneys can lead to chimneys fires or carbon monoxide poisoning. We recently met a homeowner in Columbia, MD, who told us about a previous incident that occurred involving birds that nested in their chimney. The homeowner learned from experience that is always best to have their chimney inspected every year. Below is everything homeowners need to know about animals that nest in chimneys. We will also educate you on how to keep animals out of your chimney.
Why animals go into chimneys
Many animals look at chimneys as a place to den and make a nest. Chimney represent a warm place that is protected from rain and is safe from predators. It is that nature of all animals to provide a safe place for their offspring. Humans feel the same urge. In this case, animals have chosen a place that threatens your home.
Animals that Like living in chimneys
Different types of animals live in your chimney. These animals include:
- Birds, including chimney swifts, owls, sparrows, and starlings may build a nest in your chimney
- Rodents, such as rats and mice
Hazards created by animals nesting in chimneys
Chimney fires are an obvious danger of animal nests in chimneys. There are several other hazards that homeowners seldom consider.
- The nests can block off airflow, putting you at risk to carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Rodents, squirrels, and raccoons can carry parasites. These parasites can leave their animal hosts and feed on the humans and pets within the home.
- Squirrels, rats, and raccoons may enter the home and damage wiring, furniture, and contaminate foodstuffs.
- Bats and raccoons can be carriers of rabies. Rabies is a disease that can be fatal.
- Rodents, squirrels, and raccoons can carry other diseases such as leptospirosis, hantavirus, plague, and other nasty bacteria and viruses.
What to do if you already have animals living in your chimney
Homeowners should contact their local animal control department to report animals living in their chimney. Animal control have the training and equipment necessary to safely remove wild animals from your chimney. Animal control can also determine if the animal inside of your chimney is part of a protected breed. Removing certain breeds or birds is a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Never attempt to remove the animals yourself.
How to keep wild animals out of your chimney
A chimney cap is the best tool to keep animals out of your chimney. It is possible for homeowners to install their own chimney cap. However, it is always best to hire a professional chimney service company like ours. The best option is to have a chimney professional conduct your annual chimney inspection. Looking for signs of animal nests is a standard part of chimney inspections. The chimney sweep will also show you how to keep animals out of your chimney.
Animals are a threat to every chimney. Installing a chimney cap and hiring a licensed chimney sweep to conduct an inspection is the best defense. Call your local chimney service company and schedule your annual inspection today. One nest can ruin your chimney.
Flower season is finally here. Everyone is getting started on their spring cleaning. It is essential to include your chimney in your spring cleaning routine. With winter dying down now is a great time to get a professional chimney sweep to look at your fireplace and make sure it’s in good shape after the harsh winter months. In addition to chimney cleaning, many homeowners decorate their mantle and hearth for the spring. We recently encountered a homeowner in Howard County that took great pride in her spring hearth decorations. Below are a few things that you can do to prepare your fireplace and chimney for the spring.
Clean & Paint Your Fireplace
Over the course of time, ash and debris can collect on your fireplace. Cleaning and repainting your fireplace can give a fresh look to an old fireplace. You have to start with cleaning the firebox and glass. Watch this video for an easy way to clean your fireplace glass.
If you have a wood-burning fireplace, you also want to sweep out your firebox before you paint. Sweep the old ash and wood remnants. You can use a vacuum to clean up the remaining debris. After the debris is gone, give the firebox a good scrubbing and paint with high-temperature paint. Watch the video below for instructions on how to clean and repaint your firebox.
Decorate your mantle & hearth
Fireplaces tend to be the focal point of any room. Your fireplace and mantle provide an excellent opportunity to enhance the beauty of any place. Decorating your fireplace mantle and hearth is a fun way to add charm and flair to a room. You can find some great spring decorating ideas here.
Here is an exciting video with ideas for decorating your mantle with items from Dollar Tree and Walmart.
Schedule your annual chimney inspection and cleaning
Chimneys take a beating throughout the winter. It is crucial to have your chimney inspected by a professional chimney sweep company like ours. A professional chimney sweep technician will inspect your chimney, determine if it needs to be cleaned and identify any areas in need of repair. Catching problems early is the best way to prevent costly chimney repairs in the future. The chimney sweep will also make sure that your chimney cap is in good condition. Want to learn more? Read our previous article about why chimneys should be cleaned every year.
Important note: Some make the mistake of thinking only wood-burning fireplaces need annual inspections and cleaning. All chimneys should be inspected a minimum of every year. Even gas fireplaces require yearly inspections. Be safe. Get your chimney inspected.
Installing an outdoor fireplace can make quite a difference in the look and feel of your home. From providing a spot to hang out with guests to keeping everybody warm outside, there are many reasons to install a fireplace outdoors. We find that outdoor fireplaces are particularly popular in Howard County. Here are five benefits of installing an outdoor fireplace that you’ll experience right away.
Outdoor fireplaces help you entertain guests
Whenever you add something to your home that’s both stylish and comfortable, it makes for a great spot for guests. As far as entertaining goes, it doesn’t get much better than an outdoor fireplace. You and your guests can sit around the fireplace or custom firepit enjoying drinks and conversation without worrying about getting cold. You can also add extra seating and table space to accommodate more guests. Here are a few quick entertainment ideas:
- Fireside dinner
- Drinks and conversation
- Music by the fire
Outdoor fireplaces keep you warm on chilly evenings
Spending time outside gets considerably harder during the colder season. It’s a lot easier when you have installed an outdoor fireplace to keep you warm. If you love the winter weather but hate being out in the cold, you’ll enjoy relaxing next to your outdoor fireplace and reading a book or having a morning cup of coffee. And when summer rolls around, it’s a great way to keep everybody warm at night.
Outdoor fireplaces add resale value to your home
One of the most useful benefits of installing an outdoor fireplace to your home is the increase in resale value. Many homes are amazing on the inside but lack appeal on the exterior of the house. Installing an outdoor fireplace is among the best ways to increase resale value. Installing outdoor fireplaces is recommended in an article in US News & World Reports.
Smoke from outdoor fireplaces repel bugs
Acting as a bug repellant is a lesser-known benefit of installing an outdoor fireplace. You don’t have to worry about a bunch of bugs flying in your face so much with an outdoor fireplace. The smoke from your outdoor fireplace works as a natural insect repellant. Burning fire while you’re outside can help cut down on the number of bugs bothering you.
You can cook on your outdoor fireplace
Outdoor fireplaces are a great tool when it comes to outdoor cooking. A fireplace isn’t quite as easy to use or accurate as a gas grill, but they still provide an excellent heat source if you’re looking to do some outdoor cooking. You can cook simple things like marshmallows or hot dogs on sticks, or you can have a fire grate installed so you can do full-scale cooking in your fireplace.
No matter what you’re looking for out of your home, chances are you’ll find many benefits to installing an outdoor fireplace. Not only are outdoor fireplaces a great way to entertain guests and stay warm, but they are also an investment that adds a lot of resale value to your home.
Want an estimate for installing an outdoor fireplace?
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