What is Creosote, and Why Should You Have Your Chimney Cleaned?

Call for your annual service or chimney sweepYou’ve probably heard about chimney fires and how important it is to have your chimney cleaned and checked regularly, but why? You may look into your wood stove and think it looks pretty good – but your chimney could be a hazard waiting to burst into flames the next time you light a fire.

What is Creosote:

Creosote is a product of incomplete combustion: deposits of unburned tar vapors from wood smoke that are very flammable. It can be hard or sticky, with a tar-like consistency, crusty and thick, or flaky in texture. Often very difficult to remove from chimneys, creosote deposits are one of the most common and serious fire hazards, regardless of the chimney type (metal, masonry, insulated metal, etc.).

How can you prevent creosote buildup?

Creosote build-upWhether you use soft woods or hard woods, and no matter how you burn your firewood, particulate matter and gasses are released into the air and through the chimney. There is no avoiding this, but that doesn’t mean you have to have a creosote build-up. Creosote is formed when wood is incompletely burned, and is an indication of a poor wood stove design, improper use, or poor installation. Here are some tips to keep your chimney creosote-free:

  • Operate your wood stove at the right temperature
    A moderately active fire is best. If you damper the stove way down, you will have a smoky fire that emits lots of unburned vapors that can condense inside the chimney flue or pipe. While your fire is burning, go outside and take a look at the flue. If there’s lots of smoke, you are burning too cool. Creosote represents unburned fuel, so if you’re trying to conserve firewood by burning cooler, it doesn’t really save the firewood and can be harmful to your chimney. You’ll actually get more heat from the same amount of wood burned hotter, and you’ll also be doing the environment a favor!
  • Use the right fuel
    Season your firewood. All firewood contains water in some degree. The water contained in the wood turns to steam, which can cool the chimney so the gases condense and creosote is formed. The drier your firewood, the less steam it emits, thus reducing the chance of creosote.
  • Make sure your flue is the right size and is properly installed
    If your flue is improperly sized or incorrectly installed, it may not be drawing the combustible products to the outdoors quickly enough. This increases the time the smoke stays in the venting system, allowing it to condense and form creosote in the flue.
  • Learn how to properly operate your stove
    It is important to know what type of stove you have and to operate it properly. Refer to your operator’s manual, or contact us for a service call. Our staff can check for creosote build up, leaks, or improper installation, and give you step-by-step instructions on how to properly operate your stove.
    If you continue to have creosote build-up or other problems, you may wish to consider a new EPA-certified stove, designed to burn cleanly at a much lower burn rate.

Why should you have your chimney cleaned?

The best way to make sure your stove is in top working condition and there is no creosote build up is to schedule an annual inspection. It only takes about an hour for Sierra Hearth & Home National Fireplace Institute (NFI) Certified Specialists to thoroughly inspect and clean your system, so you can heat your home worry-free. We will also provide you with a safety report for insurance purposes if necessary.

Click HERE for CSIA Homeowner Resources and information on what our chimney sweep will do when they come to your home.

What if you notice creosote build-up?

If you look into your chimney and see signs of creosote build up, or if your stove or chimney are smoking from various leak points, close the air supply and let the fire cool down. Do not burn any more fires. Schedule a cleaning and inspection immediately. Any creosote build-up can cause a deadly chimney fire.

What if your chimney catches fire?

Chimney fireLet’s hope you are reading this as a preventative measure, and you are keeping your stove and chimney cleaned and inspected so you never have a fire.

A creosote chimney fire burns very hot, sounds like roaring thunder, and can burn a building to the ground very quickly. If you suspect a creosote fire, immediately get everyone out of the building and call the fire department. If it is possible to safely close down the air supply to the chimney, it may help, but your first priority is to getting everyone to a safe place.

Sierra Hearth & Home’s Chimney Sweeps are  National Fireplace Institute (NFI) Certified.

CALL US NOW to schedule your inspection!


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