While curling up by the fire is always great when the weather gets cold, there are a few things you should do first to make sure your fireplace is safe to use. Chimney fires occur more often than you’d think and can cause real damage to your home, but they’re easily preventable with some simple maintenance.
What is a chimney fire?
Chimney fires occur when your fireplace ignites a buildup of flammable material in your chimney. The most common culprit is a substance called creosote, which is really a residue of smoke and vapor from burning wood. This residue accumulates in your chimney as you use your fireplace, and if it isn’t cleaned regularly, it can build up in layers to form an incredibly flammable glaze.
What’s worse is that you may not even know you’re having chimney fires until you’ve had several of them. Chimney fires usually burn themselves out before they become noticeable, but they can burn at temperatures of up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to crack mortar and affect the structural integrity of your chimney. If a fire starts in an already-damaged chimney flue, that fire can spread to the home’s wooden structures and cause catastrophic damage.
What causes chimney fires?
Simply put, chimney fires are caused by a lack of proper maintenance. If you don’t have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned regularly, you’re giving soot and creosote the chance to build up. The more flammable creosote buildup you have in your chimney, the higher the chance of combustion when you use your fireplace.
There are a few things you can do to slow the buildup of creosote in your chimney. First, burn only seasoned wood in your fireplace. Seasoned wood has been left to dry and age outside for at least six months to a year. Using “green,” or unseasoned, wood in your fireplace leads to more water vapor, inefficient burning and higher levels of creosote.
You can also lessen creosote buildup by ensuring proper air flow through your chimney. This means keeping the glass doors on your fireplace open, and making sure that the damper is all the way open before starting your fire.
How can you prevent chimney fires?
Regular inspections are the only way to be sure that your fireplace and chimney are in proper working order. An inspector can determine whether your chimney has suffered any structural damage from past fires and knows the signs of dangerous creosote buildup.
Even if you don’t use your fireplace very often, having it inspected regularly is important because creosote isn’t the only flammable substance in your chimney you have to worry about. Branches, bird nests and other debris can become lodged in your chimney (we’ve found even weirder things like footballs and raccoons, too—yeah, it happens). These can either obstruct air flow, causing an accumulation of carbon monoxide, or they can combust. Neither option is good news.
Call Your Local NPI Inspector for a Safe Chimney
National Property Inspections has the tools and expertise you need to keep your fireplace safe for your family this winter. Find your local NPI inspector today and schedule an appointment.