The National Fire Protection Association recommends annual inspection/cleaning of all chimneys for safety. Removal of flammable creosote is one of the tasks that the sweep will perform while servicing your chimney. All of our sweeps are certified with the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and can tell by the “ring” of the brushes if you have a cracked flue tile that needs attention. During the cleaning other areas that are checked for safety are your cap, flue, smoke chamber, smoke shelf, damper, firebox, exterior brick, flashing, and crown. If detected early, small repairs can save you thousands of dollars. Our sweeps are also trained in detecting third degree creosote glazing and helping to correct the cause of it.
The most recent figures from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission indicate that there are over 29,100 chimney/solid fuel related fires annually in America. A chimney fire happens when the creosote deposited inside the chimney ignites. When this happens it is usually associated with a loud roaring sound, like an aircraft taking off or a train running through your living room. This is due to the tremendous amount of air rushing into your fireplace producing a blast furnace type of effect. A chimney fire can produce temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees, hot enough to melt mortar and spew flaming balls of creosote out of your chimney like a volcano. Some people have limited chimney fires just burning up one side of the flue sounding like the howling wind outside. Many times this will crack the clay flue liner leaving the homeowner in a more vulnerable situation should a second chimney fire occur. A common occurrence is a resulting structure fire transmitted through the brick from the intense heat.
Powders and potions have been around for over twenty years that claim to reduce or eliminate creosote in the chimney. Our field observations of homeowners that try these chemicals have shown that not only do they not eliminate creosote, some are actually causing severe damage to the chimney interior. We have seen homeowners burning aluminum cans, potato peelings, and even chicken droppings. These methods not only do not eliminate creosote, they also produce a caustic acid when burned, and deposit on the inside of your chimney. Be wary of anything boasting all natural ingredients. In most cases this means sodium chloride (table salt) being deposited in your flue. Salt mixed with humidity and moisture spells disaster both for masonry and metal interiors of chimneys. Much like salt on your sidewalks in the wintertime.
Always insist on a certified chimney sweep with the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), the educational branch of the National Chimney Sweep Guild. It is very important to make certain the person that is actually coming out to service your chimney is certified and not just the owner of the company or secretary. A certified sweep will always be wearing his picture I.D. Certification badge upon entering your home. A Certified sweep must pass a rigorous test and is your assurance that the sweep is well trained to spot areas of concern with your chimney and it’s safe operation. A certified sweep is trained to tell by the “ring” of his brushes when he encounters a damaged or cracked clay flue tile, flammable third degree creosote glazing (which indicates a problem), damper not opening fully, open mortar joints and lintel gaps, just to name a few areas of safety concern. The exterior of the chimney is also checked for cracked brick, missing mortar, flaming, crown and animal cap.
The most common type of wood to order from this area of the country is mixed hardwoods, followed by birch. Birch is not as popular as it is a softer wood and will burn twice as fast as the mixed hardwoods, also producing twice as much creosote. The most important thing is to burn a well-seasoned wood. Wood should be cut and split and left to dry 12 months and stored with a cover over the top with the sides left open for air circulation. Stay away from pine because of its high pitch content and never burn cardboard, plywood, Christmas wrapping, treated, or painted wood. The smokier the fire you have, the more creosote you will be depositing in your chimney.