Russel Ray has presented many interesting and important safety tips about fireplaces and harmful creosote buildup. Thanks Russel for a lot of great information. Feel free to comment, but be sure to stop by Russel's blog to chat and perhaps to subscribe.
You're smoking too much!
How do I know?
Because you're flat-out ugly:
Although one-third of the nation uses fireplaces, wood stoves, and other fuel-fired appliances as primary heat sources in their homes, that doesn't means that they are aware of the risks when using fire to heat a home. Thirty-six percent of home fires each year are the result of fires used for heating the home, usually due to creosote accumulation.
The black stuff you see above the fireplace in the picture is soot, which has creosote in it. Creosote has many commercial uses, but coating the inside and outside of your fireplace and chimney is not one of them!
Creosote is a byproduct of the incomplete combustion of organic fuels. If you have a very smoky fire, chances are that whatever you're burning isn't burning completely. As smoke rises through the chimney, it cools, resulting in carbon, water, and various oils condensing on the inside of the chimney. If the damper is closed, or the fire is too big for the fireplace, you'll also get black soot on the outside of the fireplace and chimney like that in the picture.
As you continue to use your fireplace, creosote continues to accumulate. The worst I ever saw was a chimney with creosote over two inches thick. Since chimneys are usually designed to handle a specific fire type (wood or gas) and air flow into the fire and up the chimney, when you start blocking the chimney with an accumulation of creosote, the air flow through the chimney is reduced. Since creosote is highly flammable, you've created a nice fire hazard which, too often, results in a chimney fire. It's kind of like having a chimney full of charcoal briquettes except in this case what you'll be grilling is your house instead of prime rib.
Once the inside of the chimney catches on fire, the chimney itself can get so hot that any combustible materials that might be in direct contact with it — such as wood framing in the attic, or storage in the attic — catch on fire.
You can do several things to keep your fireplace working at maximum efficiency:
- Have your fireplace and chimney cleaned annually.
- Clear the area around the firelace of debris, storage, decorations, and flammable materials.
- Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. This act provides air to help with complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney. Make sure you close the mesh screen to keep any popping embers from getting outside of the fireplace.
- Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room.
- Keep air inlets on wood stoves open and never restrict air supply to fireplaces.
- Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.
- Never use flammable liquids like gasoline to start a fire.
- Use only seasoned hardwoods. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup, as does pine wood.
- Don't use the processed wood logs that you find at the grocery store. As with most overprocessed stuff in the world, it's not good for you or your fireplace.
- Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
- Never burn cardboard boxes, trash, or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
- Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
- Make sure your chimney has spark arrestors on it to keep sparks from flying out the chimney and landing on your roof, a neighbor's roof, or in flammable trees and landscaping.
- Remove tree branches hanging above the chimney, flues, and vents.
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside sleeping areas. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year.
If you can see any soot around your fireplace, it's time to call in the professionals to see what's going on.
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