Explaining Creosote and How It Threatens Your Chimney

As a home and fireplace owner, you might be looking for ways to prevent damage to your investment. Getting educated about various threats to your fireplace and chimney is a good place to start.
If you’ve read any amount of literature on your fireplace and chimney, the word creosote might have come up in your reading from time to time, and it’s easy to see why: creosote is among the foremost harmful by-products of utilizing your fireplace. Letting too much creosote build up in your chimney could be disastrous, costly and even deadly.

To help you get informed about creosote and how to prevent its effects on your chimney, here’s what you need to know.

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What is Creosote?

Creosote is an odorous, combustible substance that is released into your chimney as the by-product of the wood burning in your fireplace. Anytime you light a fire, the burning wood releases a collection of vapors and gases, which travel up through your chimney, react with the cooler temperatures at the top, and harden, forming a tar-like substance that coats your chimneys walls. That substance is creosote.
Creosote can be black or brown, hardened and flaky or gummy and semi-liquid. No matter what the form of the creosote in your fireplace, it poses multiple threats to your chimney, fireplace and the structure of your home.

Why is Creosote Bad?

In its liquid form, creosote can leak down the walls of your chimney and into your fireplace, sending noxious odors into your home and creating a mess. It can also leak into vents and pipes, creating dangerous blockages and threatening to cause thousands of dollars in property damage.

Chimney Fires

A creosote build-up or blockage in a chimney is one of the leading causes of chimney fires. Because creosote is so combustible, starting a fire in your fireplace when there’s an excess of creosote in your chimney could lead to the creosote catching fire, sending embers out onto your roof, spreading the fire and threatening complete home loss. At the least, a chimney fire will damage the complex structure of your chimney and fireplace, costing thousands in damage to your investment. The threat of a chimney is very real for homeowners who haven’t had their chimney swept or properly inspected in some time.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

A build up of creosote can also threaten your home and family with carbon monoxide poisoning, as CO is released when any fuel is burned. Neglecting to have your fireplace and chimney cleaned regularly could lead to an excess of creosote, soot and debris build-up in your chimney, preventing the proper expulsion of smoke, vapor and gas through the chimney’s opening. The gases that result in the burning of fuel as you light a fire in your fireplace will then collect and seep back into your home, posing a serious, even deadly threat.

The first step to detecting a spike in CO production is to install CO detectors in all of your fuel-burning appliances. The second step is to have your fireplace and chimney inspected and swept regularly.
A professional fireplace and chimney company can ensure that the creosote in your chimney is maintained, that your structures are sound and that your investment poses no threat to you or the structure of your home.

Consider investing in a chimney sweeping before fall arrives, so you’re ready to burn that first fire when the temperatures drop.

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