Regular maintenance is a vital part of owning just about anything. There’s a good chance that you change the oil in your car every three to five thousand miles, and there’s also a good chance that you have your HVAC system serviced regularly to ensure the year-round comfort of your home. Chimney cleaning is just as important. It can become even more important when you consider the potential repercussions of failing to properly maintain it.
What Goes On in Your Chimney?
Each time you kick back to enjoy the crackling warmth of a fire in your fireplace, a slight layer of buildup is gathering on the inner walls of your chimney. The resulting smoke contains combustion gases and other particles, and naturally rises from the fire, through the chimney, and out through the top of your roof. As it travels, it deposits some of those particles on the insides of your chimney walls. Smoke also cools and condenses as it rises and exhausts, and the cooler it gets, the thicker the deposits.
Of these deposits, creosote is the most concerning. It is a substance comprised of volatile compounds that occur naturally during combustion, and it forms even more readily when fires are starved of oxygen, or with incomplete combustion of the wood. When it first starts to build up along the inside of the chimney, it becomes a flaky substance that’s easily scraped away by a professional with the proper tools. At this early stage when it is easily removable is the ideal time to clean the creosote from your chimney.
When Creosote Becomes a Problem
Over time, as you continue to burn more and more firewood, the creosote buildup becomes sticky – almost like tar – and far more difficult to remove. Later, these same deposits harden into an almost rock-like substance, becoming nearly impossible for homeowners to remove on their own. When temperatures inside the chimney then begin to climb, the deposits can start to drip like candle wax. This can pose serious issues for both your home and your health as creosote is not only toxic but also highly flammable.
The Dangers of Creosote
Your goal should be to prevent dangerous buildup in your chimney before it becomes problematic. Creosote is the number one cause of chimney fires each year, and while some of these fires can be contained within the chimney, others spread and cause devastating damage and loss. But creosote can also cause a host of other problems:
- Skin and Eye Irritation – The toxic substances in creosote can cause rashes, chemical burns, and redness when it comes into contact your skin. Symptoms if it gets into your eyes can be even worse, and may include sensitivity to light and chemical burns ranging from mild to severe.
- Breathing Issues – Creosote is a respiratory irritant, which means that even otherwise healthy people who breathe it in are likely to develop issues over time. People who have asthma, emphysema, or other preexisting health issues are at an even bigger risk.
- Cancer – Studies have shown that creosote is a carcinogen and a dangerous one at that. Though the amount of creosote in a well-maintained chimney will not cause cancer, prolonged exposure to it certainly can.
Cleaning your chimney, as you can see, is every bit as important as changing your oil or servicing your HVAC. In fact, many would argue that regular chimney cleanings are even more important, especially among homeowners who regularly use their fireplaces. Annual cleanings are ideal, but if you use your fireplace consistently, a professional cleaning after each season is best for preventing risk to your family’s health and safety.