Chimney Fires Destroy Homes
Creosote buildup may not look dangerous, but
it ignites at a mere 451 degrees F, and once it
starts burning, it expands like foam sealant. In
less than a minute, it builds to more than 2,000
degrees F and can engulf your entire chimney
and destroy your home.
Even if you clean your chimney regularly, you
should still have it inspected by a qualified
chimney sweep once a year. Certified chimney
sweeps are trained to recognize chimney deterioration
and venting problems and can assess
your chimney’s condition.
If you burn mostly green (wet) logs, have your chimney cleaned or inspected
every 50 burns. If you see moisture bubbling out the ends of the logs when
they’re burning, the wood is wet. This green wood doesn’t burn cleanly and
sends a lot of unburned particles (smoke) up the chimney, where they build
up as creosote and soot. Dry hardwoods, such as oak and birch, burn hotter
and cleaner. With them, have your chimney cleaned or inspected every
A quick way to tell if your chimney needs cleaning is to run the point of your fireplace poker along the
inside of your chimney liner. If you find a 1/8-in. or more layer
of buildup (the thickness of a nickel), call a chimney sweep. Chimney
sweeps may see 40 to 50 chimney fires a year, and more
than half of the chimneys they service require extra cleaning because the
homeowners wait too long before calling. In extreme cases, the hardened
layer of buildup requires cleaning with special tools or chemicals.
A professional cleaning includes an inspection for soot buildup, obstructions,
cracks in the chimney liner and signs of water damage. Older chimneys often
have gaps between clay liner sections where the mortar has fallen out.
When hiring a chimney sweep, look for someone who’s certified and
insured and will provide an upfront cost estimate. (For a list of certified
chimney sweeps, contact the Chimney Safety Institute of America at csia.org.)