“Why do I need my chimney swept?”
It’s a question we hear a lot – and it’s perfectly understandable. Most homeowners believe that so long as they use their fireplace properly, it shouldn’t need any other maintenance. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case, as all chimneys need regular attention from a specialist to keep them in proper working order. Keep reading for a full step-by-step breakdown of exactly why chimney sweeps are so crucial.
No combustible material ever burns in full – they experience something called “incomplete combustion”, which means that particles are released into the smoke as the material burns. When these particles meet with cold air and moisture, they solidify, causing a build up of residue. The byproduct of incomplete wood combustion is creosote.
Creosote is exceptionally dangerous. Made largely out of tar, creosote is highly flammable, difficult to extinguish, and impossible to control once ignited. Worst of all, it burns very hot – around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Creosote build up has three stages. Stage one is the most mild – at this point, the buildup is mostly soot. A chimney sweep will have no problem simply brushing this flaky buildup off with a specialized brush. Stage two is when creosote starts to really become a threat to the safety of a home. Most of the residue is tar, not soot, which is much more likely to ignite, and it’s much more difficult to clean properly. Solvents and other equipment like rotary loops are usually needed to handle stage two creosote.
Stage 3 Creosote Buildup
Stage three creosote buildup is very dangerous. Not only is it extremely difficult to clean, it’s at it’s most flammable state. Stage three creosote can be ignited by something as small as a single spark, and once it starts to burn, it doesn’t stop until it runs out of fuel. The heat put off by a stage three creosote fire is so intense, it can even burn through mortar and cracked clay flue tiles. This means the next time creosote starts to build up, it doesn’t just collect on the flue tiles – it builds up behind them, along the brick. Brick is porous and allows heat to transfer, which means if it’s 2,000 degrees on one side, it’s 2,000 degrees on the other.
Chimney fires are one of the most dangerous accidents that can happen to a home. They put off more than enough heat to ignite common household building materials, even without an actual spark. Things like insulation, wooden support beams, drywall, most flooring materials such as wood, linoleum, or carpet and even the shingles on your roof can ignite, transforming a seemingly simple chimney fire into a massive house fire within moments.
We recommend having your chimney cleaned and inspected at least once a year. Not only will this prevent creosote from building up, but it will keep you one step ahead of leaks and other damage caused by time or weather. Don’t wait for an unpleasant, and costly, surprise – schedule now, for absolute peace of mind.
For more information about keeping your home safe, check out these helpful links!