Things You Need to Know About Chimney Cleaning
If you own a wood stove, you must perform thorough and regular chimney cleaning in order to keep you home and loved ones safe from fire. Regular cleaning can mean the difference between safe, cost-effective wood heat and a tragic or even fatal fire caused by dangerous pollutant build up.
Wood stoves can be a great, inexpensive way to heat your home or garage, especially if you have a ready source of free firewood available and a good place to store and season it. However, wood is not a terribly clean source of heat. All wood releases pollutants within the wood smoke when burned, the most dangerous of which congeal on their way out the chimney to form a toxic and highly flammable substance called “creosote.”
Wood creosote is a yellowish, foul-smelling, greasy substance that is created when the gases from the burning wood cool to below 250 degrees Fahrenheit and liquefy, often running down the insides of the chimney and coating it. As the creosote cools further, it solidifies inside the chimney walls, getting thicker and thicker. If no chimney cleaning maintenance is performed, this gummy creosote coating can ignite, causing a nasty and difficult fire.
This is why wood stoves must have proper chimneys attached and why the chimneys must be installed according to code, inspected, and routinely cleaned. The need for regular cleaning cannot be overstated. Removing the creosote from the inside walls of the chimney is vital to safe operation of the stove and to fire prevention.
Most modern wood accessories include long-handled, expandable brushes that you can use from a specially designed clean-out trap at the bottom of the chimney for intermittent chimney cleaning all year round. These brushes do a fairly decent job, and using one on a weekly basis is not a bad idea to keep on top of creosote build-up in your chimney, which can be insidious.
In addition to this intermittent cleaning, it is also absolutely essential that you do a full professional cleaning every single spring. Whether you choose to do this yourself or hire a chimney sweep to do it, a full chimney cleaning will be done from the roof of your house, not the bottom access, and will remove all trace of creosote remaining from the preceding winter.
Often a chimney sweep is preferable, because he or she will be able to get out much earlier than you will think to do it; generally as soon as the weather breaks and way before the weather gets overly warm. Creosote will create an unpleasant lingering odor within your home in warm weather, so even aside from safety concerns you don’t want to put the chimney cleaning off too long.
In the 1970s, slow burning wood stoves became very popular in the U.S. because you could fill them up with wood at night and the highly sealed chamber would still be creating heat in the morning, eliminating the need to get up at night and feed wood into the stove to keep the fire from going out. Unfortunately, this highly sealed combustion chamber also created cooler chimney temperatures: an ideal environment for creosote. After a rash of truly terrifying chimney fires, many people were so alarmed they had their wood stoves removed and went back to using natural gas or oil heat.
Today’s wood stoves usually feature catalytic converters that actually burn the smoke the wood produces before it ever enters the chimney. Catalytic converters can reduce or eliminate creosote and thereby reduce the need for frequent chimney cleaning. If you have not yet installed your wood stove, it is well worth it to make sure you purchase one with a good converter. Not only will it increase your peace of mind in regard to chimney cleaning and fire safety, you will also be releasing fewer toxic chemicals into the air outside by more efficiently burning your wood and the smoke it produces too.
You cannot completely eliminate creosote from wood smoke. What you can do is only used seasoned, well-dried wood. Seasoned wood is lower in moisture content than wood that has been freshly chopped. Many people believe that some kinds of wood produce more creosote than others. While there are differences, those differences are very minute with proper seasoning.
Soft woods like pine are perfectly acceptable to burn if they have been seasoned for at least one year. This means you burn last year’s cut firewood not this year’s cut firewood. Hardwoods like oak and madrone burn hotter and longer than pine, but they also take longer to dry out and season because of their density. With regard to chimney cleaning and creosote build-up, you are better off to burn well-seasoned pine than freshly cut hardwood of any variety.
Whatever you burn, regular, thorough chimney cleaning will insure you are able to burn it safely and will keep your family warm and your home smelling sweet and clean. Ultimately, that’s really what you want. All it really takes is a little knowledge, regular maintenance, and dry firewood.