At Oregon Chimney Guys, we can’t stress enough the importance of annual chimney sweeps and inspections. One of the main reasons we encourage proper chimney maintenance is to prevent and manage the buildup of creosote.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
What is Creosote?
Creosote is a mixture of many chemicals and is formed during the burning of firewood or coal. It is a thick, sticky, pungent substance that ranges in color from amber to black and coats the inside of chimneys and stovepipes. Caused by the gasses that are produced during wood burning, creosote condenses on the way out of the fireplace and clings to the inner walls of a chimney.
Creosote is a Fire Hazard
Creosote is highly combustible which makes it a serious fire hazard. When your chimney reaches high temperatures and low oxygen levels, the creosote buildup can ignite and cause a chimney fire. Because this substance is so concentrated, these fires tend to burn very hot and can cause severe damage to your chimney and home. That is why it’s so important to get an annual chimney sweep where creosote is removed from your chimney.
Health Effects of Creosote
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), long-term exposure to creosote vapors can irritate the lungs, cause damage to the eyes, and increase light sensitivity. Skin contact can cause blistering, peeling, and reddening of the skin. Ingesting large amounts of creosote can cause convulsions, kidney or liver problems, and even result in unconsciousness or death.
The risk of health problems due to creosote exposure increases for workers who have direct contact, such as in wood-treatment facilities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that coal tar creosote is a probable human carcinogen. Cancer of the scrotum has long been associated with chimney sweeps due to exposure to coal tar creosote and soot.
How to Minimize the Risks
Although avoiding creosote altogether is virtually impossible if you have a wood or coal-burning fireplace or stove, there are steps you can take to prevent creosote from building up and becoming a safety hazard to you and your home.
First, make sure you schedule a chimney sweep and inspection by a professional chimney sweep at least once a year. This will remove the creosote and allow you to address any chimney repairs that are needed.
Secondly, burn only seasoned firewood. Unseasoned firewood has a lot of moisture which uses up a lot of energy and encourages creosote buildup. Essentially, the longer the smoke stays in the flue, the more likely creosote will form.
Don’t allow the fire to smolder. Restricted air supply and cooler-than-normal chimney temperatures encourage the buildup of creosote. Air supply can be restricted when you close the glass doors or forget to open the damper wide enough.
With proper maintenance, creosote buildup can be completely manageable. At Oregon Chimney Guys, we provide high-quality service for all of Eugene’s chimney needs. Contact us to schedule your professional chimney sweep today!