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When was the last time you checked your chimney?

Posted December 17, 2010

If you have a wood burning fireplace, you may need to check your chimney to make sure the fire you burn doesn’t turn out to be bigger than you intended! Check out the following article by Gary Pierce, a Horticulture Extension Agent in Harnett County. It’s both informative and entertaining!

 

Question: How can I prevent a chimney fire at my house?

Answer: Throughout history, a campfire was the place mankind exhibited the captured element of nature called fire. For thousands of years, people gathered around this accomplishment. As technology advanced, people learned how to move it indoors. Families gathered around the fireplace. This place was called a hearth, which was a play on the word heart.

While we learned how to move fire indoors, the average person does not understand fire. The combustion process of burning wood is never complete. Chimneys have the job of expelling the by-products of this combustion. Most of us call it smoke.

Wood that is wet (or unseasoned) will distill their natural tars when they are heated. This process produces lots of smoke. This smoke is a combination of chemicals called wood creosote. As these substances exit the fireplace and flow up into the cooler chimney, condensation occurs. This residue then sticks to the inner walls of the chimney. Creosote is black or brown in appearance. It can be crusty, flaky, drippy, sticky or shiny. Whatever form it takes, creosote is highly combustible. If it builds up in sufficient quantities and catches fire inside the chimney, then the result will be toasty.

While the type of wood you use is important, the primary contributor to chimney fires is not the type of wood. Hardwoods do burn cleaner than softwoods. Yet, wet oak (hardwood) produces more creosote than dry pine (softwood). While green (unseasoned) wood forms the most creosote, it is not the only problem. Restricted air supply and cooler-than-normal chimney temperatures are also factors that can accelerate the buildup of creosote on chimney walls. Smoldering fires produce large amounts of creosote. In order to reduce creosote production, burn the wood mostly down to charcoal before shutting off its air supply.

Make sure your wood is dry. Keep your chimney clean. Have an emergency plan in case of a fire. After opening presents, do NOT dispose of wrapping paper in the fireplace or wood stove. Tall wrapping paper flames often ignite chimney fires.

While fires can be dangerous, they are also harmonious. The single best accompaniment is the sound of human voice. They soothingly complement each other. For more than 25 years of my life, I witnessed the power of grandma’s hearth. It drew us together and helped us focus on the daily events in our lives. The hearth also helped us focus on each other.

Nowadays, most people have central air. This heating method warms every room in our house. It also scatters our families throughout our homes. More complicated technology makes our lives easier and increases our modes of recreation. If we are not careful, it will also push us just outside of the sound of each other’s voice. During the holidays, I hope that you discover a hearth in your home. If you don’t have a chimney, you will be amazed how a weekend campfire can bring folks together. Merry Christmas!

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In addition to the stories you see on TV, Monica is always looking for ways to help consumers find deals and avoid fraud. She'll blog about what you need to know here.