December and January are the worst months for chimney fires so I've made a list of tips for homeowners to follow that will help avoid a fire.
Tips to avoid a chimney fire:
- Never burn wet wood (more than 20% moisture content). Wet wood takes a lot of energy to burn off the moisture and causes smoldering, which is inefficient.
- Never burn dry pine or hedge- they burns too hot (but small pieces may be used for kindling
- Never burn treated wood or colored paper (toxic fumes are emitted which can be a health hazard)
- Never burn wrapping paper- this is a big cause of chimney fires! Wrapping paper floats upward and can catch creosote on fire in the smoke chamber or flue.
- Never put a Christmas tree in a fireplace - a chimney fire is practically guaranteed! Christmas trees are especially dry and will burn fast and hot. Instead, take the tree outside and cut into small pieces for kindling or have it hauled off by the city.
- No Chimney Sweeping Logs! We have had customers who have had chimney fires occur right after use of one of these logs. Creosote on the flue walls drops down into the smoke chamber on the shelf where it is closer to the fire. Then a spark can ignite it and a chimney fire occurs. Besides, the sweeping log can't do an inspection!
- Have the chimney swept and inspected annually, or more often for wood stoves - by a professional chimney sweep. A good chimney sweep can identify problems that the untrained eye may miss.
All wood creates creosote - even dry hardwoods like Oak and Hickory, so creosote cannot be avoided. It must be removed by brushing, or in some cases where glazed, baked-on creosote is on the flue walls - by power cleaning. Power cleaning may consist of a wire whip or chains on a drill operated by a technician. This removes the baked -on creosote. A chemical treatment may also be needed. Glazed creosote occurs when wood is not properly burned, or the wrong type of wood is used.
Get advise from your chimney sweep about how to use your fireplace or wood stove if you have any questions. Check our website at www.chimkc.com for more homeowner tips.
Marge Padgitt is the president of HearthMasters, Inc. and publisher of Wood-Fired Magazine. She has been in the chimney and hearth industry for 29 years and is a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep and NFI Woodburning Specialist.