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What is Creosote? Get Informed About This Threat to Your Chimney

While it is summertime, and you probably aren’t utilizing your fireplace for warmth, it’s never a bad time to learn more about you investment, the dangers it presents and possible ways to prevent those dangers. If you’re a new homeowner or have recently purchased a fireplace, some of the important information about safety, maintenance and potential dangers might not have sunk in just yet.
Something that all fireplace owners should know about is creosote, the build-up of burned wood by-products in your chimney that has the potential to cause damage and even threaten your home.
Here’s everything you need to know about creosote.


What Exactly is Creosote?

Anytime wood is burned, pollutants are released, often in the form of gases. The purpose of your chimney is to wick these gases away from the entrance to your home and out through the opening in the top, saving you from harsh smells and dangerous pollutants and gases each time you build a fire.
Unfortunately, one of the inevitable by-products of burning wood is creosote. Creosote is a foul-smelling, carbonaceous substance that is transferred as a gas within the smoke and vapors of your fire. Creosote travels up through your chimney, reacts with the cooler temperatures at the top, and thickens as it dries, creating a tar-like substance, generally black or brown in appearance. Creosote is the result of burning wood in your fireplace, and its existence can’t be avoided. Letting too much creosote build up in your chimney, however, can be costly and dangerous.

What Factors Contribute to Creosote Build-Up in Your Chimney?

Creosote build-up can be accelerated by a number of factors:

  • Cooler chimney temperatures
  • Restricted air supply
  • Unseasoned wood

By not opening your flue wide enough, you extend the amount of time smoke lingers in your chimney before flowing out, increasing the amount of creosote that forms.

How Is Creosote Dangerous to Fireplace Owners?

When you’ve gone a significant amount of time using your fireplace without having it swept, the creosote build-up in your chimney can hit maximum capacity. The effects of creosote build-up can vary; liquid creosote can seep back into your home, causing foul odors. When it hardens, it can plus pipes and chimney liners or block off your chimney altogether, causing damage when you use your fireplace.
Among the most dangerous results of a build-up of creosote in your chimney is the possibility of a fire.
A chimney fire occurs when creosote and soot residue inside a dirty chimney combust, causing smoke and flames to engulf your chimney structure, attaching pipes and any combustible structures nearby. Many chimney fires go unnoticed by homeowners until the structures of their fireplace and chimney are ruined. Another result of a creosote-blocked chimney is the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide poisoning claims nearly 500 lives in the United States each year, and seriously injures thousands more victims. Because homeowners generally can’t see or smell carbon monoxide, and because its initial symptoms are similar to that of the flu, many people don’t realize that carbon monoxide is being released into their home regularly, often as the result of a poorly maintained chimney.

Preventing the Build-Up of Creosote in Your Chimney

Regular, professional chimney maintenance is the most important aspect of creosote build-up prevention. Many homeowners attempt to clean their chimneys themselves, but can fail to identify dangerous blockages or creosote build-ups that desperately need to be removed. Winter in Colorado is challenging, with temperatures often hovering in the single digits. Utilizing your fireplace for warmth is an essential part of many homeowners’ winter experiences, but fireplace and chimney safety should always come first.

Bulldog Chimney Sweeps serves Carbondale and its surrounding areas with professional, reliable chimney sweeping and maintenance services; if you suspect you have a creosote build-up in your chimney, or your fireplace is simply due for a cleaning, leave the job to a professional this year.