Ah, the fireplace. Is any other spot in the home such an integral part of the holiday season? It’s where we roast chestnuts (well, maybe someone does), hang stockings, gather the family ‘round to read “’Twas the Night,” and enjoy a cup of good cheer after the kids are nestled snug in their beds.
Of course, with fireplaces come chimneys—after all, how else could Santa deliver the goods?! In all seriousness, house fires escalate sharply in wintertime, with chimneys among the main culprits. What causes chimney fires? Usually an accumulation of creosote: a natural by-product of burning wood. Over time, creosote builds up on the walls of your flue, where hot gasses can easily ignite the sticky, highly combustible residue.
Chimney fires are especially dangerous because they are also sneaky. While some chimney fires are explosively obvious—with loud popping noises, flames and dense smoke shooting out the top—others burn slowly and are barely noticeable while causing irreparable damage to the chimney and, worst case, eventually catching your home on fire.
Here are some signs that you’ve had a chimney fire but may not even realize it:
- Puffy creosote with rainbow-colored streaks that has expanded beyond its normal form
- Damper metal and/or metal connector pipe are warped
- Cracked or collapsed flue tiles or tiles with large chunks missing
- Discolored or distorted rain cap
- Heat damaged TV antenna attached to chimney
- Flakes or larger pieces of creosote found on the roof or ground
- Roofing material damaged by hot creosote
- Cracks in exterior masonry
Taking precautions against creosote buildup begins by selecting the right firewood. Choose hardwoods that have been “seasoned” or dried in the sun over a stretch of time. Freshly cut green wood contains more moisture and produces cooler smoke when burned, which is likely to condense on the inside of the chimney and cause problems.
Additionally, large, compact bundles of wood produce cooler fires. Build smaller, hotter fires instead. And it’s never a good idea to burn other materials such as evergreens, cardboard boxes or wrapping paper in the fireplace.
Air supply, or lack of it, is another culprit in sparking chimney fires. Good currents of air or “draft” lift the smoke up and out of the chimney before it condenses; if your fireplace can’t draw in enough air, creosote forms. Make sure your damper is open and feel with your hand whether your fireplace has draft before lighting the logs; once burning, keep glass hearth doors open to encourage airflow.
On a final note, obstructed chimneys can vent noxious gases back into your home, causing carbon monoxide poisoning and even death. That’s why having your chimney regularly inspected and cleaned by a certified chimney sweep is so important. Installing CO detectors in your home is the finishing touch to provide peace of mind and keep your family safe throughout the whole year, not just the holiday season.
From our LDR family to yours, warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday. Enjoy your fireplace safely—at the very least, Saint Nick’s un-toasted tootsies will thank you!
LDR Construction Services, Inc. Cleaning & Restoration has proudly served all of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin since 1991. LDR specializes in the complete repair of fire, smoke, wind, water and vandalism damage to both commercial and residential properties. Capable of handling any size loss and working with all types of insurance providers, the LDR disaster team is available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. For more information, visit www.ldr4service.com or call 1-888-874-7066.
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