The growing chill in the air ignites the urge to cozy up in front of a crackling fire. Before you light that log in your fireplace, be sure you’re not sparking a chimney fire.
Approximately 23,000 chimney fires occur every year, causing near a billion dollars in damage, and potentially the loss of lives.
Chimney fires are usually caused by creosote build-up. That’s the highly combustible residue that remains in your chimney when burning wood. The wood emits smoke, vapor, gas, hydrocarbons, tar fog, and wood particles. When the internal temperature of your flue gets high enough, the creosote ignites. The fire can explode and erupt in flames, or quietly smolder undetected.
A chimney fire can also result from a faulty chimney liner. If your chimney liner doesn’t provide adequate protection from the searing heat, sparks can escape into your home and ignite a fire.
You can prevent a chimney fire with three easy steps:
- Have your chimney professionally inspected and cleaned. At the beginning of the heating season, hire a certified chimney inspector to examine your chimney—specifically, the chimney liner and ventilation. The chimney inspector will check for creosote build-up, cracks, and leaks, and make sure the vent is in good working order. A good chimney sweep thoroughly cleans the chimney, flue, and vents.
- Use the right wood. Not all woods burn the same. Seasoned hardwood—like ash, oak, maple, hickory, and beech—is best. It has been fully dried out, and the ends should appear cracked, showing the wood is dry. When wood is still green, it creates more smoke as the moisture is dried. This additional condensation can lead to creosote build-up.
Never burn any treated wood materials—e.g., plywood, pressed wood, pressure-treated lumber, engineered wood, like laminate. These materials have been chemically treated and could emit dangerous gases when you burn them.
- Take precautions outside.
- Stack your firewood at least 30 feet from your home, to avoid any risk if the wood catches a spark.
- During your fall clean-up, clear away fallen leaves, pine needles, and debris from the roof and flue. Anything near the chimney is at risk of catching sparks and starting a fire.
- Place a spark arrestor screen over the chimney opening. The mesh keeps sparks from escaping to the roof and igniting a fire.
For some tips on finding a certified chimney sweep, visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA).