During the cold, winter months, gathering in front of a warm, crackling is a time honored tradition. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, more than 30% of American homes use fireplaces, stoves, or other fuel burning appliances as their primary heat sources during the winter. While most homeowners know how to control the flames in their firebox, many remain unaware of the dangers posed by chimney fires.
Dirty or blocked chimneys can lead to chimney fires, which can not only cause extensive property damage, but can also lead to personal injury and even death. Luckily, chimney fires are almost 100% preventable. With proper care and maintenance, homeowners can use their fuel burning appliances without fear of a damaging chimney fire.
What causes chimney fires?
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that there are approximately 26,000 chimney fires in the United States each year. These fires result in over $120 million in property damage and losses and at least 10 fatalities each year.
The primary cause of chimney fires is an excessive buildup of creosote. Creosote is a natural byproduct of all wood fires. This corrosive, foul-smelling, sticky residue is extremely flammable. Because of this, it is extremely important that flues and chimneys are professionally cleaned each year to remove any creosote buildup.
Signs of a chimney fire
While fireboxes are designed to withstand the high heat from a burning fire, most chimney structures are not. Some chimney fires burn explosively, creating loud explosions and spewing flames from the chimney itself. However, it is possible for small chimney fires to go otherwise undetected and their smoke and smell can be obscured by the normal fuel burn of a fireplace.
Even if controlled, small chimney fires can still seriously damage the masonry or metal of a chimney. During an annual inspection, certified chimney sweeps will look for any of the nine signs of damage from a chimney fire:
- “Puffy” or “honey combed” creosote
- Warped metal of the damper, metal smoke chamber connector pipe or factory-built metal chimney
- Cracked or collapsed flue tiles, or tiles with large chunks missing
- Discolored and/or distorted rain cap
- Heat-damaged TV antenna attached to the chimney
- Creosote flakes and pieces found on the roof or ground
- Roofing material damaged from hot creosote
- Cracks in exterior masonry
- Evidence of smoke escaping through mortar joints of masonry or tile liners
If a chimney fire has occurred, there is a wide range of repairs that may be recommended. A small chimney fire may only require a few flue tiles to be replaced, whereas a major fire may require the entire flue, liner, or chimney to be replaced or rebuilt.
How to prevent chimney fire
The primary way to prevent chimney fire is through annual cleaning, inspection, and maintenance of your fuel burning appliance, flue, and chimney. Certified chimney sweeps, such as those at Coopertown Services will be able to successfully remove any creosote deposits, buildup, or other blockages in the chimney structure. Doing this makes sure that your fireplace is safe to use during the winter months without the worry of a potential chimney fire.