What's The Big Deal With Creosote?

If you own a wood-burning fireplace, then you've probably heard about creosote buildup. It's a common occurrence when you use your fireplace, but it can also be a serious danger if it isn't dealt with regularly. The following explains why creosote is such a big deal and how you can deal with the inevitable buildup.

What Is It?

A common byproduct of wood-burning, creosote is a distillation of the various tars and other chemicals commonly found in wood, fossil fuels, and other plant-derived materials. Historically, creosote has been used for a wide variety of purposes, including as a wood preservative and as part of various medicines.

What Happens When It Builds Up?

As wood burns in your fireplace, creosote mingles with soot and various other tars to form a coating on the chimney lining. There are several degrees of creosote buildup:

  • First-degree buildup: This stage usually contains a high amount of soot, which is relatively easy to clean and also indicates relatively good combustion.
  • Second-degree buildup: You'll start seeing heavier creosote buildup, usually in the form of dry, hardened tar flakes. This buildup is common with fireplaces equipped with glass doors.
  • Third-degree buildup: This stage occurs when conditions for wood-burning are less than optimal (poorly adjusted air controls, oversized flue, use of unseasoned wood, etc). The creosote buildup becomes extremely heavy, shiny in appearance and extraordinarily hard to remove.

What Are the Dangers of Creosote Buildup?

An excess buildup of creosote can set the stage for a chimney fire. As chimney temperatures approach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the tar-like buildup can ignite and cause an intense fire that's fueled mainly by the creosote buildup. Chimney fires can weaken the surrounding chimney structure and place the rest of your home's structure in jeopardy.

Creosote buildup can also restrict or even close off the air damper, preventing enough air from circulating throughout the chimney. This may allow more smoke to linger longer in the chimney and leave behind even more creosote deposits.

How to Get Rid of It?

For light creosote buildup, your chimney specialist will likely use a standard chimney brush to deal with the thin coating. Moderate creosote buildup may require the use of a rotary brush attached to a heavy-duty power drill. Your specialist may also decide to use chemical creosote removers to tackle moderate buildup.

Third-degree creosote buildup often proves impossible to remove with wire brushes, in most cases. Chemical removers can tackle third-degree creosote buildup as long as the creosote has yet to ignite and burn. In most cases, your specialist will recommend a replacement of the entire chimney liner as an alternative to a potentially unsuccessful cleaning. For more information, go to website.