How often should you schedule a chimney inspection? The answer is somewhat complicated. It depends on a couple of factors. First, there are guidelines from the National Fire Protection Association that everyone should follow. But second, it depends on how often you use your fireplace, and how much creosote buildup you have in your chimney. Let’s look at these factors in greater detail.

The National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 says that chimneys should be inspected at least yearly to check for soundness, creosote deposits, and the right clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repair should occur if needed. This holds true even if you don’t use your chimney frequently because your chimney may have obstructions you don’t know about, such as a bird’s nest, which would be dangerous if you light a fire.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) says an open masonry chimney should be swept at ⅛” of sooty buildup–sooner if there’s any glaze in the chimney. Metal fireplaces should be swept after any sooty buildup because of the buildup’s acidic properties. This is meant to extend the life of the chimney.

Statistics indicate that around 25,000 chimney fires occur in the US annually, many of which could have been prevented if not for creosote buildup.

What is Creosote?

Creosote is a byproduct of wood combustion composed primarily of tar. Wood fires will always produce a certain amount of creosote. Creosote eventually hardens and sticks to the inside of your chimney. While small amounts of creosote aren’t worrisome, a buildup of creosote in your fireplace can be harmful. Creosote goes through three stages: first, second, and third degree.

First Degree Creosote

First degree creosote has a high percentage of soot and can be cleaned easily  with a chimney brush. First degree creosote means there’s good combustion of wood and high flue gas temperatures. The fire has plenty of oxygen and the heat passes up quickly through the chimney. This is the ideal situation for your chimney.

Second Degree Creosote

Second degree creosote is flaky and tar-like, and more difficult to remove. It occurs when air is more restricted. You often see second degree creosote in wood stoves and fireplaces with glass doors.

Third Degree Creosote

When flue temperatures are low or combustion is incomplete, you get third degree creosote. Third degree creosote looks like tar coating, can drip like wax inside the chimney, and is the most difficult to remove.

Why is Creosote Dangerous?

Creosote is highly flammable and can cause an explosion if you build a fire and the creosote in your chimney ignites. Far more frequent than explosions are less flamboyant chimney fires, which can damage your chimney, destroy your home and even kill you.

Another reason you should try to prevent creosote from building up in your chimney is that it can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. If the inside of your chimney is caked with creosote, the carbon monoxide from the fire cannot escape out of the chimney as it typically would and instead flows into your house. Carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly. 

Creosote is carcinogenic. Studies by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry indicate that people exposed to creosote regularly are more prone to cancer than people not exposed to creosote.

How Can You Limit Creosote Buildup in Your Chimney?

Use Kiln-Dried Firewood

Kiln-dried firewood is more effective than air-dried firewood at preventing creosote buildup because it’s dried in a kiln, which dries the wood faster than air-drying. Air-dried wood has a moisture content of 25%, and kiln-dried wood has a moisture content of 10%. With a lower moisture content, kiln-dried firewood burns cleaner than air-dried firewood, which results in less creosote.

Open the Damper All the Way

Some people think opening the damper only partially while burning a fire will keep in the heat better, but it actually reduces the heat, because not enough oxygen is getting to the fire, making the fire weaker than it could be. With the damper only partly open, your fire won’t get as hot. The lower heat will create more creosote. If your damper is stuck closed, do not light fires until you have it repaired or replaced.

Don’t Smother the Fire

Arrange your firewood so that it can breathe. Leave some space for it to oxygenate, otherwise your fire won’t get enough oxygen, and it will make more creosote as a byproduct. 

Continue to Have Your Chimney Inspected Annually

Regardless of whether or not you follow these tips, you should still have your chimney inspected at least annually. A chimney inspection will be able to tell you how much creosote has built up in your chimney, and whether you need your chimney cleaned. They will also tell you if there are any problems with your chimney or fireplace, or if anything needs repair or replacement.

Chimney Services in Indianapolis 

As a general guideline, have your chimney inspected at least once a year–more if you experience problems with your chimney or fireplace. There are ways to minimize creosote buildup, but you still need the annual inspection for your own and your loved ones’ safety. A chimney sweep can tell you how much creosote has built up in your chimney.

Call Brick + Ember Outfitters of Indianapolis for your annual inspection. Our CSIA-certified staff are well-equipped to address all of your fireplace and chimney-related needs. Have creosote buildup? Don’t hesitate, call us today, or make an appointment from our website.