Creosote has many forms, many levels of misery

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A newspaper account of a family displaced from their home due a common issue within the chimney — creosote buildup — is a good reminder that this substance can cause misery even when it’s not causing an unwanted chimney fire.

In the case of one family, the misery was smoke.

Smoke is supposed to exit the house via the flue, not back up in to the room where loved ones are keeping warm on a cold winter’s night. (The Jan. 16 incident involved a wood stove that was heating a farmhouse.)

The Penobscot Bay Pilot of Maine reports that while there was no fire observed in the chimney, firefighters attributed the excessive smoke to a “build-up of creosote in the flue.”

Ten Lincolnville firefighters responded, and used a ball and chain to clear the chimney of the creosote, Asst. Fire Chief Don Fullington III told the newspaper.

IN THE NEWS: “Chimney creosote build-up smokes Lincolnville home” featuring information from Chimney Safety Institute of America

The family was unharmed; they had evacuated the home.

Creosote is formed when volatile gases given off in the burning process combine and condense on their way out of the chimney. Creosote hardens inside chimneys, and if it builds up, can clog up.

(It can even contribute to a phenomenon known as ‘chimney breath.’ Yes, that’s a term and you can read more about the ‘stink’ in our archives.)

The newspaper relied on the homeowner resources page of the Chimney Safety Institute of America: “Creosote is black or brown in appearance. It can be crusty and flaky…tar-like, drippy and sticky…or shiny and hardened. Often, all forms will occur in one chimney system. Whatever form it takes, creosote is highly combustible. If it builds up in sufficient quantities — and the internal flue temperature is high enough — the result could be a chimney fire. Certain conditions encourage the buildup of creosote. Restricted air supply, unseasoned wood and, cooler than normal chimney temperatures are all factors that can accelerate the buildup of creosote on chimney flue walls.”

We recommend that the next step for the homeowners is to call in a qualified professional, such as a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. There are several to choose from in Maine! [Just type in your zip code in our free locator search engine.]

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Victims of chimney fires and chimney smoking should not use their appliance until the system has been inspected.

Also in Maine, firefighters responding to a reported chimney fire Friday found smoke filling the second floor and attic of a home. It was unclear if there had been a chimney fire, or if the chimney was just blocked with creosote.

“It may have started as a chimney fire, but it looks more likely that the chimney was clogged, and there was nowhere for the smoke to go,” Fire Chief Bill Hussey told the Sun Journal.

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Make sure a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep inspects your solid fuel venting system annually, and cleans and repairs it whenever needed. Your sweep may have other maintenance recommendations depending on how you use your fireplace or stove. CSIA recommends that you call on CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps, since they are regularly tested on their understanding of the complexities of chimney and venting system.


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