When the chilly air fills the winter sky, millions of homeowners are stacking wood logs and lighting the fireplace to keep their home warm and cozy. However, homeowners may be unaware of the chemicals that may be lurking in their chimney. Burning wood produces many chemicals and particulates. Most of the smoke-filled contaminants vent up the chimney, but some of the residues stick to the interior walls and components. These chemicals include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur, nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide, and hydrocarbons like creosote and soot. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more toxic chemicals and how to get rid of them.
Burning wood and gas creates carbon monoxide (CO), a tasteless, colorless, and odorless gas that can have deadly consequences if the fumes back up into your living space. A flue obstruction, closed damper, cracks in the flue liner, and masonry damage can cause ventilation issues in the chimney and increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms of exposure include headache, nausea, and dizziness. Homeowners using wood or gas fireplaces and heating stoves should install a CO detector on every level of their home. Test your CO detectors once a month and replace the batteries twice per year.
Having an annual chimney inspection will help uncover ventilation and drafting issues and other chimney problems that will need to be corrected to reduce the risk of exposure to carbon monoxide and other contaminants.
Creosote is a volatile organic compound that is derived from burning wood. Creosote also contains phenols. Phenol is an aromatic and acidic compound that will burn the skin on contact. It crystallizes into a white powdery substance, so creosote is easily removed in its initial stage. However, when the creosote remains in the chimney, it becomes progressively more volatile. In the final step, it is a thick, tarry, and flammable material that is extremely difficult to remove.
Excessive creosote in the chimney is the primary cause of residential structure fires damaging more than 25,000 homes annually. The majority of chimney fires can be avoided by scheduling a professional chimney sweep to clean the chimney annually. Many homeowners also use creosote sweeping logs in between professional cleanings.
Creosote Sweeping Logs
There are several creosote removers for consumer use on the market, including popular creosote sweeping logs. Creosote removal products contain chemical compounds that adhere to the creosote reducing it to a powdery or flaky material that Homeowners need to know that these products contain toxic chemicals and should only be used according to manufacturer instructions. Also, using creosote removal products, including sweeping logs, are not a substitute for professional chimney cleaning. Homeowners should hire a qualified chimney sweep to clean the chimney at least once per year.