With summer coming to an end, we now look forward to those crisp autumn nights around a warm fire. However this is also the time of year that North Queensbury Volunteer Fire Company is often called out to extinguish a chimney fire. While we’re proud to provide such professional protection to your home and family, there are things all responsible homeowners know and do to prevent a chimney fire and possibly the loss of property or life. Thanks to Montana Homesteader, the following article is an important read at this time of the year - or at any time.
If you own you own a woodstove and use it regularly, preventing a chimney fire is something you need to know. Having lived through a chimney fire, I’m here to tell you it is really scary. But it is also preventable. We’ve learned a few things over the years about how to reduce our chance of a chimney fire and I haven’t had one since that first time.
I didn’t grow up with a wood stove, so the first year I lived with one was a huge learning experience for me. That was the year I had a chimney fire. Thankfully the fire department was only a few miles from my house and came quickly. I was lucky that there was no damage to the home. I was a nervous wreck after that and rarely used my wood stove the rest of that season. After I did more research on preventing a chimney fire, I feel a lot more confident using our wood stove all day, every day throughout the winter.
When you burn in a wood stove, a byproduct called creosote builds up on the inside of the chimney. If you’re not familiar with what creosote is, here is a great explanation from Hearth.com
“Creosote is a gummy, foul smelling, corrosive and extremely combustible substance that, if no precautions are taken, will coat the insides of everything it passes through. It is formed when volatile gases given off in the burning process combine and condense on their way out of the chimney…..It can form a hard layer coating the insides of pipes and chimney liners. It can form into a fluffy substance that plugs pipes and breaks off and falls down, filling low spots in piping. It is the cause of most chimney fires and the main reason chimneys and pipes have to be cleaned and inspected periodically.”
I was taught that the telltale sign that you are having a chimney fire is hearing a popping, crackling noise throughout your stovepipe. That was the first thing that tipped me off to the chimney fire I experienced. Once I heard the popping and crackling in the stovepipe, I closed the flue and ran outside. When I saw flames shooting from the top of chimney, I immediately called 911. Later the firefighters told me I could have soaked newspapers in water and threw them in the woodstove. This would have created a lot of steam to help put out the fire in the chimney. Good tip to know, although I hope to never need it again!
The tips on this list are all things we have done over the years to prevent a chimney fire.
1. Clean your chimney. We can always tell when our stove pipe is getting clogged up and needs to be cleaned. When our stove is consistently not drafting well and smoke comes out the door rather than drafting up the stove pipe we know it is time to clean it out. We bought one of these brushes and one of these extension rods. My husband is a contractor and pretty comfortable up on the roof so this investment made sense for us. This isn’t a safe option for everyone. You can also hire someone to clean your chimney.
2. Use dry wood. If your wood is wet or not fully cured, it will not burn as hot as dry wood. It will also smoke more. Burning wet wood leads to creosote building up faster in your chimney.
3. Burn the hardest firewood you can find. Hardwood trees are not native to our area. When we go out to cut firewood, we search for Douglas Fir, Larch and Lodgepole Pine. Compared to those of you who burn hardwoods, creosote will build up faster in our chimney. We steer clear of really sappy pines like Ponderosa Pine or wood that just doesn’t burn hot like Sub-Alpine Fir. The first year I had a wood stove, someone gave me a bunch of scrap 2×4 pine boards. I was excited since it was free wood to heat my house. Little did I know at the time, but those pine boards had a lot of pitch in them which also probably helped contribute to the creosote buildup and chimney fire.
4. Burn your wood stove in the “burn zone” daily. If you burn your wood stove hot enough on a regular basis, it will help prevent the buildup of creosote. We have this handy gadget that attaches to our stove pipe to gauge the temperature. I love this thing since it shows not only when we are in the “burn zone” but when the stove is getting too hot and into the “over fire” zone and we need to close the flue a bit.
5. Use a creosote remover powder. I’m not a big fan of this stuff since we’re not too sure what is in it, but I’m listing it here since we have used it before. This is a powdery substance you put in your wood stove and then burn a hot fire. This is supposed to turn the creosote into a powder. This is not a replacement for cleaning your chimney but can help reduce the creosote. The only time we’ve used this was when it was too snowy to get on the roof to clean the chimney and we needed to eliminate some of the creosote buildup.
If you use a wood stove on a regular basis, implementing these tips can go a long way in helping you to prevent a chimney fire. My husband always makes a point of getting up on the roof, inspecting the chimney and cleaning it out at least once a year. My hope in sharing these tips is that it will help you become more aware of what causes a chimney fire and how to prevent it. Wood stoves offer wonderful warmth and can help save money heating your house, but they can be dangerous if you don’t know proper maintenance. So now you can stay cozy, warm and safe at home!
Montana Homesteader; March 14, 2014