If you have a wood burning stove or fireplace, your chimney could be harboring dangerous creosote buildup. Creosote condenses in cool areas of the chimney, forming a thick tar-like coating. If it’s ignited by a spark, it can become a roaring inferno, destroying your stovepipe or chimney… or worse. And since creosote is acidic, it can damage your liner or brickwork from the inside.
Unfortunately, the more efficient your fireplace or wood stove, the more creosote it produces.
Avoiding this danger begins with your stovepipe or chimney liner. Quality materials help prevent buildup, and you should check the building code to ensure you’re protected.
Moisture makes the creosote more acidic, so install a chimney cap, and prevent condensation by insulating your chimney. (A warm chimney, such as an interior one, will also draft, or draw the smoke, better.)
If you have a catalytic combustor (a secondary chamber intended to minimize creosote by burning smoke particles) don’t get overconfident. Some experts warn these devices actually increase buildup, by slowing the movement of the gas and giving it more time to condense.
The next step is controlling your fire. Unseasoned firewood and softwoods produce more creosote, so use seasoned hardwoods whenever possible. And since a smoldering fire produces a lot more creosote than a cheery, crackling fire, you should try and keep your fire hot throughout the day, and leave the romantic embers for the end of the night. Fifteen minutes hot in the morning won’t cut it. This fallacy has led people to let their fire smolder through the day. Thinking they’re protected, they’ve ignored proper cleaning, only to be surprised by fires.