One reason that chimney fires can be so dangerous is due to their ability to burn undetected by home residents. Chimney fires can smolder for long periods of time, then suddenly erupt into violent burning flames or penetrate into the home's wooden structure. At other times, you may not even know there was a fire until it has burned out. However, consider a chimney fire as a warning sign that another fire may occur in the near future. Below are signs your home has experienced a chimney fire as well as information on how to prevent chimney fires from occurring in the future:
Signs of a past chimney fire
Burned creosote - Creosote, which is a tarry residue that results from incomplete combustion, is one of the primary fuels for a chimney fire, with the other being soot. Burned creosote is black, lightweight and "puffy", and it crumbles easily. If you see burned creosote remnants inside your chimney, fireplace, on the roof, or even in your yard, then you can suspect a chimney fire has occurred recently.
Cracked masonry - Another sign of a past chimney fire is the presence of cracks in bricks, clay flues, mortar and cement. The intense heat generated by a chimney fire can cause masonry materials to split and crumble.
Damaged roofing materials - If you notice that asphalt shingles located in close proximity to the chimney are bubbled or curling at the edges, then suspect a chimney fire as a possible cause. Other roofing damage may include scorched decking materials or charring from burning creosote fragments.
Warped chimney caps or other metal components - Metal is resilient to heat in most cases, but chimney fires are capable of becoming hot enough to distort or bend the metal components of a chimney. Damage to chimney caps and flashing are signs of a fire, as is warped metal roofing where it abuts the chimney.
Smoke residue on exterior of brick - Look around the exterior of your brick chimney for signs of smoke residue, if you suspect a past chimney fire. If there are gaps in the mortar, it is common to see sooty areas on the outside of the brick. This can be a particularly-ominous sign, since it indicates future fires may be able to penetrate the chimney and make their way into your home's flammable structure.
How to prevent chimney fires from reoccurring
If you find signs of a past chimney fire, then it is important to take action immediately to prevent future damage or even destruction of your home. Below are several specific steps you can take to minimize the possibility of a new fire from occurring:
Obtain professional cleaning - It is critical to have your chimney professionally-cleaned at least once per year, perhaps even twice if you use your fireplace heavily. Professionals possess the expertise and equipment to thoroughly clean and inspect your fireplace and chimney; they know where to look for creosote build-up, and they can remove all of it before it becomes a hazard to your home.
Burn the appropriate fuel - One of the causes of creosote and soot accumulation is the burning of wet firewood. This keeps the fire temperature lower than it should be, and the exhaust particles of a fire do not fully burn inside the flue. Instead, these particles settle and accumulate inside the chimney. Be sure to only burn dry wood, and store firewood where it will not be exposed to the elements.
Keep the fire well-ventilated - A slow-burning fire can occur due to other reasons beside wet firewood; one such cause is the failure to adequately ventilate the fire. A smoldering fire is not going to produce the necessary heat to convert particles into gases, and the best way to counteract this problem is by introducing an adequate amount of oxygen into the chimney. That's why you should adjust the damper to keep the air flowing freely; turning it too low will lead to "cold" fires and creosote buildup.
For more information about chimney cleaning, contact a company like Early Times Home Solutions.
18 December 2015