Temperatures are heading towards the nineties and the last thing on anyone’s mind is their fireplace maintenance. “That can wait, I have time, I didn’t use it much,” and so on. We have all been there, even myself, but I have made it a point to clean my own chimney at the end of each season. Most years, I do it twice, since my wife and I burn about four to five full cords of wood, which is 10, 4×8 racks. Now I am not saying everyone should do it twice (I am not a high-pressure salesperson, heck I do not even think of myself as a regular salesperson), but regular maintenance will ensure that highly flammable creosote does not build up in your chimney system.
To keep it simple, creosote has several stages and the higher the stage the higher the risk of a chimney fire. As creosote progresses it becomes sticky like tar and usually has a high gloss sheen. It is at this stage if not addressed puts the homeowner at elevated risk of a chimney fire. There are professional chemicals that can be used at earlier stages to break the creosote down, but advanced stages may require the removal of the tiles and a new liner installed. At this point it is an expensive issue to fix.
What can you do to prevent this build up? First, regular cleaning, this will ensure that soot from combustion is removed on a regular basis and will help improve the draft. Second, ensure you use only excellent quality hardwoods, not pine or other softwoods, including pallets, since many are made from pine. Third, ensure the wood is properly seasoned, moisture content below 20% is optimal. Depending on your location, how much sun, and if you cover your wood, will determine the length of time you need to season it. This takes time, but if you have ever tried to burn “green” wood, you will be extremely disappointed if you do not take the time to season it properly.
Even though it is getting into the sweltering summer temperatures now is a great time to get your fireplace or wood stove cleaned. It may reduce some odors (never eliminate), and you will be ready to go in the fall without the long wait to get service. As a proverb attributed to Benjamin Franklin says (and pot belly stove inventor), “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”