Each year there are, on average, over 20,000 chimney fires that take place. In fact, you may have had a chimney fire in the past and not even known it.
How do chimney fires occur? When wood or other combustibles are burned in a fireplace the resulting fumes and smoke will exit through your chimney. In the process, they cool, condense, and leave behind a highly combustible residue – creosote – on the walls of the chimney. And improperly ventilated chimneys can get hot enough to ignite these deposits, causing a chimney fire in the process.
Chimney fires are dangerous events and yet most of them go unnoticed until the owner has had a chimney inspection. This doesn’t have to be the case, however. If you know what to look for, you can discover whether or not you have had a chimney fire – and how to prevent them in the future.
What are the signs to watch for?
1. Puffy/Honeycombed Creosote Buildup
When creosote burns the residue that it leaves behind will look inflated or puffed up. This is because the dregs left behind by the burning creosote expand. When you see puffy-looking creosote residue it is a clear sign that you have had a chimney fire.
This honeycombed creosote buildup is dangerous both because it is just waiting to be ignited by high temperatures or sparks, and because it can expand enough to cut off exhaust from the chimney. The increased risk can lead to fires that are even more dangerous than before.
2. Damage to Your Roof
When you’ve had a chimney fire there may be damage to the roof of your home. A quick inspection of your roof could reveal a number of different signs of a chimney fire.
The first thing you should look for on your roof is creosote buildup on the roof itself. If you see creosote on the outside of your chimney it means that a fire has happened and the excess smoke and burning created in that fire has made its way out of the chimney and onto the roof. Because of its combustible nature, clean-up and preventative measures should be taken immediately.
Another thing to look for when inspecting your roof for signs of a chimney fire is damage to rooftop accessories. There are many things that are placed on a roof, like satellite dishes, vents, and tv antennas, all of which can fall victim to a hot chimney fire. Check for melted and distorted parts.
Finally, when looking at your roof, look for direct damage to the roof itself. Look for weak spots, holes, and melted and/or damaged roofing materials.
3. Distorted Chimney Components
Because of their proximity to the chimney itself, one of the first signs of a chimney fire is damage to the components on the top of your chimney. These are often made of metal and, when heated, their shape will distort and their color will change.
Take a close look at your chimney cap or top-mounted chimney damper, and, if you have one, your chase top. Look for distortions in their shape. Does it look like they’ve been melted or heated to an extreme degree? Are they discolored, showing signs of purples, blues, and greens? If so, you’ve likely had a chimney fire and measures to address the damage and prevent future fires should be taken.
If you have clay tiles as a lining to your flue you want to check and make sure they aren’t cracking, gouged, missing any pieces, or scorched. Clay can handle extreme temperatures and has historically been used inside chimneys because of its resistance to heat. Which means, if your tiles are damaged, there’s a good chance it has been in direct contact with a high heat fire for an extended period of time.
5. Cracked Brick and Mortar
Like clay tiles, bricks and mortar can take on extreme amounts of heat. However, they too can fall victim to extended direct contact with fire too. They’ll be more likely to crack, and those cracks can be penetrated by creosote buildup, which will likely lead to larger fires in the future.
In addition to an enhanced likelihood of fire, these cracks can be susceptible to other elements as well, like water and moisture that will cause rapid deterioration of the mortar. When a chimney is in poor shape it can be a very real danger to your home. If you notice cracks in your masonry, take action immediately.
Let Us Help Keep You Safe
The Chimney Guys are dedicated to the preservation of our community and the homes that make it up. We work hard to make sure our customers receive the best service from the most knowledgeable team of experts around. It is our desire that our customers are able to enjoy their fireplace fully without worrying whether or not they are at risk for fire.