Creosote: How to better understand it and reduce its buildup?

If you own a fireplace or a wood burning appliance, you‘ve most likely been strongly advised to have your chimney cleaned annually,by a certified chimney sweeper,in order to remove creosote buildup. But do you actually know what creosote is all about and why is it so crucial to get rid of it? If not, this might encourage you to pay special attention to this very necessary task.

What is creosote?

Creosote is the leading cause of chimney fires. It is a smelly corrosive and highly flammable material that is produced by combustion gases that emanate from burning wood. When the temperature inside the flue decreases below 250 degrees Fahrenheit, the gases condense in your chimney, creating buildup along the lining of the pipe. Since flue temperature often drops below this thresholds, creosote regularly builds up.

Extreme heat and burning embers drifting up the chimney can ignite creosote buildup. If there is an extensive amount of creosote, the fire could spread to your home. This is why annual chimney cleaning is so essential.

Stages of creosote buildup

Creosote gets created in stages. Each stage brings it closer to a greater danger, as it becomes thicker and harder to remove.

Stage 1:Creosote is soft and flaky like soot. It can easily be removed with a simple chimney brush.

Stage 2:It condenses into a hard, shiny and scaly substance that clings to the flue lining like tar. Though it may look flaky, it cannot be brushed away easily. The most effective way to remove stage 2 creosote is by using a rotary loop; a stainless-steel cable fixed to a hub that is put on special metal rods, turned by a powerful drill.

Stage 3:The chimney sweeper’s main goal is to prevent creosote buildup from reaching this stage since it then represents a sticky and highly concentrated fuel. This tar-like substance hardens along the chimney lining and thickens as the creosote condenses. The coarser and harder it becomes, the more challenging it is to remove. At this stage, chemical removers can sometimes be used. A rotary head mounted with chains could also be effective when it has hardened but is not sticky; however that particular solution is not recommended for clay or ceramic chimney linings since the process can also dislodge broken pieces. In most cases, the best option is to remove the flue lining and replace it altogether.

Without proper equipment and training, it is much-preferred to leave creosote removal to professionals.

How to minimize creosote buildup

With a wood burning fireplace or a stove, it is impossible to completely eliminate creosote buildup but there are ways to minimize and prevent it from reaching stage 2 or 3 while waiting your next visit from the sweeper.

Only burn dry, seasoned firewood

You can measure wood humidity with a moisture meterYour wood must have dried for at least 6 to 12 months and must have reached a humidity level of less than 20%. Newer wood contains too much moisture and produces more smoke while burning.And it is this smoke that turns to creosote. The drier the wood, the less it smokes, thus producing less creosote! The best way to determine if the moister of your wood is optimal for creosote prevention is to buy a moisture meter at your local hearth retail store.

Before testing your wood, split your log in half. The outside might seem perfectly dry but the inside can still hold too much moisture.

Another advantage to this procedure is the fact that moist wood also decreases total heat output, since a huge amount of energy is wasted in your fireplace on boiling and evaporating the water inside each log.

Insure your fire has sufficient air flow

Air is essential to any efficient fire. If your fireplace is equipped with glass doors, it is wise to keep them opened so your fire can breathe. This will insure burning at higher temperatures and elimination of a large quantity of combustion gases.

Properly lay-out your logs for more efficiency

The way the firewood is laid-out affects the fire overall performance. Pack it tightly but leave small gaps in between to allow airflow. Make sure not to close the fireplace doors (ceramic glass) or to restrict air flow adjustments too soon, before the fire gets hot enough. It may not be if it starts to smolder or looks like it might die out.

Below is a list of fireplace and grill stores that service ()

Auburn, AL

Top Hat Chimney Sweeps
1280 Financial Ct.
Auburn, AL 36830

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Durango, CO

Durango Outdoor Living
140 Rock Point Drive
Durango, CO 81301

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Durango, CO

Four Corner Stoves & Spas
3001 Main Avenue
Durango, CO 81301

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Grand Junction, CO

Stove Depot and Chimney Works
330 North Ave.
Grand Junction, CO 81501

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New Hartford, CT

Dean's Stove & Spa, LLC
376 Main Street
New Hartford, CT 06057

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Ridgefield, CT

Yankee Doodle, Inc.
71 Ethan Allen Highway
Ridgefield, CT 06877

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Dover, DE

Byler's Stove Shoppe, Inc.
1368b Rose Valley School Rd.
Dover, DE 19904

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Destin, FL

Doodlebuggers Service Network
36054 Emerald Coast Parkway
Destin, FL 32541

Bettendorf, IA

Fireplaces Plus, Inc.
1745 State Street
Bettendorf, IA 52722

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Post Falls, ID

Quality Stoves & Home Furnishings
1611 E Edmonton Avenue
Post Falls, ID 83854

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Rockford, IL

Advanced Chimney Systems, Inc.
3486 Lonergan Drive
Rockford, IL 61109

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Wauconda, IL

Grass Roots Energy, Inc.
28751 N Route 12
Wauconda, IL 60084

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Evansville, IN

Firemaster, Inc.
5300 E Morgan Avenue
Evansville, IN 47715

Jeffersonville, IN

Olde Towne Chimney & Fireplace Sales
915 Nachand Ln
Jeffersonville, IN 47130

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Overland Park, KS

Kansas City Fireplace Center
10470 Metcalf Avenue
Overland Park, KS 66212

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Erlanger, KY

TateBuilder's Supply, LLC
3511 Dixie Highway
Erlanger, KY 41018

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Littleton, MA

Woodstove, Fireplace & Patio Shop, Inc.
60 White Street
Littleton, MA 01460

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Seekonk, MA

The Fireplace Showcase
775 Fall River Ave
Seekonk, MA 02771

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Duluth, MN

Duluth Stove & Fireplace
2431 W Superior Street
Duluth, MN 55806

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Minneapolis, MN

Woodland Stoves & Fireplaces
2901 Franklin Ave. South
Minneapolis, MN 55406

Oakdale, MN

Energy Savers of Minnesota
6298 Highway 36 Blvd N
Oakdale, MN 55128

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Rochester, MN

Brekke Fireplace Shoppe
1904 S. Broadway
Rochester, MN 55904

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Walker, MN

Wilkening Fireplace Company
9608 State 371 NW
Walker, MN 56484

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Moncton, NB

Maritime Fireplaces
246 Halifax Street
Moncton, NB E1C 9S3

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Charlotte, NC

The Hearth and Patio
4332 Monroe Road
Charlotte, NC 28205

Fargo, ND

Home Heating, Plumbing & A/C Inc.
701 28th Street South
Fargo, ND 58103

Fargo, ND

Hebron Brick Company
2300 Main Avenue
Fargo, ND 58103

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Omaha, NE

Fireplace By Design
13913 R Plaza
Omaha, NE 68137

Epping, NH

The Stove Shoppe
285, Calef Highway Rte. 125
Epping, NH 03042

Windham, NH

The Stove Shoppe
25 Indian Rock Road
Windham, NH 03087

Hamilton, NJ

Bowden's Fireside - Hearth & Home
1731 Nottingham Way
Hamilton, NJ 08619

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Voorhees, NJ

Rettinger Fireplace Systems, Inc
476 Centennial Blvd
Voorhees, NJ 08043

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Jefferson Valley, NY

Fire Glow Distributors, Inc.
2989 Navajo Rd.
Jefferson Valley, NY 10535

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Canfield, OH

Youngstown Propane, Inc.
4445 Boardman-Canfield Rd.
Canfield, OH 44406

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St. Henry, OH

Buschur's Refrigeration, Inc.
541 N Eastern Avenue
St. Henry, OH 45883

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Portland, OR

Classic Heat Source Inc
18430 SE Burnside Street
Portland, OR 97233

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Emmaus, PA

Stoves 'n Stuff, LTD
683 State Rd/Lehigh St
Emmaus, PA 18049

Kintnersville, PA

Fireplace & Chimney Professionals
4345 Durham Road
Kintnersville, PA 18930

Stroudsburg,, PA

Stoves 'n Stuff, LTD
1523 N. Ninth Street
Stroudsburg,, PA 18360

Tamaqua, PA

Stoves 'n Stuff, LTD
561 West Penn Pike
Tamaqua, PA 18252

Rapid City, SD

Hebron Brick Company
1543 Deadwood Ave
Rapid City, SD 57709

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Sioux Falls, SD

Hebron Brick Company
2211 W. 50th Street
Sioux Falls, SD 57105-6525

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Vermillion, SD

Kalin's Indoor Comfort Inc.
710 Cottage Avenue
Vermillion, SD 57069

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Barre, VT

Chimney Sweep Fireplace Shop
1284 US Rte, 302 Ste 10
Barre, VT 05641-2317

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Bennington, VT

Friends of The Sun
126 Hicks Avenue
Bennington, VT 05201

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Manchester, VT

Friends of The Sun
159 Depot Street
Manchester, VT 05255

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Shelburne, VT

Chimney Sweep Fireplace Shop
3113 Shelburne Road
Shelburne, VT 05482

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White River Jnct, VT

Home Comfort Warehouse
54 Bridge Street
White River Jnct, VT 05001

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Burlington, WI

Burlington Fireplace & Heating LLC
857 Milwaukee Ave.
Burlington, WI 53105

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Madison, WI

Top Hat
5117 Verona Rd
Madison, WI 53711

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West Salem, WI

American Home Fireplace & Patio
240 County Road M North
West Salem, WI 54669

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Morgantown, WV

Rustic By Design
709 Beechurst Ave. Suite 15
Morgantown, WV 26505

For more information, contact your local fireplace and grill store..

2 Responses

  1. I like your article, I ran my wood buring stove for 4 years always cleaning with wire chimmeny brush each year never had a problem. This year i got alot of smoke back into the house, long story short took the pipe off my wood burning stove and was amazed at the amount of build up in my pipe looked like a cave with lots of cone shapes from the top and bottom. One thing i did differant this year is once the fire was going good i would turn it down into the 250 range before going to bed and then reduce the air intake alot so it would put out heat all night and have ambers in the morning. Would this cause such a fast build up of Creosote?
    • Dominique Page
      Hello Michael Thanks for your comment. Running at lower temperatures increases the risk of incomplete combustion. But the greatest factor is the quality of the firewood we burn. If it isn't 'seasoned' properly, we need to run at higher temperature to keep the chimney system clean. When you say 250F temperature, is it using a a magnet thermometer on a single wall stove pipe? If so, you might want to run closer to 300F. Good work on cleaning your chimney!!! Dominique

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