• Carmen Marie Fabio

Hudson firefighters urging caution for wood burning heating systems


PHOTO COURTESY HUDSON FIRE DEPARTMENT

Restricted air supply, unseasoned wood, and low, smouldering fires are the chief causes for creosote buildup in chimneys – a sticky residue that is highly combustible.

After recently battling three major fires within a 10-day period, the Hudson Fire Department are reaching out to inform the community on the importance of keeping woodstove and fireplace chimneys clean and free of creosote build-up.

With the arrival of snow and colder weather, the inevitable aroma of burning wood wafts through the air and while indoor fires may be associated with cozy comfort, they can present significant danger to homeowners if the entire wood-burning system is not regularly cleaned or well maintained.

“Besides chimney fires, the latest blaze we dealt with was a fire that broke out after smouldering embers were improperly disposed of,” said Assistant Chief Daniel Leblanc.

Each year in Quebec, approximately 235 fires are caused by improper installation or improper use of wood burning stoves or fireplaces that result in significant property losses valued on average at $50,000 per fire.

Creosote

Creosote is a substance that can build up inside the chimney of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, most often from burning unseasoned, wet wood or from having a slow, smouldering flame. The accumulated smoke from these fires can leave deposits of creosote, either flaky or sticky and tar-like, on the chimney lining. The substance is highly combustible and the build-up can also severely restrict air-flow resulting in toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide, being released in the home.

While the Hudson Fire Department does not offer chimney sweeping services, they recommend hiring one who is certified with a Régie du bâtiment du Québec (RBQ) licence for solid-fuel heating systems.

Be wary of sweeping alternatives

Chimney-cleaning logs that are said to emit chemicals that help accumulated creosote to ‘flake off.’ While they’re available at most hardware stores, they’re not nearly as efficient as having the chimney professionally cleaned. While they may make the actual sweeping job easier, the packaging fine print usually indicates the logs’ use should not take the place of professional cleaning.

When to sweep

Before the first burn in the fall, Leblanc said homeowners should examine their chimneys internally with the help of a mirror to ensure the pipe is free of debris (bird nests, creosote, etc.) as well as checking for rust or damage on the outside.

Cleaning should ideally take place in the spring time every year but even though the cold weather is upon us, it’s not too late to address the issue. While you can certainly climb the roof yourself to tackle the task with a specially designed brush, using a certified cleaner is recommended as they can also provide an inspection of the venting and chimney connectors, along with verifying the integrity of the caulking and flashing. According to CAA Quebec, even oil-furnace chimneys require regular cleaning as a deposit-free chimney is directly proportional to the efficiency of your heating system.

Leblanc said it’s also good practice to clean your chimney for every five cords of wood burnt.

In case of emergency

If a chimney fire does break out in your home, call your fire department immediately.

“If a chimney is poorly installed, the fire could breach the (pipe) connections into the structure of the house,” said Leblanc. In the meantime, homeowners are advised to choke off the flames by closing the flue or using an ABC extinguisher (dry chemical) in the firebox itself (if possible) to minimize the flames extending back into the chimney.

“We don’t recommend a water extinguisher because that creates a lot of steam and heat and can actually crack the pipes or cement of the chimney.”

Common sense

Allow common sense to dictate when heating with fire. Leblanc offers the following additional information:

  • Always use paper or starter wood when starting a fire. Never use gas or other flammable products. Regularly clean the firebox to remove accumulated ash and place it in a metal container with a cover until completely cold (3 to 7 days recommended). The container should be stored outside in a non-flammable area.

  • Burn quality wood as any green wood will increase the creation of creosote.

  • Keep the area around your fireplace clear of debris or flammable products.

  • Ensure a good air circulation to promote a cleaner burn.

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