How a Dirty Chimney Puts You & Your Home at Risk

A Doctor Flue chimney sweep cleaning a dirty chimney

Unless you’re Santa Claus, you probably don’t spend much time looking in chimneys. Even if you did look in your chimney, you wouldn’t really be able recognize all the soot and creosote buildup that has accumulated there. Though we don’t usually see it or give it much thought, chimneys get dirty. You may not be thinking about your chimney as you are relaxing by a warm fire in your fireplace, but a dirty chimney poses many risks for your home and your health.

Risks Associated with a Dirty Chimney

Let’s look at some of the most notable risks associated with a dirty chimney and how to recognize them, what damage they pose, and how you can prevent them:

Risks to Your Home

Chimney Fire

It probably goes without saying, but a chimney fire is one of the most severe risks of a dirty chimney. Not only is a chimney fire a risk of potentially serious damage to your home, but it can put you and your family in serious danger.

Each time you use your fireplace, creosote - a byproduct of combustion - builds up in the chimney over time. When exposed to high temperature it can ignite.  When creosote ignites, it burns extremely hot. This extreme temperature will damage the masonry. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, “When a chimney fire occurs in a masonry chimney – whether the flue is an older, unlined type or tile-lined meet current safety codes – the high temperatures at which they burn (around 2000°F) can melt mortar, crack tiles, cause liners to collapse and damage the outer masonry material.” So you can see how fire can escape the chimney flue through weakened masonry and easily burn nearby home building materials such as wood.

In addition to removing creosote buildup with regular cleanings, the potential for chimney fires is also why it is important to have a reliable chimney liner for any flue.

Chimney Back Puffing

When a chimney is obstructed, airflow may change. If your chimney is dirty or obstructed with nesting materials, the smoke that should escape through the top of the flue may be forced to travel out of the fireplace and into your home instead.

This back puff will send smoke “puffing” throughout the entire room. It may be comical for smoke and soot to come bellowing down and into the room if you are The Three Stooges, but in reality, back puffing can leave behind residue as well as a smoky smell in the room. It’s no laughing matter when objects or surfaces in the room are damaged by the smoke – any surface it touches may be difficult to clean.

Health Risks

Respiratory Problems

When you have a dirty chimney, particles from creosote will be in the air. The air near the chimney is most especially impacted. Since fireplaces are frequently situated in high-traffic common areas such as living rooms and family rooms, all members of your family can be affected. These creosote particles can cause breathing issues like asthma, or exacerbate existing conditions. So creosote doesn’t just lead to chimney fires, which is a bad enough potential risk, it is also a toxic substance that can cause irritation and damage to your lungs.

Skin/Eye Irritation

As if respiratory problems weren’t enough, when debris from creosote and smoke can’t properly escape, more than just your lungs can be irritated. Your skin and eyes are susceptible to irritation as well.

The eyes are very sensitive. Often times soot from the dirty chimney can cause a burning sensation. Over time it is possible to have enough exposure to actually cause chemical burns!

Additionally, your skin, which is the largest organ of your body, is also at risk for issues like rashes should you physically come into contact with creosote. This is just one reason why it’s not safe to try and clean your chimney without the proper training and equipment.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Dirty chimney conditions can also prevent proper and complete combustion of materials that are burning in your fireplace. This can cause a situation where carbon monoxide builds up. Few hazards are as deadly as carbon monoxide poisoning. This is mainly due to the fact that it is invisible and odorless. You cannot tell when it is present, but as you inhale carbon monoxide, you may start to feel sick.

This is not always the case as you may not notice anything at all, but the feeling can quickly turn to disorientation and eventually passing out.  If fresh air isn’t introduced quickly, or if a person is unconscious in a room filled with carbon monoxide, the results can be deadly. As mentioned before, due to its properties, carbon monoxide is very hard to identify. Installing a carbon monoxide detector can help prevent this potentially fatal situation. It is important to have one near your fireplace. Additionally, keeping your fireplace clean is an important step in avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning in the first place!

Avoid a Dirty Chimney: Hire a Chimney Sweep

Regular chimney cleanings and inspections is the only way to avoid the risks associated with a dirty chimney. When you hire a professional, CSIA-certified chimney sweep, you are getting someone who knows what to look for and how to thoroughly (and safely!) clean your chimney to prevent these risks, keeping your home and your family safe.

The warmer months are the ideal time to have your chimney cleaned. This allows plenty of time to make sure your chimney is ready for use when the cold weather hits and you want a warm, glowing fire in your fireplace.

Yearly cleaning and inspection is recommended. If more than a year has passed since your last cleaning, it is in the best interest of your home and your family’s health to schedule an inspection and cleaning as soon as possible. Even if you don’t typically use your fireplace, many other factors can cause issues that are undetectable and sources of potential problems!

So, whether you were looking up your chimney in anticipation of Santa’s arrival or not, plan to schedule your cleaning and inspection before next winter. Your chimney – and Santa – will thank you!

Schedule an Inspection of your Chimney Today!

Our CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps will inspect your fireplace and chimney to make sure your chimney liner is in excellent condition, or to schedule an appointment to install a new liner if necessary! Contact us today! We’ll get you set up right away so you can have peace of mind.

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