Homeowners using wood heat should take proper safety measures

Are you using wood heat to save on your heating bills? If so, find out how to safely maintain your wood stove to prevent chimney fires.

Heating by wood can be a very good way to  control your heating costs during a long, cold winter, but proper care of your wood stove and chimney are essential for the safety of your family and your home. Per the Michigan State University Extension Energy Facts series, there are by-products of the combustion process when wood is burned. The smoke from the wood contains a blackish substance called creosote.  Creosote is a tar-like substance that can collect on surfaces like chimney pipes and flues that are cooler than 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

If temperatures fall below 150 degrees Fahrenheit, the creosote becomes thicker and similar to tar. When it does, it becomes a black, flaky substance that is very flammable. Creosote is more likely to form on cooler, exterior surfaces when unseasoned woods are used. Smoldering fires also create a large amount of creosote. If creosote builds up, a chimney fire is possible. Low drafts and cold walls provide an environment for creosote to develop.

To prevent creosote build up, chimneys need to be cleaned. How often you clean depends on how often the wood stove is used.  A minimum of once a year is recommended for cleaning. If you plan to clean the chimney yourself, purchase a stiff chimney brush with extensions. To clean the chimney, tie a 15-20 pound weight on the end and slowly lower into the chimney to scrub the sides. Another method is to tie a rope on either end of the brush and have a person at either end of the brush and pull back and forth. Be sure to wear protective clothing and a mask to protect you from the debris. While cleaning, check for masonry cracks in the brick.

When you burn wood, chimney fires are always something you should be prepared for. If you have chimney fire, make sure that the fire is completely out, and not smoldering beneath the surface of the roof. A well maintained and appropriate sized fire extinguisher should be kept near the wood stove in case of an unexpected fire.  Fire alarms should be properly placed throughout the home to alert anyone within the home of the danger.  A well maintained wood stove should provide a home with a safe heating source that can save the homeowner many dollars on their heating bill. 

For more information on home ownership topics visit the MSU Extension website.

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