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Do You Like Your Fireplace Flues To Be Creamy Or Chunky?

It's a question that needs to be answered - do you like your fireplace flues to be creamy or chunky?

Well, you know the difference.  One has no crunch and the other does.

So, understanding the difference, looking up into this fireplace flue, which is it?

Creamy or chunky?

Let's think.

The chunky stuff is composed of soot and creosote.

Soot and creosote are a buildup of gases and "stuff" from wood that isn't heated up enough to exit the flue.

Instead it accumulates.

As it accumulates it gets thicker.

The fire department recommends that chimney flues be swept of such buildup when it accumulates to about 1/8" in thickness.  Also, once cleaned, the flue can be inspected for other issues - movement and cracking and so forth.

At 1/4" thickness it is potentially flammable, and the cause of chimney fires.  At that thickness you often smell carbon as well - burned toast more or less.

Oh, the harder the wood the hotter the temperature, so the slower the accumulation of buildup.

Pine, 2x4s, those cutsie little fire logs do not burn so hot, and so they contribute soot and creosote more quickly.  And, I'm told, buildup of critical mass can be reached in as few as 10 or 12 fires!  Harder woods not so quickly. 

NEVER BURN PRESSURE-TREATED WOOD TO GET RID OF IT.  IT CONTAINS DANGEROUSLY POISONOUS CHEMICALS.  THROW IT AWAY INSTEAD.

AND, be sure to burn good, dried hardwood!  That is defined as wood stored under cover for a year, and stacked in a crisscross pattern so it dries well.

A cord of wood is defined as 4'x4'x8' (think solid geometry).  And it should be stacked in a side-by-side pattern.  If the guys with the pick-up truck selling "dried" hardwood in your neighborhood want to stack it crisscross it is NOT a cord!  And it's probably not dried either...

But, BUT!, pay attention to the thickness of any buildup in your flue!  Chimney fires are NEVER a good thing.  Have it swept professionally.  Regular inspections and cleaning are a Best Practice!  There are things advertised that you can throw in the fire, said to eliminate the buildup as they burn.  But, sweeping is the recommended way to go.  Ask your Fire Marshall.

My recommendation:  yes, it requires that you peek your head in, preferably with a big-boy flashlight, and look up and see what soot and creosote accumulation you have.  Your flue will appreciate your diligence.  You want creamy, not chunky.  FYI, should I show up for lunch - I happen to like the extra-chunky peanut butter on my sandwiches.  It's more fun to eat!  Oh, and jam, not jelly.

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 50 commentsJay Markanich • January 03 2014 04:21AM

Comments

Good morning, jay.... I burn pellets....I'm burning hardwood pellets right now...I just ordered and had delivered 7.2 ton of softwood pellets...they are much more expensive and burn hotter.... I paid $279/pallet (2 tons) of hardwood and $365/pallet of softwood....this should last the rest of the season....

Posted by Barbara Todaro, Previously Affiliated with The Todaro Team (RE/MAX Executive Realty - Retired ) about 7 years ago

Due to the cold weather this is an extremely important post. Thank you for all the details, I had never thought about flu's in this manner.

Posted by Anna Hatridge, Missouri Realtor with R Gilliam Real Estate LLC (R Gilliam Real Estate LLC) about 7 years ago

Barbara - pellets don't create creosote - they burn very cleanly!  Good for you.  I think pellet stoves are very cool.

Anna - thanks!  Stop by any time!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

Jay, we had a chimney fire a few years back. It looked like the fourth of July fireworks coming out of the chimney. Fortunately, some neighborhood boys were walking by and notified us and we called the fire department. No damage, but it could have been worse if the boys didn't say something. Get your chimney cleaned at least every year!

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA about 7 years ago

Jay - I have always been a creamy guy... chimneys or PB.  Have a great 2014!

Posted by AJ Heidmann ~ CRS, YOUR Alexandria & Arlington, VA Real Estate Expert (McEnearney Associates, Inc.) about 7 years ago

Great reminders to check chimney flues and make sure they are clean.   I don't have a fireplace (wish I did!) but would definitely get my flashlight and peek after reading this.

Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (406-270-3667, kat@thehousekat.com, Broker, Blackstone Realty Group - brokered by eXp Realty) about 7 years ago

I find that fireplaces do not build up creosote due to the high temperature and huge movement of air through the firebox and out the flue. Typically 400 - 500 cfms when the fire is roaring. I rarely see a fireplace flue that is dirty or a concern. Wood stoves are usually the problem due to their slowed down, choked burning of the wood. I often see lots of thick chunky, not creamy, creosote around wood stove flues. 

The real issue with a fireplace can be make up air. As the fire burns down it draws in less air. That is when you can have the potential for back drafting and CO entering the house. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 7 years ago

It's always fun to take a look into the flue, many would be surprised at what they see. Knowing that it is a fire hazard may prompt a regular cleaning Jay.

Chunky peanut butter for me too please.

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage www.tromlerconstruction.com Mobile - 916-765-5366) about 7 years ago

Jay, and then there are 1/2 cords and face cords as well

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 7 years ago

 Good morning, Jay. Most of the creosote buildup in chimneys comes from people burning soft woods.

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) about 7 years ago

Hi Jay,

Thanks for the tutorial.  Around here there is more softwoods burned as we do not have a ton of hardwoods in our area.

Thanks for the explanation on stacking for a cord.

Posted by Mike McCann - Nebraska Farm Land Broker, Farm Land For Sale 308-627-3700 or 800-241-3940 (Mike McCann - Broker, Mach1 Realty Farmland Broker-Auctioneer Serving Rural Nebraska) about 7 years ago

Good morning Jay,

Get mine checked each year and cleaned when recommended as we burn a lot of fruit tree wood.

Make yourself a great day.

Posted by Raymond E. Camp, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Greater Rochester (Howard Hanna Real Estate Services) about 7 years ago

I like my chimneys how I like my PB! :)

Posted by Juan Jimenez, The Richmond Home Inspector (A House on a Rock Home Inspections LLC) about 7 years ago

Hi Jay,

I get a shot of the flue every chance I get. Many are in good shape but there are the ones with a lot of build up and need to be cleaned. good reminder on cleaning the chimney flue.

Have a great day in Bristow my friend.

Best, Clint McKie

 

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) about 7 years ago

Hi Jay. Thanks for the reminder about wood burning fireplaces. We love ours, but burn mostly dry oak. Wouldn't even think of burning pressure treated wood!

Posted by Tom White, Franklin Homes Realty LLC, Franklin TN (Franklin Homes Realty LLC (615) 495-0752 or www.FranklinHomesRealty.com) about 7 years ago

'Tis the season to really start keeping upat the maintenance of your chimney before it's too late.

Posted by Suzanne Otto, Your Montgomery County PA home stager (Six Twenty Designs) about 7 years ago

Unlike a good blue cheese dressing, I definitely like my chimney flues creamy!

Good information, thank you.

Posted by Vanessa Saunders, From Manhattan to the Catskills of New York (Global Property Systems Real Estate) about 7 years ago

One of the main reasons I participate in Active Rain is to hear what inspectors have to say. This post is a perfect example of why.

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max By The Sea) about 7 years ago

This is a good reminder to those of us who love to burn our fireplaces in the winter.

Posted by Tammie White, Broker, Franklin TN Homes for Sale (Franklin Homes Realty LLC) about 7 years ago

Chimney flue maintenance is a huge safety issue as so many owners tend to ignore it. Helpful information. 

Posted by Aaron Hofmann, aka Mr. Smyrna Vinings (Atlanta Communities) about 7 years ago

Good information. Here our firs are usually outside, on the beach, in the yard and rarely in the house!

Posted by Gary L. Waters Broker Associate, Bucci Realty, Fifteen Years Experience in Brevard County (Bucci Realty, Inc.) about 7 years ago

Jay - I also like crunchy peanut butter.  But I don't like it in my chimney.  It is cleaned regularly.

Posted by Grant Schneider, Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes (Performance Development Strategies) about 7 years ago

Good timing with this post. Seems like fires break out with every cold snap like we're having now. The smoother the better when it comes to flu liners, but peanut butter should be chunky! I once had a man tell me he had 4 cords on his pickup. I know you have to have racks on the side just to get one cord on a pick-up. He had 4 racks across, and he tole me " Each rick of farwood is a face cord". Beware of people that try to sell you "a load".

Posted by Jeff Pearl, Full Service Full Time Realtor (RE/MAX Distinctive / LIC in VA) about 7 years ago

Mike - in addition to the fireworks I understand it sounds loud like a train.  Your experience?

To each his own AJ!

Let me know when you get one Kat!

Hence the need for good hard wood Jim.  Still, when first starting up and finishing the fire loses temps.  Once I smelled carbon so bad with a woodstove that I suggested they have it taken apart and cleaned.  It was totally clogged!  Full of soot!  And good fire doors will prevent a lot of back draft, but still, cold air can get heavy!

I have my clients get down there and look Tom!  Once we saw what we saw and took a photo.  There were spider webs in addition to the rest.  The seller had a receipt showing the fireplace was cleaned.  We looked again at the re-inspection and behold, the spider webs and stuff were all still there!  Yeah, they cleaned it!  We had before and before photos!  The second before was, um, after, if you catch my drift!

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

Now you're mixing things up with the new paradigm Charlie.

Those create lower temps Michael, and the build up of stuff!

That's unfortunate to hear Mike M!  Have you checked Amazon?

That's the ticket Raymond.  You probably can't go wrong with that routine.

Well, obviously you mean extra crunchy, like I like my PB, Juan...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

I take the photo when it makes hay Clint.  And a blog can follow!

C'mon Tom.  Live a little.

Sometimes too late is hard to take back Suzanne!

Vanessa - my wife likes chunky blue cheese dressing too.  I can only smell it, from a distance!

Sounds like you learned something Bill!  Great!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

Exactly Tammie.  Hence the post!

Many don't know Aaron.  I see that during inspections.  My rear neighbor is the local Fire Marshall.  I pick his brain often.

I have a beaver fur hat Gary.  Is that the same as your firs?  I don't burn my hat though.

Grant - you could add a nice smell to the neighborhood!

With my first two children we used cotton diapers Jeff.  I cleaned lots of loads...  You got that Virginia accent down!  Yewshd heer mah eenlauhws tawk.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

Jay, at that time we had a wood burning fireplace insert. I don't recall any loud sound. My Wife immediately closed the damper and air intakes. That helped a lot to cut off the updraft.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA about 7 years ago

Sounds like you handled it well Mike.  I imagine the chimney sustained damage.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

Funny yeah I will pass on eating either of the stuff in a chimney but even though I am a fan of old school one reason to enjoy those instant on gas fireplaces with fake logs

Posted by David Shamansky, Creative, Aggressive & 560 FICO - OK, Colorado Mtg (US Mortgages - David Shamansky) about 7 years ago

We have a gas fireplace too David.  I like clicking the remote...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

Hi Jay,

One more reason to not burn wood, aside from the smell, the work and the low efficiency for the typical fireplace.

Have a Great Week and a Pfanntastic 2014

Posted by Peter Pfann @ eXp Realty Pfanntastic Properties in Victoria, Since 1986., Talk To or Text Peter 250-213-9490 (eXp Realty, Victoria BC www.pfanntastic.com) about 7 years ago

I think burning old tax files would be more fun Peter.  But that's just me.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

Cords are burning everywhere in this frigid season we call winter in Wisconsin...cleaning chimneys will be a priority !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Real Estate Agents - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) about 7 years ago

'Tis the season to be sweeping, S&D, fa la la la la ... la la la la.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

I guess it is a good thing I have never (to the best of my memory) have lived in a place which had a fireplace. 

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty) about 7 years ago

They are fine, James, if you keep them clean!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

The air is not heavy, its cold and dense. As the temp in the flue becomes less than the house temp, the house  becomes a better draft, the cold air then comes down the chimney. None the less, the pressure will equalize to some degree (you can only push so much air into a bottle).

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 7 years ago

Isn't denser heavier?  Isn't dense (heavy) air the basis for weather and air movement?

http://www.weatherdudes.com/facts_display.php?fact_id=51

As a Boy Scout I have felt hot air come WAY down and into caves, seeking the colder, denser stuff inside.  But it can only go so far, as you suggest.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

Great advice and thorough explanation. Never heard it described that way before.

Posted by Bill and MaryAnn Wagner, Jersey Shore and South Jersey Real Estate (Wagner Real Estate Group) about 7 years ago

Warm air is generally more buoyant, less dense, not necessarily heavier relatively speaking. As the air warms the molecules spread apart. That is why warm air holds more moisture even at the same RH as colder air. Pressure also has a great deal of effect on air movement. Think of the stack effect in houses. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 7 years ago

Good advice on chimneys.  It is an item that so many people forget needs to be inspected every so often.

Posted by Michael Delaware, REALTOR®, CRS, GRI (North Sky Realty LLC) about 7 years ago

Steam, liquid water, and ice cubes.  I like my gas logs.  With gas logs I do not get in trouble for a dirty carpet.

Posted by Dwight Puntigan, Dwight Puntigan (DRP Realty, LLC) about 7 years ago

What a great post! We have lots of old fireplaces around here so I'm reblogging this post!

Posted by Debbie Cook, Silver Spring and Takoma Park Maryland Real Estate (Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc) about 7 years ago

Glad you enjoyed it Bill.  Stop by any time!

Jim - air holds moisture?  Next you're going to say it reaches a point where dew is created.  All of what you said it true, of course!

Michael - they do, they do.  And it's important.

Dwight - we like our gas logs too!  It's just a click!

Debbie - I spent my first year of life in an apartment on Colesville Road in Takoma Park.  I grew up in Kensington.  Maybe one day I'll see you at Continental Pizza on Connecticut Avenue?  And thanks for the reblog!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

Very informative for chimney education. I like tht you meention when you aree beeing sold wood and they want to criss-cross it than it is not dried wood. Always someething  new to learn on thee rain.

Posted by Jimmy Faulkner, The Best Of St. Augustine (Florida. Homes Realty & Mortgage) about 7 years ago

Nice photograph! I've never seen what it looks like from up there. Makes me wonder what the condition of my flue is. 

Posted by Rosie Moore (Serving Sugar Land, Richmond, Rosenberg, Missouri City) about 7 years ago

Jimmy - when buying wood there is a lot to consider!

Rosie - see if you can stand up in there and how high you can reach.  Photo please.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

I don't have a fireplace, but if I did I would be very cautious.  I would be so concerned with having a house fire.

Posted by Sharon Tara, New Hampshire Home Stager (Sharon Tara Transformations) about 7 years ago

Don't worry Sharon, when maintained they are exceptionally safe.  Just learn what to do and do it!  There's a lot of instructive info in this post.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

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