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Chimney Myths or Truths - Quiz Yourself!

mythological phoenixHow much do you really know about fireplaces and chimneys? Sometimes what we think we know isn't exactly true! Which of these commonly held opinions are correct and which ones are just myths?

Myth or Truth: Stay away from burning pine; it creates creosote buildup in your chimney.

While this myth may be as old as fire itself, several recent studies have concluded that while pine and other soft woods contain more sap than other types of wood, hardwoods like oak could create more creosote than pine and softwoods. The reason is that if the softwoods are dry, they create a hotter, more intense fire from the sap. The draft created by the hotter fire moves the air up and out the chimney more quickly. The faster the flue gases draft the less time they have to cool and create creosote in the chimney flue. On the other hand, oak and other hardwoods burn cooler and more slowly, causing lower flue temperatures that could promote creosote build up.

Creosote buildup in a chimney flue

In fact, one main reason for the accumulation of creosote, whether it's softwood or hardwood, is not the sap content, but moisture in unseasoned wood. So keep your wood well seasoned and don't worry about soft or hardwoods. That said, hardwoods are heavier and denser than softwoods, which means you will have longer burns with hardwoods, which if seasoned properly, will burn hot.

If the option is available, keep a stack of both woods on hand, the softwoods for kindling and starting and hardwoods for long hot burns.

Conclusion: MYTH

Myth or Truth: If I don't use my chimney, I don't need to have it inspected.

(see cracked flue & bird nest)There are lots of reasons to have your chimney inspected on a regular schedule. Even if you never used it last year, moisture, animals and debris may have found their way inside the flue. Birds and animals can make nests, and plug the flue, water can seep into cracks or between mortar, if it freezes and cracks the structure, it can become a costly repair, even having the chimney foundation settle can cause the chimney to separate from the house.

If you have an unused chimney flue for a fireplace, check the damper. Most throat dampers do not seal completely, allowing cold air in and warm air out. Often these fireplace dampers will rust and prevent any operation. Consider having a top damper installed at the top of the chimney. This will not only keep rain, animals and debris out, but will keep your heat in your house.

Annual inspections can identify these and other problems early and allow you to have them taken care of before they become severe. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) states that chimneys, fireplaces and vents should be inspected at least once a year. Cleaning, maintenance and repairs should be done if necessary.

Conclusion: MYTH

Myth or Truth: My room gets cooler when I use my fireplace.

Fireplace with decorative fireback
Fireplace with decorative

This one may have some truth to it. Even though you may have a blazing warm and cozy fire in your fireplace, you may not be benefitting from the heat at all. In fact, for a fire to burn, there must be a supply of oxygen and this air comes from the same room that the fireplace is in. When the warm air of the room gets drawn into the fire, it is replaced with (usually) cooler air from someplace else, causing the room to feel cooler.

One way to offset this is to install a fireback in your fireplace or behind your wood stove. A fireback put against the back wall of your fireplace or stove will help radiate heat out into the room, so that more hot air is dispersed where you need it. Firebacks are available in a variety of styles, with intricate designs or a traditional look. With the use of a fireback, the look and feel of the fire can be enjoyed without losing as much heat.

Of course, the energy efficient wood and gas burning stoves and inserts available today work much better than the older masonry fireplaces.

Conclusion: TRUTH