When you’re lighting a fire, you’ll need to use dry kindling so that the fire can take hold. However, it’s essential that the wood is thoroughly dry and that no moisture remains on or in it. Many people are unaware of the dangers of burning wet wood, but it can be surprisingly harmful and hazardous.
Wet wood can cause an increase in the amount of condensation in your chimney, which then hardens into a substance similar to creosote, before eventually turning into something akin to tar. This sticks to the inside of your chimney, and may even seep into nearby brickwork if the chimney is unlined. Whilst condensation shouldn’t form in a warm chimney, burning wet wood makes the chimney cool, thus giving condensation the ideal place to form.
As this condensation is acidic, it will effectively eat through the metal liner, if one is present, and cause it to fail. When this happens, surrounding brickwork can be affected and, in some instances, structural damage could occur.
If you notice a hardened or tar-like substance anywhere in the chimney, it could be a sign that you’ve inadvertently been burning wet wood. Usually, the residue is brown or black in colour and may be runny or sticky. As this material builds up, it can block the chimney completely and present a serious safety risk.
Although the residue may seem innocuous, it’s actually highly volatile. If it ignites, it can quickly cause a dangerous chimney fire to occur, so it’s vital that you take steps to ensure this can’t happen.
Maintaining your chimney
Keeping your chimney clean is the first step to staying safe, and getting professional advice and assistance is helpful too. An experienced chimney sweep will be able to tell you how often you should have your chimney swept but the general guidelines are as follows:
Wood – up to four times per year
Bituminous coal – twice each year
Coal – Once per year
A reputable chimney sweep will also be able to tell you whether they’ve noticed any potential problems with the condition of your chimney, so do be sure to ask them whether the liner is in good order and whether there’s any condensation residue present.
Although every property should have multiple carbon monoxide and smoke alarms fitted, it’s particularly important that you have these alarms if you burn solid fuel. Your local fire service will be able to advise you where they should be placed, and it’s important to test them regularly so that you know they’re working.
As carbon monoxide is odourless, tasteless and colourless, you may not realise when there is a dangerous amount of the gas present in your home. By fitting a carbon monoxide alarms, you can ensure that you’ll be alerted to rising carbon monoxide levels before your health is negatively affected.
In order to minimise the dangers of burning wet wood, you should only burn wood which has a maximum moisture content of 20%. By only burning dry wood and having your chimney regularly swept, you can ensure the fire and chimney are in good working order, and that they are functioning safely.