Testing Creosote-Removing Devices

This month, we're conducting an experiment to see what works best at reducing creosote build-up in wood stoves: Barometric draft control, the Smoke Dragon or the Smoke Consumer.

| January/February 1982

Creosote, the unburned material that settles out of wood smoke and accumulates in stoves and chimneys, plagues everyone who heats with wood. Whether you're worried about the possible danger of a chimney (and, perhaps, house) fire, the detrimental effects that a clogged stovepipe might have on your heater's performance, corrosion of the metal in the flue, the inconvenience and/or expense of chimney cleaning or simply the bad odor and — when there are leaks in the pipe — the mess caused by such accumulations, you'd no doubt like to know as much as you can about how to minimize creosote buildup.

Consequently, MOTHER EARTH NEWS and Shelton Energy Research have entered into a cooperative research project to test three devices which, it's claimed, reduce the rate of accumulation of creosote. In this issue we'll discuss some of the options open to concerned wood-stove owners and describe the research project that's now underway.

Creosote Accumulation

The potential for creosote accumulation arises when unburned materials in the flue gases — including vapors, tar mist and soot particles resulting from incomplete combustion — pass through the chimney. As the gases cool, the unburned materials can adhere to the chimney walls. The process is complicated, however, by the fact that creosote has no single chemical composition, appearance, density or ignition temperature. Some of its common forms are tar, flakes, slag, soot and liquid.

The safest and most reliable way to insure that creosote accumulations don't become thick enough to cause trouble is to inspect the chimney regularly, and then clean it when necessary. After a stove is first installed, the flue should be checked every week. Then, if the accumulation rate proves to be slow, the frequency of inspection can be reduced. The chimney should be swept whenever the deposits exceed 1/4 inch in thickness.

Chemical chimney cleaners have long been touted as quick, easy, inexpensive and reliable reducers or eliminators of creosote. During recent testing, however, it was shown that if chemical chimney cleaners work at all, they work only occasionally. Hence, they can't be relied on to always keep creosote levels safe.

Another technique that's commonly suggested for controlling creosote is to burn an intentional short, hot fire every day or two. The result of such a practice is either a small (and therefore supposedly relatively safe) chimney fire or — more often — a drying and flaking of the thin tar-like layer with the particles either falling or being blown out the flue. However, it's vital that there be only very thin creosote deposits present when this procedure is used, and only frequent inspections can establish that fact.

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