The National Fire Protection Association recommends that homeowners have their chimney inspected for defects and thick soot deposits every twelve months. The actual amount of time between cleanings depends on how often you use your fireplace. Although you might be tempted to use commercially available granules or logs to clean your chimney, it is important to understand the risk of releasing toxic compounds in the soot during this process. Professional cleaning methods drastically reduce the potential for exposure to the harmful substances listed below.
Low levels of arsenic are found in natural wood scraps you burn in your fireplace for heat. If you ever unknowingly burn pressure treated wood, the arsenic concentration levels could be much higher. Since it is difficult to know the exact levels of arsenic deposited in your chimney, it is smart to play it safe and avoid direct contact with the soot as much as possible.
While cleaning your chimney yourself, you could accidentally ingest arsenic by breathing in the particles or accidentally consuming them through dust contamination. If arsenic builds up in your body, you could suffer acute poisoning symptoms, including dangerous vitamin and mineral disruption that could lead to heart rhythm abnormalities. Even after having your chimney professionally cleaned, you need to wear a mask and wipe down all of the visible surfaces to remove arsenic dust particles.
If the flames inside your fireplace smolder and create a lot of smoke, creosote deposits quickly build up on the sides of the chimney. You can prevent the fast accumulation of creosote by making sure your fire always burns extremely hot. Building up the fire from kindling to dried wood chunks keeps the temperature up to eliminate the bulk of the creosote production. However, your fireplace will still accumulate small amounts of this toxic substance over time.
If you use granules or logs designed to peel soot off the walls, particles of creosote begin to float through the air. Exposure to these particles could result in an itchy rash, stomachache and kidney damage. Prolonged or extreme exposure to this substance could even result in death. Chimney cleaning pros always take protective measures to avoid ingesting or touching this harmful compound.
Fires naturally send hydrocarbons into the air as vapors released from the wood burn up. Although the hydrocarbons are released during the burning process, most of the particles end up adhered to the inside of the chimney flue. The cleaning process releases hydrocarbon laced dust into your environment in great quantities.
Certain hydrocarbon compounds, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, can have a damaging effect on your body over time. Breathing in these compounds can adversely affect your lungs, stomach and kidneys. Repeated, extended exposure can even lead to the development of cancer throughout your body. To prevent these illnesses, professionals wear specially designed masks and goggles that protect their bodies from direct exposure.
Cleaning Up Your Act
Thankfully, you do not have to put yourself in harm's way to have a clean chimney. You can avoid exposure to the toxic compounds discussed above by hiring a chimney cleaning professional to complete the process for you. Stay out of the house during, and for several hours after, the cleaning appointment to avoid direct contact with the particles.
Upon coming home, remember to wipe dust off your furniture and clean the floor to remove the remaining particles from your living space. Once you finish the cleaning process, you can rest assured that you and your family will not suffer from exposure to these toxic substances. Also, be sure to repeat the chimney cleaning process on schedule to prevent soot buildup that could lead to a fire.
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