Can a Dirty Chimney Make You Sick?

Category: Chimney

Fireplaces are a great addition to any home. Sitting around a fire on a chilly day can be a wonderful way to relax. Fireplaces are fantastic for creating heat in a room that doesn’t have great insulation and might get cold when the temperature drops. These days many homeowners are using their fireplaces to heat their homes and cut down on their utility bills during the fall and winter.

Whether you use your fireplace as the main source of heat in your home or you just enjoy a fire to make your home cozier, you need to have your chimney cleaned by a professional regularly if you're using it regularly.

A dirty chimney can make you and your family sick, as well as increase your risk of having a house fire. There are a couple of different types of illnesses that can be caused by a dirty chimney. Creosote exposure can cause many physical problems. Carbon monoxide can also cause serious health problems that can be permanent.

Creosote Exposure

When you burn wood in your fireplace the unburned wood particles, tar, smoke, and other debris that goes out of your home through the chimney combines with water vapor to create creosote. Creosote is that heavy sticky black substance that you see inside your chimney.

creosote buildup inside a chimney liner

It’s very difficult to loosen from the chimney safely which is why you should always have a professional clean it. Not cleaning it can significantly increase the chances of having a house fire and it can make everyone in your home sick.

Symptoms of Creosote Exposure

Creosote buildup can cause some significant health problems for every member of your family. Some of the most common symptoms of illness caused by creosote exposure are:

  • Skin irritation, rashes and lesions: If you or your family member come into contact with the creosote you can develop rashes, skin irritations or even skin lesions.
  • Eye irritation and vision loss: Creosote debris can be an issue all over the home and it can give you and your family members burning and irritated eyes that tear or water frequently. Rubbing the eyes to alleviate the symptoms can cause further harm to the eyes as well.
  • Respiratory problems: Breathing in creosote particles for a length of time often catches up with the person exposed, as lung and other respiratory issues may develop.
  • Abdominal illness: Creosote can cause problems to the kidneys and liver with long term exposure.
  • Mental confusion: Serious exposure to creosote will cause seizures and confusion in some people.
  • Cancer: In rare cases, creosote exposure has been linked to skin cancer.

Can Chimneys Cause Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is very difficult to detect because it’s a colorless and odorless gas. If you have a fireplace that you use often you should always have a working carbon monoxide detector in the house. Carbon monoxide detectors can alert you once the detector identifies dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

carbon monoxide alarm

Carbon monoxide gas is the result of burning wood in a fireplace and it’s why a clean chimney and proper ventilation are so important if you use a fireplace. Poisoning can occur if your chimney is dirty, if there's an animal nest or some other blockage in the chimney, or if you have a damaged flue liner or some other type of damage to the fireplace.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure can be difficult to detect because they mimic the symptoms of other illnesses. The primary symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are:

  • Dull headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness

These symptoms can become severe very quickly. If you or your family members start to have any of these symptoms then you should immediately open windows and doors to get some fresh air inside the house. Afterward, you should leave the house and call emergency services.

The best way to prevent getting sick from a dirty chimney is to call in a professional chimney cleaner at least once a year. The experts recommend getting your chimney professionally cleaned twice a year in the spring and in the autumn. If you only get it done once a year it should be done in the spring.

That way you can safely enjoy a fire during those chilly nights without having to worry about the health of your loved ones.

Do Creosote Logs Work?

Many homeowners think that burning a creosote log in their fireplace will clean their chimney enough to make it safe. While some creosote logs can loosen up the creosote that's sticking to the inside of the chimney and make it easier to get the creosote off they won’t clean the chimney completely.

You should still have your chimney professionally cleaned at least once a year to make sure that it’s not going to make you or anyone in your family sick. Contact us today to speak with a specialist!

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