the stove's signal to us
Monday, July 29 2013
This afternoon I popped the plug out of the woodstove chimney pipe and proceeded to clean out the pipes above that point using a system of fibreglass poles that screw together end-to-end. These poles are designed to support a large wire brush, but I find it impossible to push such a brush around the various 45 degree fittings, so instead I use a customized scraper made from the springy stainless steel supports in an old windshield wiper blade. When I popped off the plug, I was immediately struck by the fact that the shallow inch-deep blind-alley it constituted was nearly full of creosote. There actually wasn't all that much creosote in the pipes above the plug, though evidently there had been enough in the screen at the top, the place where the smoke is supposed to enter the environment, for the chimney to have lost its ability to do the one job it is supposed to do. Since the chimney had failed so quickly and dramatically, I fully expected there to be a hornet's nest at the top, but when I poked my fibreglass pole all the way to the top and went outside to look at the chimney, I didn't see a cloud of furious insects buzzing around. What I did see, though, was that chunks of creosote had been pushed out of the screen. Some of the chunks were sticking out an inch or more and others had fallen onto the roof and bounced down to the ground. I was happy to be able to attack the clogged chimney without actually having to climb up on the roof (not a good thing to do until Obamacare makes health insurance affordable), and so I kept at it for awhile. But I never completely dislodged all the projecting chunks of creosote.
When I finished, I started a fire in the woodstove and was gratified to see the smoke happily going up the chimney instead of spilling out into the living room. After the paper had burned up, the only fuel left in the firebox was a large mound of creosote, and as it burned it filled the air with the smell of barbecue. And by barbecue, I don't mean vegan barbecue. I don't know what chemicals exist in creosote, but evidently when they burn they give off gasses similar to the kind given off by roasting meat.
While I'd cleaned the chimney in a manner similar to today's cleaning back in the autumn of 2011, I hadn't cleaned it since. I hadn't thought more frequent cleanings were necessary, since I hadn't ever cleaned the chimney between 2002 and 2010, a period during which I burned a substantial amount of the sort of wood that supposedly produces creosote, and nothing bad had happened. But we replaced our old catalytic woodstove with a non-catalytic stove in early 2010, and it's possible that the non-catalytic air-jet design produces more creosote, at least when used the way we use it. In any case, I'm glad that the stove's signal to us that it had a problematic creosote buildup was a failure to maintain a fire instead of, say, a fierce chimney fire (which is how my father learned to respect the creosote gods back on Christmas Day, 1976).
Later this afternoon, Gretchen and I went down to the salt water pool at the farm at the end of the Farm Road and took a "swim." Gretchen actually does swim, but I mostly just stand in a place where the water comes up to my neck and bob up and down. Today, though, I actually jumped off the diving board a few times, landing feet first (I don't think I have the skills to do an actual dive).
Later, back at the house, the evening was cool enough to warrant a fire, so I ran the hottest possible cardboard fire I could stoke, maintaining consistent temperature readings of 900 degrees Fahrenheit on the stove pipe 12 inches above the stove. I was somewhat concerned when I saw a spark escape from between the pipe fittings a few feet below the ceiling, but beyond that, nothing too scary happened. Hopefully that gratuitous expenditure of heat served to burn away some of the creosote that my scraping had missed.
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