A chimney flue is an opening, usually a manhole, tube, or crevice in a chimney for venting exhaust gases from a fire, furnace, hot water heater, boiler or generator into the outside atmosphere. In older times the word chimney usually meant the chimney alone. Today, chimney means any opening or passageway through a chimney which enables smoke or fumes from a burning fireplace to escape outside of the house. The actual chimney is known as the chimney cap, and the part of the chimney which connects to the outside of the house, called the chimney crown, which may be made from concrete, tile, sheet metal, wood, or other materials. Whether the chimney is open or closed will depend on the type of fireplace being used and the condition of your house, but regardless of whether the chimney is open or closed, most houses have some sort of fireplace and chimney flue system.
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A chimney flue system distributes combustion gases from the fires in a house safely above the level of the house. It also protects the occupants of the house from dangerous gasses that are released during combustion by closing off the vents until they are safe to enter. Chimney flues are typically long (sometimes hundreds of feet) and flexible stainless steel tubes attached to the roof or side of the house. In some systems there is a baffle which can be installed to keep combustible gasses from entering another room.
Although chimney fires are almost always caused by creosote build-ups, chimney flue gasses can sometimes be a hazard if they are released in the open. Creosote is a sticky, combustible material that forms under the top of the flue after a chimney fire. If this creosote buildup is not immediately cleaned up following a chimney fire, it can pose a serious hazard to residents of the house. When this happens, chimney fires can quickly turn into creosote fires.