Is Candle Soot Ruining Your Home? by Mark Violand

At first it sounds like a joke or perhaps a tabloid headline “Killer Candles Stalk Your Home!” Who’d believe that some wax and a wick could be a household hazard? But insurance companies say that claims for soot damage are rising in concert with a four – fold rise in candle sales over the past five years.

Some homeowners have spent as much as $30,000 to clean and replace household furnishings that have been marred by candle soot says Ron Bailey, owner of Bailey Engineering Corp., a Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, indoor air quality engineering firm. Heating and air conditioning systems have been damaged too. The first signs of trouble are black deposits on hard plastic surfaces, ceiling fan blades, or on carpet near speakers and TV’s charged surfaces that attract the soot particles. It can take a couple of days or years for damage to develop, depending on air flow in the house, how many candles are burned, and for how long.

Not all candles are culprits, Soot forms when a wick is too thick or too long, when chemicals are added to produce scent, or when a candle is burning in an airstream, such as under a ceiling fan or near a heating or air conditioning duct. The risk is most pronounced in new, energy-efficient homes that have limited air circulation.

Some homeowner’s insurers paid for the damage in the past because they didn’t know the cause. However, many now are denying such claims because the damage isn’t sudden, and it isn’t accidental say Phillip Mason, an official of USAA Insurance.

The safest candles to burn are plain paraffin or beeswax utility candles with no scent and thin wicks, it’s also important to keep the wicks trimmed to ¼ inch. The difference ¼ and ½ or ¾is dramatic. It can increase the soot-production rate from the same candle by more than 100 times, says David Krause, a Tampa indoor air quality consultant.

I have done quite a few hours of research on this problem and have inspected several homes in regard to scooting or ghosting caused by scented candles. It is caused mostly by the heavily scented jar candles. A test was performed in a model home burning jar candles. After a few hours, the test was stopped because so much soot developed on everything that it appeared as if a fire without flames took place in the home.

It first appears like filtration soiling but turns very black almost a foot away from walls. You can see the vestiges over every sub-floor seam, not necessarily the seam in the cushion. It does not show up over the hot melt tape seams, which air cannot flow through. The vestiges of it show up on vinyl wall coverings, plastic wastebaskets, and anything electronic. Webbing may develop in the corners of rooms. Every ceiling joist and wall stud on the upper floors of the home begin to become visible. Soot is attracted to cold surfaces.

Homeowners often blame their HVAC dealers for the sooting, thinking it is coming from the combustion chamber of the furnace. This is not so.

The good news is that with good-quality preconditioner, good agitation, and dwell time, the black can be cleaned out of the carpet completely.

For more information, check out the web site for The Consumer Insurance Guide at insure.com.

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