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My fireplace smokes while in use

If your fireplace smokes into the room, here are questions to ask yourself that may assist in determining the source of the problem .

Note: We provide and install virtually eve

ry product and service to correct chimney defects and enhance the efficiency, beauty and joy of your fireplace, insert or stove. IF YOU NOTICE SMOKE COMING OUT ANOTHER FIREPLACE WHICH IS NOT BEING USED, OR SMOKE OR SMOKEY ODORS IN ANY OTHER ROOM OR LEAKING FROM AROUND THE MANTEL OR ANY OTHER UNUSUAL PLACE, PUT OUT THE FIRE IMMEDIATELY. Call us for an evaluation and have the chimney repaired before using it again.

Call 301chimney for a professional analysis now

IF YOU SUSPECT A FIRE OR EVEN SMOLDERING IS OCCURRING ANYWHERE OTHER THAN INSIDE THE FIREPLACE CALL THE FIRE DEPARTMENT AND PREPARE YOUR FAMILY TO EVACUATE THE HOUSE IMMEDIATELY! Call us to evaluate and repair your chimney before using it again.

Does your fireplace smoke during the first few to several minutes? (Includes smokes so much when I try lighting a fire that I have never been able to get a fire going for any length of time.)

If yes: There could be multiple problems, but the first thing I do is determine if it is a down draft or “cold hearth syndrome.” This means the cold air in the chimney flue and additionally the cold air outside at the top of the chimney would rather drop down into the fireplace than than it would rise up the chimney flue flue when you open the damper. (With this situation, if the damper is leaking even slightly, the hearth area and often even the entire room will be cold.)

Open the damper. If you immediately feel cold air dropping down the chimney, try warming the flue by rolling up some newspaper in a cone and lighting the larger end, making a torch. Having your DAMPER OPEN, hold the burning newspaper up high so the flame is passing through the damper and warming the flue. The smoke may back up for a few seconds, then it should rise.

I like to have some loosely crumpled newspaper in the fireplace or a fire starter or kindling to light quickly thereafter to maintain a constant source of heat. In severe cases intense and constant heat is necessary.

If you feel a strong rush of cold air when you open your damper, this procedure will be difficult and may not seem to work. Under severe circumstances, I burn a lot of newspaper, start it really fast and sometimes, I even place 10 or 20 loosely crumpled, single sheets of newspaper up into the throat (bottom damper) area. CAUTION, If your chimney has not been cleaned well this can start chimney fire! (Usually the largest accumulation of soot is found behind the damper.)

If you try this, be careful. when the paper burns it will shrink and fall down. A competitor tried this in an old sooty chimney that had not been in use for years and started a chimney fire.

If you are unsuccessful, or if prefer not to take any risks, call us and we can have a look. If following these suggestions helps, but any amount of smoke continues to enter the room indefinitely, you also have another problem.

Does your fireplace continue to smoke after several minutes of use? Or, do you only notice smoke after several minutes or a few hours? Or these symptoms apply but rather than seeing smoke you only notice a smokey smell? If any of these are true, you may have a flue liner to fireplace opening size ratio issue, a wind related draft reduction, a fire placement issue, faulty construction such as a restriction in the fluea nest or a very sooty chimney or clogged mesh cover (a common occurrence with heavy wood stove use and rare one with open fireplace use)

Fire placement issues are simple. Place your log grate all the way to the rear of the fireplace and in the center, left to right. Some people report that placing a brick under the legs of the grate helps. Others report that leaving a bed of ashes up to the bottom of their log grate helps. If either works, your done.

If you don't like it so far back, you either live with it or read on and hope resizing or a fan helps. I suggest being delighted it works now.

If the smoke is intermittent, see if it only occurs on windy days or on days that the wind blows from a particular direction. If so, your chimney may be too short or there may be tall trees nearby. Houses on hills, in valleys or in areas where trees are clear cut, like bare, new developments or farms, seem to have increased likely hood of wind related smoke problems.

Raising the chimney is important if it is shorter than code. (3 feet above the roof,minimum and at least 2 feet taller than any part of the house or any neighboring buildings within a 10 foot radius of the center of the flue opening.

If you meet this standard, I suggest not building the chimney higher and higher until the smoke stops. It might not stop and this is an expensive approach. Raising the chimney to code may not help either, but at least you have met a legal safety code requirement.

Wind related problems can be resolved with fans (remember they are expensive and audible) or with directional chimney covers.

Turbines ,or rotary roof ventilators, are not a good solution. They have to spin really fast too help and often the wind is not strong enough to spin them fast enough. They also often develop squeaky or frozen bearings quickly in this application.

“Vacustack ” brand chimney caps are supposed to correct draft problems caused by wind. I have had some limited success with them. My guess is that my success is limited because sometimes wind problems are combined with non wind related problems such as cold hearth syndrome which is a pressure differential issue and that a vacustack is not designed correct this problem.

I like “Hazel” vents. They are helmet shaped caps with a weather vane or fin on the back always directing the opening away from the wind. They do not increase draft, they simply turn away from the wind. Having no bearings, the cap pivots on the tip of a sharply pointed steel rod which is protected from the elements by the cap itself. I've never seen one get stuck.

Sometimes the reason a chimney seems very wind sensitive is because there are also sizing issues as discussed below and once these are addressed, the wind issues diminish.

The most common problem causing smokey fireplaces well after the fire is lit, is that the flue liner is too small, there is a restriction of some sort in the chimney, or the damper is not open fully. It is rare that the chimney is in need of cleaning, except in the case of wood or coal stoves. They clog mesh at the top of the chimney and the chimney liner as well.

Clogged Mesh usually indicates chimney cleaning is overdue! (So does a clogged or restricted flue)

There is an optimal fireplace opening size to chimney liner size ratio which is 10 to 1. This means the fireplace opening, measured in square inches, should be at least 10 times greater than the flue liner opening, also measured in square inches. With fireplaces having chimneys over 20 or 30 feet tall and with fireplace chimneys having round or very straight liners, these fireplaces chimneys may draft well with 12 to 1 and sometimes even 14 to 1 ratios.

Another way of looking at a ratio problem is that the fireplace is too big. A smoke guard, or metal plate, or some other noncombustible and heat resistant material can be used to block off a few inches or more across the top of the top of the fireplace opening to make the fireplace smaller and correct these ratio related smoke problems. This is the simplest and least expensive method of solving these smoke problems.

Fireplaces can also be modified and built smaller in width or in height by adding brick. Usually lowering the top of the opening is the most effective size reduction and therefore the least overall reduction of size will be required when doing this. When narrowing the width or raising the floor height to reduce the opening size, I would do a test fire using sheet metal for the side wall reductions or brick stacked tightly without using cement for raising the floor before actually redoing the fireplace to make sure the fireplace will draft properly.

Faulty construction such as a sharp bend in the flue liner or a narrow restriction at the base of the flu liner or elsewhere may cause smoke to enter the room. Many times a smoke guard will solve the smoke issue without actually altering the fault in construction. Consult with a professional to make sure there are no safety considerations you might be overlooking by only installing a smoke guard. If not, your done!

If a smoke guard is not aesthetically desired, or is not enough to stop the smoke, a fan might be considered. If a safety issue is involved or an audible fan is not desired you will need to have a professional determine what options you have.

A highly experienced professional who is familiar with opening up chimneys and major internal restructuring of flue systems, but is also experienced with high tech equipment that can often be used to avoid cutting holes in walls and reduce repair costs can be difficult to find. If you live outside our service area, find a chimney professional who has the following equipment: a Chamber Chipper Pneumatic Brick Chisel, a Smoketite Ceramic Smoke Chamber Sealant Sprayer, Masonry Cold Chisels extending 30 feet or more in length, a Humdinger and a RoClean Terracotta Tile Remover, Eldefast or Firegaurd Flue Sealant System and both Cast in Place and Stainless Steel Relining Equipment. They can save days of work and hundreds of dollars.

Example: A few weeks ago, working on an old row house in Baltimore, MD., we were short one flue for a gas water heater. Familiar with antique brick chimneys, we developed a plan to “drill” down through an unused bedroom fireplace floor, into the smoke chamber of the dining room fireplace 8 feet below, then around an antique metal fire back and then drill down into the basement where the water heater was located. We snaked 50 feet of stainless steel liner down through the passage we created and then built a partition wall to separate the water heater liner from the dining room fireplace smoke chamber and sprayed the smoke chamber with Smoketite Ceramic Sealant. The “drilling” was made possible by a 6 foot extension welded onto our demolition hammer bit. These procedures involve quite a bit of knowledge, experience and imagination. We saved 2 days of work and the home owner was estatic about us not having to make holes in her walls as originally anticipated. So were we.

Electric fans made for chimneys are available to correct smoke problems. They are well made and fix almost every smoke problem, if sized properly. But, though they are advertized as silent, they are always very audible. We use them in cases and when a smoke guard is either aesthetically not feasible or when a smoke guard is not enough to correct the problem.

In some cases we actually make the entire fireplace smaller. This is very common in historic renovations such as with coal burning fireplace to wood burning fireplace conversions, because the antique flue liners are often very small. This is always a possible alternative to the other methods of correcting flue liner to fireplace opening ratios.

Fireplaces with very short chimneys and short chimneys with very large liners, sometimes allow smoke into the room even though the liner to opening ratio is correct. I don't like to make these chimneys taller unless I test the chimney first by adding a length of pipe to the chimney “proving” extending the chimney will correct the problem.

Raising chimneys is a lot of work and many people report that doing so did not totally correct their smoke problem. In these cases, smoke gaurds usually work and are inexpensive and exhaust fans always work.

Does your fireplace smoke when the fire is going out after a brief fire? or after a fire of 2 hours or longer?

If it only smokes after a brief fire is dying down, don't have brief fires or read on to the next paragraph for possible solutions.

If the fireplace smokes after burning fires in excess of 2 hours, your chimney has warmed up and the residual heat emanating from the warm chimney is not enough to sustain a draft until the embers are no longer smoking. You have a pressure related problem and it will be hard to stop without a chimney exhaust fan.

Other possible solutions include cracking windows on the lower levels of the house, sealing crevices around exterior doors and windows on upper levels of your house, supplying make up air for your heating appliances and installing not perfectly air tight, but marketed as air tight, glass doors.

Read my article on chimney odors. This problem has similar causes and solutions as the “smoke odors after the fire is out,” article describes,

Does your fireplace stop smoking into the room when you crack a window?

This is a pressure related issue and can be resolved by providing makeup air to the house. That's what cracking the window does. If you measure how many square inches your widow needs to be open, a make up air supply of the same size should fiz the problem. Usually they are installed in an exterior wall and provide air into the furnace area.

An outside air supply for the fireplace may help a little, but they are generally small and may not provide enough air to adequately eliminate the smoke. Again chimney exhaust fans always work, but are pricey and audible and must be used on a relatively high speed setting as they restrict air flow otherwise.

Call 301chimney for a professional analysis now

Hope this info helps,

Dave Myers

CEO of 301Chimney

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  1. al goetz says:

    I have had problem with a fireplace i built for myself for the last 4 years.
    I have built several fireplace over the last 30 years with no problems. now i build one for myself and have smoke issues.
    the fire place is 36″wide by 44″ high.I built it with a rumford design with a straight back wall hoping to defer more heat into the house.
    the fire starts great, pushes heat into the room, however after 2 hours of a nice fire smoke starts to roll out the top and into the room. I cannot get it to stop. the chimney is 4′ higher then the peak of the roof, I have raised the firebox, no change, i have put a vacustack on it, no change,I put a wind deflector that rotates no change,I have put class doors on and the smoke comes between the cracks. I have put 12″ metal all around the sides, top and bottom to reduce the size of the opening no change, I have added fresh air intake under the crate, no luck,
    I have a 13×13 flue liner. the house is very tight and to repeat the problem the fire starts great with a good draw. after two hours the smoke seems to work it way rotating down and out of the top of the fireplace opening which then fills the upper part of the room with smoke. when i do a smaller fire it seems to be ok but when the fire logs are bigger the smoke really increase. looking for any help on what the problem might be and how to fix it. sure would like to enjoy the fireplace, thanks for any help, Al

  2. Dave says:

    Probably about 36″, but you have a very short chimney. Does it smoke now? What is your flue liner size?

    Dave

  3. Dave says:

    Try this test: Take a stick of incense and hold it at the top fo the fireplace opening. do not hold it inside the opening but about 1/2 inch away and flush with the top edge of the opening. Do this during the first several minutes, before you sense smoke entering the room. have a flash light handy to better see the smoke and follow it as you hold the incense on the far left, then the far right and then at the center. I suspect your fireplace smokes more from one side than the other Most fireplaces do. I also suspect your fireplace smokes during the first 20 minutes, though it may not be readily apparent. if the incense is pulled directly into the fireplace at all locations it is probably not leaking smoke out the front at that particular time. however, sometimes if you look closely, the smoke appears to be pulled in, but is actually rolling from one side to the other just barely inside the opening and a little bit leaks out as it does this. Over time the smoke builds up in the room. Another possibility is that the fire builds up intensity and/or the wood eventually shifts or the percentage of smoke vs flame increases as the wood charrs and smoke begins to enter the room. All of these issues mean your chimney is malfunctioning (has poor draft) and the fact that you have significantly reduced the opening and still get smoke is remarkable evidence of poor draft as well.

    Have you ever had it inspected and tested by a very experienced professional? If so what did they find? Though it could be a negative pressure issue such as an HVAC system interferance, it could be a very short chimney, tall trees or an off set or a blockage. If your house is really that air tight, have you tried opening a door or window slightly? I just installed a wood stove and chimney and it would not draw at all. We opened doors windows, turned off a kitchen fan and the furnace. Nothing worked. The fireplace was on the first floor of a 2 level home. Finally we cracked the basement door and away the smoke went! I figure warm air was leaving the house via air leaks from the upper level ceiling via bath fan, kitchen fan, attic and whole house fan-even when all were turned off. this air was being displaced by the wood stove chimney, meaning air was being sucked down the chimney because the air loss from the items I mentioned was creating a vacuum in the house. When we opened the basement door the chimney reversed flow since a lower air supply (the basement door) was created.

    Houses function as a chimney and even air tight houses leak a lot. A very wealthy builder built himself a super green, air tight house. I know how rigid his standards were as I Installed a wood stove in his bedroom with an outside air intake. Every seam and every wall penetration had to be sealed with silicone and made absolutely air tight. before I ever started, i asked him if he ever had a suction test on his house. He said he had and the result was that it had approximately 1/2 the loss of the average new home constructed today-meaning it was pretty good, but nowhere near 100% air tight. Please do the incense test and door tests and let me know the results Also let me know if you”ve had it inspected and the findings.

    The sizing of your firplace opening vs liner size is pretty far off for standard fireplace design. 36″ wide x 30″ tall is standard for a 13″ x 13″ liner. Rumsford designd require a Rumsford smoke chamber and throat and damper and very specific firebox design. When I alter a standard firebox to a Rumsford firebox, I use standard flue to firebox opening ratios if the chimney is not otherwise altered. On new construction, I recommend a Rumsford damper, with a precast fireplace throat and smoke chamber purchaseable online, or a complete “Belfyre” system from “Sleepy Hollow Chimney Supply which is designed to work a lot like a Rumsford. How did you construct your thraot and smoke chamber and what kind of and what size damper are you using?

    Dave

    Dave

  4. Lana says:

    I try to start a fire in my napoleon wood burning insert, but the smoke enters my home so bad I had to stop trying. I built a fairly large kindling fire just to get it going still lotta smoke enter the home and I was forced to close the door, this in turn puts the flame out. What am I doing wrong or what could be wrong with the system. It is cold, -9.

  5. Dave says:

    Odds are you are experiening a downdraft. This is cold air comming down the chimney and pushing the smoke out into the room. Do not start a fire, Now try opening your wood stove door and feeling for cold air dropping down the chimney. if you feel a lot of cold air dropping you will need to warm the flue. If you do not feel cold air dropping down the flue, you need to look up and/or down yhe chimney for a nest or other blockage. Pushing a chimney brush through the chimney is one method of “proving” the flue is clear. There are also video cameras available, Hopefully you can see all of the way through the chimney with a powerful light ;

    If you do feel a downdraft, the cause is a difference in pressure between the inside of your home at the stove area and the pressure at the top of the chimney. Turn off any fans (bath room fans, kitchen fans,etc-yemoroarly cut back your forced air heayers as well) Try cracking a window a few inches or more in the lowest level of your home and then build a fire with several individually and very loosely crumpled up pieces of newspaper. Before lighting the fire, feel for cold air again. If it is still present with the window open, light the paper as quickly as possible and then shut the door quickly. After 5 to 10 seconds, open he door slightly for a couple of seconds then close it again. Continue to open the door slightly at these intervals, This gives the paper oxygen, yet forces the heat to find a way up the chimney. If all goes well, the smoke will start upwards and if you can maintain the flow with more paper and eiither kindling, fat wood or firestarters and gradually logs, your good to go. Close window and check to see if it is still functioning properly,

    I personally will crumple 15 eo 20 sheets of paper and have several dozen more on hand for extreme cases of down draft,
    IF YOU DO NOT FEEL CONFIDENT OF YOU ABILITY TO DO THID OR IF YO ARE HESITANT TO SMOKE THE HOUSE UP OR IF YOU HAVE REPIRATORY ISSUES, YOU MAY WANT TO CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL.

    It is a good idea, in situations like yours, to not biuld a fire unless you can keep it going for several hours. If you have a shorter fire, you may not have warmed rhe chimney thoroughly enough to maintain the heat neccessary to maintain agquatee draft as the fire dies out and smolders.

    Good luck,

    Dave

  6. Matt says:

    Dave, I have a Vermont casting wood burner, (vigilant is the model name I believe) I have ben having issues with it “burping” regularly after hours of burning. I use it to heat, so my flue is closed for the most part and I adjust the air intake on the back accordingly, It has a chain system on the vent that when it heats up it expands the chain and closes the vent and vise versa when the chain cools and contracts (opens the vent for more air). The issue seems to be when it is all closed down and the flue and vent are both closed. It “burps” out the top lid and the rear vent. I had a professional cleaning in november, and am not sure how to proceed. I presume the burp occurs becasue of a lack of air flow. but am not sure how to address the situation. Please advise.

    Thanks,
    Matt McGuire

  7. Dave says:

    The burping is probably tiny explosions caused by a pocket of unburned fumes igniting inside the stove. A technical rep at Vermont castings might some have suggestions. I’m not sure what you mean when you say your flue is usually closed. If you mean round, inline damper in your stove vent connector, opening that may or may not help. If you have a secondary air intake ( My VC Defiant Does) opening that some may help. Adjusting the lever that controls the air intake with the “chain” a little more open may help as well.

    Dampering down a stove is done for 2 reasons. One is to heat less. This can be done by building a smaller fire or by burning wood with a higher moisture content. Though if it is too moist, your stove will produce a heavy creosote build up . Other reasons people damper the stove way down by closing the air intake(s) is to conserve wood and to increase the burn time. This can also greatly increase creosote build up. Call VC and see if they have any specific suggestions for your stove and let me know their response. I and all of our readers would greatly appreciate that. I think it is most likely going to take adjusting the flue damper, and intake air supply to determine how you can damper the choke the stove down a fair amount, yet still provide enough air to prevent the burping. I also recommend getting a firewood moisture sensor to determine if moisture content is a contributing factor. Stck the prong on the sensor in as deep as possible. 20% moistore content is ideal.

    BE SURE ALL OF YOUR VENT CONNECTORS ARE SECURELY FASTENED TO THE STOVE, EACH OTHER AND TO THE CHIMNEY. THESE BURPS CAN PUSH APART THE VENT CONNECTIONS IF THEY ARE NOT SECURE!

    Dave

  8. Josh says:

    We have a wood add on furnace that we connected a few years ago to already existing chimney in our old farmhouse. The chimney was brick with terra cotta liner. We never had any smoking problems. Then last year a few terra cotta liners cracked and fell down so we had a professional install a steel chimney liner. The day the liner was installed our smoking problems started. It smokes EVERY time we load, or add wood and smokes BAD. The professional came back to check it and says that we need to add a smoke plate to our stove, empty the ashes more, and do all kinds of things that did not seem to effect our stove operation before. Can you tell me what could be the problem? I am obviously not a professional but the only thing I can think of is that the liner is too small for our house (though they had a really tough time pushing it in the existing chimney).

  9. Dave says:

    You may be right. It does sound like the liner is too small. Check what size is recomended and what size was installed. If it is too small and a larger sized liner will not fit, you may need a fan to enhance the draft. You may want to look into a fan referred to as a draft inducer. This type of fan is located outside the furnace’s vent connector (exhaust pipe) which leads from the furnace to the chimney and do not require going to the top of the chimney to clean periodically. They stay relatively soot free and blow room air up the chimney creating a a vacuum in the vent connector thereby pulling the smoke up the chimney. Check with your furnace manufacturer and the draft inducer style manufacturer for compatability. “Quickdraft” is one such manufacturer. I will warn you that manufaturers of wood furnaces are probably not going to look favorably on your having a liner that is too small and they may not condone the fan for use in the abscense of the correct liner because they most certainly have never had the furnace tested and approved for use with a fan and want no liability.

    Your wood furnace manufaturer may dissaprove of the metal plate your chimney technition suggested for the same reasons. If the plate is mounted and sized properly it will solve the smoke issue, but it will also reduce the size of the logs you can fit through the door. I don’t think it would effect the safe operation of your wood furnace either, so long as the door opens and closes properly and the door gasket’s sealing capability andnd it’s logevity is not effected.

    If I could not fit a larger liner in my chimney, I would test the metal plate idea by temporarily taping aluminum foil, using aluminum foil tape (available in the plumbing dept at Home depot or Lowes) across the door opening restricting the opening from the top down 3 or 4 inches and then building a fire and adjusting the foil up and down to determine the minimum amount of restriction needed to stop the smoke from leaking out into the room. Once I determined that, I would weigh the opening size and consequent usable log size vs the expense of a draft inducing fan and then make my decision.

    Consider the following: As for the safety of the draft inducer, it must be sized properly and should it fail to operate, the smoke problem would instantly re-occur. Installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors would reduce the safety risks somewhat, but with a wood burning appliance there is and no way to have a fail safe device installed to quickly turn the appliance off as is possible with an oil or gas appliance. These appliances burn the fuel almost instantaneously as it enters the appliance and therefore can be shut off rapidly by stopping the fuel supply. Wood, as you know, continues to burn for many hours once it is placed in the appliance.

    Though it may not be logistically or financially feasable, some people choose to have their wood furnaces located entirely outside their home or in an attachment such as a shed built against the side of the house. With these installations smoke is unlikely to enter the living areas within the home.

  10. Intelligent post. Always get the chimney inspected if in doubt. Carbon monoxide poisoning is serious and often fatal. A poorly ventilated chimney not only burns fuel less effectively, but it can also kill.

  11. Andrew says:

    Hi Dave. Good information here and looks like I you may have an answer: my family and I moved into our new construction home about a month ago. We live in an area in central Illinois that is quite windy, in fact there are dozens of power generating windwills just a few miles away from us. I have two non – masonry wood burning fireplaces, one on the first floor and one in the basement of our 2 story home. The basement firebox is directly below the 1st floor fire box. While the flus share the same chimney structure, each firebox has its own flu. They do not connect at any point. They also have their own external air intake piped in from the side of the chimmey. I have started prolonged fires that run a min. of 2 hours in the first (upper) fireplace on 2 separate occasions. The first hour or two everything is fine, but around the 2 hour point, smoke begins to be expelled from the lower level (cold and unlit) fireplace, very noticeable and enough to set off our crbn monoxide detectors. This occurs despite having the flu and air intake vent completely closed on the unlit lower level fireplace. The caps at the top of the chimney are spaced approx. 1 ft from eachother and are at the same height. Height of chimney relative to roofline meets code, so no worries there. I appear to have some sort of down draft or suction effect occurring in the cold flu, or perhaps wind is simply pushing some of the smoke down the cold flu. I am surprised that the effect only occurs after a couple of hours of sustained burning. What would be most certain remedy for the problem? HVAC installers came out and verified no obstructions, holes or open seams and have suggested either I crack a window (which on cold nights is not desireable) or install a fresh air kit. Thank you!!

  12. Dave says:

    (Please read my next post as well.) It is unusual for smoke cross over to take 2 hours. A few to several minuters is common. The first thing to try is covering the top of the basement flue with plastic and duct tape to completely rule out internal leakage. If internal leakage exists, you will need relining and or smoke chamber sealing. If the smoke cross over ceases while the plastic is taped on top of the basement flue, you can either raise the upper level freplace flue approximately 2′ higher than the top of the basement flue or install an air tight top damper to stop the smoke cross over. NOTE: If a test fire reveals no smoke cross over, repeat the testing a few times before making determinations. Let me know how it goes!

  13. Dave says:

    OOPS! I see that the above fireplace is NON-MASONRY! If smoke crossover is ocurring with plastic covering the basement flue, wnile using the uppuer flu, my relining and sealing of the smoke chamber is not possible! This is assuming you have a typical prefabricated metal fireplace and chimney system.

    Air tight top dampers are hard to adapt to these types of chimeys as well. Adaptors can be purchased to allow a masonry chimney top damper to fit a prefab flue but you must be certain you are not blocking the outer layers of the chimney.

    Prefab chimneys generally consist of multiple layers of pipe (2 to 3)designed to allow air circulation between the layers of pipe and hence, cool outer layer durimg use. You must not hinder this air circulation. if you modify the chimney top by installing a top dampere, you will also need to make certain no water can enter the spaces between the layers pipe the chimney is comprised of.

    Prefab chimneys can be difficult to diagnose and repair. Opening a window may nuetralize the varying pressures within the house and this might be a valuable diagnostice tool, but as a repair method allwoing cold air in the home is an expensive and uncomfortable solution. In some cases crscking a window is insuficcient anyway. You certainly don’t want to leave them wide open!

    The negative pressure or suction in your basement is probably drawing in smoke through spaces between the layers of the basement chimney pipe and since the firepkaces and chimneys are built within a void in the walls of your home, this void can eventually fill with smoke. The time involved to fill the chase with smoke coupled with the slow passage of smoke into the living space of the basement through small crevices around the basement fireplace might account for the 2 hour delay in pronounced odor and carbon monoxide detection.

    Tour best bet is to raise the metal chimney for the upper fireplace at least 2′ higher than the basement chimney (all of the multiple layers should be raised and are usually sold as a unit.) The moke should exit the chimney and continue to rise and not get sucked down into your basement.

    If plastic is used to cover the basement chimney as a test procedure, make sure all of the multiple layers are covered and taped closed. If this is done and smoke is still entering the basement, you have internal leakage within the chimneys and you may have to remove wall coverings like drywall and such to find the problem ares. Luckily this is probably not the case and raising the upper chimney should do the trick.

  14. Andrew says:

    Thank you Dave. HVAC company installed powered fresh air kit but had little effect on lower firebox smoke problem. Their next step is to heighten the upper chimney flue by 24 inches as suggested above. I am hopeful this will resolve the issue. Thanks for the information / guidance.

  15. Sarah says:

    Hi,
    I have recently removed an old gas fire and surround and opened up the original brick fireplace. . . . It is a 1930′s victorian house.
    I had a local sweep come in, he swept the chimney and did a draw test which was all okay.
    I lit a fire in the open grate which lit without a problem, with the majority of the smoke drawing up the chimney, but it also smokes into the room! My lounge now smells like a bonfire!
    I’ve done some research and it may be that the fireplace is too big, but I dont understand the ratios blah blah blah.
    Any advice? As I’m determined to have an open fire.
    Many thanks
    Sarah

  16. Mike says:

    I have three fireplaces in my large rancher. Two on the main level and one in basement. The chimney is centrally located. When one fireplace is being used,smoke comes through the second fireplace even with damper closed.We occasionally use both,so covering one flew is not convenient.Tried opening a window and symptom still present. Any suggestions?

  17. Dave says:

    SARA - Better get a more experienced sweep out. A 1930 chimney probably need cosiderable work – relining, etc. your sweep apparently did not carefully inspect or video scan the chimney and his smoke test apparently was improperly done. Burning a little paper is a poor test as it does not resemble a wood fire. Seriously, get a very experienced CSIA Certified sweep out. I stress experienced – 10 years plus! Also get a viedo scan done. Check a few companies for pricing, but use the most highly reviewed company – Angies list, the BBB, consumer check book, etc.

    Dave

  18. Ron says:

    I’m adding a 24″ section to the top of my wood burning stove pipe to see if it helps the creasole build up when the stove is shut down on low overnight. And I have a different 18″ on there now and it has that outer type cooling pipe and there is build up in that section that won’t clean out with a brush. I’m wondering if you know if the double layer pipe from 30 years ago would have the push and turn type connections as the new pipe has now like from Menards? I’m going to do this when I get home from work today.

  19. Ron says:

    I left you a post earlier today about new twist pipe working on 30 year old doulble wall pipe. It’s on there but the older pipe just has a ridge around it and the new pipe has angled natches so you can turn to lock it. I used a 2×4 to tap it down over the old pipe and it’s tight. The smoke seems to be going up better and it’s burning pretty good. Another question, The pipe outside circumference going through the attic looks bigger than the pipe on the roof. Is the pipe in the attic probably 3 layer and then it reduces going through the roof to 2 layer or it’s just a optical illusion. If I replace the pipe going though the roof do the make longer pipes that will make it all the way from the cieling to roof without connections?

  20. Dave says:

    MIKE -Start with covering the fireplaces NOT being used and see if you still have smoke crossing over to the other fireplaces. Use plastic or aluminum foil and duct tape to make it 100% air tight. Do so even if you have a top damper in place. If you still have cross over you will need relining and or smoke chamber coating or parging, usually both are recommended to esnsure success.

  21. Dave says:

    There are multiple issues involving the safety and usability of your chimney. Please read this response in its entirety. I suggest you get a CSIA Certified Sweep who fireplace is very familiar with factory built fireplace and chimney systems to inspect your chimney. Read below to find out how to identify the manufactures name and the model number of yourand how to obtain a copy of the Installation manual for your specific fireplace. Without this information it may be difficult to properly evaluate the chimney.

    RON- Adding a 24″ section of chimney pipe to your chimney may not decrease creosote build up or change the consistency of the creosote. In fact the worst creosote deposits are often found at the top where cold air cools the chimney.

    REDUCING TARRY DEPOSITS known as 3rd degree creosote is best accomplished by taking the following steps:

    1) BURN ONLY DRY WOOD. Notice I never said seasoned. No matter how old or what color, moisture content is the key here. Buy a moisture sensor and test the wood. 20% moisture content is ideal. You need to push the prong as deep as possible to get an accurate reading. It takes over a year to dry some hardwoods, so don’t assume a few months in a covered environment are enough and don’t assume seasoned wood or wood that feels very dry is dry enough. Higher moisture content results in heavier tarrier build ups.

    2) START YOUR FIRE BY BURNING YOUR FIREPLACE OR STOVE AT A FAIRLY HIGH TEMPERATURE FOR AT LEAST ONE HOUR BEFORE EITHER CLOSING DOWN AIR INTAKES SIGNIFICANTLY ON WOOD STOVES OR CLOSING GLASS DOORS ON OPEN FIREPLACES. If you are already doing this follow the other suggestions. You might also burn at the higher temperature for longer a period of time.

    3) USE A CREOSOTE REDUCTION/REMOVAL CHEMICAL ADDITIVE. “Anti Creosote”, “Chimney Sweep in a Can”, “Firewood Creosote Conditioner” and other similar products are sold online and at fireplace stores to accomplish this. Follow directions on the product you choose. I use them very frequently as I choke the air supply to my wood stove regularly.

    Beware:By code you are required to follow manufacturers recommendations for chimney installation and modification(s). Wood stove manufacturers usually place a metal tag with the make and model number on the rear of the stove. Prefab (or factory built) fireplace manufacturers usually place a metal tag on their fireplaces, up high on the right or left side of the fireplace – often inside the fireplace itself. It may be awkward to view as you sometimes must place your head in the fireplace looking at the left and right upper corners of the inside surface of the fireplace to find the tag. Wiping gently with a moist rag to remove soot and using of a magnifying glass may help. Other times the tag is on the front surface of the fireplace, up high and behind the mesh screen. Once you determine the make and model number, go on line and look for the Owner’s Manual and Installation Guidelines. If you don’t see the procedure you are following in an installation manual or other published document from the manufacturer of your specific fireplace and chimney (pipe), you may not be abiding by code and you might be liable for any resulting consequences, ie: fire or smoke damage, injury, etc. I am not trying to scare you, just inform you.

    You mentioned your outer pipe appears to be a different size in the attic than it is above the roof. You should measure their diameter or circumference. Different sizes mean something is probably missing and unsafe. You also said you used 2 pipes having different locking mechanisms they are probably not recommended for use together. They make seem to work well, but they may not be safe.Only pipes (chimney sections and other chimney parts) tested, listed an recommended for use with your specific model of fireplace by you fireplace manufacturer are allowed by code.

    Important note:The inner most pipe on wood burning chimneys always fastens together with the female end up and the male end down! This is so that any moisture containing creosote which develops will drip down inside the chimney! (If it were to develop and drip outside the chimney and the creosote ignited, it could catch your house on fire!

    If you have changed a 3 layer pipe to a 2 layer pipe, that is a dangerous as well. Differnt chimneys may require different clearances to combustibles. Once you start connecting 2 and 3 layered chimney pipes or pipes from different manufacturers you have a chimney system that has never been tested for safety and you are again taking matters into your own hands and if someone or somthing gets hurt or damaged, it is possible for you to be found at fault and subject to civil liability or criminal prosecution.

    NEXT: I doubt you can find a pipe long enough to reach from the ceiling, through the roof and up to the appropriate height with out any connections. Chimneys must extend a minimum of 3 feet above the roof on all sides of the chimney AND they must also extend 2 feet above any portion of the roof and any other structure within 10 feet of the chimney. Measure this distance using a level. Don’t measure along the slope of the roof as this will give a reduced measurement. Your idea of using one pipe is an excellent idea. I assume you concern stems from the your correct assumptions that having a connection above the roof or less than 2 feet below the roof greatly increases the odds of wind disconnecting the pipes, particularly if the pipes extend 5 feet or more above the roof. If this is the case, roof supports are available from some manufacturers. Selkirk/Metalbest chimney manufacturer sells a Universal Roof Support that works on a fairly wide range of chimney diameters. Use of such a support will minimize these risks. Some installers will screw the outer most pipe sections together. Because even short 1/2″ sheet metal screws create a heat sink and can cause nearby cumbustibles to get too hot and possibly ignite they only place screws in the outer most pipes and they make sure there are no combustables within 1 1/2 times the manufacutere recommended clearance to combustibles wherever a screw is placed. I am not condoning this procedure, I am warn you that I have no data to support this procedure’s safety and, if you don’t see it in the manufacturer’s installation guide lines it does not meet code and you may be found to be liable should personal injury or property damage result in doing this.

    Finally, you mentioned in your earlier post that you have a creosote build up between the inner pipe and outer layers of pipe. This should never ocurr. Somewhere SOMETHING IS DANGEROUSLY WRONG! I suspect a leak in the inner pipe. It is either not connected to the fireplace correctly or it has become disjoined at a connection between the sections of inner pipe. A hole or crack is less likely, but possible. Frequently seperatios are also found at elbow connections. Elbows are curved sections if chimney pipes. Check just below the lowest point of the build up ocurring between layers of pipe. A seperated inner pipe connection is likely to be there. Clean all of the build up between the inner and outer pipes completely before using the fireplace again. Use a chemical spray sold at wood stove and fireplace retailers or on line if any residue remains after wire brushing the pipes.

    Again, I strongly urge you to have your chimney inspected by a chimney sweep who is very experieced with factory built (pre-fab) fireplaces.

  22. Ron says:

    I did notice there was a tag on the pipe in the attic and I will check it for a manufacture and measure it but where I connected the 24″ pipe was the same size outside and inside from the original. I never did have creasol leaking between joints or outside the pipe.
    I was juat saying that the extension I added before was a different type double wall pipe that was cooled by venting from outside air and that is probably why creasol built up in there worse than the original pipe because it wasn’t staying hot enough on the inside. I took that off last night and install the 24″ section, doublewall chimney pipe, from Menards and a new cap and it is working better than it ever has which made it about 3′ higher than the peak of the roof. The original installers had it even with the roof and that wasn’t working so I had to do something. We have run into alot of companies around here that say they have been in business for so many years and I always have to find out the correct way and fix their repais.
    Do they sell those moisture checkers at Menards?
    They also sell those little flare size creasol sticks and a friend said he uses 1 a weak in his wood burner when he had one.

  23. Keith says:

    Have a newer home with a factory-built fireplace – original owner. Don’t use fireplace too much, just 10 or so fires each winter, if that. Have NEVER had a problem with chimney draft. It’s always been great, even when first lit. Had a fire tonight and tons of smoke would randomly pour into the room when fire had burned down. It’s windy tonight but it is often windy here and I believe we’ve had a fire when windy before. Nothing around house for hundreds of feet. Is this just a freak set of conditions (wind speed and direction) or might there be some other cause?

    Also, I always use the outside air vent when burning, tonight I wanted to see how much difference it made so left it closed at first. Noticed more smoke inside than normal so I opened it wide. Left it open, but as I said, when the fire cooled down smoke got bad and would randomly blow into room. I eventually had to take the last bit of fire and shovel it into the fire bucket to take outside the smoke got so bad.

  24. Dave says:

    Hi Keith,
    The most definitive symptom is it smoked when the fire was dying down. That means there is likely to be negative pressure in the room. With an active fire, the force of the hotter air rising defeats the negative pressure, but when the fire dies down the heat is so little the air flow reverses. The blowing could be wind adding smoke at opportune times.

    Lets stick with the first symptom and if you figure out why that recently began and correct it, the wind might not pose a problem anymore. We’ll just have to wait and see. So, what is different? Any alteratiuons to the house? New windows, doors, insulation, roof, fans(attic fan, whole house fan, kitchen fan, bathroom fan, etc.) and did you have a fan on during the fire? Was there a door or window left open?

    If the problem continues, try opening a door or window partially, then completely on the lower level of your house and see if that helps. Try the upper level windows or doors as well, though those may make the smoke entry worse – so be careful. Have someone assist you so you can more easily monitor the fireplace during the testing. Let me know what level the fireplace is on and what the test results are. If it’s just a fluke change in Barometric pressure or something, you may not have another problem for years but don’t rely on it. Smoke can be harmful and in extreme cases, deadly. The theory is this: Since no house is air tight, warmer air escapes through crevices on the upper portion of your home.This creates a negative pressure in the house. The air leaving will be displacethrough crevices elsewhere, prhaps right through the chimney. Because of the fire, this cannot occur…..until the fire dies way down….

    Dave

  25. Matt says:

    I have a wood burning stove that has a 6″ pipe that goes from the stove to the chimney. The pipe has a short 90 coming out of the stove, rises about 2 feet and then has another 90 going about 1 foot into the huge brick chimney with about a 10″ x 12″ flue? My chimney is all most 4 stories high. I have a 2 story house with a good size attic and basement. I get a lot of creosote build up in the second 90 so bad in about 2 months that its about filled solid. I use the Woodstove 24/7 to heat my house. I have seen things about stove to chimney ratio, and things about a cold chimney. What can I do to stop this build up?

  26. Dave says:

    It’s not unusual to have (2) 90 degree elbows in a rear venting stove, nor is it unusaul to get a heavy creosote build up after 2 months of 24/7 use. That is a lot of use. The only way to prevent build up is to keep your chimney hot and build a proper fire with a strong bed of coals. That means to sart your fire fairly quickly, particularly when you rekindle it each morning, let it burn hot for at least hour to heat up the chimney and then close the air intake partially, but not so much that the coals stop glowing, showing the effects of a little airflow. That also means you will not be able to fill it with wood at night and close off the air intake completely, like I do. This causes the chimney to cool and condensation containing creosote forms. I clean my own chimney 2 or 3 times a year so it doesn’t bother me and I also load the stove at least twice during the night – that keeps me warm and keeps the chimney from cooling all the way down. But, I still get a fair build up. Other things that will help are the purchase and use of a moisture meter designed for firewood. Push the prong(s) in as deep as you can. 25 to 30 percent moisture is ideal. Wood that looks dry may not be dry. Wet wood can take up to a year or a year and and a half to dry adequately indoors.

    Your masonry chimney is also very large for a stove with a 6 inch flue collar. I would suggest installing a 6 inch stainless steel liner to keep the fumes hotter. You never mentioned what that part of the chimney looks like. It’s gotta be badly sooted up! Insulating the liner would also help. A more modern stove with a low grams of soot per hour rating and proper use of that stove may also reduce build up. Remember it is the red hot coals that keep your fire burning properly. Too much air will over heat the stove and may damage it, but too little will clog the chimney and you really should install that liner and insulate it. If you like your stove do the other things I mentioned first and see how that works. Good luck!

  27. Adan Mok says:

    Great blog! Sorry to change the subject, but I recently had some hail damage so I’m looking to find a great roofing company in Nashville TN. Have you heard of any good ones? There’s a roofing company in Hendersonville, right outside of Nashville, called AE Roofing & Exteriors who could be good, but I’ve only seen a few reviews. Here’s the address of these Nashville roofers, 108 Midtown Court #203 Hendersonville, TN 37075 (615) 431-2283. Let me know your thoughts! Thanks!

  28. Frank LaSush says:

    I have a cinderblock (with tile lining) chimney (6.75″ x 7.75″ square opening on roof) that runs from the basement floor thru to the ridgeline of the stick built house. An 8′ metal flue exits the chimney about 6′ above the basement floor at 90 degrees. It continues horizontal to the floor for 2.5′, then an elbow is attached and finally the dammper section is 3′ long and attached to the top of my Schrader wood stove.
    The stove just started smoking badly a month ago, until a good draft is initiated after fired up. Chimnney is completely cleaned, 8″ flue is completely cleaned, stove is completely cleaned. Elbow is a brand new replacement (because smoking started coming out the seams of the old elbow, so I thought the elbow had gone bad).
    And, i mean it really smokes up till an up draft is really going. And, until a month ago, it never happened at all. Any clues?
    Yes, I preheat the flue prior to ignition.
    Thanks for any info, Frank

  29. Dave says:

    Sorry to ask questions instead of answering. I need more info. Have you checked the masonry portion of the chimney for blockage and cleaned the mesh cover on top of the chimney if you have a mesh cover? Any other new appliances in the house? New Doors or windows or exhaust fans for kitchens, dryers or bathrooms, etc? Any tall tress or ivy nearby? How long has the stove functioned properly, years?

    Dave

  30. Dave says:

    I actually use Angies List to find reputable firms in DC, Texas, CA & WV where I frequent. For $45.00 A year and considering the coupons and “Big Deals” they offer it’s a great way to save as well.

  31. robert bijak says:

    Had my “superior” fireplace insert 12 yrs. 30 fires over that time as smoke precludes use. The first 45 min seems ok, but from 1 hr on you smell smoke and at 2 hrs its strong, though not too visible. I’ve had the chimney raised 3 ft. open windows, doors, furnace off to no avail. The flue is clean,10in. round with a fp in2 of 780.(35w X 20h).Small or large fires same

  32. Dave says:

    When you say fireplace insert, I think you mean you have a prefabricated fireplace and chimney. Is that correct? I suspect the fireplace is smoking the entire time, you just don’t notice it until the smoke accumulates for 45 minutes. Take a stck of incense and hold it at the uppuer left and right corners of the fireplace opening during the fire and use a flashlight beam to follow the smoke trail. This will tell you how forcefully the smoke is being pushed out.

    Check to see that your damper is 100% open. Make sure the screenon top is clear and check for tall trees near the chimney and anything else obvious. Is the chimney at least 15 to 20 feet tall from the fireplace floor to the top? Also a houses on top of a hill or at the bottom of a valley or even in a clear cut, flat windy area have statistically greater chances of smoking. Do you neighbors have the same fireplace? Do any of them have issues?

    Call Superior firepalce Company (possibly now owned by Lenox) and ask for technical assistance. If Superior has no helpful information 2 things will improve draft. one is a chimney exhaust fan or draft inducing fan. These are a little noisey and expensive, but if properly sized, they will both work. Another is to reduce the opening size. This can be accomplished by adding a piece of sheet metal across the top of the opening to reduce the opening height by 3 or 4 inches or so. You can test this with foil. Contact Superior first, they may be helpful. Let me know what they say. The fireplace opening reduction may cause a hot spot and result in a house fire so ask Superior about modfying the opening size. Nobody wants liability and the fireplace has NEVER been tested that way. Though it might work, The risk and liability are on you.

    Changing out the fireplace and chimney with a new model is also a possibility. I’d bet a new fireplace wouls work well. Once in a while we’ll run into a fireplace smoke issue that seems not feasable to fix, so we replace it. 30 years is pretty old for a prefab anyway.

    Dave

  33. robert bijak says:

    The prefab is 12 yrs old. I meant to say I only made about 30 fires. Neighbors have no problems 2 doors down) but had a diff. bldr.Do you see a flue:FP.opening ratio problm? Chimney is at least 20′. If a fan costs 2M+ wouldn’t a new prefab be approx just 2X more? Vacustac helpful? Appreciate your time, thanks

  34. Dave says:

    The ratio is fine. I take it you have a 10″ inner diameter chimney flue. Prefab fireplaces start at about $750.00 and the chimneys are about $125/4ft section. The fireplaces are about 2 1/2 to 3′ tall so figure that in. If you don’t replace it yourself the labor will add up. A Vacustack will only increase draft if there’s a fair breeze. They are really designed to eliminate back puffing, not to increase draft continually. Unless windy days are the only time you have a problem, it won’t be a good solution.

    The main problem with a fan is the noise. Turn on you bathroom fan or stove hood fan and stand about 10 or 15 feet away from it. That’s a rough idea of how loud an exhausto fan sounds. For most people it needs to be at about 3/4 full speed. The Exhausto brand chimney fan is a good product.

    Unless you can pin point strong negative pressure in your house or some external factor or your damper is not open totally, etc, you may just have a poorly designed system. That is rare with prefabs, but not totally unheard of. A good thing about the fan is it is a quick fix and will work with great consistancy, even under most adverse conditions like wind, barring a severe wind storm and it will usually work even then.

    No problem with my time spent trying to help. But if you would, please post again when you decide what appraoch to take and let me know the results. I live in the DC Baltimore area so if your not too far away, maybe I can take a look.

  35. Bob Brockway says:

    You mention electric fans are available for chimneys. Do you know some companies that I could check? Bob

  36. Bob Brockway says:

    You mention that there are fans that can be mounted in chimneys. Do you know the names of some of these companies? Bob

  37. Dave says:

    I’m sure there are others, but in this industry the Exhausto chimney fans are pretty much the standard fan used. I believe there is a chart to help you determine which fan size will suit you. We put them on as a last resort. Why are you considering them. Note that all chimney fans are very audible, regardless of the marketing claims, and very expensive.

    Dave

  38. robert bijak says:

    A follow up on my smoking problem. Chimney is now raised 8 feet from original ending and is total of 25-30 feet from fireplace floor. Had a vacustak for 1 month. 1st fire lasted 8 hrs and seemed ok. 4 subsequent fires smoke smell again. Wind speed doesn’t seem to matter. I was wrong about flue size, its 8″ not 10″. I burn the fire in the back of the hearth with the grate tilted back to no avail. Had 6 different opinions since the last 2 years, no one is sure. they say maybe its defective? How would I know if a pipe is not connected in a wall? Also, when I pull open the “combustion chamber” lever I don’t feel any increase air coming in. I can’t see where it enters the fireplace. Is itabove the damper lever or should it be in the firebox? I can’t find a diagram either. I’ve worked hard trying to solve this and I’m very frustrated. I live in the buffalo area, so not near you. I really could use a referal or some idea. Thanks

  39. Dave says:

    So, one 8 hour fire didn’t put smoke in the room, but the next 4 fires did. My guess would be you have a poorly designed fireplace and chimney system, barely able to draw enough to not smoke on occassions when optimal presure/wind/ barometric conditions exist for the entire duration of the fire.

    Directional wind issuers are best solved with a Hazel Vent, a directional chimney vent (cover.) Rockford Chimney Supply sells them on line for a couple hundred dollars, but I doubt one will totally solve your smoke proble. You might want to monitor wind direction and see if it is a factor before spending more money.

    If house pressure or barometric pressure issues alone should have been solved by opening windows during use and you previously stated that did not work. Proccess of elimination leaves poor design as probable and significant factor.

    Another point; You now tell me the chimney inside diameter is 8″. Most 36″ Superior Fireplace are 8″ ID. Please confirm that just a 2 or 3 inches in from the front of the fireplace opening, the width is reduced by about 4 inches. This creates an alcove on either side of the fireplace which allows for an area to slide the spark screen into. It also reduces the FUNCTIONAL opening size for compatability with an 8″ID chimney. Please confirm this opening width reduction and respond to me.

    Answers to your last questions:

    How do I find out if a pipe is diconnected inside the chimney? – A trained eye can usually spot a seperated pipe connection if the chimney has no elbows if a 250 candle power spotlight is used (Home Depot sells a rechargable one for about $10-$15)Look both up and down the chimney. But, the best view is with a “Chimscan” video camera. Most experienced chimney diagnosticians have one.

    Where is the outside air vent connected to the fireplace; I can’t feel air coming in?

    You can’t see where the air vent is attached to your fireplace. It is attached to the outer wall of your fireplace on the left or right side of the fireplace, down low and behind the inside panel, out of sight. If you look outside, on the exterior of the chimney, you will see the outside air intake cover protruding 3′ to 4″ from the chimney. It looks like a dryer or kitchen vent cover. USUALLY the side of the chimney that the vent cover is attached to is the same as the side of the fireplace the vent ducting is attached to. But, you generally can’t feel the air coming into the fireplace fron this vent. Remember that you have tried opening windows and that didn’t solve your smoke problem so opening the vent will not solve the problem either, because they both provide air to the fireplace and opening a window provides more and also does a better job of balancing the room pressure with the pressure outside the house.

    Your options:

    Install a Hazel vent, cost approx $250.00 plus labor of perhaps $150.00 (or install it yourself.) Down side – unlikely to work.

    Exhausto fan: Cost, approx $1,400.00 on line, installation by electrician, $500.00 to $800.00. If sized by Exhausto, it will work. Down side – expensive and fairly loud (Exhausto calls them silent. Don’t believe them) Also, don’t work during power outages.

    Video scan: Approx cost: $150.00, will determine if internal pipes are connected properly. First use a spot light and look. If there are no elbows blocking your view and the pipes are straight and visibly connected the video is not be needed. IF THE PIPES ARE DICONNECTED THE CHIMNEY IS VERY UNSAFE. DO NOT USE THE FIREPLACE AT ALL. Downside: The expense, will not fix anything, but will determine if the innermost lining of pipe is properly connected.

    If it were my fireplace, I would video scan the chimney and monitor the wind. Then, based on my observations, I would either put a directional Hazel vent on my chimney or replace the fireplace and chimney entirely.

    You might consider the fan because it will work, but I don’t like listening to them, myself. If you do install a fan on your chimney, save the existing rain cap. MAKE ABSOLUTELY SURE THE FAN INSTALLATION DOES NOT OBSTRUCT THE AIR CIRCULATION BETWEEN ANY OF THE MULTIPLE LAYERS OF PIPE COMPRISING YOUR CHIMNEY IN ANY WAY. THE AIR CIRCULATION BETWEEN THE LAYERS OF PIPE IS CRITICAL TO THE INSULATING CAPABILITY AND OF THE CHIMNEY AND YOUR SAFETY.

    If you want, send me photos of the chimney and of your fireplace, top to bottom and from 2 or 3 different angles. Also let me know about the fireplace width and wind direction study if you feel they would help. Email them to me at dkmyers44@yahoo.com and we can then speak directly by phone (my cell# is 202-468-5596)and I will try to help you make the right decision and fix the fireplace once and for all. We can do this!

    If you want a second opinion, call the Chimney Safety Institute of America at 317-837-5362. They have Experts, like myself, on staff. If they have any other ideas, please run them by me.

    Dave

  40. robert bijak says:

    Dave. First of all thank you. You’ve given me more direction than anyone I’ve had over here and there have been at least 6! I measured the opening from where the firebrick starts in front and its 34″ (I didn’t measure into the screen alcove) 4″ in, it’s,32 1/2″. The entire depth from back wall to front is 16″.The entire back wall itself is 26″. I made a 3 hr fire yesterday and it was great!? The wind was 8mph from the south,temp32degrees, barometic 29.93. The fireplace sits on the west side. I did remove the vacustac and replace the original wider breathing cap. Others told me the vacustac looked restictive?! So, I’ll need to make more fires to see if its the cap, weather or ?. Thanks for explaining the cumbustion chamber. I feel better that I couldn’t feel air come in,so I’ll assume it’s ok,and as you said the open window insures air anyway. I’ll see what I can do re photos. I’m not too computer literate,but I’ll try.Once again thank you for your offers of help. Will contact after a few more fires with the original cap and different weather conditions. It was so great to have a fire!!

  41. Dave says:

    It sounds like the fire box is at the limit in terms of sizing and the least little thing will inhibit the draft. (wind direction, barometric pressure, etc) I dont like vacustacks. I’ve put them on and watched the smoke came down when ever the wind was not real hard. Too much monet for a poor result. Tyr my suggestion of monitoring wind direction, speed and barometric pressure. I’m afraid you may need a more conservatively designed unit, but let’s wait to see your results first. Have you ever tried to contact a technical rep at lenox? If not, call them asap and ask if that model has a history of smoke issues. Also let me know if you have ever looked up or down the flue with a strong light. if you can get on top of the roof you can send down a flash light duct taped to a rope or drop cord light down the chimney and avoid buying a light.(tie any connections so you don’t loose it) Is the liner straight? Is it all connected well? etc. Most systems use 1 elbow near the bottom and some have more higher up.

    Dave

  42. robert bijak says:

    Had several fires with good results but today it was raining, 51 degrees and 6mph winds from WSW. My unit is on West side of house. For 2 hrs seemed ok with mild smoke smell, but while on phone I couldn’t add more wood and flame decreased but didn’t go out. There were lots of hot embers. Within 20 min smoke smell was all thru the house again, but not visible. Furnace was off all the time and window cracked by fireplace. Thought I had it licked but it’s square one again. Can’t understand how I’ll have several good ones than no good. Could it be that the heavy air came down because fire wasn’t hot enough? With other homes there was never an issue despite the weather. The fires that were good were when wind was about 15 mph from SW. Barometric pressure today is 30. Other days around 28 so no real big deal there. I’m really getting frustrated not knowing what next to do.

  43. robert bijak says:

    PS I did look up the pipe and there is a small elbow near flue but then straight to the top. all seems connected. I’m not physically able to go on the roof and look down. There is only one Lennox dealer here and his man came over and just recommended the vacustac. Not very helpful.

  44. robert bijak says:

    Had fire on 4/14 wind 11 mph ese 41degrees. Fire seemed aggressive and going well up the flue with no visible smoke. Again furnace off, window cracked. AT fireplace, no smell seemed gd. 1hr later in kitch 15 feet away smoke smell starting. Sun room next to kitchen with vaulted ceiling,slt to moderate smoke smell. Ended fire around 1 1/2 hr later. next day not bad. Susepect another hr of burning would be smoky. I never see the smoke. Again Flu warmed 10 min with gas starter and fire kept hot and toward back of fp. Chimney extension pipe is bare, ie not insulted so may cool faster than if enclosed in chase. Several builders didn’t recommend chase extension due to it not having sufficient support for the height. They also felt raising wouldn’t help smoking problem.

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  46. Andrew says:

    Dave, I wanted to update you after having a full season of troubleshooting since my October 13, 2012 posting. I evenually had the height of my flues staggered by 2 feet. This did not seem to fix the problem. I had a local chimney sweep inspect both flues and could not visually detect any gaps by looking from top and bottom of flues (he did not run a video camera down, only what he could see from tp and bottom). As you suggested, I bagged and taped the top of the flue leading to the basement fireplace (the fireplace that seems to draw the smoke). I ensured that all entry points for air were sealed. I continued making fires, and found I was still getting smoke into the lower basement. I suspect that smoke is emitting from somewhere inside the chimney structure as you had stated in your reply to me, likely through a seam in one of the flue joints. Before I had bagged the flue, the chimney sweep suggested I fully insulate the chimney as he says in his experience this tends to remedy problems similar to what I am having — his rationale being that the smoke rapidly cools in the cold chimney structure and is not able to ascend as rapidly, if at all. According to the builder, the flue was insulated at least up to the roofline. The chimney rises approx. 8 – 9 feet above the exit point from the roof. Would insulating help? Both HVAC (original installer of flue and fireplace) and chimney inspector have told me they can not see any gaps in the metal flue, so I assume any gaps that are present in the less than 1 year old chimney must be very small but still alow smoke to escape. Are any potential gaps, no matter how small, a concern that I need to have addressed? Do you recommend a good means of detecting any gaps that may exist? Thank you!

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