If your fireplace smokes into the room, here are questions to ask yourself that may assist in determining the source of the problem .
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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.
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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.
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Hope this info helps,
CEO of 301Chimney