To stop a fireplace from smoking into a room first, clean your chimney, check for downdraft, turn off any mechanical exhausts, measure your flue size to fireplace opening if the ratio is incorrect a fireplace smoke guard or exhaust fan can be added to the chimney to help eliminate this problem.
Do you have a fireplace that smokes back into the room and is not drawing properly this problem can be attributed to many different things but they all come down to your fireplace not drafting the way it should, I’ll help you remedy this problem forever so you can enjoy your fireplace any time you want and won’t have smoke entering the room ever again
Have you ever started your first fire in your fireplace or wood stove in the fall when you feel a bit of a chill and all the smoke starts pouring out of the fireplace and into the room and this is the first time it’s happened, so your in complete shock and your house smells of smoke and to get rid of the haze you start to open window and doors to let the room breath again, well this is a common problem so don’t worry and don’t think your the only one it’s happened to?
Another common scenario is that you have always had a smoky chimney and have just gotten used to it and you’ve had chimney sweeps come and look at it and no one can pinpoint the real underlining problem of why it smokes and of what you should do to fix it, well your not alone either there are literally millions of fireplaces that have this problem, and the sad part is most people just live with it or decide not to use it anymore and that’s a real shame, I don’t want you to be that person, fireplaces are so enjoyable and you should be enjoying yours.
If you feel like any of the people in the examples above then you are in the right place to identify what is causing the problem and find the solution so you can get back to truly enjoying your fireplace again.
What causes smoke to come back down my fireplace chimney?
Let’s start off by talking about some of the most common factors of why your fireplace could be smoking and then after we can Identify some of the more serious reasons, and let me just tell you that 99.9 percent of fireplaces that smoke can be fixed but to get to that point you may have to do a little work or hire a professional, but none of the solutions we will mention in this article brake your bank so I encourage you to continue reading and we will find the solution together.
So let’s go over 8 of the most common problems, will also look at their solutions, will even talk about some of the more complicated problems, and give you the most practical ideas to rectify them, so continue reading and let’s get your fireplace working as it should.
A cold chimney flue
- A cold chimney flue, Chimney flues work with a natural draft which is dependent on hot air rising causing a pulling effect threw the chimney, Well you are probably thinking why would this make a difference because right away you are probably saying to yourself, I’m going to warm it up with a fire, and it should start working right away, shouldn’t it?
Well in theory, yes but sometimes the process of warming a chimney with fire doesn’t happen as fast as we would like, and because the flue is cold and it has a negative pressure or downward draft that is stopping the chimney from warming to reverse that downward pressure and causing smoke to billow out, to understand this point will touch a little more on negative pressure later in the article.
So what is the solution? well you need to reverse that negative pressure in the chimney and that can be achieved by lighting a piece of newspaper on fire and holding it up inside the damper or throat of your chimney, this will slowly warm the chimney and reversing the draft to an upward draft and rectifying the problem you may need to do it a few times to warm it up.
This can also work on a wood-burning stove or wood-burning insert holding burning newspaper close to the area in the firebox where smoke exits and goes up the chimney, remember each wood stove or insert is different, so you just need to find the spot where the smoke will travel up and out, most modern stoves draw up an out the chimney from the upper front of the stove box closest to the door.
Your damper is closed
2. Your damper is closed, now you may say well this is just a given but if you are not accustomed to using a fireplace or you’re a newbie at it, well it can and does happen quite often, for example, one of your family members could come along and close the damper a bit or totally, causing the chimney to smoke when you go to start it.
So what is the solution? You should always make sure it’s opened before starting a fire, if you are not sure if it’s opened you can do this by flashing light up the chimney to see if it needs opening, rarely is it clearly marked on a masonry fireplace if the damper is opened or closed so you may want to familiarize yourself with the damper controls whether it’s a nob you turn of a handle you push, it’s worth getting used to where is opened and where is closed, what some people will do is put a decorative sign made of brass or another material on the damper handle to remind them when it’s opened and when it’s closed.
Another great idea to remedy this problem is to put what is called a “lock top damper” on the top of your chimney, this is a flat plate damper that sits flat on top of your chimney and has a cable that runs down the inside of your flue because it is spring-loaded it will open and close with ease by pulling down on the cable or releasing it upwards to open it.
Why is a “lock top damper” a great solution? Well because it closes on top of your chimney and keeps it warm not letting cold air filter in and then allowing you to start your fire with ease because your chimney is always warm thanks to the heat of your home.
When you’re not having a fire simply close it and you will notice the difference with your heating bill and it will also eliminate the possibility of animals entering your home through the chimney, personally I think all masonry fireplaces should have these installed from day one, I’ve installed hundreds of them and I have yet to see one let me down.
These dampers come in two different ways, only as a damper or a rain cap with the damper inside and both of them are made of high-grade stainless steel so you never have to worry about them rusting and needing to be replaced.
3. Dirty chimney, I’m sorry to say this is a very common cause of fireplace smoking or as chimney sweeps say back puffing into the house, if a chimney is dirty the size of the flue is reduced not allowing it to draw or breath so the smoke and all of the bad odors from a dirty chimney start coming back into the house.
So what is the solution? It is recommended by most chimney sweeps to get your chimney cleaned and inspected by a professional at least once a year, getting it cleaned helps clear away any creosote and dirt allowing it to work properly. Using wet wood or softwood also causes your chimney to build up with creosote very quickly so avoid them and only burn seasoned dry hardwood.
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With chimney fires, most people know that they have had one because when it happens it sounds like a freight train going through your house and is very scary to live through, but sometimes people don’t know they had a chimney fire till their local chimney sweep comes for your annual cleaning and finds debris and residue from a chimney fire.
You see with a chimney fire what happens is the creosote on the walls of your chimney ignites and burns and when it does it puffs up causing the chimney to choke and your chimney won’t draw unless it is cleaned.
So if your chimney is smoking into the room and you haven’t had it cleaned in a while then that is probably the cure.
4. Chimney blockage, ok so you are probably saying to yourself what does this mean, when we say your chimney could have a blockage, this means something foreign is in your chimney, this could be animals like raccoons, squirrels and the most common culprit is a bird.
Birds love chimneys and what better place than to make your home into their home, it’s a great shelter, it’s warm year-round and the rent is free.
I’ve seen nests built 10 feet deep into a chimney and most birds build them in the spring so you don’t even notice till you try and light a fire in the fall and the house fills with smoke.
So what is the solution? Taking a nest out of a chimney is definitely not a DIY project, you can do a lot of damage to your chimney especially if you have a stainless steel liner installed.
You need the right tools for this job and If you don’t have them this can become a disaster and in the end, you’ll call a professional chimney sweep to finish the job.
Chimney sweeps use a set of rods with spiral hooks that can grab the nest and pull it out in pieces this can take minutes or hours depending on how deep the nest goes into your chimney, believe me, I’ve taken out hundreds of nests, and they’re not always easy to remove even with the right tools.
So the first thing to do is call a professional chimney sweep and when you do ask them to bring along a wire screen to put up in the cap so it doesn’t happen again and if you don’t have a cap ask them to put one on, you’ll be glad you did because if a bird made a nest in your chimney once it’s probably going to try it again.
Tight air pressure
5. Tight air pressure, Most newer homes have trouble with air pressure because homes are built a lot tighter than before which is great for your heating bill but bad for your fireplace because they need that natural airflow to function properly.
Nowadays we have better tightly sealed windows, spray foam insulation in our walls, and weather strips on our doors, so the problem this creates is that your fireplace needs air to rush into it for combustion and then up the chimney, we call this “make-up air” and if that’s not available you are definitely going to have smoke come back into your home because there isn’t enough airflow or makeup air in the home.
Have you have ever felt cold air when standing in front of your fireplace and there’s no fire in it?
Well if this is the case your house has decided that it’s going to use your flue as a vent to bring in the fresh air, sometimes even with your damper closed you might feel cold air coming in.
So what is the solution? Most of the time opening the window closest to your fireplace will give it the air it needs, this generally reverses the effects causing the chimney to draw again, leave it opened while you start the fire, and close it once you get a few logs burning and the chimney is warm enough to draw then enjoy your fire.
Another solution could be bringing in an outside air supply to your masonry fireplace this is usually installed in the floor of the firebox and has ducting to the outside wall allowing your fireplace to have enough air for combustion and possibly stopping smoke spillage, check and see if your fireplace has one, most people keep them closed because there not sure what it’s used for.
If you do have one all you need to do is lift the metal plate on the floor of your fireplace and you’ll see what looks like a metal grate that opens up, this is not to be confused with an ash dump, they are two different things.
If you don’t have one you could ask your local chimney sweep if this could be a good way to go in your particular case and if it’s worth installing one.
If you try all of these things you can also have a negative air pressure test done to find out exactly what is causing the problem.
Mechanical exhaust in your home
6. Mechanical exhaust in your home, so mechanical drafts are things in your home like bathroom exhaust fans, kitchen hood vents, furnaces, clothes dryers, etc, you get the idea these appliances are constantly pushing air out of your house.
The problem with this is that the natural draft of your fireplace can’t compete with all the mechanical draft in some homes, if your house is very tight as I mentioned in point #5 these mechanical fans can be using your fireplace chimney as a vent to draw air down into the house making it almost impossible for you to start a fire, and this causes what is called fireplace downdraft.
So what is the solution? Well, you may need to do some trial en error to figure out what works in your home to get a fire started because this can be a complex problem.
The first thing you can try is opening a window that is close to your fireplace, next turn off any hood vents or mechanical fans if possible, and light a fire, now turn them on and this should help you deduct whether your not getting enough fresh air in your house because the chimney may start to smoke if this is the case you can call your local furnace company to see if an adjustment can be made to bring enough fresh air into the house.
Your last solution is to put a mechanical fan on the top of your chimney.
The styles and quality of these exhaust fans differ depending on your price range, generally, they start at about $400.00 and can go up to $3000 obviously some are better than others but they all will of the trick.
These fans or extractors work well and you will be guaranteed that your smoke problems will end for good, but I do recommend trying everything else before buying one.
I also recommend you hire a professional electrician and chimney sweep to do the job of installing the fan if you are handy you could do this one as a DIY project.
7. Chimney height, So masons build masonry fireplaces and most masons understand how to build one that works properly, but not all of them have the knowledge about how a chimney functions so some of will build them without taking into consideration a few things, that’s not a dig at masons, remember some masons don’t have the knowledge most of them do a great job.
One important factor is the height of the chimney, if it is too short it can and probably will make the fireplace smoke.
The taller the stack, the more pressure is produced. This means that taller chimneys produce a stronger draft, and the taller the building more stack pressure.
The taller the chimney the better it will draw, for example, for every foot of height there is a greater accumulation of pressure, so a chimney that is 30’ tall draws twice as well as one that is 15’ tall
Code requires that a chimney is three feet above the roof where it exits and two feet higher than any part of the roof within ten feet, but if it’s a bit taller than that it will work even better, by using this formula your chimney will pass the hight of your house envelope and this helps the chimney draw even better becoming the highest point in the home and reducing the chance of smoke flowing back into your house, The rule for this in is called the 3, 2, 10 rule.
The 3-2-10 rule requires the chimney to be at least two feet above any structure that is within 10 feet and to extend at least 3 feet above the highest point of its roof unfortunately some homes are not built to code and are too low.
The Canadian (WETT Wood Energy Technology Transfer) www.wettinc.ca
Chimneys that are built inside of a structure are optimal a chimney that runs up through the heated interior of the house tends to provide steady upward flow when there is no fire in the appliance. This makes the system safer and more convenient to use.
So what’s the solution? If your chimney is lower you could add some height with a length of stainless steel chimney and a code-compliant anchor plate that can be screwed right on top of your masonry chimney o installed on top of an existing stainless steel chimney, this is the cheapest fix.
Just remember if you decide to extend your stainless steel chimney make sure you don’t mix and match brands, each section of the stack has a label on it that can help you identify the brand.
You can extend a masonry chimney it more brick and clay tiles and this might be what you are looking for keeping with the design of the home, this solution comes with a higher cost and the possibility that you won’t be able to find the exact brick color.
Incorrectly proportioned fireplace
8. Incorrectly proportioned fireplace and chimney, so for most homeowners this can be very frustrating to deal with and that’s because it’s a lot of work and cost to rebuild or rectify a fireplace if it was designed wrong.
Masons build some amazingly designed fireplaces that for the most part work well, but every once in a while you come across one that wasn’t built properly and this is because the builder might not have taken into consideration the fundamental proportions or “ratio of your flue size to fireplace opening” and this could be what is causing your chimney to smoke into the room.
So what is the solution? So for example, if the opening or cubic feet of the fireplace box exceeds the proper ratio of the flue size it is disproportioned. For the past 50 years, the standard ratio has been 10” to 1” so what this means is that for every 10” square inches of firebox opening there needs to be 1” inch of the chimney opening, this is measured by the amount of air that enters the fireplace.
If this ratio is proportioned probably it will definitely reduce the chance of smoke puffing back into your home.
One simple and cost-effective way to fix this problem is by adding a metal fireplace smoke guard on the top face of your fireplace, an “L shaped” piece of sheet metal will suffice, to figure out the size you need just use the calculations 10” to 1” this calculation will help you decide how much reduction you need to make.
Remember to measure the width of your fireplace opening so that it fits the size and if you want to buy one online that’s adjustable to the size of your fireplace you can find an aftermarket fireplace smoke guard without any trouble.
Any sheet metal shop can cut and bend the metal exactly the size you want folding over all of the sharp ends, then painting it with some high-temperature paint and you’re ready to go.
If you are having trouble with the calculations then you can figure out the size of the smoke guard you need by lighting a fire.
Now hold a piece of sheet metal or something similar across the top half of the fireplace opening and dropping it down inch by inch till the smoke stops coming out and begins to roll and go up the chimney.
Now just take your final measurement to have a metal lip made, anyone that works with sheet metal will know exactly what you need and could be able to make this in a matter of minutes, and that’s it all you need to do is install it with a couple of screws and you are done.
Another tip for solving this problem is buying a smoke-free or vertical fireplace grate, this is the grate where your wood will burn, it’s a special grate that sits vertically against the back wall dramatically reducing smoke problems because it is burning further back than traditional grates.
It also is self-feeding because you just need to add the logs and they burn as they fall onto each other, some people say that you feel more heat reflecting into the room when using them, it’s one more thing that you can try and most likely will make some difference and improve your smoke problem.
So in conclusion I know all of this can sound daunting to figure out on your own so don’t ever hesitate to call a certified professional, if you are unsure who to call just ask your neighbors or friends they will gladly tell you who they use and that way you know what to expect, another tip when calling a professional is don’t wait till it gets cold to call because they may be very busy by then and you’ll probably have to wait a few weeks or more for a visit.
I hope this information was useful I tried to put everything in terms that any homeowner will understand and be able to put into practice, my goal was also to help you have a heads up before calling any professional for advice.
Thank you so much for reading and if you have friends that could benefit from this post feel free to share it with them.