Curing a smoky fireplace—not an easy matter. More like solving a mystery than flipping on a light switch. Many things can cause smoking and most of the time it’s a combination of things that gives you trouble.
Let’s start the journey to finding a cure:
- Check your damper to make sure it is wide open. You would be amazed at how many times this causes problems. Dampers rust out and cause problems when rain gets in the chimney due to lack of a cap.
- Rarely do we find a smoking problem caused by a plugged chimney. It is more often one or more of the other solutions listed here. However if you have not cleaned your chimney recently…it is time to get it done. If nothing else it will give you peace of mind and eliminate that slight possibility as to being the cause. That being said we have cleaned an eight inch chimney that only had an opening of about 2 inches round. We took lots of creosote out of that chimney. So keep your chimney clean!
- Burn only well seasoned dry wood. If your wood pile is uncovered you are asking for problems. An inexpensive tarp over the wood year round will make your life much easier. A fire using wet wood is very hard to get going and causes lots of smoke. . Dry wood smokes less(that is where the creosote is), burns hotter and builds up less in the chimney. It is best to cut wood in the spring stack it and let it cure through the summer. Besides smoking like crazy green and wet wood will not give off much heat because the fire must sizzle and boil off the steam before giving you any heat. By the time it boils it all off, the wood is about gone. When we clean your chimney….we can check the moisture content of your wood too.
- Your chimney must be the right height. The general rule is the chimney must be at least 3 foot above the point where it exits the roof. Also it needs to be 2 feet higher than any object within a 10 foot radius of the chimney. This can include a part of the roof, a tree, limb, building or addition. This is not a hard and fast rule as I have seen trees 12-15 feet away that cause smoking.
- Adding another section to the chimney is not always easy. With a masonry fireplace you can fairly easily add another tile section and get more height. But with a metal chimney it is more problematic. First in order to be code compliant you must use the same brand and type of chimney that was used in the first place. Good luck. Unless yours is a newer nationally name brand chimney chances are the manufacturer is out of business. There is not much you can do to remedy this situation unless we can find a chimney of the right dimensions. But If yours is a wind caused problem and many are-there is a product that may help. It is our WindBeater cap. It resembles a turbine vent which takes wind from any direction and turns the cap which creates a gentle suction drawing out the smoke.
- Your fireplace and chimney must be properly sized. The general rule is a ratio of 1 to 10. This means the area of the chimney must be 1/10th the size of fireplace. This also is not a hard and fast rule. We have seen factory built fireplaces that are fitted with an improperly sized chimney. It might work perfectly in the factory but when put in a home with many variables troubles can happen. The height of the chimney also affects this ratio. Use 1/10th for chimneys 10 feet and under tall, use 1/12th above that height.
- If you have a double faced fireplace – a fireplace that opens on two sides-you will probably have a problem. Reason is usually number 5 above. Most double fireplaces are simply two fireplaces using a chimney sized for just one. Rarely does it work properly. Most folks just close off one side and use the other. It is hard to do but that is usually the only way to salvage the situation inexpensively. Sometimes raising the height of the chimney will solve the problem but not always. We have a guaranteed solution which involves putting an Enervex chimney fan on the top of the chimney. The draft is controlled by a variable switch located beside the fireplace. It will also eliminate foul smelling odors from the home as needed.
- Your fireplace must have an adequate air supply in order to burn properly and not smoke. We all want a house that is air tight and weather stripped. That is not what the fireplace wants. It must have a supply of air in order to burn properly. When you have a good fire burning it will exchange the air in your home about twice an hour. That means the air you have heated with your central heater is drawn up your chimney and shoved out into the world. An “Air Supply Ventilator” can solve the problem by installing it on outside wall near the fireplace. You open the vent when makeup air is needed to burn the fireplace and close it to keep the air out at other times. We offer two styles of these. One, the “Combustion Air Vent” mounts inside a masonry fireplace and replaces a brick in the back wall, It can be opened and closed with a fireplace poker to supply air to the fire as needed. The latter will require installation by a mason but is the most efficient and comfortable of all. Sometimes a very simple but unconventional solution to needed dilution air can be using the existing ash dump as a needed air supply. It is a pain to keep it clear of ashes but it can be done. You will need to fashion a screen to go over the outside to keep stray animals and insects out of your house but other than that it is a natural way to cheaply provide more air to the fire. It might be a way to temporarily check to see if more air to the fire is your problem.
- Competition for the available air inside a home can also cause smoking. The central heating system uses a lot of air that most always comes from inside the home. This can be a major contributing factor in the problem. Bath fans and kitchen vents also combine to cause problems. The best way to ascertain if this is a problem is to turn everything in the house off and then start a fire as you normally would. If it smokes without them on chances are that is not your problem. If it does not smoke that may be your problem. Start turning them on one at a time and see if there is any change in the fireplace. You will be able to precisely pinpoint the problem then.
- Sometimes everything can be working right and there will be a weather phenomenon called inversion that makes a fireplace smoke. It has to do with the barometric pressure and no matter what….a chimney/fireplace that is marginal will smoke. Once the weather changes, usually in a day or so, the situation returns to normal. There is nothing short of installing an Enervex fan to alleviate the problem.
- Chimneys on outside walls also have a tendency to smoke and build up creosote quicker than those on the inside portions of the home. This is because the more exposed to the weather the chimney is the colder it stays. A cold chimney builds up with creosote quicker and also the cold impedes the draft. This is worse on metal chimneys than it is on clay flue chimneys. Cold air is denser and heavier than the lighter hot air in a chimney. This is why it is always good to start you fire with a rolled up newspaper held just below the damper to get the draft going by warming up the chimney.
It is a frustrating problem to deal with and many times it can be two or more factors combining to create the smoking problem.
Here are some other solutions:
A-The ultimate solution is the Enervex Fan. We have installed several of these and cured difficult situations. It is the more expensive solution but it is the guaranteed solution. The fans come with a 6 month no questions asked money back guarantee.
B- For an improperly sized fireplace we have Smoke Guards that essentially shrink the size of the opening and help the situation. Refer back to (5) above to get the acceptable dimensions. The Smoke Guards are pieces of metal that span the top of the fireplace opening. They are decorative in nature and wedged in place to reduce the size of the opening. They are only 4 or 6 inches wide so they are not obtrusive.
C-For metal chimneys we have a product that works on wind induced problems. If the smoking problem is caused by wind being redirected down your chimney we have a solution perhaps. Shown below it is called a WindBeater cap. It looks somewhat like the wind turbines found on most homes but has vanes turned many ways that turns air blowing over the chimney into a vacuum to gently draw the smoke out of the chimney. The WindBeater cap will draw the smoke out of the chimney. This will only be a cure for wind induced draft problems.
All smoking problems have a solution but you may not be able to afford the solution. This work list looks at the most affordable solutions first. But you must remember curing the problem can be a hard task.
Many times we can give suggestions that will cure it but more often than not it is a long discovery time. That is why it is best for you to try to figure out a solution rather than paying someone else to discover a solution.