A fireplace can be a wonderful addition to any home. It adds warmth and is an elegant touch to the space, whether you’re using it as a focal point or just for decoration. But there’s one problem with them: they have the potential to smoke up your house! Keep reading to find out some common causes for the smoky fireplace, and most importantly, what you can do about it.
What is Up With All That Fireplace Smoke?
The saying goes that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Concurrently, where there’s fire, there’s smoke. But even though smoke coincides with fire, there’s a serious problem when smoke starts billowing out of your fireplace and into your home.
When your fireplace and chimney vent as they should, fire by-products (such as smoke, vapor, or unburned wood) are pushed upwards in the flue (the vertical passage the smoke and air exits through) while the outside air is pulled into it. This vital exchange of gases keeps flames alive and, at the same time, pushes the process to keep smoke out.
Fireplace smoke in the house happens for a number of reasons. The fireplace itself could be the problem, or it could just mean you need to update your chimney. Either way, the smoke is not only an irritant but also a hazard to your health and home.
The most common reason for smoke coming into your house when you light a fire is that the damper has not been opened. A damper is a small mechanism that seals the chimney when it’s not being used. When you start a fire in your fireplace, the damper should be open to allow smoke out. Unfortunately, many people get a little too excited when that first cold day comes, and they forget to open the damper.
If the damper is closed while your fire is burning and there is no other way for outside air to get in to keep cool or heat conditioned air inside of the house (or both), then a thick black cloud of smoke will result; filling up all interior spaces. Always check to make sure your damper is fully opened, as even partially opened dampers can push smoke into your home.
There are two main types of dampers: throat dampers and top-seal dampers. Most fireplaces have cast-iron throat dampers that are easy to check for openness. They are located above the firebox at the base of the smoke chamber. You can see if it’s open by shining a light into your fireplace to check. If you forgot to open it before lighting a fire, be very careful when touching it, as it will be hot and can cause severe burns.
The other type of damper is the top-seal damper. This type goes over the chimney, completely sealing it off. You can open or close this type of damper from outside using a handle located on the side of your chimney. You can open the damper using the handle, which is attached to a cord or cable.
A blocked chimney happens when something blocks the passage of air between your fireplace and outside air sources. If you have already checked that the damper is open, there could still be some other culprits – anything from animal nests to creosote buildup – causing the fireplace to not vent properly.
Each year you should have your chimney inspected and professionally cleaned. This will help avoid blockage that can cause a chimney fire or smoky fireplace. A certified chimney sweep from the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) will be able to perform this vital service for you properly.
If the fireplace is not vented properly, it will fill your house with smoke. Your chimney needs to be large enough and correctly installed for air to flow up and out of it at a rate that can support clean-burning fireplaces and stoves. If you have an older home or one whose fireplace was not designed for modern appliances, then there’s a chance you might need additional venting materials added to your existing setup. This is because today’s wood-burning appliances produce more gases than ever before. These appliances require larger flues than those originally built into homes decades ago when such things were partnered with small furnaces or boilers rather than independent heating systems like those we see now.
To address insufficient venting, have an outside air supply vent installed or an exhaust fan with a power supply that’s large enough to handle your fireplace. If you’re using propane, a gas fireplace, or have an insert in your old-fashioned wood-burning fireplace, you will need to do this to avoid more smoke in your home.
“Seasoning firewood” is the process of drying it out, which helps to make it burn more efficiently. If you keep your wood in a shed or outside where there isn’t enough airflow around it, the wood won’t season properly and will smoke up when burning inside. Seasoned wood should be kept in a dry place with good airflow, as wet firewood will cause a smoke problem.
It is important not to store wood inside a home or garage, where there is little to no airflow. Not only can wood smoke, if not seasoned properly, but also it will create a moist environment for mold and mildew, which can cause health problems in your home, so it’s best to keep wood outside where there is good airflow. Also, be sure to keep the wood off of the ground, as this will help to reduce any moisture.
Convection is the transfer of heat caused by the movement of hot, which allows it to rises up through a chimney and out. If your fireplace’s opening is covered on the outside with vinyl siding or other materials, this can lessen the airflow into your home, causing smoke to build up inside when you have a fire going. It will appear that there is insufficient venting in the system if your fireplace becomes smoky while burning because these materials are blocking proper airflow from occurring.
There should be enough room between any covering on an exterior wall and where your flue enters, preferably six to eight inches (but no less than four) above for good convective heat flow necessary for clean wood burning without producing a smoky fireplace.
Contact PuroClean If Your Fireplace is Causing Smoke to Fill Your Home
When you first light a fire, it should be free of smoke. But if the fireplace is not venting properly, bad things happen. If you’re using propane, a gas fireplace, or have an insert in your old-fashioned wood-burning fireplace, you will want to avoid smoke filling up your home. Also, if you are using a Ventless Gas Fireplace, be aware that they can emit noxious gasses into the room they are operating. Make sure to install Cardon Monoxide or ‘CO’ Detectors in the home. Ventless fireplaces produce small amounts of nitrous dioxide and carbon monoxide which can be deadly in large doses.
Finally, if you have a room or house that is full of soot and smoke, it is important to call a professional immediately to inspect the situation. Breathing in soot or smoke is not healthy and can cause damage to your textiles and other surfaces. If you are struggling with any of these symptoms, want more information about how to keep your house fireplace smoke-free, or would like a free inspection due to smoke that has filled your home, call PuroClean of Massapequa call us today at (516) 604-1200.