How to Keep Fireplace Smoke Out of the House
LESLIE: Now we’ve got Mike in Illinois on the line with a fireplace question. How can we help you today?
MIKE: OK. We’re getting ready to move into a home that has two fireplaces: one on the first floor and one in the basement. The first floor is a stove insert and there’s two separate chimneys that terminate next to each other. And the previous owner is telling us that when they’re burning a fire in the stove, sometimes you get smoke out of the basement fireplace, even with the damper closed. Sometimes a little smoke, sometimes a lot of smoke. So just wondering what’s going on there and how to solve that.
TOM: Well, the reason it happens is because the chimney is cold. Generally, when a chimney is cold, you get condensation of the smoke inside the chimney. And that makes it heavy and it could push it down. So if a chimney does not have good draft, then you’re not going to evacuate the smoke from the chimney through the outside.
So the question is: how do you make that chimney improve the draft? And there’s a number of ways that that’s done. Sometimes the chimney is raised, so we make it taller. Sometimes, on the fireplace itself, you build in what’s called a “smoke shield,” which is usually a piece of metal that’s across the front of the fireplace, that’s maybe 6 or 8 inches deep so that it improves the draft right at the front of the fireplace. And that can speed it up. But it’s the kind of project that you really need to have a chimney expert look at.
And I would not go to a mason for this; I would go to a shop that sells wood stoves and fireplaces, because they’re going to have the expertise that you need here. But the reason it’s happening is because the chimney is not drafting properly.
And you can minimize it, by the way, by always building a very small fire and then building it up from there. You don’t want to kind of go with a big fire right off, because the chimney doesn’t have a chance to warm up and you’ll get more smoke that way. But when you do build a fire, if you start small and then let the chimney warm up and then before you go a little bigger, that can minimize it. But I really think you need to have an expert look at it, because that can be quite a nasty problem, especially if somebody else builds the fire besides you and fills the house with smoke.
MIKE: OK. Thanks a lot.
TOM: You’re welcome, Mike. Good luck with that project. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.