Chimney Smoke Problems

Smoke Issues:

Smoke backing up into your living room can be an unwanted nuisance in any fire burning household. It can also be an indicator of something amiss in your fireplace or chimney. Smoke escaping through the fireplace opening is the result of poor fireplace drafting, which can be caused by a number of factors.
Here are some of the most common causes:
  • Exterior or interior chimney. An exterior chimney (one that is on the outside of the home and not surrounded by the home at all) is more prone to issues, especially in the winter. Because it is on the outside of the home, it will get much colder along the entire length of the chimney. This means, when you go to start a fire, the heat will be fighting that cold, dense air.
  • Airtight homes. In this day and age with modern homes, they become more airtight. Windows, doors, insulation, roofs, etc are being created to protect your home from outside elements. This is great! But, a chimney fireplace can fall victim to this. When a fireplace is in use, it takes a great amount of oxygen to keep the fire going and also draft.
  • Gaps in the chimney liner. Most chimneys in Chicagoland have clay tile liners. These liners come in all shapes and sizes. Basically they are 2ft long and 3/4 of an inch thick. They are stacked on top of each other and between them there should be a refractory mortar sealing any gaps. After time, these mortar joints can wash away from rain and snow – or they can simply cease to exist because of normal usage of a fire. A common problem is – once this happens, the fireplace will not function as it once did and if there are two fireplace flues side by side, the smoke can go up one and seep through the joints, then down the other, returning into your home. This happens all the time when a customer is burning in an upstairs fireplace and the smoke ends up filling the basement.
  • A fireplace that is extremely dirty can also cause a backup. Though a rare occurrence, the more of a build up, the smaller the diameter of the flue – which constricts the airflow. Fireplaces and chimneys are built to very specific code specifications – if those are changed for any reason, then a once functioning fireplace can become nonfunctional.
  • Using uncured, green or unseasoned wood can be a factor. Wood needs to be seasoned for around 6 months. If it is not, there may be a large moisture content in it, which will produce more smoke. This will also lead to more creosote coating your fireplace and chimney liner.
  • The height of the chimney and any nearby objects (such as trees) can play a role. According to codes, the minimum heights of a chimney must be 3ft out of the roof and 2 ft higher than anything within 10ft of it.
  • Opening damper. As silly as it seems, many people forget to open their damper. Some even open it but have a faulty damper which may close on it’s own. There is also the possibility that the damper does not open wide enough.
  • Mechanical “issues”. Homes have many forms of mechanical fans that are created to exhaust air from the house. Bathroom fans, range hoods, dryer vents, etc. These can all play a role in a fireplace not functioning properly. They all suck air from the inside and force it outside. You can see how this would negatively impact a fireplace that needs lots of air.
  • Air return vents. These vents do not exhaust air from the house but they do suck air in and they do it frequently in the winter. If you have one in the living room or near a fireplace, this can cause an adverse affect on fireplace’s functionality.

Above are just a few reasons for fireplace and chimney smoke issues. If you are experiencing this problem, give us a call and we can come out and diagnosis the issue(s). There is often more than one culprit forcing a fireplace to have these performance problems. We can perform negative pressure tests and smoke tests and come to the most cost effective solution to keep your fireplace running as it should.

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