23 Jan 2015

In California, there are not many opportunities to put a wood-burning fireplace to work. The combination of mild temperatures and frequent no-burn days can make a crackling fire a rare treat. So, what do you do when the smoke comes out of the fireplace instead of going up the chimney?

 

First things first, is the damper FULLY open? There are two types of fireplace owners: those who have forgotten to open the damper and those who will forget to open the damper. And, with use, dampers become harder to open because of water damage and/or soot accumulation. So, give that thing an extra yank, or pull – depending on how yours works, and make sure it is all the way open.

Next, is the grate (the thing holding the wood off the floor) touching the back wall of the fire box? Without getting into the science of airflow, it’s easiest to just say that touching the back is where the grate needs to be.

If you’re good on the damper and grate, and you need to stop the smoke from billowing into your home NOW, here’s a quick trick:

 

  1. Get the aluminum foil and a roll of tape (any type will do).
  2. Cut a length of foil that is longer than the opening of the fireplace is wide.
  3. Tape the foil over the top of the fireplace opening.

before

 

 

By making the opening smaller, the chimney has a better chance of dealing with the by-products of the fire. It may not be attractive, but it will save the moment until you can diagnose and deal with the problem more permanently.

Without getting too much into the science of airflow, fireplaces work because air flows and hot air rises. Problems arise when something prevents one of those two things from happening properly. Running dryers, kitchen or bath vents, and furnaces can disrupt airflow – sucking it out of the fireplace instead of letting it go up the chimney. Opening or closing doors around the house can also influence airflow. Obviously, a closed damper prevents air from going up the chimney.

A cold chimney can also cause smoke. You can pre-heat your chimney by lighting a newspaper torch and CAREFULLY holding it up and to the back of the chimney. This gets the air flowing in the chimney before actually lighting the fire.

How do you spend a rainy day?

 

  • Hot cocoa, a roaring fire, and your favorite DVD playing;
  • Enjoying a big bowl of soup and a great book cuddled up in front of the fire;
  • Or, how about having all your friends over to enjoy drinks and conversation next to the warm glow of a fire.

 

Now that the Bay Area is actually getting rain, it is time to build a fire and pick your favorite way to enjoy the weather. The question, though, is do you know if your chimney is up for the challenge?

Rain is not your chimney’s best friend; mortar (the material that holds the bricks in your chimney together) actually dissolves in water. A good soaking will weaken the joints and diminish the structural integrity of the structure. During the next break in the storms, here are some things to find out about your chimney to keep that fire roaring safely in your fireplace:

 

  • Be sure that your gutters do not overflow onto the chimney. The best way to do that is to hire a professional to clean out the gutters!
  • Do your downspouts come close to the base of the chimney? If so, make sure they point away from the chimney and that water is not able to flow back towards your home.
  • Does the chimney crown direct moisture away from the structure?
  • Do you have a flue cap to prevent water intrusion? (Flue caps also have spark arrestors, an important safety feature for those not-so-wet times of year.)
  • Do you know if a professional has waterproofed the chimney?

 

If, at any point in that list you said, “Uh, I don’t know,” or, “how would I know?” it is time to think about hiring a chimney sweep.

At the term “chimney sweep,” many imaginations conjure up some Charles Dickens image of an orphan working for nothing – or the movie Mary Poppins. The modern day chimney sweep does not come close, if for no other reason than there is a licensing process now in place. Today’s chimney sweep does more than just clean; they install, inspect, and repair from the base of the fireplace to the tip of the chimney crown.

 

Bay Area Chimney Sweep, Chimney repair, fireplace conversion, FAQs

I plan on sharing some day-to-day experiences with you because I live in an awesome world, I get to be in nature all day, I meet some very interesting people and have some amazing adventures.

But first there is some information that I want to present so that this information can be found on the world wide “interweb” as we call it at my house.

Let’s start with the most frequently asked questions.

People ask me all the time,

“How often should I have my chimney and fireplace professionally cleaned?”

The rule of thumb is once every 75 fires or every cord of wood.
“How much is a cord of wood?”

It is a stack of wood 4 feet high X 8 feet long X 4 feet deep.
“Do I need my chimney cleaned if I am using a manufactured log instead of real wood?”

Yes, anything you burn will leave debris in your fireplace and on the walls of your chimney. All of that debris is a flammable substance known as creosote.
“What is creosote?”

Inside chimneys and stovepipes deposits originating as condensed wood smoke having three stages:
1st stage is soft soot
2nd stage is lumpy and crisp
3rd state is like roofing tar and is smooth as glass
“What is a damper?”

A damper is a moveable blade located in the throat of the fireplace that is designed to impede airflow in the chimney. During the colder months of the year, it is important to keep the damper closed when the fireplace is not in use because the damper will keep the exterior cold air from sinking down the chimney and entering your home and prevent your expensive PG&E heated air in your home.
If you live with air condition, the same is true when using that option to cool your home.

A glass fireplace enclosure also impedes airflow.