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