Nothing beats the comfort and beauty of a roaring fire in the middle of winter. But what do you do when that roaring blaze turns your living room into a smoke-filled, even dangerous mess? You need to identify the cause and be ready to call a chimney sweep. Here is a few simple steps to help you troubleshoot the cause of your smoky fireplace.
INSPECT THE DAMPER
User error is the most common reason people see smoke filling up the room instead of going up through the chimney. And it’s almost always due to a closed damper. The damper is the device inside your chimney that opens the flue up to the air outside. This creates a suction effect where smoke gets pulled away from your room and sent outdoors. If you forgot to open the damper when building the fire or closed it when you meant to open it, you’ll have a smoke-filled house in no time. Try moving the damper into a different position and see if the smoke clears out. If it does, memorize the damper position and check it before you build your next fire. If it doesn’t, schedule an inspection as soon as possible.
CHECK FOR WIND
This can make it hard to keep the smoke out of your house when you have a fire roaring. If smoke is billowing out of the fireplace rather than drawing up the chimney, head outside. If you feel a strong wind against your skin, it’s worse up by the top of your chimney. But even if it’s still on the ground, wind currents might be more severe along your roof line. Look at the way the upper branches of nearby trees are moving. If they’re swaying in the breeze, it’s probably wind that’s sending smoke back down the chimney. Once the wind dies down, the smoke should go away. But you can prevent the problem in the first place by letting your chimney sweep install a chimney cap to shield it from the wind.
LOOK AT YOUR CHIMNEY CAP
Many homes already have protective chimney caps installed. These keep wind, animals, and debris from clogging the flue. But when they’re damaged, they can block the airflow for your fireplace. Take a walk around the perimeter of your house and examine the condition of the cap from the ground. If it’s dented, crooked, missing, or otherwise damaged, get it repaired immediately. You won’t be able to use the fireplace until it’s fixed or replaced by a chimney sweep.
MAKE SURE THE WOOD IS DRY
Living trees hold water inside their trunks. That water permeates the wood from the bark through the core of the tree. Firewood needs time to “season” before you can use it. The seasoning process involves allowing the wood to dry out after its cut. And it needs time to dry completely. Otherwise, you’ll be left with a smoking mess inside your house. But even well-seasoned firewood needs maintenance. You must keep it dry at all times. If the wood gets wet, it will smoke just as much as unseasoned wood.
Check the woodpile and make sure it’s dry. If you’ve had severe weather lately, rain and moisture are probably to blame. If the woodpile is dry, there’s another issue at hand.
TURN OFF AIR-CONSUMING APPLIANCES
You probably don’t think much about the appliances in your home. But many of them use air, just like your fireplace and when your fireplace isn’t getting enough air, the chimney can’t draw smoke away from the room. Take a look at the appliances you’re running. If you’re using exhaust fans in the kitchen, running the clothes dryer, and running the furnace, you probably have a smoky living room. Turn off those appliances and open a window or door near the fireplace to air the room out. If the issue was inadequate air supply, the smoke should clear out and stay out. If not, call your trusted chimney sweep.
CHECK YOUR MAINTENANCE RECORDS
Chimneys need to be cleaned every year. If you can’t remember the last time you scheduled a cleaning, take a look at your records. Debris and animal nests can clog the flue. When this happens, smoke can’t leave the chimney and, instead, billows back into the room. If you can’t identify the reason for smoke build-up, it’s time to schedule a cleaning.
These steps are a great way to start troubleshooting the cause of a smoking fire. If you can’t solve the issue on your own, contact us at 618.235.6364 to schedule an appointment.