fireplace problems - smoke comes into room + does not draw well


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Old 12-06-11, 12:11 PM
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fireplace problems - smoke comes into room + does not draw well

I've got a regular fireplace where you burn wood.

Even with the flue wide open, some smoke escapes into the room. I can see by looking up it that the flue is open.

It has a fireplace cap. I had it cleaned and inspected last year.

the chimney goes from the first floor up to the second, above the second about 8 feet. so it's probably 24 or 26 feet tall.

I'd love to use this fireplace, but it is just a drag to use it, every time the smoke comes into the room somewhat and smells up the house, and the fire does not burn well and goes out.

Maybe I just don't know how to make a good fire, or maybe there's a problem w/the chimney or cap. Please help!
 
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Old 12-06-11, 02:07 PM
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Hi trance,
Is this an inside or outside chimney? Just a screen in front or doors that can close? Is this for heat or for enjoyment?

Bud
 
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Old 12-07-11, 05:15 AM
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Has this fireplace ever worked correctly, or did you move in last year and just cannot get it working right?

What sized pipe are we dealing with: 6", 7", 8"? How far above the nearest roof-line does the chimney pipe clear, and by how much? Any chance there is a row of tall pines very close to the house? As an experiment, have you tried opening a window, or door, until you have a well established fire?

You could always install a chimney draft inducer as a last resort, but I would explore passive options first?
 
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Old 12-07-11, 09:34 PM
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A chimney cap can be a cause of a fireplace that doesn't draw properly.

The cap acts like a plug reducing the velocity of combustion gasses up the chimney. Does this look like it was built with the chimney, or a later add on?

I'd consider removing it if you can't find other solutions.
 
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Old 12-11-11, 07:25 PM
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OK, I'll do my best to answer the questions:

1) It's for enjoyment mostly.
2) Not shure what you mean by "inside or outside". The first floor is inside the house, the second is outside.
3) Just a screen in front.
4) Have only been in the house a year. It has never worked correctly.
5) I do not know what size pipe.
6) The chimney is above the eave of the house, but I don't think it's above the ridge.
7) There is one tall pine nearby, but no wall of trees. I suppose between the house and the tree, it might be getting blocked.
8) I have not tried opening a window while starting the fire. I will try that.
9) The chimney cap is an add on.
 
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Old 12-11-11, 10:10 PM
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I'd try #8 --- the price is right.


I'd consider removing the chimney cap if better alternatives don't develop. Chimney caps prevent water from coming down the chimney, but it might well be the difference between a smoking and non smoking fireplace.

It can make a significant difference often enough, especially when it's an add on not part of the original chimney design.
 
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Old 12-12-11, 05:55 AM
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The amount of your chimney that is outside the structure or exposed to the cold weather affects how well it will warm up once a fire is started. But there are 2 issues here, one the inconvenience of some smoke backdrafting at times into the house and two, the much more important issue of deadly CO (Carbon Monoxide) pouring back into the house as the chimney cools down. The problem comes as the fire is going out after everyone has retired to bed. The smoldering coals buried in the ashes produce large amounts of CO and not enough heat to keep the combustion gasses moving up the chimney. The result is that now the backdraft is not only dumping smoke back into your home, but all of the other combustion byproducts, including the CO.

Opening a window may help support the draft to eliminate the smoke issue, but there is no preventing someone from closing that window when they think the fire is out. And in your case, with a chimney that is already difficult to draft, the backdrafting will occur even sooner.

Unfortunately I don't know how to fix a poorly designed chimney, other than to add a draft inducer up top. I've never used one, but it sounds like one might eliminate your problem as long as it was left on.

Another fix would be to replace the open fireplace with a sealed combustion wood burning stove. Not only would that eliminate the smoke and CO issues, it would also provide a much more efficient way to burn that wood. An open fireplace exhausts more heat than it produces, a net loss, even though the feel nice when burning. I now have a glass front air tight wood stove and enjoy it much more than our old fireplace from years ago.

There is no easy fix for your problem and even if removing the chimney cap helps, you will still have the end of the day issue with the CO. In any case, pick up a CO detector or two.

My intent was not to scare you off from burning wood, I have enjoyed it all of my life. But modern homes are less compatible, being so air tight, and the penalty for not knowing shouldn't be a disaster.

Bud
 
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Old 12-12-11, 07:02 AM
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Bud is correct that you do not want to employ the open window as a permanent means to use this fireplace, but rather to ascertain if that is your issue and by how much.

The real issue may be your answer 6)
Originally Posted by trance View Post
6) The chimney is above the eave of the house, but I don't think it's above the ridge.
Many local codes call for chimneys to be a certain height above nearby structures, depending on the structures proximity. I seem to recall some locales wanting 8' above anything within 8'-10'. By way of example I removed a wood stove from my sun room that had a chimney 8' above the sun room peak, but barely clearing the nearby roof's eave, and certainly not above that roof's peak. Consequently it was always difficult to establish draft.

Height is a critical factor in chimney drafting. You should investigate extending your chimney height to clear the main roof's peak as much as possible. The cost may not be that much. Just be sure to check with your local codes office to be sure you are meeting the minimum height and it is being done once the right way.
 
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Old 12-12-11, 08:23 AM
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The usual rule of thumb is that the chimney should terminate at least two feet above any point within a radius of ten feet.


I'm not aware of problems of back drafting typically occurring when a fireplace cools off. Almost always there is enough heat to maintain the existing draft in my experience.

You could double check that by checking to see if the combustion gases are spilling out the hearth opening when the fire is down to coals.
 
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Old 12-13-11, 07:39 AM
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Last night I tried cracking a window while establishing the fire. Left the window cracked for about 1 hour, and it seemed to work, no obvious smoke or smell in the house. Fire burnt much better as well.

I do think that a wood stove might be a great option, as the fireplace really does not produce any useful heat.

Thanks for all the suggestions. I'll look into the chimney cap, and get a professional to evaluate it more if I can't get it to work properly.
 
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Old 12-13-11, 10:53 AM
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That is good to hear. You now know your problem is draft. Your next experiment to quantify the problem could be to open the window, get the fire going well, close the window, see how it does while burning strong, then watch (smell) carefully as it burns down to coals. SeattlePioneer may be right, and you will be just fine. However, I would not go to bed with coals and an open damper as a strong wind could back-draft and cause you to smell smoke.

To completely solve the problem be sure to look into raising the chimney height. That is something fairly easy to do even for a DIYer. It never hurts to have a chimney that is too tall.
 
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Old 12-13-11, 11:00 AM
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We did close the window after about an hour, and there was no smoke or smell in the house last night or this morning.

Thanks again - a huge help & hopefully the problem is solved, or at least one of the answers will solve it in the future.
 
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Old 12-13-11, 11:02 AM
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Great! So you now know a bunch.

The other way to establish draft is with a hair dryer. Get your fire ready, point the hair dryer up the flue and run for several minutes.

I have done it with a wood stove, but am not sure if it will work with an open fireplace but it is something you could try.
 
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Old 12-13-11, 11:19 AM
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Well, I hate to say it, but nothing has changed. You still have a marginal chimney that you cant trust and when someone forgets and closes the window because it is too cold, no one is going to notice CO because it is odorless. CO detectors are necessary even when everything is working, and you know yours is not working.

Let me apologize before I continue, but, worst case testing has not been done. Opening a window is a poor solution and you already failed, because you closed it while the fire was still going. Did you remember to open it again as you let the fire go out, that's the time the CO is going to be at its most and the danger the highest and everyone will be asleep.

OK, don't use the fireplace until you get it fixed and I'll sleep better knowing I saved your lives.

Bud
 
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Old 12-13-11, 02:11 PM
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should have mentioned that we already have carbon monoxide detectors. no issues in that department. they are required by law here.
 
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Old 12-13-11, 06:43 PM
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Hello Bud,

Wood fires usually don't create a big CO poisoning hazard. While the carbon monoxide is odorless, a failure to vent will cause a smokey odor that is easily noticed as a problem. That's what we have here as a symptom.

It's fairly common for a fireplace to need a window open when getting a fire started to get the draft going. And removing the chimney cap might get the fireplace draftinf even without that.

But fireplaces are losers when it comes to producing heat. A Fireplace insert would be FAR more efficient at producing heat than the fireplace by itself, if there is a real interest in the considerable work needed to use wood for heat.
 
 

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