The smoke that escapes from your fireplace into your house is a result of poor drafting (air moving in an upward or downward direction), or something blocking the way of the draft. We often ask why is fireplace smoke in my house?
A poorly, drafting chimney allows
smoke from the fireplace to enter the room rather than exhausting it to the
outside. A blockage in the chimney prevents
drafting in the same way that a closed nozzle at the end of a hose prevents
water flow. The air being pulled (draft) up your chimney works under the
same scientific principles as water flowing in a hose, and it corresponds to
the amount of pressure in a water hose. The only difference is that the air pressure
is negative, and the water pressure is positive. Similar to the way a kinked or plugged hose
stops water flow, a poorly drafting chimney is the result of an airflow
This can be caused by a of multitude of factors such as: excessive creosote build-up, closed or plugged dampers, improper construction, structural damage, chimney height in relation to peak roof height, home renovations, excessive bird nesting materials in the flue, or even a dirty chimney cap. The following are some of the possible reasons and solutions for the undesirable fireplace smoke in your house.
Is the Damper Open?
Heat rises, and if your damper is closed, the fireplace smoke will
come in the house. Many people leave the
damper closed when the fireplace is not in use.
A common mistake is forgetting to open the damper again before lighting
The damper is a hinged, metal plate used to seal the fireplace
when not in use, and to regulate a fire in the fireplace by controlling the
flow of air (draft) coming in the chimney.
To open the damper, you usually have to crouch down and peer upward toward the rear of the fireplace. A flashlight will help. A metal lever inside the fireplace controls the damper. Pushing on the lever opens it, and notches along the length of the lever allow you to adjust the opening to get the draft needed for the fire to burn without fireplace smoke backing into the house. The correct procedure for using a damper is to open it fully before lighting the fire, then close it a few notches after the fire is well under way by moving the lever with a fireplace poker. If the fireplace smoke begins to come in the house, reopen the damper a notch at a time until the smoking ceases. After all the embers have burned completely, close the damper.
Open a window
Another common cause of fireplace
smoke in the house is insufficient air in the room containing the
Try opening one or two windows in the
room a few inches while the fire is burning.
This will increase the draft in your chimney by bringing more air
(oxygen) in to the fire, which should allow it to burn hotter.
Energy efficient homes are better
insulated and keep out cold drafts; however, a negative side effect is that
there is often not enough outside air coming in the house for a fire to burn
hot enough to rise through the flue or to cause drafting, which carries that
hot air up the chimney. The chimney flue
becomes the source of make-up air so that as air is drawn down the flue, it
picks up smoke from the fire and delivers it into the living area. Cracking a window eliminates this negative
The fire must always be made in a
grate to provide enough air flow around the logs. Without a fire grate, the fire will smoke and
not get hot enough to ventilate properly, thus bringing fireplace smoke into
Sometimes smokiness is a result of the
fire being built too far forward in the fireplace. This causes smoke to enter the room instead
of going up the chimney. The remedy is
to build the fire as far back against the rear wall of the firebox as possible.
Use Seasoned Wood
A fire that appears to smolder or make hissing sounds while burning, most likely has a high water content. It simply can’t burn hot enough for the hot air to rise up the chimney flue and get replaced by cooler air. The smoke and gases will not be able to exit the room.
You will have to go without a fire unless you have well-seasoned wood that has been split for a minimum of six months (the longer the better), and stored in a covered and elevated location. A piece of seasoned wood will be lighter (in weight) than the same size, but green (unseasoned, newly cut) piece of wood. It will sound hollow when hit against another piece of wood. Green wood will also be lighter in color and generally have a stronger, fresher smell to it, while seasoned wood will usually appear darker and have little odor. Seasoned wood can also be identified by cracks on the end of the logs.
Stacked Wood Placement
Build your fire with larger pieces of wood on
the bottom, leaving gaps for air to circulate between the wood. Continue stacking wood with each layer going
crisscross to the previous layer, and decreasing in size. Wad up some newspaper and stick it under
small pieces of kindling and wood chips on the top of the stacks of wood, then
light the paper. This will produce a
hotter fire more quickly, and it will burn cleaner because smoke won’t have to
pass through cold logs. This method will
keep smoke going up the flue and out of the room.
Many factors influence a home’s
airflow including interior mechanical systems, fuel burning appliances, such as
furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves, and water heaters.
Make sure no exhaust fans (kitchen, bath,
attic fans) are running while you have a fire.
Also make sure all of the air vents in the same room as the fireplace
are open if you have an air-forced furnace running, or else the return air vent
will suck air from the fire, possibly bringing fireplace smoke into the room. Central vacuums can also create
depressurization by removing large volumes of air from the house.
If you think of your chimney as a straw, in the same way as sucking fluid up through a straw, your fireplace chimney sucks air up through the flue to the outdoors. If you blow through a straw, the air pressure pushes the fluid out of the straw. In the same way, strong winds can push air down your chimney causing smoke to enter your house if you are burning a fire in the fireplace.
This can be a real problem in homes that are located in windy areas, such as a beach house. If that’s the case a cowl on your flue would be better than a cap. A chimney cowl is designed to prevent wind blowing the smoke back down into the room below. They increase the draft of a chimney and prevent back flow.
Most homeowners do not know that there are various stages of a substance called “creosote” that builds up from burning wood. This substance in large quantities is HIGHLY FLAMMABLE. Here are the various stages of creosote build-up:
The first stage is a feather-light, dull gray, brown or black soot.
The second stage is a black or brown granular accumulation that can be crusty and flaky.
The third stage of creosote is a drippy, sticky, road tar-like coating which is much harder to remove.
Above all (and most deadly) stage is a shiny, hardened, glaze-like coating on the fireplace flue that is virtually impossible to remove. At this stage the creosote is highly flammable and is often the cause of chimney fires.
Therefore, stages of creosote build-up two through four are all highly combustible forms of creosote. If allowed to build up in sufficient quantities with the internal flue temperature high enough.
is vital to your safety!
To keep chimney build-up at a minimum, sweep up ashes regularly, burn the proper fuel, and be sure your flue air supply isn’t restricted. In other words, hardwood firewood burns cleaner than softwood, and manufactured wood burns much cleaner than hardwood. Call a professional chimney sweep before the start of each season to inspect and repair any issues in your fireplace.
In conclusion, NEVER burn paper products (example cardboard, huge amounts of newspapers or other paper type of products) as these tend to float the ashes upward that can be lodged in the walls of the chimney and create flash fire.