Tips & Troubleshooting

Winter safety tips

Be sure direct vent systems are cleared of snow and drifts

Be sure tops of chimneys with caps are not covered and will vent for both firepalce’s and heating flues.

Be sure Top Mount Damper caps are open before lighting a fire.

Let’s start with the analogy that using a fireplace is like learning to drive a car for the first time.  You must learn how your fireplace, starts, stops, how to maintain it and add fuel. Each fireplace and home has its own characteristics and quirks and if not used correctly, they can be dangerous and deadly. Ask us for directions

1st fires after reading below and making sure your fireplace is drafting (air going up and damper is open), start with Incense, light it and make sure the smoke goes up, if not then you have not establised draft and re read below and follow or give us a call,  if it does then start with a small fire, few sheets of crumpled up news paper and hand full of Kindling (sticks smaller than you pinky) light it and see  if the smoke goes up the chimney if it does, add larger logs till you have your fire going, (never lose sight of the top of the flame, if you do break up the fire a bit “not Duraflame logs”)

DRAFT Draft not only removes Heat, soot, gases and possible sparks and flame but is it also Crucial for proper combustions so if you are not drafting properly (cracked straw syndrome) your appliance (Wood stove, fireplace, heating and hot water units) are not working properly and not as efficiently as it could be in addition to Dangers that could be involved.

Cracked Straw syndrome think of your chimney as a straw, if intact just like drinking a soda, it works perfectly, but trying to drink soda through a straw with a crack in it can be difficult at best, same thing with a chimney, if there are cracks, holes, gaps, spaces it will not draft as well as it should, we can help.

“I get smoke/odor back into my home when I use my fireplace.” Look at it this way, if you need 10 gallons of air per minute for your chimney to draft properly then that air will come from the house and if the house needs 10 gallons of air per minute as it vents out then some thing has to give and the fireplace usually loses so your fireplace will smoke and or have odor’s.

Fireplaces smoke and or odors are the #1 problem we are asked about and it can happen for a number of reasons, dirty chimneys, nests, blockages, improper construction of a chimney, improper use and Negative Pressure.  Let’s start with mechanical Negative Pressure, this includes kitchen/bathroom exhaust fans, attic fans, radon systems, clothes dryers, another fireplace, even the boiler/furnace.  They all vent house air to the outside. A furnace return also pulls air out of the house and recirculates it in the home. Now, on to the hardest problem to figure out.  “House stack effect” of Negative Pressure, this is hot air rising in the home, creating positive pressure on the upper floors and negative pressure on the lower floors and in most cases the hot air that is rising in the home is getting out though attic doors, ceiling lights, vents and windows and cold air and odors can be pulled down a fireplace chimney to feed the home. Chimneys work on a simple principle of hot air rising and pulling more air in behind it. Now let’s look at the whole house as a chimney, that’s right, I said the house. If the house is air tight, then the hot air will only rise so far and stop.  If you have a pull down attic door, attic fans with louvers, or any other opening that will vent air out of the house, then your house is acting like a chimney, the air is going out through those gaps and spaces and when the air leaks out, the house needs make up air and it will come from the path of least resistance- the fireplace (one fireplace can also feed another). Other things that can cause this are lights in the ceilings.  The bulbs are hot and the top of the “can” they sit in is not sealed so the hot air goes up. Air rises up a staircase, toward the exhaust fans that are drawing air even when they’re off. Now you know why you are getting the air/smoke down the fireplace chimney when you are not using it and when you try to start a fire. Sometimes by just opening a door or window a few inches will relive the pressure of the house (breaking the pressure) and allow the chimney to draft and the house to breath.  Now, when you light a fire, the air is hot from the fire (hotter than the air in the house)  and it will reverse the down draft and allow the fireplace to work properly. When the fire is going then you can shut the window or door and burn your fire (usually 2-3 minutes). The only draw back to using a fireplace this way is that as the air in the fireplace dies down and cools, then the “House Stack Effect” will take over and may draw air, smoke and odor down the chimney again. If air is going up the chimney it needs to come from somewhere. The house needs make up air or find the outlet that is venting your hot air out of the house. We can help

“I get a smoky odor even in the summer time” this might be from the AC/furnace return, it sucks the cooler air from the house and recools it (more efficient) and recirculates the cool air back into the home.  So if that return is sucking the air out of the house and the return is too close to the fireplace, it will pull odors from the fireplace down the chimney.  You will notice it more on humid days. Negative pressure, we can help.

“Fireplace not being used smokes?” It is common that one fireplace will draw smoke and air down another one. Once again negative pressure, Seal Tite top mount damped can help fix this in about 95% of the time.

“My damper falls out every time I use it” The damper might not be installed correctly or you may not be using it properly, we like to take the time to show you how to use your fireplace and damper, please do not hesitate to ask. Or we can replace it with a top mount damper system.

Just because, “its been working like this for 20,50 100 + years and it’s working fine” does not mean it is working correctly or safely, do you really want to take that chance with your home and family’s safety? Replace “is working” with “”I’ve been lucky”, now how do you feel about that set up?

“I have water dripping inside my fireplace.” This can come from rain and snow coming straight down the chimney (a foot of snow outside could be a foot of snow down your chimney) a regular cap can help but a driving rain may still get in, we offer several options that can help.

“Why can’t I cook in my fireplace?” When you burn wood in your fireplace, it creates creosote, this is very flammable and if you add grease to it you just doubled your chances of having a chimney fire with 2 different fuels.

“Do I have a Pre-Fab fireplace?” A Pre-Fabricated fireplace (metal chimney, firebox) , common in condo/town house units and additions, come with an owner’s manual and must be read and followed (you might not be able to burn Duraflame type logs). If you do not have a manual, we might be able to help.

Why can’t I burn paper, old checks, garbage, the Christmas tree…etc?” Your fireplace is purely decorative and is not a garbage disposal.  By burning anything other than wood, starter logs, Duraflames and small amounts of newspaper you increase your risk of a chimney fire. Even in a clean chimney, the embers floating up in the draft can flow up and out the top of your chimney and burn your roof or through the chimney in cracks, gaps and crevasses. Please keep in mind you are building a fire inside your home. Fire is one of the most destructive forces on earth.

“Why can’t I use my fireplace 24/7?” Fireplaces are not designed to be used for long periods of time (more than one fire or more than a few hours at a time), even if your chimney is built to perfect NFPA code, it can still cause problems and I have yet to see a perfectly built chimney. If you are looking to heat your home, or want to have long all day fire, then you need to look into installing a wood stove or insert.

Tips for using your fireplace (a few)

  • Have your chimneys and vents checked every year by a CSIA certified chimney sweep  and Level Two NFPA 211 inspection, before using them or any time you experience any problems.
  • Make sure the damper is working properly and open.
  • Small fires 2-3 wood logs at a time.
  • You  must read the owners manual for how to use all “pre fab” fireplaces, if you don’t have one please let us know I might be able to find one.
  • If you use Duraflame logs (1 at a time), be sure to check your owner’s manual on Pre- Fab fireplaces.
  • Never lose sight of the top of your fire’s flame. If you do, break up the fire a bit. (be careful with Duraflame logs)
  • Never leave a fire unattended.
  • Burn well-seasoned hard wood only.
  • Never use your fireplace for more than one fire at a time (maybe 3-5 hours) and then let it go out completely before lighting your next fire. Most fireplaces are purely decorative.
  • Never burn garbage, christmas trees, pizza boxes, use liquid fire starters or cook in your fireplace.
  • Have working Smoke detectors and Carbon Monoxide detectors on every floor of your home.
  • Have a good working poker set.
  • Always keep a fire extinguisher and leather palm gloves nearby.
  • Never burn a fire without proper spark/screen protection in the front of your fireplace that covers the entire opening (top, bottom and both sides) and a spark arrester cap on the top of your chimney.
  • Never put hot ashes down an ash trap or remove hot ashes and leave them in or near you home, wait for the ashes to be cold before removal.
  • Chimneys/wood stoves should always be checked after burning 1/2 cord of wood and/or every year.
  • If you think you are having a chimney fire (I am told it sounds like a freight train or jet engine in your living room) or if you see sparks coming out of the top of the chimney (if you have time shut the damper) get every one out of the house and call 911

If you have any questions please feel free to ask.

Your home’s boilers, furnaces and hot water heaters should be checked by a service person that is licensed to work on these types of units (oil companies or plumbers…) every year to assure they are working properly and working to their best efficiency. Also, have a CSIA chimney sweep inspect these chimneys each year for build up and blockages. Never store combustible liquids (paint cans…) or materials next to or near your boiler’s, furnace’s, hot water heaters.