Many homeowners do not use wood-burning fireplaces as their primary source of heat, but many do desire them as secondary heating sources as well as for the cozy ambiance they create in the home. However, if there is smoke entering your home while you are trying to enjoy a nice evening in front of the fire, it can really put a damper on the atmosphere that you are trying to create in your home. Although wood is natural, the smoke it creates can be hazardous to your health if breathed in. In addition to that, smoke can leave stains on your home’s walls, ceilings, and masonry. There could be a few reasons that smoke is coming into your home, one of them being a closed damper or blockage. However, if you have a clean chimney, smokey fires are probably caused by a phenomenon called “cold hearth syndrome” or “cold chimney syndrome.” At Leonard and Sons, we want to help you understand how a cold chimney can have a detrimental effect on the health of your entire chimney system and let you know what you can do to prevent it from happening to you.
Why Is a Cold Chimney Bad For My Fireplace?
To understand why a cold chimney is a problem, you first need to understand how your fireplace works with your home’s airflow. Hot air in your chimney rises creating negative (low) pressure in your chimney. When your chimney is hot, this low pressure draws air into your fireplace, fueling your fire before it is pushed out of your home through your chimney. However, if your chimney is colder than the inside of your home it will create positive air pressure in your chimney which will cause it will be drawn down through your chimney towards warmer, lower pressure, portions of your home. On a cold day, if you go to your fireplace and open the damper, you may notice that cold air starts flowing out of it. Many people think that this is caused by colder air sinking down your chimney, but this is simply not true. Instead, it is positive (high) pressure air being drawn to areas of lower pressure air.
When you light a fire during these conditions, you will notice a few things. First, your fire might not seem like it’s burning as hot as you would like it. Second, the smoke from your fire will start flowing into your home, instead of up and out of the chimney. If this is a chronic issue, you will probably start to notice some soot staining on the mantel above the fireplace as well as the walls and ceiling. Usually, after your fire burns for a while, it will slowly start to heat up your chimney and your chimney will start to draw air from your home like it is supposed to. However, by waiting for this to happen, enough smoke will have entered your home to cause damage to your home and possibly your health, so waiting it out isn’t a great option.
What Can I Do To Alleviate a Cold Chimney?
Because the Chicagoland area has very cold winters, cold chimney’s are an issue that we come across quite often. The best solution to alleviating a cold chimney flue is to warm it up before you start your fire. This is often called “priming” your chimney.
There are a couple of ways you can prime your chimney. For both ways, the first step is to make sure that your damper is open. The first method is simply keeping your damper open for a while to allow the warm air of your home to heat up the inside of your chimney. This method can take a while to complete, isn’t very efficient, and will not work well if your home is cold. However, it might work in a pinch. A better way to prime your fireplace is to heat it up with a torch. Roll up a newspaper and light it on fire. Hold your newspaper torch up inside your chimney until you have to put it out. Repeat this process until your chimney gets warm enough to start drawing air up again (you can usually notice the change in pressure). Once this happens, your chimney is primed and ready for a fire.
Your chimney could lose its prime while you try to build your fire, so in this case, we suggest building a top-down burning fire. This involves placing kindling and tinder on top of the logs as well as the bottom. Light the top tinder and kindling first and allow the fire to drop to the bottom logs. Having the fire start from the top will allow your chimney to stay primed easier while also lighting your fire.
If you are still having issues with smoke in your home, even after you’ve primed your chimney, this may be a sign of a larger issue that we would have to schedule an inspection for. You can also contact us if you have any questions on how to prime your chimney. You can contact us at 847-658-7659 or send a question to us on our website. We look forward to helping you stay smoke-free this winter!