Is Your Fireplace Sending Smoke Signals?

December 15, 2015

I enjoy sitting in front of the fireplace on a blustery winter eve. It's comfy,romantic...and the rest of the house is freezing!

chimney sweep

This happens when the fireplace chimney sucks up more heat than it makes. And while it's become a major sales feature, let's be realistic - a fireplace is just another heating system.

Anytime before the heating season is the best time to fix heating system problems. In many places, a fireplace is still the only heating source and main cooking appliance. But without a heat recovery ventilator, it's only a decoration feature.

A heat sucker

An open, crackling fire can draw 300-400 ft³ of air right up the chimney every. single. minute. That’s air we pay for and air we rely on to keep our family comfortable!

what to do

There are easy solutions to boost fireplace efficiency - including heatilators, glass doors, and air intakes. These keep the air inside fireplace separate from the air outside the fireplace. But there are still things to check.

For example, unless the fireplace is burning, you can’t see how well it's working. This is a problem in airtight and well-insulated homes. These often don't have enough fresh air to run a furnace, water heater and fireplace at the same time.

Check the chimney

Check the chimney at the beginning and end of each heating season. Poor construction missed maintenance, movement, or rodents can lead to trouble. Even check your energy-efficient metal insert.

When I’m doing a roof inspection, I always try to check the chimney flue from above. If the chimney cap, liner or bricks are loose, missing, or damaged it can be a serious problem. I also look for fireplaces and gas furnaces that share the same flue. This can be dangerous.

living "Vent" free is the life for me

Many fireplaces today have switched from wood burning to gas, but kept the same chimney.

The logs may be ceramic, but the system is efficient and cost-effective. Especially with an electric blower installed.

They even make natural gas and propane models that don't need a stainless steel flue liner - or a chimney at all. Fresh air for both combustion and exhaust comes in through a small-diameter pipe.

Final thought

If you use your wood burning fireplace, stick your head up the chimney before each heating season. Creosote build-up from wood, especially green or soft wood such as pine, can cause a nasty chimney fire.

And if the chimney walls are dirty, call a chimney sweep.

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Steve Rodriguez

Steve is a Certified Master Inspector® and owner of Bulldog Professional Inspection Services in Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of The Ultimate Consumer Guide To Home Inspections and has been a professional home inspector since 2003.

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