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Why Chimneys Work (Or Not)

While fireplaces and chimneys are built to last, they do not always work as efficient over time. Improper construction, damage, and operator error can all contribute to the fireplaces from burning as safely and efficiently. When you experience any sort of performance or drafting problems, you should turn to a chimney sweep for help!

How chimneys work

masonry chimney with blue skyChimneys are able to draft because of hot air. When a fire is lit in the firebox, the air inside the chimney begins to get warmer – and less dense – than outside air. As the air gets warmer, it begins to rise. As the warm air rises, cooler air is drawn into the fireplace to fan the fire. This further pushes the warm air up the chimney. While this seems simple, even small changes can really make the draft inside your chimney. Some examples are fireplace design, chimney construction, fuel source, or maintenance.

What’s wrong with my chimney?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to chimney drafting issues. However, there are a number of common problems that can affect fireplace performance including:

  • Damper – Is your damper open all the way? Throat dampers can rust or experience damages over time, making them difficult to open and close. Likewise, chains and pulleys can break, leaving the damper stuck open, closed, or somewhere in between.
  • Firewood – The kind of firewood you use in your fireplace can significantly impact its performance. Wood that is freshly cut, from soft wood trees such as firs or pines, or has recently gotten wet from snow or rain will burn differently than well-seasoned, dry firewood from hard wood trees.
  • Chimney blockages – Debris in the chimney such as leaves, animal nesting materials, soot and ash buildup, and restrict airflow can all prevent the chimney from drafting properly.
  • Chimney height – Chimney draft dynamics rely heavily on the height of the chimney. A chimney that is too tall or too short can create pockets of positive or negative air pressure. This makes it difficult for your fireplace to draw in air or forcing air down the chimney.
  • Surrounding structures – If nearby trees, building, roof components, or house additions are too tall or close to the chimney, this prevent proper drafting.
  • Airtight house – While it might seem counter intuitive, houses are not meant to be airtight. An airtight house can lead to sluggish fires or smoke that doesn’t draw up the chimney.
  • Design problem – Some fireplaces or chimneys have really poor design from the beginning or they were built using improper materials. This also causes drafting and performance problems.

Diagnosing chimney performance problems

Unfortunately, a quick Google search, trimming a new trees, or adjusting the damper is often not enough to get a chimney drafting properly. When a fireplace is experiencing performance problems, the best way to diagnose the source of the issue is call a CSIA certified chimney sweep.

At Jack Pixley Sweeps, we have trained and certified chimney technicians to diagnose your draft problems and offer you quality solutions. Whether its cleaning the flue, installing a top sealing damper, or reworking the chimney to improve the draft, we can help restore your fireplace and chimney. Contact us today to schedule your next chimney inspection or learn more about chimney draft dynamics!

Having Chimney Draft Issues?

Our fireplaces are meant to be enjoyed. They warm our homes and create a welcoming atmosphere. Unfortunately, a drafty chimney can do the opposite. Do you have smoke blowing back into your home, lingering odors, or more? If so, draft issues can make it difficult to fully enjoy your fireplace.

Draft Issues

These can appear because of several different potential underlying problems. Therefore, a chimney inspection is often needed. This is in order to uncover the cause of a draft.

The following are four of the most common causes of chimney draft issues:

  1. Air tight house.
    Keeping your home air tight might seem like a good way to reduce energy waste and lower utility costs. However, an air tight home can actually negatively effect fireplace use. When the fireplace does not have enough fresh air to draw from, it will “pull” cold air down the chimney. This causes smoke, gas, ash, and soot to blow back into your home. Opening a nearby window as little as 1-2 inches can provide the fire with enough oxygen to burn. In addition, correct the draft without effecting the air temperature in your home.
  2. Partially opening the damper.
    The fireplace damper should be opened completely the entire time the fireplace is in use. At the time from lighting the kindling, down to when it naturally extinguishes. Even leaving the damper partially closed can cause smoke – as well as dangerous gas – to back up into your home. If cold air seems to be coming in through the chimney even when the damper is closed, it may have lost its airtight seal. This can be caused by damage from use, exposure to heat, water damage, or simple wear and tear. Replacing the damper can prevent outside air from coming inside your home and affecting the inside air temperature.
  3. Improperly sized flue.
    Many homeowners believe that all chimneys and flues are created equal. In fact, the type of flue your home needs depends on the size of your fireplace. Furthermore, it depends on the kind of fuel it burns and more! Having an improperly sized flue can also lead to potential drafting problems. If the flue is too large, too much cold air in the chimney can cause excessive creosote buildup. Likewise, if the flue is too small, the byproducts of combustion will not be able to properly vent up the chimney.
  4. Chimney blockages.
    Blockages in the chimney can constrict air flow and lead to drafting issues. Anything that falls down an uncapped chimney – or a chimney with a damaged chimney cap – can cause drafting problems; animal nests and debris such as sticks and leaves are the most common causes of chimney blockages. Having an annual chimney sweeping and inspection is often the best way to prevent a buildup of soot, ash, creosote, or other blockages. If your chimney has not been cleaned in some time, creosote buildup may be to blame for your smoking issues. To prevent this, have your chimney swept each year. This will remove creosote, ash, soot, or other blockages that can impact chimney performance.

Don’t let a drafty chimney keep you from enjoying your fireplace! Contact us at Jack Pixley Sweeps today for more information on diagnosing chimney drafting issues or to schedule your next appointment.