Category Archives: Fireplace

An Easy Solution for a Fireplace Smoking Problem

If the furnace is on at the same time as a fireplace, you may experience a smoking problem, especially if the air intake grill is close to the fireplace.

Common Scenario: On a cold, winter night, you decide to have a warm, cozy fire in your open fireplace to take the chill out of the living room. Your house is still cold and your furnace turns on automatically. A short time later, you notice the air in the room is getting smoky. All of a sudden, that nice cozy fire isn’t so nice and you know you’re going to be smelling smoke for days.

A fireplace smoking problem is a common occurrence. Ethical chimney sweeps will always suggest the simplest and most cost-effective solution to a smoking problem. One of the most common and very easy-to-fix causes is “dueling furnaces and fireplaces,” competing for the same finite amount of air in a house. This is especially true in a relatively new home or a home with new windows where the home is “tight” and energy efficient.

Tight houses don’t make for good fires in open fireplaces.

Competition for Air

Tight weatherstripping on doors, double-pane windows, sealed vapor barriers and upgraded insulation in walls and attics make for a well-sealed house, creating a house with a finite amount of oxygen.

Cold air register grill for furnace. If the furnace is on at the same time as a fireplace, you may have a fireplace smoking problem.
Photo credit: Rick Pocock

A fire in an open fireplace requires a great deal of oxygen. It draws a huge amount of air from the living area and draws it up the chimney. This is a natural draft system. Whereas, the air intake grill for a furnace pulls massive amounts of air from the home into the furnace. This is a mechanical draft system.

If an open fireplace (with a natural draft) is close to the air intake grill for a furnace (which uses a much stronger mechanical draft), the furnace will always win because the draw for the furnace is stronger than the draw for the fireplace. Mechanical is stronger than natural.

This means that you’ll lose the draft (upwards motion of the air in the fireplace flue), resulting in drawing the smoke into the room.

The closer the open fireplace is to the furnace air intake grill as well as the tighter the house, the more likely you can experience a smoking problem when the furnace and fireplace are on at the same time.

This is especially important to know when you have artificial gas logs in your fireplace because those gases going up the flue are colorless and odorless. If the furnace is on at the same time, you won’t know if those gases from the fireplace are being pulled into the room instead of going up the chimney flue.

Other systems in your home can also have this same reversing effect on the fireplace, such as: Whole house fans, kitchen stove hoods, bathroom fans, clothes dryers and central vacuums. These systems draw air from the house and exhaust to the outside.

Slightly opening a window close to the fireplace may help in this case.  This will provide the necessary make-up air that a fire needs to provide for a good draw.

For other potential causes of smoking problems, check out our blog post on the Top 10 smoking problems and their respective solutions. To find an ethical and reputable C.S.I.A Certified Chimney Sweep, go to the Chimney Institute of America website.

Rule of Thumb

Avoid having the forced air heater or furnace turned on at the same time as an open fireplace and get back to enjoying that cozy fire!

Don’t Throw Away Those Fireplace Ashes!

Grey fireplace ashes
Photo Credit: Dollar Photo Club

We all enjoy burning wood in our fireplaces, but what do you do with all the ashes? Many of our customers ask for the ashes we collected from sweeping their chimney so they can use the ashes in their gardens. But it’s amazing how many other practical uses around the house and garden there are.

Vegetable Gardens

Ashes are extremely beneficial in a vegetable garden. Tomato plants benefit the most from ash-mixed soil but never use ashes on the soil where potatoes are grown because the potatoes may get “potato scab,” creating lesions on the skin of the potatoes.  Fruit trees, root vegetables, bulbs, and annual perennials also benefit from wood ash. Keep the ashes away from acid-loving plants like blueberries, rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, junipers and conifers.

The ashes used for gardening should only be used from wood and not from burning other materials like coal, paper, cardboard or painted/treated wood. Don’t ever use the ashes from prefabricated logs, such as Duraflame, due to the extra chemicals in these products.

If you have any questions about the use of wood ash for gardening, contact a gardening expert so that you don’t make a mistake and over-ash your garden or lawn.

Composting

Enrich compost by sprinkling fireplace and wood stove ash between each layer to enhance the nutrients. Don’t put in too much ash or it will ruin the mix. The ash is used to keep the compost in a neutral condition to break down the organic materials but a little bit of ash goes a long way.

Insect Deterrent

Fireplace ashes repel snails and slugs because it draws the water out of these insects. Sprinkle around the base of the plants to act as a repellant but note that once the ash gets wet, it loses the ability to repel the pests. Adding too much ash in this case may also increase pH levels too high which will be harmful to the plants.

Other beneficial uses for fireplace ashes

Skunk smell can be eliminated by the use of ash
Photo credit: Dollar Photo Club

In addition to fireplace ashes being used in gardens, lawns and composting containers, ashes have a myriad of other uses, such as “deskunking” a pet, shining up your silver, controlling pond algae, melting ice, hiding stains on pavement, cleaning the glass on fireplace doors, and even making soap.

If you don’t have a garden or lawn, be sure to safely dispose of your ashes by placing them in a covered metal container away from the house and never place the metal container on a wood deck or patio while the ashes are still warm.

So in the future, put those ashes to good use!

 

Fireplace Damper Clamps

Damper ClampThe issue of damper clamps can be confusing, not just to homeowners but to home inspectors, utility companies, government building departments and even amongst chimney professionals. In many cases, this issue rears its ugly head during the stressful time of purchasing or selling a home.

What is a damper clamp?

Damper clamps are also referred to as damper stops, damper locks or damper flue clamps, but the terms are all synonymous. They are typically a small C-clamp or steel beam clamp. The damper clamp is designed to lock the damper in a fully-open position. The damper is the metal plate that closes off the flue pipe. The purpose of the damper is to prevent heat loss from the home.

When is a damper clamp required?

damperwithclamp300x200
Damper clamp in position on a prefab fireplace to prevent closing the damper

A damper clamp is required by code when artificial gas logs  or a log lighter are present in an open fireplace. When gas logs are in use, the fuel (whether natural gas or propane) is going through the combustion process. The by-product from combustion is carbon monoxide, which is a colorless and odorless gas. If the damper is not open, the carbon monoxide cannot be exhausted up and out like it should, but instead will be drawn into the living area in which case the homeowners can get very sick and, in extreme cases, may die.

According to page 234 of the 2016 California Building Energy Efficiency Code for Residential and Non-Residential Building, Sub-Chapter 7/Section 150.0, 1C” When a gas log, log lighter, or decorative gas appliance is installed in a fireplace, the flue damper shall be blocked open …”

Why is a damper clamp required with gas logs?

If you’re burning wood in your fireplace and you forget to open the damper, you’re going to know it right away because the room will fill with smoke. If you’re burning gas logs and you forget to open the damper, you could become very sick or, in extreme cases, you can die because the gas loses its odor and is colorless, odorless and toxic and now spilling into the living area. For that reason, code requires the damper is locked in a FULLY-OPEN position so you can’t make that mistake.

Damper clamps are especially critical in the case of rental properties where the fireplace has artificial gas logs or a log lighter. If a tenant forgets to open up the damper and death results, besides the horrific loss of life, the heirs of the tenant will sue the homeowner and/or property management company due to the negligence of not having a damper clamp to lock the damper open.

Can the damper be locked partially open?

Manufacturers’ installation instructions for artificial gas log sets specifically say that dampers must be locked in a “FULLY-OPEN POSITION.” Some professional installers will lock the damper partially closed to reduce the heat loss from the home when the gas logs are not in use as well as to bring more heat into the room when the gas logs are in use. However, a partially-closed damper may restrict the draft enough to cause gas spillage into the living area when the gas logs are on. For that reason, gas log manufacturers specifically state that the dampers be locked fully open. Professional gas log installers may open themselves up to liability if they lock the damper partially closed.

With the damper locked open, how can I prevent heat loss from my home?

When not in use, a fully-open damper is like having an open window all the time and you will lose a great deal of heat from your home. This is a major disadvantage to gas logs or a log lighter. Even if you’re not using the gas logs and you turn on your central heater or furnace, it may actually draw the cold air down the flue and into the room, bringing the cold air in. To prevent heat loss, install glass doors in front of the fireplace. Keep in mind, in the case of prefab fireplaces, glass doors are not always available or listed with the system so glass doors may not always be a viable option for prefab systems.

Be very careful about putting glass doors on prefab fireplaces.  You can only put the EXACT glass doors that are SPECIFICALLY designed for that exact manufacturer and exact model of the system.  If you put on the wrong glass doors on a prefab fireplace, you will void out the listing on the system and can cause a potentially dangerous situation because the prefab system can overheat during a fire.

Is a damper clamp required with a log lighter used with wood burning?

There is a wide range of opinions on this question and the answer is that a damper clamp is still required with a log lighter. A log lighter is a round pipe under the grate, used to easily start a wood fire. You place the wood on the grate, turn on the gas and after about 10 minutes, turn the gas off. There’s no need for newspaper or kindling and it makes it very easy to start a wood fire.  According to the above-stated code, if there is a log lighter present inside the firebox, the damper must be locked fully open.  However, if the firebox is plumbed for gas but the gas is capped off, no damper clamp is required.


Having a damper clamp in place with gas logs or a log lighter is frankly a no-brainer, not only for the safety for you, your family members and/or tenants but for your liability as well. The lack of a damper clamp with gas logs or a log lighter WILL also be noted by a home inspector during a home sale.  Some local utility companies will “red tag” your system if a damper clamp is not installed.  A damper clamp is a critical safety issue when you have artificial gas logs or a log lighter!

One last caveat: Check your local jurisdiction to see what your local codes are for your area.  This above-mentioned code is a California Code.

[This blog was updated as of 3/27/18.]

Six Causes of Fireplace Odors

Fireplace odor like a campfireThere’s nothing better than a warm, cozy fire in the fireplace but there’s nothing worse than the “campfire-in-the-living-room” smell that can sometimes occur afterwards. Understanding some of the causes for a stinky fireplace will help prevent the problem. There are several key causes for fireplace odor issues.

 

1) Smoking Problems

Sometimes a smoking problem is so subtle that you may not even realize it at the time of the fire but then you notice a bad odor the next day. That’s because smoke rises to the highest part of the house at the time of the fire but by the next day, that smoky odor drifts down into your breathing range. This smell can be absorbed into carpeting, furniture and window coverings so it’s important to avoid the smoking problem in the first place. To prevent smoking problems, check out our blog post on the Top 10 Smoking Problems and their Respective Solutions.

In addition, if you’re using your fireplace at night, the damper has to stay open all night. Hours later, halfway through the night when the fire is down to just burning embers, the chimney loses its draw, especially if the furnace turns on, pulling air down the chimney, resulting in the smoke and resulting odors coming into the room. To prevent this night-time issue, make sure your fireplace has tight-fitting glass doors.

2) Animals

Animals love your chimney because it is a dark place, safe from predators, but once animals enter chimneys, it’s extremely difficult for them to fly or crawl back out on their own. This might mean your chimney will smell of aChimney capnimal feces or worse, a dead animal. In fact, due to federal animal protection laws, there are heavy fines of up to $15,000 for removing live migratory birds without special animal-removal permits. To remove an unwelcome animal from your chimney, contact an animal removal organization with the proper permit, but the better way would be to avoid birds and other critters from using your fireplace as their new home in the first place by installing a chimney cap.

3) Dirty Chimney

A dirty chimney can cause a bad fireplace odor because of the smoking problem but also even when the fireplace is not in use. Downdrafts push air down the chimney, bringing with it the smelly particulates from the dirty chimney and sending a campfire smell into the room. Having a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to sweep the chimney will help, but keep in mind that creosote can absorb into the porous material of a flue lining so even if a chimney lining is meticulously swept, there may still be a fireplace odor. Keeping the damper closed and installing tight-fitting glass doors will help.

4) Type of Fuel

Burning wood that has not been aged long enough or has been left out in the rain will create a smokier fire which can cause a rank odor. Some people can also be very sensitive to the petroleum odor of certain brands of prefabricated logs. In this case, change your fuel type and make sure that wood is aged and kept dry.

5) Pressurization in the home

To make our homes more energy efficient, builders are making houses “tighter.” Tight homes don’t make for properly-operating fireplaces. Fire needs oxygen, a great deal of oxygen, and it pulls it from the room. If a fire can’t get that oxygen because your fireplace is competing with other systems in the home such as furnaces, clothes dryers, bathroom exhaust fans or kitchen hoods, pressurization problems will occur in the home and can create a smoking problem or fireplace odors. Even if the fireplace isn’t in use, these other systems will draw air down the chimney, pulling down the particulates from a dirty chimney or odors from the ashes in the fireplace. Wind-driven downdrafts will also create this effect. Even during the summer, when fireplaces aren’t being used, rainy weather or high humidity can bring fireplace odors into the house. We recommend closing the damper, keeping the firebox clean, installing tight-fitting glass doors on the front of the fireplace or creating another method to bring make-up air into the home.

6) Rain/Water intrusion

Fireplace odors occur during rainRain falling down a masonry chimney doesn’t land directly in the firebox. Instead, because of the way a masonry chimney is designed, this rain lands in an area behind the damper called a smoke shelf unless the chimney has a cap. The rain collects in the smoke shelf until the water eventually evaporates. This rain water mixes with soot and can have a rancid, musty odor. This is another good reason to have a chimney cap on the top of the chimney.


Fireplace odors are a common problem but with a little knowledge, odors can be avoided, decreased or completely eliminated. Reduce smoking problems, have your chimney swept regularly, install tight-fitting glass doors, provide make-up air in tight homes to prevent pressurization problems, and install a cap to keep out rain and animals. Then sit back and enjoy your fireplace without the smell of regret the next day. After all, the smell of a campfire can be enjoyable on a camping trip, but not in your living room!

Duraflame log and firestarter

Are Fire Logs Safe to Use?

Duraflame fire logs and fire starterAre Fire Logs safe to use? This is one of the most frequently-asked questions that we, as chimney sweeps, get asked. There is something to be said for their convenience and it’s not like everybody has enough room to store a cord of wood. We also find that older people like using fire logs because they sometimes find a wood pile too physically demanding. A fire log’s convenience and ease of use is a real advantage but there are a few things you should know in order to reduce the dangers from improperly using this fuel source.

What is a Fire Log?

Prefabricated fire logs are artificial logs made of wax, sawdust and other binding agents. Some of the more common brands are Duraflame, Pine Mountain and Earthlog. These logs are designed to be used in open hearth, brick and mortar masonry systems or prefabricated fireplace systems; however, they cannot be used in freestanding stoves or fireplace inserts. Some basic rules should be followed when using these products.

Rules for Using Fire Logs

Only burn one fire log at a time.

Fire startersNever place fire logs on top of or below a wood fire. Many people will do this because it makes for an easy way to start a fire. Instead, many manufacturers have a safer alternative called a “fire starter” to easily start the fire. Fire starters are considerably smaller than fire logs and the sole purpose of a fire starter is to start a wood fire.

Never poke the fire log once it has started burning. Breaking open the log prematurely releases all the fuel at once and you may experience a major smoking problem. These logs are designed to release the fuel slowly, in a controlled way.

fire gratePrefabricated fire logs must be used on a fire grate with no more than three inches in spacing between the rods of the grate. This will allow enough support to prevent the logs from prematurely breaking open.

The manufacturers of these products state that they are not designed to be used in free-standing stoves or wood stove inserts!

Do not cook food over these fire logs due to the chemicals in the logs. Some manufacturers have designed special “campfire roasting logs” for this use.

Safety Issues with Fire Logs

If the fire gets out of control, use a dry-chemical fire extinguisher or sand. Some of these fire logs are a petroleum-based product. Using water to put out the fire may just “spread the fire” instead of extinguishing the flames.

Always use a fireplace screen in front of the fireplace. Sometimes these fire logs can “spit.”

The damper needs to be in a fully open position while using these fire logs. Even after the fire logs have gone through the time allotted on the package, the damper should still be left open until the next morning to make sure that the ashes are completely extinguished.

If you have glass doors on the front of the fireplace, the glass doors must be in a fully open position. Fire needs oxygen and it pulls the oxygen from the room. Cutting off the oxygen source will create a vacuum inside the firebox and we’ve seen more than a few instances of the glass imploding or exploding. Once the fire is out, close the glass doors before going to bed for safety reasons and to prevent downdrafts in the middle of the night.

And finally, manufacturers of prefabricated fire logs state that these products are clean burning but that doesn’t mean that these logs won’t create creosote buildup in the flue. In fact, in our experience, many times the creosote from fire logs has more of a buildup than with wood. Whether burning fire logs, wood, or other materials, make sure to have your chimney inspected by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep on an annual basis and sweep if needed.

In summary, fire logs are convenient because they’re easy to use and easy to store. Follow the rules above and you’ll enjoy a safe and easy fire.

[Photo credits: Terri Pocock]

Rolled up newspaper used in priming the flue

Priming the fireplace flue

Rolled-up newspaperWhat does a rolled-up newspaper have to do with preventing a smoking problem in a wood-burning, open fireplace?

One of the most common causes for smoking problems in open hearth fireplaces is due to homeowners not priming the fireplace flue before starting the fire, especially during cold weather.  An indication that this is the cause of a smoking problem is if you notice smoke in the room at the beginning of a fire, so it’s a good habit to prime your flue every time you use your fireplace.

Explanation

When it’s cold outside, it’s also cold inside the flue pipe and this cold air is very “heavy air,” especially if it’s cold and/or damp outside. If you light a fire, the smoke rises, but it can’t because the cold air acts like a plug. Instead of the smoke trying to rise up the pipe, the smoke can come into the room where you’re sitting. If you don’t prime the flue, eventually the air inside the pipe will warm up enough on its own but not before filling the room with smoke. Priming the flue is essentially pro-actively starting the draw.  Doing this is especially necessary in chimneys that are on an exterior wall of the house.

Steps to Priming the Flue

1) Open up the damperPriming the flue
2) Place the wood or fire log on the grate3) Tightly roll up a piece of newspaper like a wand or torch and hold it up near the open damper
4) Hold it there for a minute or two until you see the smoke being drawn up the flue
5) Start the wood or fire log on fire

This will heat up the air inside the flue and will get the draw started.

What NOT to do!

It’s potentially unsafe to use the log lighter (the gas pipe under the grate) to prime the flue.  Using the log lighter for this will eventually warm up the air in the flue, but in the meantime, the gases can enter the room where you’re sitting.

In summary….

There is nothing better than a cozy fire on a cold, winter night but that joy can be totally cancelled out by a house full of smoke. Smoking problems can be caused by many reasons but priming the flue is an easy solution for smoking issues. Getting into the habit of priming the flue will go a long way in enjoying that cozy fire in the fireplace.  Bottom line: Don’t throw away those newspapers anymore; they’re good for more than just reading!

Smoke coming from fireplace

Ten Fireplace Smoking Problems and Solutions

Smoke coming from fireplaceAs a professional chimney sweep, the most common phone call I get is about fireplace smoking problems.  Sometimes the smoke can fill the room; other times you may not even realize you have a smoking problem because the smoke is so subtle.  If it smells like a campfire in your living room the day after having had a fire in your fireplace, the likelihood is that you had a smoking problem that was so minor, you didn’t even realize it. Here are solutions to the top ten most common smoking problems.

Dirty Chimney

During usage of the fireplace, the smoke goes up the flue (the passageway or pipe). The smoke coats the flue with a by-product called creosote. With usage, the creosote buildup becomes thicker as the flue becomes smaller. This coating is not only dangerous because it’s highly flammable, but will create a smoking problem that will get progressively worse as the creosote builds up and the flue becomes narrower. The Chimney Institute of America (CSIA) states that if the build-up of creosote is any more than 1/8″ in the flue, the chimney must be swept.

SOLUTION: Have the chimney swept by a qualified CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. To find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, go to the Chimney Safety Institute of America at www.csia.org.

Obstructions inside the Chimney and/or Plugged-up Chimney Cap

Birds inside a chimneyThe chimney should be checked for any obstructions inside the flue pipe, such as bird nests, tree branches, leaves, beehives, or even the missing volleyball. (Yes, we really do find balls in chimneys!) Also, with usage, the chimney cap will get plugged up, especially if you burn wet wood or lots of paper.

SOLUTION: Have the chimney swept by a qualified CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep. To find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep, go to the Chimney Safety Institute of America at www.csia.org

Closed Damper

Before lighting a fire, always make sure that the damper is open. Don’t laugh–a closed damper happens more often than you think!  If you’re not sure if the damper is open or closed, shine a flashlight inside the fireplace, up the flue. If the damper isn’t fully open, do not even attempt to light the fire.

SOLUTION: Always check the damper each time before starting a fire. As chimneys get older, sometimes the damper will become difficult to operate or may even seize. If the damper does not FULLY open, have it looked at by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep.

Fuel–Firewood or Prefabricated Logs (like Duraflame)

Firewood that has not been aged long enough will have a higher moisture content which will not only create a smokier fire but will create more creosote buildup Pile of firewoodinside the flue pipe. According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, ideally, the moisture content of firewood should be between 15% and 25%. A good rule of thumb is to have firewood aged between six months and a year. Firewood should be split to dry out faster. Dried wood that is wet from rain and snow will re-hydrate so be sure to cover up the firewood pile during wet weather. In addition, improper usage of the prefabricated logs (such as Duraflame or Pine Mountain) can create a smoking problem.

SOLUTION: Make sure that firewood is aged at least six months and keep the wood dry during the winter.

Cold Weather

When it’s cold outside, there’s also cold air inside the flue pipe and that cold air is very heavy, dense air, especially if it’s raining outside. That cold air acts like a plug. If Priming the flueyou light a fire, the smoke can’t rise but instead will come into the room where you’re sitting. That cold air in the flue will eventually warm up on its own during a fire, but not before smoke comes into the living area.

SOLUTION: During cold weather, always “prime the flue” before starting your fire. To do this, place the wood on the fire grate as far back as possible in the firebox. Open the damper. Roll up a piece of newspaper like a “wand.” Light the end of the wand and hold it up near the open damper for a minute or two to warm up the air in the flue. When the flue is primed, you should see the smoke from the wand being drawn up the flue. At that point in time, light the fire.

Central Heating System or Furnace

If you have the furnace turned on at the same time as having a fire in the fireplace, you may experience a smoking problem. This is especially true when the furnace’s Cold air register for furnaceair intake (cold air register) is close to or in the same room as the fireplace. Other systems like kitchen hoods, bathroom exhaust fans and dryer vents can also contribute to this problem. This is especially true if you have made your house more airtight with new vinyl windows and doors as well as tight weatherstripping.

SOLUTION: Do not have the furnace on at the same time as the fireplace.

New Windows and Doors and Tight Weatherstripping

New windows and doors make for a “tight” house which may create a Fireplace next to windowsmoking problem when the fireplace is in use. A fire requires oxygen and in a tight house, there’s a limited amount of make-up air.

SOLUTION: Cracking open a window or sliding door close to the fireplace will give the fire the oxygen that it needs for the combustion process, and will also help the smoke vent up the chimney.

Canyons and Hillsides

A house located near Wind cap on top of a chimneya canyon or a hillside will be more prone to gusting winds that can create downdrafts. Also, homes located close to the ocean will be prone to the prevailing winds.

SOLUTION: A specially-designed wind cap can sometimes minimize the downdrafts. Note that these wind caps cannot be installed on prefabricated fireplace systems.

Chimney Improperly Built

A masonry chimney is built to a certain formula, having to do with the height and width of the firebox opening, the height of the chimney and the diameter of the flue pipe (among other factors). If any of these factors are not correct, the fireplace may be prone to smoking problems. Also double-sided, L-shape or see-through fireplaces are always more prone to smoking problems.

In addition, if a chimney does not have an adequate height above the roof line, the system may be prone to smoking problems. We call these systems “short stacks.” The chimney should be at least three feet above the roof line, and at3-2-10 Rule least two feet taller than anything horizontally within ten feet. This includes houses located too close together, two-story additions (when the chimney is on the first story), or trees. In building terms, this is called the 3-2-10 rule.

SOLUTION: For a one-sided fireplace opening, sometimes installing a smoke guard will resolve the problem. A smoke guard is a piece of metal that extends the full smoke guard on fireplacewidth at the top of the firebox opening and lowers the firebox opening by 4″, 6″ or 8″, to encourage the smoke from the fireplace to go up the flue instead of in the room.  For multi-sided fireplaces, closing one side of the glass doors may reduce smoking. (Note: Never close both sets of glass doors on a two-sided fireplace at the same time during a fire.)  As a last resort, sometimes the only solution is to have a chimney mason raise the height of the chimney.

Wind

Two systems in one chimney structure can create smoking problems if the two flues are at the same height at the top of the chimney stack, side by side. As one fireplace is used, the smoke goes up and as it exits the top, the wind can drive the smoke down the other flue pipe, like a siphon effect.

SOLUTION: Slightly raise one of the two flues so that they aren’t at the same height at the top of the chimney.

What NOT to do if you have a smoking problem…

Time and time again, homeowners install artificial gas logs to solve a fireplace smoking problem.  This is NOT a viable solution and can actually create a more dangerous situation!

If your fireplace has a smoking problem when you’re burning wood, it’s going to have a smoking problem when you’re burning artificial gas logs, only the gases are colorless and odorless so you won’t be aware there’s a smoking problem.  It’s better to figure out why the fireplace is smoking before installing gas logs.

In Summary…

This is not a complete list of causes for smoking problems but certainly the most common. Using the process of elimination, trying different solutions one at a time, will narrow down the cause so you can enjoy your fireplace to the fullest. Future blog posts will go into further detail on each of these smoking problems.  Keep in mind, the best place to start is to have a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep out to evaluate your system, sweep if necessary and give you advice on how to resolve any smoking problem that you may be having.

Gas logs on fire in fireplace

The Pros and Cons of Gas Logs

Gas logs on fire in fireplaceImagine coming home after a hard day of work and sitting down next to a cozy fire in your fireplace, and relaxing with a cup of soothing tea or a glass of Merlot, all in just a matter of minutes, with minimal effort. Think this is impossible? With gas logs in your fireplace, this is totally possible. But you need to know all the facts about gas logs in order to make an informed decision.

Advantages of Gas Logs

Time Savings and Ease of Use

Gas logs are instant on/instant off. You can light a fire within seconds. Even better, at the end of the evening, there’s no waiting for the wood embers to finish burning out before going to bed like you need to do when burning wood.

Clean Burning to the Environment

Gas logs don’t produce many particulates and therefore are very clean burning to the environment.

Beautiful Display

Gas logs are very realistic looking and make a cozy display even when the gas logs aren’t on.

Less Work

No more lugging in the firewood from outside and no more cleaning out the debris from the firebox after a wood-burning fire. This makes it ideal for older people who may find it difficult to carry in the heavy wood or bend down to clean out the fireplace.

Less Maintenance

Gas logs produce minimal creosote build-up in the flue, which means that a chimney sweeping is not required as often as wood-burning fireplaces. However, according to the National Fire Protection Guideline 13:2, this code requires that “Chimneys, fireplaces and vents shall be inspected at least once a year…cleaning maintenance and repairs shall be done if necessary.”

Termite- and Rodent-Free

Woodpiles can attract termites and rodents which isn’t a problem with gas logs. On a similar note, woodpiles should never be located up against a house.

Absolutely No Hassle

You never have to clean out the ashes and debris from the fireplace. In fact, we highly recommend that you never even touch the gas logs after they’ve been installed. The logs have to be positioned in a very specific way on the grate and then tested with a special combustible gas detector to ensure the gas logs are positioned correctly.

Available Space

Not everybody has a backyard with space for a cord of wood. In addition, not all homeowner associations permit woodpiles. This is especially true for people who live in condominiums or urban areas.

Disadvantages of Gas Logs

Heat Loss from the Home

Uniform Mechanical Code and the gas log manufacturers’ instructions require that the fireplace’s damper be locked permanently in a FULLY open position. If you don’t have glass doors on the front of your fireplace, an open damper is equivalent to an open window and you will lose heat from your home during the winter. In fact, every time your central heater or furnace kicks on, all you’re doing is sucking cold air down your chimney and into the room which totally defeats the whole purpose of having your furnace on.  This also holds true in the summertime.  With an open damper and no glass doors, every time your air conditioner kicks on, all you’re doing is sucking hot air down your chimney and into the room.

The solution to an open damper is glass doors in front of the fireplace, but not all fireplaces can have glass doors, especially prefab fireplaces where the manufacturer may not have listed glass doors available for that system. Therefore the glass door solution won’t always work for all fireplaces.

In some states and regions in the United States, ventless gas logs are allowed which doesn’t have the requirement of the locked-open damper.

Less Heat Generated

In most cases, gas logs don’t produce the heat that burning wood does, although some manufacturers’ logs may produce more heat than others. Gas logs are not designed so much for heat as for appearance, ambiance and romance.

To compensate for the lack of heat from gas logs, many people will turn on the furnace to get the heat that they’re not getting from the fireplace.  Having both the gas logs and the furnace on at the same time is not a good idea.  You may lose the draw on the fireplace which means that instead of the gases going up the flue, the gases can be drawn into the room.  (To what extent this can happen depends on how tight the house is and where the air intake is for the furnace.)  The rule of thumb for fireplaces and furnaces: One on at a time; never on at the same time.

Dependency on Utility Company

Gas logs mean that you’re dependent on the utility company for natural gas or the propane company for propane.

No crackling Sound

Although many gas log sets have a very realistic look, there are no gas log sets on the market that produce a wood crackling sound.

In Summary…

Making the decision for gas logs doesn’t have to be difficult once you know all the facts. There are many factors to take into consideration but information is power in deciding between burning wood or gas logs.

Spring flowers with the words "Time for a Spring Cleaning"

10 Easy Steps to Spring Cleaning Your Fireplace

Spring flowers with the words "Time for a Spring Cleaning"Spring has sprung and it’s time for some spring cleaning, and that includes your fireplace! Many people would agree that one of the least favorite household chores is cleaning out the fireplace after the last fire of the season but it doesn’t have to be difficult with some easy tips. Ashes should be removed from the fireplace during the spring to avoid what we refer to as “Stinky Chimney Syndrome.”

10 Easy Steps to Cleaning Out the Fireplace

1. Make sure the ashes are completely cool before starting. It’s best to wait at least 48 hours after a fire in order to allow the ashes to completely cool.

2. If you have respiratory problems, asthma or allergies, use a mask. Breathing in the fine particulates can irritate the lungs of people who have respiratory problems. Better yet, if you have any kind of lung problems, let someone else in your family do this chore!!

3. Place plastic sheeting around the fireplace to ensure ashes don’t get on your carpeting. Wipe down the grate and place it to the side on the plastic sheeting.

4. Remove about a cup of ashes from the firebox and set aside. This will be used later to clean the glass in the glass doors.

5. Sprinkle some slightly damp, used coffee grounds on top of the ashes inside the firebox. This will settle down any dust and cut down on the fly-away ash, making it easier (and healthier) to sweep up.

6. Using a whisk broom and a dust pan, place the chunks of wood and ashes in a metal container with a lid. Sweep each interior wall of the firebox from top to bottom.

7. Brush each firescreen mesh from top to bottom. We find, for whatever reason, that firescreens tend to collect “dust bunnies.”

8. Place the metal container of ashes outside but never place the metal container on a wooden deck or patio if the ashes are warm. We’ve heard too many stories of houses burning down from this simple mistake.

9. Avoid harsh chemicals to clean the glass doors. Simply dip some damp newspapers in the ashes that you set aside and rub the glass to remove the soot and build-up. Because the ash is somewhat gritty, it’s much better at removing the residue off the glass than normal glass cleaners. Afterwards, spray white vinegar on the glass and wipe down with a soft rag to get the glass sparkling clean.

10. The last step is to close the damper. An open damper is the same as an open window. During the summer when you’re running your air conditioning with the damper open, all you’re doing is sucking the heat down the chimney and into the house, totally defeating the whole purpose of having your air conditioning on. Close the damper and you will save money on your electric bills. Just don’t forget to open your damper in the fall when you go to use your fireplace!

A Word of Warning

Don’t try to take the easy way out by using your household vacuum cleaner to remove the ashes from the firebox! You run the risk of ruining your vacuum cleaner so use a whisk broom and dustpan instead. In addition, the average household vacuum cleaner does not have the proper filter to prevent soot “blow-back” into the room. This blow-back may create a sooty mess on your carpeting, furniture, walls and window coverings. Even a Shop-Vac has the potential for creating blow-back. Professional chimney sweeps use industrial vacuums with special HEPA filters specifically designed to contain the fine particulates of soot.

The Best Solution

Of course, the easiest way to clean out your fireplace is to call your chimney sweep who’ll take care of that nasty chore for you as part of sweeping your chimney! In addition, your chimney will get a thorough inspection, inside and out, to make sure that it’s ready for the next burning season. The bonus is that we offer a discount during the spring and summer, so call Swede Chimney Sweep today at 858-573-1672. Check us out at www.swedesweep.com for additional information.