Starting a fireplace fire doesn’t have to be a struggle. Basic physics keep the smoke flowing up your chimney rather than back into your home. During cold weather months, particularly if your chimney is located on an exterior wall, those physics can work against you, however.

  • Is air coming into your home through the firebox?
  • Does your house smell of smoke days after you burned a fire in your fireplace?
  • Do you have a hard time either starting a fire or keeping the fire going once you’ve gotten it started?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you could definitely have a problem with your chimney system’s draft. We can help you figure out how your drafting problem began in the first place, which can help you prevent similar problems from happening down the road.home diagram showing how a chimney goes through a home

Do You Have the Drafty Chimney Blues?

Our CSIA-certified chimney sweeps can determine which, if any, of the afore-mentioned issues are impacting your home. There are numerous possible remedies depending on which problem (or combination of problems) is the culprit.

Oftentimes, sweeping the chimney can take care of the issue, as even the slightest buildup inside your chimney can restrict airflow. Sealing leaks in the chimney is another possible remedy, depending on what is found during your inspection. Another quick fix would be installing or replacing your chimney cap; back-puffing problems during windy conditions point directly to this.

The Benefits of Pre-Heating Your Flue

If you noticed that your fireplace is smoking, the first thing to do is make sure you’ve established a good draft.

Pre-heating the flue before lighting the fire is a common practice to ensure things are cycling properly. When the fireplace isn’t in operation, the chimney flue is full of cold air (relative to the temperature outside). The initial smoke (heat) from the fire isn’t very hot and has a difficult time pushing the cold air out, sometimes causing a backdraft into the room at startup (after all, smoke is lazy…it takes the path of least resistance). Once the draft has been established, the smoke will still continue to work upward but will have issues in doing so.

 

How To Pre-Heat The Flue

  • To properly pre-heat your flue, you should build your fire stack inside the fireplace or wood stove as usual with paper, fire starters, kindling, or whatever your particular startup procedure is.
  • Before lighting the stack, keep a couple pieces of newspaper nearby to roll up to act as torches.
  • Light the torches and hold them in the flue area. The heat from the newspapers is very hot and will work hard to push the cold air out of the flue to establish a good draft.

During the winter months cold air from the outside comes down the chimney while warm conditioned air from the inside tries to rise out the chimney.

By lighting a small fire at the end of a newspaper you start establishing a draft.

As the fire remains lit, warm air keeps warming the chimney flue and keeps rising.

Finally, your chimney is prepped and you’ve established a good draft.

  • Once the heat from the torches is carried up the flue, light the fire stack and sit back and enjoy the difference. Doing this will also lead to quicker heat into the room since the unit doesn’t have to waste any heat establishing the draft itself.

How else can you help your chimney draft properly?

There are a few other simple steps you can take to keep smoke flowing up your chimney rather than back into your home.

  • Crack open a window in the same room as your fireplace by one inch to help your fireplace draw in cold air.
  • Make sure you’re building a hot enough fire. Use only dried, seasoned wood to build your fire, and build an appropriate size fire for you firebox, but also make sure not to overload the firebox with wood.
  • Build fires in a metal grate off the floor of your firebox, and place wood as far back into the fireplace as possible. If you fireplace has glass doors, leave them fully opened when a fire is burning. Closing the doors prevents the chimney from drafting properly, creating a buildup of pressure that can crack the fireplace doors.

Why Is My Chimney Still Sending Smoke Into My Home?

If you preheat your flue and follow our tips above but still have smoke billowing into your home when you build a fire, there may be a larger problem at play. At this point we recommend calling a professional to assess your chimney system. Below are some possible causes a CSIA certified chimney sweep might find for your draft issues.

  • A clogged chimney cap: A chimney cap that has been clogged by soot or creosote or an accumulation of soot or creosote on the flue, or an obstruction such as a bird or squirrel nesting, will restrict air flow. This can also produce smoke, necessitating an inspection and cleaning.
  • Improperly sized chimney: A more complicated problem may be chimney construction. Is the chimney the correct size? The amount of smoke a chimney can draft is a mathematical correlation between the size of the firebox and the flue. Another problem is the chimney should be ten to twelve high or higher and project at least three feet above the roof and two feet higher than anything that is within ten feet of it.

 

It is extremely important to deal with drafting problems as soon as you notice them, as ignoring it can have adverse affects on your health. These problems can cause combustion products to back up and enter your home leaving behind unpleasant and unsafe living conditions. Fixing your drafting problem will enable the harmful gases and smoke from the fire to properly exit your home through the chimney flue. Even though you may be able to alleviate most of the excess smoke in your home on your own, the health affects associated with a backdraft implore you to consult with Clean Sweep Anne Arundel professionals to ensure that your home is safe for you and everyone in it. You can never be too careful!