2016 Chimney Safety Week: Know Your System

No matter the condition of your fireplace, wood stove, or other chimney-connected appliance, if you don’t understand how your system works, it will be difficult getting it to perform in a way that optimizes both performance and safety.

When trying to light a fire it’s important to remember that your entire house works as a system.
For example, you could have a sparkling new home with a fireplace you could eat out of, but if you don’t understand some basic concepts of thermal dynamics, your first fire could send smoke spilling out into your living room and not up your chimney as intended.
From a young age we are taught that “warm air rises”, so, why then would a fire in a firebox not naturally send smoke straight up the chimney? There could be a number of reasons for this, but here are three common issues with simple solutions:
1. The damper is closed. (learn how to operate a damper here)
2. Sufficient draft has not been established — basically, what this means is that the air inside the flue is too cold and heavy for the smoke to push up and out of the chimney. This is a pretty easy fix: grab some newspaper and twist it into a torch, light one end and hold it up as high as you can reach inside the fireplace. You will know that sufficient draft has been established once you see the smoke and flame being pulled up towards the chimney. Once that happens, go ahead and light your fire.
3. There is too much negative pressure in the house. Are you running a whole-house fan or an exhaust fan in the kitchen or bathroom? Either of these appliances can make establishing an effective draft difficult, especially if your home is relatively new (newer homes tend to be more tightly sealed than older homes).
For additional information on the ins and outs of safe home heating, please visit our homeowner resources web page: http://www.csia.org/Homeowner-Resources/index.aspx.

jordan prAbout the author: Jordan Whitt is the current Director of Communications and Marketing for the Chimney Safety Institute of America and a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep.  Outside of the CSIA, you’ll occasionally find him doing some public affairs work for the American Red Cross or Indiana Department of Homeland Security. You can email him directly at jwhitt@csia.org.

2 thoughts on “2016 Chimney Safety Week: Know Your System

  1. Can you replace a prefab fireplace from the back side in a safe way? This house has a $15,000 cast stone mantel front that if removed will most likely be broken and have to be replaced.

    Jerry ..


    1. Hi, Jerry –

      Here is the answer from our Education Director: “The simple answer is yes, but it depends on the construction materials and whether the fireplace is “bumped-out”. Picture a board and batten style exterior and you can imagine how easy it would be. Vinyl siding can be removed almost as easily. The only problem might be the way the unit is fastened in the front, but that is not usually a problem.”


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