Fix my fireplace so that it works again

One of the most common questions I'm asked when on a service call comes from a homeowner who would just like to his fireplace without any problems. 

Many homeowners have fireplaces that have never worked or that have been made inoperable over the years due to chimney fires, woodstove installations or changes in the interior or exterior of their homes. 

This article will discuss some of the possibilities to restore your fireplace to both safe and good working order.

RSF ICC Focus 320 Fireplace

A fireplace is a relatively simple heating device that works on a principle of venting exhaust gasses to the outside atmosphere while radiating heat into the room where the fireplace is located.  

A fireplace that allows smoke to spill into the room may have some design issues or there may be something obstructing the free flow of the exhaust smoke.  A visual inspection of your fireplace system by a professional chimney sweep may discover the source of the problem.

The fireplace opening size or square foot opening as compared to the flue size area is one design flaw that can easily be determined and in many cases be corrected. 

Other design flaws may be found in the shape and configuration of the smoke chamber and damper system. 

If your fireplace has suffered damage from a chimney fire and has been relined with a smaller lining system to vent a stove, a restoration of the original flue size needed for your open fireplace system to vent properly may be the best solution. 

Many homeowners turned to wood, pellet and gas burning appliances venting into their fireplaces to improve heat efficiency. 

While there may be an increase in heating efficiency, today there are many fireplace options available that are more heat producing and have a lesser heat loss than the original open fireplace.  Your chimney professional can advise you on which option may best suit your needs. Several of these high efficiency fireplace options are available for you to consider on the product section of this site.

Always conscious of reducing heat loss, many homeowners have installed better windows and insulation resulting in a much tighter home.  A fireplace vents smoke going from a high pressure zone to a lower pressure zone. 

If your home becomes a low pressure zone due to the fireplace removing air from your home and your now tighter home is reducing air from the outside, your fireplace stops venting and smoke spills into your home.  Many homes have strong exhaust fans found in appliances ranging  from dryer vents to overhead range vents that compete for the air pressure in your home.

Your chimney professional can advise how one solution may be to bring outside air for combustion into your fireplace to replace the lost pressure when competing vents are in use. Other methods employ make up air fans to your home and even chimney exhaust fans that will remedy this issue.

Outside your home, the physical layout of your structure, grown trees and other obstructions may have changed impacting dynamic wind loading on your chimney.

The surface that has wind blowing against it is a high pressure zone.  However, those surfaces to the sides and opposite the windward side also known as the leeward side produce low pressure zones.  Your chimney, to vent properly, must have a low pressure zone at its top to draw the smoke out of your chimney.

Before we can answer yes to using your fireplace, the inspection must prove the fireplace system is safe for use.  This may involve checking the lining system for containment of liquids, gases and heat.  A video inspection camera may be necessary to perform this inspection. 

Other concerns involve checking for clearances to combustibles from the masonry chimney to any structural areas of your home.

In most cases you may be able to begin enjoying the use of your fireplace once again.  Check the chimney professional selection on this site for a qualified recommendation of repair.

- by Dave Hannah

Smoke Signals: Have a question about your chimney?