Common Problems

Diagnosing Common Chimney Problems

Information from the Chimney Safety Institute of America

This a tougher question than it sounds. The quick simple answer is: The National Fire Protection Association standard 211 says, “Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.” This is the national safety standard and is the correct way to approach the problem. It takes into account the fact that even if you don’t use your chimney much, animals may build nests in the flue or there may be other types of deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be cleaned at 1/4″ of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. Factory-built fireplaces should be cleaned when any appreciable buildup occurs. This is considered to be enough fuel buildup to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or spreading to the home.


Q. How often should I have my chimney cleaned?

There are a multitude of reasons for smokey fireplaces. If you are experiencing
  • Down drafts
  • Feeling cold air coming from the fireplace
  • The room is always cold
  • The fireplace smokes when used

The following inexpensive solutions will most likely fix the problems:

  • Lyemance Top Damper, will provide energy savings and will solve the first three problems.
  • Smoke guards usually will fix the problem of a fireplace that smokes.

We can inspect your fireplace to make sure that these easy fixes will work for you Call for pricing and installation costs.

Q. My fireplace stinks, especially in the summer. What can I do?

The smell is due to creosote deposits in the chimney, a natural byproduct of wood burning. The odor is usually worse in the summer when the humidity is high and the air conditioner is turned on. A good cleaning will help but usually won’t solve the problem completely. There are commercial chimney deodorants that work pretty well, and many people have good results with baking soda or even kitty litter set in the fireplace. The real problem is the air being drawn down the chimney, a symptom of overall pressure problems in the house. Some make-up air should be introduced somewhere else in the house. A tight sealing, top mounted damper will also reduce this air flow coming down the chimney.

Q. When I build a fire in my upstairs fireplace, I get smoke from the basement fireplace.

This has become quite a common problem in modern air tight houses where weather proofing has sealed up the usual air infiltration routes. The fireplace in use exhausts household air until a negative pressure situation exists. If the house is fairly tight, the simplest route for makeup air to enter the structure is often the unused fireplace chimney. As air is drawn down this unused flue, it picks up smoke that is exiting nearby from the fireplace in use and delivers the smoke to the living area. The best solution is to provide makeup air to the house so the negative pressure problem no longer exists, thus eliminating not only the smoke problem, but also the potential for carbon monoxide to be drawn back down the furnace chimney. A secondary solution is to install a top mount damper on the fireplace that is used the least.

Q. I heat with gas. Should this chimney be checked too?

Without a doubt! Although gas is generally a clean burning fuel, the chimney can become non-functional from bird nests or other debris blocking the flue. Modern furnaces can also cause many problems with the average flues intended to vent the older generation of furnaces. We suggest you check the areas on gas and carbon monoxide for more information.

Finding a Chimney Professional

The safety and efficiency of your hearth appliance is wholly dependent upon the integrity of your fireplace and chimney to protect your home against carbon monoxide leaks and from fire damage. It is imperative that your entire chimney system be thoroughly inspected before installation of any wood or gas burning appliance. Older homes are of particular concern because settling, deterioration and nonconformance to current codes may dictate repairs before your project may be undertaken.

Thanks to the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) for this article, reprinted from their informative website.