Even if it is the first time in the winter season that you are using your fireplace, there should never be smoke coming into your home. If you get smoke coming out of the fireplace you should find the issue behind it as soon as possible. But the problem might be that you don’t know where to start looking.
Usually, most of the issues that could cause the smoke to come into your home boil down to a weak draft in your fireplace’s chimney. By ensuring that there are no blockages in the chimney by checking and cleaning it regularly, most of your “smoke-in-the-home” issues will be solved. The problem can vary from a bird’s nest in the chimney to a buildup of creosote over time. The firewood you are using might also cause smoke in your room.
In this article, I’ll discuss the most common reasons why you are getting smoke in your home when the fire in the fireplace is burning. I’ll also suggest methods to rectify the issues and give a few tips on how to start your fire without smoke in the home.
Are there times when it is acceptable for smoke to enter a room?
Are there times when it is “normal” for smoke from your fireplace to enter your home? This might be your first question when you are experiencing smoke coming into your room.
The short answer is “no.” A fireplace should be designed in such a way that smoke, vapor, or unburned wood never enters the house.
If it is happening, you should start troubleshooting as soon as you’ve extinguished the fire and the firebox and chimney have had time to cool off.
Now, let’s jump into the reasons why smoke is coming out of your fireplace;
Table of Contents
1. Poor quality wood
When smoke is coming into your home the first thing you think is that the chimney is blocked. But often the problem is not related to the fireplace, firebox, or chimney. One of the most common causes of a fireplace smoking back into the home is poor-quality firewood.
If you don’t use seasoned firewood the chances are great that smoke from the wood will billow back into the room. And if you are keeping on using the same unseasoned wood you will time and again when you add wood to the fire encounter the problem of smoke billowing into the room.
Many homeowners are not aware of the fact that you need properly seasoned firewood for your fireplace. But seasoned, and thus dry, wood is essential for the correct functioning of your fireplace.
Ideally, your firewood should have been seasoned for about 12 months. After 12 months the wood log will have lost virtually all its moisture, but will still be not too dry to burn in the fireplace.
You will know that you are using wood with a lot of moisture still in it when you hear a sizzling sound when it is burning. This damp firewood produces more smoke than what a chimney usually can handle. This causes back-puffing.
But also remember, too dry wood produces a very intense fire – again with a lot of smoke that could not be handled by your chimney.
The golden rule is to buy your firewood from a reputable place, especially if you are not a “firewood specialist.”
2. Draft Issues
The fireplace and chimney must be able to vent continuously, meaning the smoke have to be pushed up in the space inside the chimney, called the flue, and completely out of the house.
At the same time outside air should be pulled into the flue to keep the fire burning. Without fresh air from outside, the flames in the fireplace will die.
This exchange of air is known as the chimney “draft.” Any obstructions to this draft can cause smoke to come out of your fireplace.
What are the main causes of draft issues?
There are many reasons why your fireplace and chimney could have draft problems. Let’s have a look at some of the most obvious and important reasons.
The indoor-outdoor temperature difference is too low
The principle is that the strength of the chimney draft depends to a great extent on the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures. A great temperature difference results in a strong draft, while a low difference will produce a weaker draft.
Therefore, when it’s colder outside than inside, the hot air and fire by-products rise up the flue to meet the cold air outdoors. However, when the temperature outside is about the same as the temperature inside, hot air and fire by-products float in the firebox or enter the room and don’t rise up and out of the chimney.
How to prepare a cold fireplace so that it is not smoking
When your fireplace has been inactive for a long time or it is below freezing point outside and in your home, the easiest way to prevent smoke to come into your home when you’ll light the fire, is to light a rolled-up newspaper and hold it for about two minutes in the flue. Keep it as near as possible to the damper just above the firebox.
By pre-warming the flue, you increase the temperature differential between the flue and the outdoors temperature. This improves the draft and will reduce the possibility of a lot of smoke coming into your home when you start the actual fire in the fireplace.
3. You may have a water seepage issue
You can suspect that you have a water seepage issue if the fireplace seems to send smoke into your home only when or after it rains or snows.
If your flue is uncovered, rain or snow can seep into the flue, and once there, the wet environment lowers the temperature of the air in the firebox and impedes its ability to rise. This weakens the draft and your fireplace might send smoke into your house.
How to avoid a wet flue
The best way to rectify a wet flue condition is to have the chimney swept by a certified sweeper company and then install a chimney cap. A properly installed chimney cap keeps the water and snow out of the chimney and also keeps animal nests and debris out. This helps to strengthen the chimney draft and prevent indoor smoke.
4. The flue might be blocked
When leaves, animal nests, or other debris come into the flue, it can block the free flow of smoke and air. A buildup of creosote can leave a dark brown coating in the chimney and block the space. That can also reduce or prevent the passage of smoke from the firebox to the outdoors.
A creosote buildup can even ignite a chimney fire if the temperature in the flue gets very high. This can cause structural damage to your house.
How to find out whether you have a buildup issue
You will be able to manually check for obstructions and blockages of the chimney. When you put a flashlight up the chimney you will be able to spot bird nests or other obstructions. In severe cases of creosote buildup, you will be able to see that as well when looking up the chimney.
Creosote buildup can also be detected if you scratch your finger against the inside of the chimney. Finding a dark buildup when you are scratching is a sign of creosote buildup.
How to rectify these issues
The best is to get a professional to inspect the flue and advise you on how to get it cleaned. You’ll most probably have to get a chimney sweep and the material blocking the flue and the creosote buildup removed by a registered company.
5. Faulty Fireplace Dampers
Your fireplace damper is an essential part of your chimney. The damper keeps drafts from entering your home when you’re not using your fireplace, but it is also the opening through which smoke flows to get to the flue.
You will not be able to enjoy the heat your fireplace is providing if the damper is not properly working. You will experience that smoke comes into your home every time you have a fire in your fireplace if the damper is not opening at all or only opening partially.
How to rectify a damper problem
Usually, you cannot fix a damper that is not working properly anymore. The best is to replace your damper with a new one. With a working damper, you will not experience smoke in your home anymore. And a working damper also makes your home more energy-efficient.
Practices to follow for smoke-free fireplaces
The following chimney maintenance tips should help you to make your time in front of your fireplace enjoyable.
1. Use the correct and safe fuel, kindling, and tinder
I recommend that you only use well-seasoned hardwood, and if possible, CSIA-approved logs as fuel. Only use dried twigs or small branches as kindling and only torn newspaper or pine cones as tinder.
If you don’t want smoke in your home but only a well-lit fire in the fireplace do not burn unseasoned firewood or cardboard.
2. Use the “top-down burn” method.
With this method, you place large logs vertically in the firebox. Then you add four to five horizontal layers of kindling and top it with tinder. If everything is in place and “stable,” light the fire. With this way of fire-building, you’ll create a hot, fast-burning fire with no smoke in the room.
3. Position the grate in the firebox correctly
Position the grate in the firebox in such a way that there are at least a few inches around it. When the grate is placed too close to the front, more smoke is usually produced.
4. Remove ashes from the firebox
When the firebox is completely cool, take all the remaining ashes into a metal container to throw it away. Ashes in the firebox often cause the fireplace to produce more smoke.
In principle, there are only two reasons why you experience smoke in your home when you want to enjoy the fire in your fireplace. Firstly, it can be that you are using unseasoned wood or too dry wood. The second reason is a blocked or partially blocked flue or damper.
I hope that what I’ve explained in this article and the tips are given will help you to enjoy your evenings in front of your fireplace – with a nice fire without smoke in the room!