how to rid living room of smoky smell?

clermont_ohioJune 1, 2006

Last year we bought a ranch built in the late 1950s. Fireplace is wood burning in living room with no attached screen/doors. We came home to warm weather last weekend and noticed the return of the smoky odor in the living room. We noticed the same odor (not as strong) last August when we moved in, but it pretty much dissipated during the fall and through the winter and spring up until this weekend. So warm weather is obviously a trigger. We had roaring fires about 3 times/wk during winter. The chimney was last cleaned in Mar 2006 so that an inspection could be completed. Will another chimney cleaning solve the problem?

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Do you have a chimney cap at the top of the flue?

The reason I ask is that sometimes rain can wet the ash, either in the fireplace itself, or in the ash pit. The wet ash can cause a smokey odor.

With the chimney just having been cleaned a few months ago, I'd consider cleaning out the ash pit. Usually accessible through a cleanout door down in the basement.

Best, Mongo

    Bookmark   June 4, 2006 at 9:13AM
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Chimneys dont draft well in warm weather, it doesnt talke much to reverse the flow,ie range hood fan, bath fan , attic fan anything like that. When that happens you get a smoky smell. In the winter you chinmney mighgt draft poorley as well, thats a tell tell sighn that you have a smoky smell in the summer. You can install a wood insert and line the chimney, and that will help with downdrafts in the summer and winter.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2006 at 1:38PM
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I should clarify things. First, I mistyped the year of the inspection/cleaning: it was Mar 2005. We are on a crawlspace--do we still have an ash pit? We do have a chimney cap but I don't notice an odor that correlates with rain. I will consider putting in the wooden insert. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2006 at 10:06PM
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Now that I've read exactly what an ash pit is, I can surely say we don't have one.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2006 at 10:13PM
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Are you closing the fireplace damper when the fireplace isn't in use? If not, you should try that first.

It sounds as though you are getting some back-drafting through the fireplace. If your house is fairly tight, leaving on a bathroom exhaust fan or the kitchen vent hood can cause air to be drawn down the chimney when all the windows and doors are closed tightly. The air passing through the chimney will naturally pick up a smokey odor. Closing the fireplace damper when the fireplace isn't in use may help to alleviate the problem.

I once lived in a house with this problem. I'd come in after being out for several hours and smell a smokey odor. When it happened, I'd know immediately the house had been closed up with a bathroom exhaust fan inadvertently left running. When I'd check the fans....sure enough!


    Bookmark   June 16, 2006 at 1:24AM
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Since the weather got better, the odor went away the last week or two, so I didn't think much about it. Hot weather came back, and sure enough, so did the chimney breath. I took the grate out to the garage and vacuumed every trace of ash from the fireplace. I always close the damper when we don't use the fireplace, but when I got under there to check for a gap with my flashlight, sure enough, there was one about a half inch wide. With a little manipulation, I got it to close completely. I sure hope that solves the problem.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2006 at 8:51PM
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Did fixing the fix on the "gap" solve your problem with warm weather smell of smoke?

I have exactly the same problem and have had it for years, some years less than others. This leads me to think the type of wood burned may make a difference too. I use mostly hard wood, I'm in NJ, but do burn some triming wood like willow.

I have an old insert and that has the damper removed. The insert is not air tight around its sides, so back flow of air can happen. I try to remember to open a window near the laundary when the dryer is running, but still have some problems. I may pull the unit and reinstall the damper, and your experience with fixing the gap will help me decide if I want to go to that work. I am also considering going to the top of the chimney and putting a summer-time cap on the flue.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2006 at 8:33PM
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Back again with a status/result.

I didn't mention, my fireplace has an air-tight insert, the insert is air-tight, the connnection to the masonry flue isn't. I was considering pulling the insert and reinstalling the damper, which was removed 20 years ago when the insert was first installed. Yes, the insert has been periodically (every two or three years) removed so that the cheminy could be cleaned.

Well, I decided to first do a real cleaning job on the insert, starting with removal of the fire brick bottom, this too will make it easier to move the insert, it is very heavy. I cleaned the bricks and scraped the inside of the insert, and brushed the overhead heat exchanger tubs, lost of black, plus about 10 pounds of baking soda I had thrown in to try to kill the smell. After using a scoop to remove the bulk of the material I used my shop vacuum to suck up the rest.

I also purchased, at home depot, ZEP Smoke Odor Eliminator, an aerosol can. I tried it first, before cleaning the insert, it did little or no good. Well, after cleaning I again used the ZEP, sprayed the walls, floor and heat exchangers top and bottom. That was two days ago. The odor seems to be gone, and we're still in the hot humid weather which was the driver of the smell, it was not a problem on cool/dry days.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2006 at 10:37PM
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I had the same problem but I had on open masonry fireplace. Of course, without a positive connection to your flue or a full reline all the way to the top you may as well have the same thing. I've heard of people stuffing pillows in garbage bags and stuffing them up into the chimney to try to create an airtight seal and prevent the air from being drawn through the chimney and into the room.

My problem was that the crown on my chimney was cracked and useless. Years went by and the previous owners let the masonry get soaked from the top down and that makes the problem all the worse. I got the crown replaced and the problem didn't go away... that's because it takes (what I believe to be) months or years for a chimney to dry out and that's if it hasn't been ruined.

I went to the extreme and got a wood burning insert installed with a full reline. Poof... no more smell and what a heat those things throw. Best of luck to you all... I have felt your pain.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2006 at 3:45PM
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I have a small prefab fireplace in my livingroom and plenty of pine to burn but I had the same problem. This fresh pine was stinky after i had a fire. I went a less expensive route and bought a chimney balloon to plug the chimney nice and low just above the firebox.
I didnt want to go with an insert since I dont plan on burning that much to make it worth the purchase. I just wanted the smell to go away. Between using the damper and the chimney balloon the chimney was sealed tight enough to make the smell stay away.

Here is a link that might be useful: It has been awhile, but i think this is the place i bought it from

    Bookmark   July 29, 2006 at 10:50PM
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let me guess, the chimney on the exterior wall? this is a very common problem. can be solved easily and has nothing to do with ash or creosote build up in the chimney so cleaning won't do much or anything, it has to do with the polycyclic aeromatic hydrocarbons PAH's that have permeated the flue tile, no amount of cleaning will remove that. The solution? simple, put a heavy (3/16 thickness or thicker, so the wind won't blow it away) steel plate over the top of the chimney flue every summer when you've finished using the wood stove.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2006 at 2:24PM
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Update on my experience.

About two weeks ago I had my chimney cleaned and a "Lock Top" damper installed on the top of the chimney. This is a brand name, and it is installed with a sealing grout and has a heat resistant gasket such that when it is closed it seals like a well fit storm door, being closed by a pull chain hanging down the flue to the fireplace opening. The chimney person said my cement crown for three flues was badly cracked, some cracks as wide as his finger. He said he could get me a price to repair, but didn't know it that had anything to do with the problem. Then some rain came and the smell came back. As "Luck" would have it I also had an appointment with my roofer to replace a shingle the wind had blown off and to check my roof. I told him about the chimney cap and he said he could repair, they did it with a repair cement/plaster. That was three days ago and the smell is slowly going down, but we haven't had any rain yet either. I am hopeful that the repair of the "crown" will turn the table on the smell. I'd like to use the fireplace next winter once and a while, but I will not if we can't solve the smell problem.

Yes, an airtight insert with a stainless steel liner with insulation mortar (or something like that) to fill in the space between the liner and the tiles would fix the problem, I'm told. This looks to be well over $3,000, maybe $4,000, a bit more than I'd like to spend for the joy of a warm hearth.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2007 at 9:36PM
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Update, two periods of rain, the latest still going on as part of the North-Easter heavy rain hitting the NE Coast and the smell has continued to diminish. So my lesson learned: check, or have checked, the integrity of the chimney cap. In our case it is a cement apron covering the area between the three flues exiting the common chimney structure (about 4feet wide by 1.5 feet deep). As reported the chimney sweeper told me the apron had large cracks (finger width) and would let water into the chimney structure (not the flues as they had their own rain caps/hats).

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 2:29PM
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Good job, Jerry. NJ got pounded with rain thru 4/15 week.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2007 at 12:43PM
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