Fireplace smoke

jdw34September 20, 2005


I have a wood burning fireplace. I noticed last year that there was a large amount of smoke coming back into the house when I had a fire going. Enough smoke that it would become smokie in the house and I would have to put it out and open windows. So I read up and every suggestion said to clean the fire place. So i bought the equipment and cleaned it myself. The next time I used the fireplace it still had smoke coming into the house. I had put a permanent screen onto the fireplace with glass doors and metal trim and the smoke was coming out between the doors and through the vent at the base. So my question is what is causing this and what can I do to get it to stop?

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Most likely your house is too "tight".
Crack open an outside window or door near the fireplace when operating it. The fireplace is probably not getting enough combustion air and creating a negative pressure. This is a common problem in newer homes.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2005 at 11:15AM
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Agreed - if the flue is clear, then it's gotta be draft.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2005 at 12:21PM
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I just read something on venting and came across something that I think might be causing it. I have a trap door on the floor of the fireplace that leads to an outside vent. Well my wife told me not to long ago that she had swept some ashes into it thinking that it was an area to dispose of ashes. After reading this article I realized that maybe this door was to allow air to come into the fireplace to keep from negative pressure building up.
Could this be what is causing it?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2005 at 1:26PM
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That's an ash clean out, I'd guess. At some lower point in the stack (maybe outside, maybe basement), there should be another door that you can open and remove the ash that you knock into the hole on top. If the lower cleanout leads to outside, it seems unlikely to me to be the issue. Further, if the cleanout in the fireplace has a door and the door is closed, then it should not affect your draft, which is what the problem appears to be.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2005 at 2:48PM
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If it's a "trap door" in about the middle of the fireplace "floor" then what you have is called an "ash dump". It is not for combustion air.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2005 at 7:11PM
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Depending on the location of the trap door, and how wide it opens, it may be an ash dump, or it may be a fresh air supply.

I don't have an ash dump in my fireplace. I do, however, have a fresh air supply. The trap door in my fireplace is located at the front of the firebox. A trap door (approx 4" X 12") with a hinge at the leading edge will tilt up about an inch. It's designed to feed air from the out of doors (drawn from under the house) to the combustion area of the fireplace. It helps to eliminate drafts in the house, and to also limit the amount of heated air that's drawn out of the house and up the chimney. It seems to work quite well.

An ash dump is usually located toward the rear of the fire box, and will open much wider. It allows you to sweep ash into a space below the firebox, and usually includes another door on the outside of the masonry fireplace enclosure (outside) to remove ashes from under the firebox.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2005 at 2:45AM
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I have the same exact setup, and the same exact problem. But I had a window in the room cracked 2 inches and it still smoked. I don't understand it. I have this rectangular hole in the center of the fireplace leading to the basement. It has a round metal plate that sits over the hole. In the basement are two rectangular holes. IT appears to be a fresh air duct. Is insufficient draft the only thing that could cause this smoke??? When it was smoking, I closed my glass doors and it got much worse inside. I opened the doors, and the smoke went up the chimney, but smoked after a few minutes. Any ideas on troubleshooting? Thanks! ~Mark

    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 7:14PM
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I am having a similar problem. I notice that I get smoke returning into the house when the furnace comes on. It's an old, somewhat drafty house so it doesn't warm the whole house. I still need the heat on for the rest of the house. I tried closing the living room off but that doesn't work either. Any suggestions?

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 10:59PM
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We had this problem many years ago. Every time we'd use the fireplace, the house would fill with smoke, no matter how many windows we had open!
I finally had a chimney sweep guy out and he solved our problems. I realize this might not be your problem, but it's worth a try.
As it turns out, we weren't pre-heating the smokestack enough to keep a good draft going upwards. So now, we build an excellent small-kindling fire, but before we light it, we hold several pages of burning newspaper up through the flue, to get it initially heated up, then light the kindling. We really get it going before we add anything bigger to it. Haven't had any smoke since! Good luck.
P.S. Try not to run the dryer or the bathroom or kitchen fans while you're using your fireplace too.....since that will pull smoke in.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 10:23PM
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Hey all,

Just a thought on the fire place smoking. I burn a woodstove to heat my house (I know...different than a fire place, but bear with me). I have never had a problem with smoke entering the room until this past weekend. It was very windy (50+mph) and I had a little bit of a problem getting my draft going. Once I got the stove lit and going good it burned OK for a while. Then I noticed that my stove was back puffing when I opened the door to tend the fire. I then noticed that smoke was also being pushed into the house where the stove pipe goes out to the chimney through the block wall. I kind of "freaked out" a little, thinking that maybe my stove pipe was clogged with soot and affecting my draft, but when I went outside to check my chimney, I noticed that my cleanout door (below the stove pipe) was wide open. This must have been due to the very windy conditions. Anyway, I closed the cleanout door and wedged a trash can against it to keep it closed tightly. That totally solved my smoking problem. I went back inside to check the stove and the fire was burning very well with PLENTY of draft. I didn't have a problem after that.
Just a heads up......make sure that if you have a cleanout door on your chimney that it is tightly closed when you are burning or it will draw air and hinder the draft in your stove or fireplace.
Also as an aside, I routinely utilize my cleanout opening to pre heat my stack prior to touching off a fire. It works very well as I never have a problem with smoking when I light a fire.


    Bookmark   January 18, 2006 at 11:49AM
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had the same problem. I now have to warm the flue with newspaper, and turn the furnace off.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2006 at 1:49PM
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I have a woodburning fireplace that has a vent on the front of the firebox at the bottom. Does this need to be closed when the fire is going? It was open last night and the smoke came billowing into the room and it was really awful. Should this air vent be closed to prevent the smoke from entering the room?

    Bookmark   October 16, 2008 at 7:50PM
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When I had a wood burning fireplace, I always lit a roll of newspaper and held the flame over the wood to create an updraft. If for some reason the updraft was very weak, I open a nearby window or door.

If the smoke problem you are experiencing is a new development, it may mean that there is a crack in the vent in the fireplace. That would cost some $$$ to fix.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2008 at 9:16PM
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Many smoking problems in homes built during the past 30 to 40 years are caused by insufficient height of the chimney.
The code for chimney height is a MINIMUM of two feet higher than a horizontal extended from the peak of the roof to the chimney. The reason for this is air turbulence - air coming across the peak of the roof becomes turbulent and will cause backdrafting down the chimney. Tall obstacles near a chimney, such as trees or other buildings will have the same result.

During the past 40 years developers of track housing have been saving costs by building chimneys too short, usually ending at roof peak level, not two feet above. Take notice of houses built during the first half of the 20th century and before, you will notice the chimneys extend well above the peaks of the roofs.

The real solution to this problem is to extend the chimney.
If the chimney is brick, the proper way is to brick up to the required height. If you have a prefab chimney the solution may be more difficult. My chimney was brick with a 10 inch steel liner in the teracotta flues. I fabricated
an extension out of 10 inch stove pipe and used an adapter to attach the extension pipe to the top of the chimney. On top of that I put a vacu-stack chimney cap. Not the prettiest solution, but my house backs up to woods. You may try a vacu-stack without extending the chimney, but I seriously doubt it will completely solve the problem.

I lived in my house for twnety years and put up with back drafting and smoke in the house. I tried everything to no avail. Then I started reading the building codes and the problem and solution became clear.

Hope this helps.

1 Like    Bookmark   November 25, 2008 at 10:52AM
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Just want to point out that if you have a dump ash clean out that opens to
the outside, do not use it for air intake. I once left my parent's ash door
opened after cleaning, and started a small fire, outside the chimney, when leaves piled up due to the wind blowing them against the house. Some hot ash got pushed into the dump while a fire was going. Odd, this was a new house,
very tight, and they didn't include an air intake.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2008 at 6:16PM
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I had a Century Wood Stove installed in our basement laundry room to save
heating costs. HA HA. We had the stove installed by a very reputable company in business for more than 50 years. To date we have spent $2800.00, and the smoke is so excessive with even one piece of rolled-up paper when we try to heat the firebox, that the smoke detector goes off. Unfortunately, we have an alarm system, so needless to say, the alarm company doesn't like us at all.
The chimney is more than 3' above the top of the roof peak, we have one 45 degree bend inside, and one 90 degree outside. There is a window beside the stove, which we have tried opening so the room won't be starved for air, and
in the event that we ever get a fire going, we have kiln-dried wood from the Amish that we know. Which is all to say-we have done everything by the book, and we can't use our stove. Our choices now are to waste $2800.00 on a conversation piece we can't use, or have it taken out and pay to have the brick replaced in the side of the house. I'm hoping for someone to tell me something else to try before I decide.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2009 at 2:42PM
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genesgirl, dumb question but have you opened the flue? if just a piece of paper puts smoke eveyr where then the smoek has no where else to go but in teh house. sounds like the flue is closed or the chimney is stopped up. since this is a new install, i would demand the company come out and verify and fix the issue. if you have the flue closed, expect them to charge you for your error.

    Bookmark   January 16, 2009 at 11:53AM
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I'm cautiously optimistic that we have solved the problem! Our installer did
some further research, and has installed a Tjernlund AD-1 Auto Draft. It is installed through the double-walled stove pipe about 24" above the stove.
After bolting it in, he used furnace caulk on both the inside and outside pipes.
It has low, medium and high settings, but the installer said we really only need to run the fan until we got the fire started. SO-we opened the door, turned on the fan, and it began to pull the cold ashes up the chimney! We have had a fire three mornings in a row, and NO SMOKE in the house. And the best part was, the furnace company picked up the tab (about $300.00).

    Bookmark   February 5, 2009 at 4:01PM
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We have a basement fire place and a upstairs fire place. We installed a wood heater in the basement using the fire place as our chimney. How do we get it to draw smoke better. the basement fills up with smoke. The flue is open. We havent covered the fireplace hole around thr heater pipe could this be the problem?

    Bookmark   December 14, 2010 at 8:41AM
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I have had smoke in my house for a few years.
However, this year I did not. Until today, and I thought
"what am I doing different?" I realized the chain
Fitted smoke screen was open, so I closed it (I also have
Glass doors but leave them open). But when I closed the fitted
Smoke screen chain, the smoke went up the chimney
And no longer in my house. Problem solved, but I am curious.. Why?
This had been very frustrating to me for years, my firebox is smaller than
Ones I had in new england, so I figured it was some tennessee, small firebox issue.
But the fire screen, being shut REALLY works. No costly repairs needed.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 2:40PM
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doesn't smoke float directly up? My stoves pipe comes out the left center corner, smoke comes out period. you see a fire in the woods, the smoke goes up. not at an angle. bad design, that's it.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 7:52AM
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I have read so many ideas on how to solve these smoke problems and I am still having smoke puffs into my home. The only thing I haven't tryed is the mechanical exhaust fan on the flu. I have a Heatalator type fireplace and the installer blames it mostly on the oak wood not being seasoned for 18 months.(never is the fault of the equipment or the installer) Just plain discussed :(

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 8:08PM
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Something on my fireplace, heatalator 42" unit. I had lived in an apartment with a 32" heatalator and had no problems. From day one in this new house with a 42" unit, I had bad smoke. Kept setting off the alarms after 30 min. Turns out that the builder had the chiminey to code at two feet above a point that was 10 feet out. However, the instructions and the rep clearly stated that the firebox had to have a min of 13 feet of stack on top of it or else it would not draw. I think I had maybe 10 feet at best. The builder said "what do you expect from a starter home" and blew me off. Well, he is not in business anymore.

I installed 8 more feet of chiminey and a chase. The fireplace would draw much better now but still if we were not careful how we stacked the burning wood in the firebox and if the wood had not seasoned a full 9 months at least, we would get some back puffing. Not bad but you would notice it at times.

I later learned this: There is a formula to use to determine the area of the chiminey pipe and thus the diameter needed for the fireplace based upon the area of the firebox front opening into the room. I calculated the area, found out I had 8" diameter chiminey duct when I really needed 10" even though the unit was built with an 8" opening. I could not change the size of the chiminey so I cut two strips of metal and placed the on each side of the firebox opening making the opening smaller in width so the area of opening would match the 8" chiminey. Now the unit draws even better. I can burn greener wood and have the wood further toward the front if needed without the puffing. I wont say I never have an issue now, but it went from cannot use at all to can use if im careful to I can burn almost anything without too much of an issue.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 5:05PM
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We had a new furnace installed in October of 2010. We have smoke coming back into the house ever since the furnace was installed. My sister had a new furnace put in as well & yes after 22 yrs in the same house the smoke is backing into her house as well. What is the problem?

    Bookmark   March 7, 2011 at 4:12PM
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The fireplace's flue is most likely the cause of this problem. The flue is the part of your fireplace that runs from the top of your woodstove or fireplace opening (usually at the top of the inside of the fireplace) through the chimney to the outside air. Poor drafting can be caused by a number of factors, some are minor fixes and some are more involved.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2011 at 10:25PM
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Fireplaces altho they look simple are in fact a science all there own. Have you checked to see if the chimney is taller that 2 feet above any thing that is within 10 feet? what size is the flue tile? But honestly if you are looking for heat a fireplace insert is what would do the trick. Check out to see what they can do for you

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 6:03PM
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My wood furnace has started seeping smoke into the house through our duct work, there is no smoke coming from the furnace which is located in our basement but when I come upstairs the house smells of smoke and it is definately coming out the vents throughout the house...any idea what is causing this to happen?

    Bookmark   October 26, 2011 at 9:46PM
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I still experience some mysterious smoke issues. However, the last time I had the chimney cleaned the employee recommended that I crumple up a couple pages of a non glossy magazine (Biweekly rock/entertainment rags work for me)and stick it into the flue. Let it burn out, this warms up your chimney and helps your early fire smoke to be drawn up the chimney.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2012 at 9:11PM
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I'm coming way late to this party, but to anyone experiencing what the original poster described and not having luck with cleaning the flue and cracking open windows, try this:

First, pre-heat the flue as some others have described. Put your hand up to the open flue before starting a fire; if you feel a cold downdraft, you need to pre-heat. You want to blast away the cold air "plug" so that there is a channel for hot air to rise up through the flue.

Second, try making the opening of your fireplace smaller. Tape a folded-over piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil about 4 to 6 inches wide across the top of the opening to reduce its height. (I used blue painter's tape.) If the opening of your fireplace is too big, the smoke is too diffuse to create a strong updraft and it rolls into the house.

I have owned my house for more than 30 years. Up until last year, I had given up on using my wood-burning fireplace because of smoke problems. I tried raising the firebed, cleaning out the ashes, cracking windows, and having the chimney cleaned with no significant effect. Last year my husband and I remodeled and installed a gas log system (Eiklor; I recommend it), so we no longer burn wood. To my disappointment, however, now we were getting gas exhaust fumes in the house.

In despair I searched on the internet and and found the above tips and more at the following website, with which I have absolutely no other association: The two steps above solved the problem pretty much completely. We now run the gas fire at least three times a week.

I pre-heat the fireplace by running the gas fire at full blast for about five minutes to heat the chimney before setting it back to the desired flame level. We still have aluminum foil across the fireplace opening but have ordered a "smoke guard," which is a spring-loaded metal piece that accomplishes the same thing as the foil in a more attractive and permanent way.

I mentioned the website above in appreciation of their useful tips, but I don't know if it is maintained in any way. I sent an email to them to ask about chimney sweeps in my area and it went unanswered.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tips for smoking fireplaces

    Bookmark   January 6, 2013 at 1:29AM
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"if the wood had not seasoned a full 9 months at least"

You can't really go by months and not consider the species of tree, the conditions under which it was cut, how and where it is stored, never mind moisture content of the air, average temperatures, wind/ airflow, and of course precipitation. Nine months can be fine or it can be woefully inadequate.

Moisture meters are very cheap and can tell you a lot.
Make a fresh split and test- you want it to be less than 20%.
Store it outdoors in a sunny area and keep it up off the ground. We generally fell trees in the early spring, work all summer getting them stacked by fall, and use them not that winter but the next.

Here is a link that might be useful: Firewood FAQ

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 3:55PM
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I have a fireplace smoking issue and am interested in any feedback or recommendations. I recently had a porch remodeled and completely screened in, and added a fireplace. The firebox is a pre-fab unit from Fmi that has stone work around it. It has a gas starter under the grate (a tube with several holes that acts like a burner in a gas grill to light the logs).

The porch is screened only so lots of outside air available. The chimney sits in between two other roof lines that are approx. 20-30' away from the chimney, but the chimney top is below these roof lines by several feet. The chimney is framed out of wood with hardy plank exterior and has the double-walled sheet metal chimney pipe inside - the diameter matches the diameter of the flu in the Fmi firebox which I believe is 8".

The unit smokes a lot, even after a fire has been going for some time and is producing lots of heat (so hot you can't get near it). It rolls out of the top of the opening, mostly at the left and right corners but also all along the top of the opening. I've probably burned 20-25 fires since it was built last spring and already the stone work immediately above the opening and below the mantle is turning dark brown.

The builder added 6' of the double-walled pipe to the top of the chimney and put the cap on top and it improved but did not eliminate the smoking problem. This extension put the top of the chimney approx. at the same height or slightly higher than the roof lines mentioned previously.

Would one of the chimney fans (like the Tjernlund Auto-Draft� Chimney Fan) work in a situation like this, or would it be better to extend the chimney significantly? It may look a little odd to have a chimney that tall on an outdoor fireplace.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 9:36PM
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I don't know if you've already read through this thread, but I would suggest you try reducing the size of your fireplace opening with aluminum foil as I mentioned in my previous post and see if that solves the problem of the smoke rolling out. If it does, then installing a permanent smoke guard will be a cheap fix.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 12:31AM
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I think detection is necessary step.Please check Is your damper opening all the way?

Here is a link that might be useful: fire damage repair Birmingham

    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 2:29AM
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I'm not entirely clear on the basic facts. Did the OP mean at a certain point in time a problem developed; or that a problem was noticed during the first few fires in a new fireplace, or a fireplace and house new to poster?

My problem with a smokey fireplace (maybe 40 years old) seems mostly due to poor building design. The chimney was apparently not high enough to clear the highest point of the roof.

The house I grew up in had a original fireplace that seemed to work well. Later my parents had a house built in a rural area in the 1990's. A strong wind (maybe 80 mph?) blew the frame chimney over in a storm. There was some muttering about inferior building practices.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2013 at 3:02PM
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My problem in my house is my fireplace is in the basement and underground and I need a firestarter ladder or I needed to warm my flue up it just kept drafting down. When there is ice on the top it's almost impossible to light it. My stack height is fine and it's just my flue gets to cold and needs to be warmed first the fireplace cleaner told us. Until we had the ladder put in my husband used a mr. buddy for five minutes to heat it up and then start the fire. Drafts are not a problem my house is to cold.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2013 at 6:54PM
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