Smoke and Draft Problems

How do I know if I have a problem with a downdraft?

Answer: Before taking steps to remedy a downdraft problem, you need to ascertain that your problem actually is an outside wind-induced downdraft. What you think may be a natural downdraft, follow these simple steps:

  • Open a couple of doors and/or windows in the room with the heating unit
  • Open the heating unit’s damper
  • Put your hand near the damper to feel for cold air

If you did not feel cold air being pulled down the chimney with doors and windows open, your problem may be due to any number of other causes. Clothes dryers, kitchen fans, bathroom fans, and forced-air furnaces all remove air from the house. In order to compensate for lost air, additional air may be pulled down the chimney. To check potential sources of the problem:

  • Close all doors and windows
  • Turn off all appliances which remove air from the house (fans, dryers, etc)
  • Turn on one of the air removing appliances
  • Check for a downdraft by placing your hand near the open damper in the heating unit
  • Repeat the process with each air removing appliance, being sure that only one such appliance is in operation at any one time

An upstairs bathroom fan may also draw air even when turned off. Use smoke to determine if air is being drawn out:

  • Turn off the fan
  • Hold a smoke producing item neat the fan (a lit cigarette or a couple of just extinguished matches will usually work)
  • The smoke will be pulled towards the fan if it is drawing air

If after trying the above techniques, you have determined that your problem is an outside wind–induced downdraft, then request a visit from a certified chimney sweep to provide the solution.

Question: How often do I need to clean my chimney?

Answer: A chimney fire occurs when a build-up of soot and creosote ignites inside the venting system of a fireplace or wood stove. Wood-burning chimneys should be cleaned when a quarter inch or more of soot is present. Build-up can be more rapid in a wood stove than in a fireplace. In a wood stove vent, dangerous build-up may occur in less than a month or may take much longer, depending on burn habits, fuel and other variables. New wood stove users should inspect their systems during the first season to learn their rate of soot build-up and determine cleaning frequency. Newer certified “clean-burning” stoves generate much less creosote than older non-certified stoves. Fireplaces do not need to be cleaned as often as wood-stove.


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