Picture it: It’s a cold, winter day, and you just can’t wait to get home and plop down in front of the fireplace. Sounds perfect, right?

Until said fireplace doesn’t work as expected, that is.

So what do you do?

There must be at least 100 reasons why your fireplace may not function properly. The following is a very simplified list of the more common reasons your fireplaces isn’t working:

  1. Your damper’s closed. Eventually, nearly everyone forgets to open the damper. However, it might not be your memory’s fault – water damage or soot buildup behind them on the smoke shelf could be forcing it shut. If this is your situation, consult a professional chimney sweep for a good, solid cleaning.
  2. Your firewood’s green or too wet. Fireplaces work because of the heat inside the chimney, so if your wood is not dry and well-seasoned, it makes more smoke than heat – and there simply may not be enough heat for your chimney to work properly.
  3. Your chimney’s dirty. The gradual accumulation of soot can seriously affect the way your chimney performs. Thick layers of soot can physically restrict the flue so there is no longer enough free area to vent the fireplace properly, but as little as a quarter-inch of buildup can make more difference than you might think. Birds and small animals might also eye your chimney as a cozy home – so sweeps often find chimneys packed full of leaves, twigs and baby animals. Does this describe your situation? If so, consult a professional chimney sweep for a good, solid cleaning.
  4. Your chimney’s too short. To function properly, the chimney should be at least 10 or 12 feet in overall height. Where it projects above the roof, the chimney should be at least 3 feet tall, and at least 2 feet higher than anything within 10 feet of it (such as other buildings and trees). If your chimney is too short, you can usually catch your fireplace smoking – and the problem is usually worse when the wind blows.
  5. Your flue’s too small for the fireplace opening. Many variables that can affect your flue size, including overall chimney height, how warm the flue stays and throat configuration – but the basic rule of thumb here is that the area of the fireplace opening can be no more than 10 times the area of the flue (12 times for round flues). An undersized flue simply can’t handle the volume of smoke produced, and some of it will spill back into the room. Unfortunately, there’s no practical way to make the flue size larger, so the solution may be to make the room opening smaller with metal smoke guards or some creative masonry work.

Still have chimney issues? Keep in mind: A true understanding of fireplaces requires extensive knowledge of air flow patterns, pressure differentials and actual fireplace construction techniques. If the information provided here does not help you solve the problem with your fireplace, consider hiring an experienced, certified chimney sweep in your area. To locate a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep ®  in your area, try our handy locator tool.