Fireplaces have become a staple in many American homes. They’re a sought-after appliance that really sweetens the deal when potential homeowners are looking to buy. Most homeowners are familiar with how a properly functioning fireplace works and can understand when something just isn’t quite right, even if they can’t really troubleshoot the exact problem. That’s where you need the services of an experienced and certified chimney sweep. Here are some reasons your fireplace or chimney may not be functioning properly and how to address them:

  • Damper isn’t open – Make sure the damper is open. This doesn’t mean to check the lever or the chain; you need to actually look at the damper itself to make sure it is open. Sometimes the damper becomes stuck and doesn’t open when it looks like it should be open by all outward appearances. Creosote buildup or rust may be preventing it from opening completely.
  • Wood isn’t dry – Dry, well-seasoned wood burns well and creates heat. Damp wood creates a lot of smoke, little heat, and contributes to creosote buildup. Make sure you always use well-seasoned wood, and remember that hardwoods burn hotter and longer than soft woods.
  • Chimney is too short – The chimney should be at least 10 feet in height. Precise measurements should be based on the height and angle of your roof. If the problem with your chimney gets worse on windy days, the chimney may be too short.
  • Flue is too small – As a general rule of thumb, the fireplace opening is about ten times the area of the flue. Prefab fireplaces usually meet this new standard, but older fireplaces may need to be retrofitted to decrease the size of the opening. This will increase the amount of heat you feel from the fireplace.
  • Creosote buildup – Creosote is that tar-like black substance that forms on the inside of the flue. It needs to be cleaned out regularly to prevent serious damage and chimney fires. Half of an inch of creosote buildup restricts airflow by about 17% in a typical masonry chimney. The fireplace needs to be able to breathe properly in order to effectively warm the room and release smoke through the chimney.
  • There’s a blockage – Small creatures and birds often make nests in an unprotected chimney. Make sure there’s nothing blocking the chimney before you start the first fire of the season, and periodically check the flue for blockages before you light a fire. Installing a chimney cap will prevent them from gaining access to the flue.

The chimney and fireplace work in conjunction to create warmth and provide a safe atmosphere for your household. They are not simply a pretty, decorative piece that sits idly inside the home. Regular maintenance is required to keep them working properly throughout the year. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends that a never-to-rarely-used fireplace be inspected at least once per year and that a regularly-used fireplace be inspected at least twice per year. Schedule your chimney and fireplace inspection on the same day that you change the batteries in your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector so everything is done and out of the way in a single day.