For many homeowners in and around Indianapolis and across the country and the globe, part of staying warm each winter includes a fireplace. When a fire burns in the fireplace, insert, or stove, the chimney works constantly to vent toxic gases and other pollution out of the home. In order to vent the fire properly, it must be in proper working order, with all pieces and parts in the right place and correctly installed. All the things necessary for a fire to burn are accomplished by the chimney system. When one part suffers, the fire suffers.
Chimney Anatomy and Fire Science
The fireplace works together with the chimney system to produce warmth for your home. Though chimneys can vary in size and style, they are all designed in a specific way to best optimize airflow. Every chimney has a cap to prevent precipitation from entering the flue opening. Below the cap is a mortar crown that sheds water away from the flue pipe and is equipped with a drip ledge so that water drips off instead of running down the masonry. Below the chimney at the intersection of the roof and chimney is the most vulnerable part of the entire chimney system. It is protected by thin sheets of metal that make up flashing. Together the cap, crown, and flashing prevent water penetration which can wreak havoc on the chimney structure as well as cause a drop inefficiency.
The chimney structure itself is usually constructed of masonry which is a porous material that allows the chimney to breathe and best ventilate the fire. Below the flue is a smoke chamber, constructed of masonry and smoothed into an inverted funnel shape. This smoke chamber includes a shelf that prevents the smoke from falling back into the fireplace. The smoke chamber is the space where the heat mingles with the smoke before rising up the flue. The damper is just below the smoke chamber which closes the flue when the fire is out and opens it when the fireplace is in use.
The portion of the chimney system that is generally referred to as the hearth is made up of the floor of the firebox as well as the masonry structure that holds the fire in its place. The firebox endures the most abuse—high sustained temperatures—and gets the least attention. Beneath the firebox is often an ash dump where homeowners can sweep ashes to cool and store. This ash dump or pit can be cleaned out by a chimney professional as needed through a clean-out door installed when the chimney was constructed.
When your chimney has a venting problem it can be caused by a variety of things, including an installation failure, design flaw, improper fuel, and even a too-tight house. When the problem is minor it may be easily diagnosed and fixed by the homeowner. When a venting problem persists, however, it can become a hazard to those in the home. As the chimney fails to vent the chimney, smoke is pushed into the home, bringing toxins and particles into the air you breathe.
You can likely get your chimney working properly again by checking a few things. First, make sure the damper is open. If it is closed or stuck in one position, it may prevent smoke from rising up the chimney. The next thing to check is the firewood. Is the wood light in weight, dull in color, and hollow-sounding? If the wood is still looking “alive”, it is likely still green and has high water content. This green wood is not properly seasoned and will produce smoke and particulate pollution in excess, causing venting issues as well as dirtying the chimney. If the damper and the firewood isn’t the problem, your home may be too tight to draw air into the fireplace and up the chimney. A quick fix that allows air to flow through the chimney system properly is to open a window in another part of the house. It is also helpful to make sure no other major appliances are running in the house which can conflict with the draft toward the fireplace (such as central air units).
Calling a Professional
When you have tried and failed to fix your chimney or fireplace problem, it is time to call in a professional. A certified chimney expert has the experience and the training to diagnose your chimney issue and correct it swiftly. When scheduling chimney services or diagnostics it’s important to only hire a certified chimney sweep who has a licensed company. An amateur, handyman, or even a general contractor doesn’t have the expertise to put your chimney efficiency and safety first. Hiring a professional will prevent future chimney problems and cut down on service costs in the future.
How a chimney works is fully dependent on how it is cared for, maintained, and used. At the Mad Hatter, we follow the recommendation of the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and make sure our customers know the importance of chimney sweeps and inspections.
Schedule a routine chimney sweep to make sure your chimney system is cleaned of dangerous creosote and corrosive carbon and chemicals. Our sweeps include a basic chimney inspection which gives a certified chimney sweep a look at your whole system for an assessment and report. If you just need an inspection because you’ve never had one, because your chimney is performing poorly, or your home is a new purchase, we can do that too. We inspect chimneys year-round.
Call The Mad Hatter at 317-596-0200 and schedule your chimney sweep or inspection today.