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Troubleshooting fireplace and stove issues

I can’t get a good fire going. What am I doing wrong?

  • Question 1: Is the damper open?

    Problem: No draft
    Solution: Open damper.

  • Question 2: Wood stove: Are the air controls open?

    Problem: No combustion air
    Solution: Open air controls

  • Question 3: Is there enough paper/starter?

    Problem: Insufficient heat to ignite kindling
    Solution: Use more paper/starter

  • Question 4: Is there enough kindling? Is the kindling dry?

    Problem: Insufficient heat to ignite fuel
    Solution: Use more dry kindling

  • Question 5: Is there enough or too much wood?

    Problem: Insufficient heat to establish draft
    Solution: Use small split wood that is well seasoned (split, covered on top at least 6 months, preferably a year) Check with moisture meter to make sure the wood moisture is between 15-25%.

  • Question 6: Is the wood too large?

    Problem: Insufficient air passage.
    Solution: Use small split wood that is well seasoned (split, covered on top at least 6 months, preferably a year) Check with moisture meter to make sure the wood moisture is between 15-25%.

  • Question 7: Is the wood dry enough?

    Problem: Insufficient surface area Ignition temperature high due to moisture
    Solution: Use small split wood that is well seasoned (split, covered on top at least 6 months, preferably a year) Check with moisture meter to make sure the wood moisture is between 15-25%.

  • Question 8: Are there adequate air spaces between fuel pieces?

    Problem: Insufficient combustion air and exposed surface area.
    Solution: Arrange kindling and wood for air movement.

  • Question 9: Is the chimney pre-warmed?

    Problem: Exposed, cold chimney downdrafting.
    Solution: Use lighted rolled newspaper at throat or flue opening to start upward movement Consider connector warming device.

  • Question 10: Is there smoke in the house when you lighta fire?

    Possible Problem 1: Damper closed.
    Solution 1: Check damper

    Possible Problem 2: Obstruction in chimney.
    Solution 2: If the chimney was just recently working well, have the chimney checked for a possible obstruction.

    Possible Problem 3: Downdraft from cold chimney temperature from negative house pressure.
    Solution 3: Pre-warm the chimney, shut off exhaust devices, and open window slightly. If those do not work, a simplified house pressure test will help confirm the whether the house is too tight and does not allow outside air to fill the house’s negative pressure.

  • Question 11: Does the kindling, wood not ignite?

    Problem: Condition, amount, arrangement of kindling and fuel.
    Solution: Use more, drier, well-spaced kindling and fuel.

  • Question 12: Does the kindling ignite, but the fuel doesn’t?

    Problem: Amount of kindling and condition of fuel.
    Solution: Use more kindling; use smaller. Use well-seasoned wood- check with moisture meter to make sure the wood moisture is between 15-25%.

  • Question 13: Does the fuel ignite, but not burn well?

    Possible Problem 1: Condition of fuel.
    Solution 1: Use well-seasoned wood-check with moisture meter to make sure the wood moisture is between 15-25%. Make sure there is a sufficient amount of wood to burn. Turn exhaust fans off. Open window slightly.

    Possible Problem 2: Poor Draft.
    Solution 2: Check draft with gauge against manufacturer’s recommendations. If those do not work, a simplified house pressure test will help confirm the whether the house is too tight and does not allow outside air to fill the house’s negative pressure.

I smell smoke in the house during operation. What’s causing that?

  • Question 1: Do fires start and burn well?

    Answer 1a: No, it doesn’t:
    Possible Problem 1: Damper not fully open.
    Solution 1: Open damper.

    Possible Problem 2: Chimney obstruction.
    Solution 2: Check to see if there is an obstruction or if the chimney needs cleaning.

    Possible Problem 3: Not enough kindling and/or fuel to establish draft.
    Solution 3: Use enough kindling and fuel to create an adequate draft.

    Possible Problem 4: Inadequate combustion air.
    Solution 4: Open air controls on glass doors or open windows to sufficiently backfill the air used and lost in the fire.

    Possible Problem 5: If you have a wood stove, the air controls not open.
    Solution 5: open air controls.

    Answer 1b: Yes, it does:
    Possible Problem 1: If you have a fireplace,the fire may be too close to front.
    Solution 1: Build fire farther back.

    Possible Problem 2: The fireplace or woodstove may be competing for air with other appliances that produce exhaust (kitchen stove hood, furnace, clothes drier, radon detector, etc.) and is not exhausting properly.
    Solution 2: Do not use exhaust fans during startup and/or check for need for balanced air make-up system.

I smell smoke in the house after we’ve had a fire. What is the cause/what can we do?

  • Question 1: Is the damper closed?

    Answer 1a: No, it is not:
    Possible problem: Downdraft or negative pressure.
    Solution: Close damper at end of burn.

    Answer 1b: Yes, it is:
    Possible Problem: Negative pressure from exhaust fans and/or house stack effect.
    Solution 1: If you have a fireplace, check for need for glass doors.
    Solution 2: Check draft with gauge against manufacturer’s recommendations.
    Solution 3: Check for need for balanced air make-up system or raising chimney

  • Question 2: Is the chimney clean?

    Answer 2a: No, it is not:
    Possible problem: Creosote odor.
    Solution: Have chimney cleaned.

    Answer 2b: Yes, it is:
    Possible problem: If you have a fireplace you may be shutting the damper too early.
    Solution: Wait until fire completely out before closing damper

I don’t get enough/any heat from the fireplace/woodstove. What can I do about it?

  • Question 1: How much wood is used for the fire?

    Problem: Insufficient fuel.
    Solution: Make larger fires.

  • Question 2: How well seasoned is the wood?

    Problem: Condition of fuel.
    Solution: Burn seasoned wood: covered on top, split and stacked for 9 months to 2 years Check a freshly split piece of firewood with moisture meter to make sure the wood is between 15-25% moisture content.

  • Question 3: Do you have a blower (where possible)?

    Problem 1a: Yes: Turning blower on too early or setting too high, cooling firebox.
    Solution 1a: Wait until fire established and leave on lower speed.

    Problem 1b: No: Need for all heat boosts possible. Add blower if available

  • Question 4: How much heat output do you expect?

    Problem. The expectations may be too great for the appliance or fireplace.
    Solution: Fireplaces are generally for decorative purposes; a fireplace insert is a more efficient way way to transfer heat.

  • Question 5: On a wood stove, how are air controls and dampers set?

    Problem: Operational issue.
    Solution: Follow manufacturer’s instructions and use a thermometer for damper and air control operation.

  • Question 6: What is the condition of the catalytic combustor?

    Problem: The catalytic combustor may be clogged, damaged, or inoperative.
    Solution: Check condition of combustor- clean or replace if necessary.

The fireplace/woodstove burns the wood too fast. What can I do?

  • Question 1: For your fireplace, do you have glass doors?

    Problem: You need to slow down the air intake.
    Solution: Add glass doors; use air controls on glass doors.

  • Question 2: What is the condition of wood?

    Problem: Extremely dry wood.
    Solution: Mix in less seasoned wood after fire established.

  • Question 3: For your wood stove, what are damper and air control settings?

    Problem: Operational issue.
    Solution: Follow manufacturer’s instructions and use thermometer for damper and air control operation. Check draft with gauge against manufacturer’s recommendations.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How often should my chimney be cleaned?

    The National Fire Protection Association recommends an annual inspection with cleaning as required. The evaluation is necessary to ensure that the chimney has adequate draft, is free of debris and cracks, and has no loose or missing mortar joints. Prefabricated chimneys are subjected to vibration from the wind, and the joints can become misaligned.

  • What is the best time of year for a chimney cleaning?

    We clean chimneys all year long, but the best time is at the end of the heating season. You don’t have to wait weeks for an appointment, as in the fall, and if repairs are needed, they can be completed in the spring and summer.

  • Does the cleaning cause a mess in my home?

    No. By cleaning the chimney from inside your home we can control the dust. All our equipment is laid out on clean drop cloths in front of your fireplace. The hose of our special vacuum collects the debris as we brush the chimney. We can only brush the chimney as fast as our vacuum collects the dust. The dirtier the chimney flue, the slower we brush.

  • What are you looking for when you do an evaluation?

    We look for the type of chimney you have; the liner type, if present; the size of your chimney flues; the type of fuel you burn, both fireplace, or stove; and central heating. We check for code compliance as to construction, clearances to combustible materials, proper stove or insert installation, and proper furnace and/or water heater connections to the chimney flue. We also check to see if you already have a chimney cap.

  • What is a flue?

    A flue is the passageway inside your chimney that conveys the gases out of the home and into the atmosphere.

  • How many flues do I have?

    You should have one flue for each fireplace, stove, and furnace or boiler. Some homes also have a separate flue for the hot water heater.

  • Do I need a chimney cap?

    All chimneys should have caps to prevent leaves, sticks, debris, animals and most importantly, rain and snow from entering the chimney flue.

  • Will a cap prevent my flue from venting properly?

    A chimney cap is designed by codes for your protection. It must be installed and sized properly to vent correctly. In some cases caps actually help eliminate certain downdrafts and improve venting.

  • Can you repair my damper?

    A damper that has come loose or off its bracket can be reseated. However, if a damper has become brittle and parts have snapped off, it cannot be repaired and must be replaced. A replacement damper is installed on top of the chimney flue and is connected by a cable to an adjustable bracket secured to the wall of the fireplace. This type of damper is air tight and helps cut down on heat and air conditioning loss when closed. When opened the damper also has a cap built onto it to keep out debris, rain, snow and animals.

  • My fireplace smokes. Does this mean it needs to be cleaned?

    Maybe. The chimney must have proper draft and capacity in order to convey the smoke and gases up and out the flue. Draft is the air pressure that forces room air into a heating appliance or fireplace and pushes the smoke up. How strong that push is depends on the difference between the pressure of the air inside the house and the air inside the chimney. When there is no fire in the fireplace, the heavier cold air flows into the living area. Even with a fire, when the chimney is operating too cold, the low draft may not be enough to exhaust the gases from the chimney. This can cause smoke to back puff into the living area.

    Smoking can be caused by one or more of the following:

    • A flue that is either too small or too large for the appliance it serves.
    • A connector pipe that is too long or has too many elbows.
    • Too many bends in the chimney itself.
    • Creosote (soot) build-up and/or debris in the flue clogs it or decreases its capacity.
    • The house itself is so airtight that not enough make-up air can flow in from outdoors to feed the fire.
    • Other vents in the house (dryer vent, exhaust fans, gas water heater or furnace flue) allow
    • excessive amounts of air to escape, creating a low air pressure in the house.
    • The cleanout door in the chimney is open, missing or not sealed properly.
    • Action of the wind on a building creates negative pressure inside the house and can affect chimney performance.

  • What can be done to correct smoking problems?

    An evaluation of your system can sometimes determine the cause immediately.The first step would be to eliminate any flue blockages or creosote build-up. Pre-warm the flue.Wind-induced downdrafts can often be solved by installing a regular chimney cap.Sometimes a specialty cap designed for wind-induced downdrafts is needed.The lack of make-up air can be solved by opening a window on the side of the house the wind is blowing against. Make sure all fans are shut off when operating the fireplace.A smoke guard can be installed to correct the size of the firebox opening.Relining a chimney from top to bottom to size it correctly for its job.

  • Why is a chimney liner important?

    Most chimneys are built with terra cotta flue liners inside of the brick/stone structure. The liner acts as a gas tight and heat resistant insulator. When a liner becomes cracked or otherwise damaged, there can be heat transferred through it to the masonry part of the chimney. The chimney comes in direct contact with the structure of the home, which is usually wood. When this contact occurs, there is risk of damage to your home’s structure. A liner made of stainless steel or aluminum is inserted throughout the length of the entire chimney, and connects to the appliance, furnace, woodstove, or fireplace. The unit will now vent through the liner, solving most draft and safety concerns.

  • Why do chimneys need to be swept?

    Burning firewood produces a flammable by-product called creosote. Creosote can burn at very high temperatures that can cause damage to flue linings. Chimney flues are meant to contain exhaust gases, not combustion.Sweeping a chimney removes this dangerous material so that it doesn’t contain fuel that could ignite. Chimney fires can sound like a freight train (free burning), or they can smolder and go almost unnoticed by the occupants of the home (slow burning). In either case, a chimney fire is hazardous.In case of a fire, a chimney will be damaged whether the fire is contained in the chimney or spreads to the home. Additionally, a bird’s nest, inadequate clearance to combustibles and pyrolized house framing can contribute to structural chimney-related fires. These factors are equally as important as creosote build-up and are investigated in the course of a thorough inspection. Sweeping a chimney primarily refers to the removal of creosote deposits so it is advisable not to disregard “inspections or evaluations” as unimportant.

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