A wood-burning fireplace gives off heat through burning wood. When the burning process, or combustion, is not complete, the fireplace produces smoke. This smoke travels either up the chimney or into the house. Smoke fills the air with contaminants such as soot, gases and wood byproducts. Outside fireplace smoke pollutes the air and is even prohibited in some urban areas. Indoor fireplace smoke creates health hazards. Reduce fireplace smoke inside and outside your home with good fireplace practices.
Check the chimney for blockage. When air flow is partly or completely blocked by bird nests, wildlife, tree debris or creosote in the chimney, the fire cannot freely circulate air and expel it through the chimney. Instead, the smoke comes into the house. Check the damper operation as it may not open or close due to damage or debris. An inoperative damper interferes with air travel and forces smoke into the house. Clean the chimney regularly so that the flue is clean and unobstructed.
When outside air pushes down the chimney and prevents heated air from leaving the chimney, it forces exhaust air back into the fireplace. This incoming cold air chills the firebox and pushes fireplace smoke into the room. When the fireplace smokes on windy days, check for trees or other nearby objects that deflect wind into the flue. Install a chimney cap to divert wind from the chimney opening. If the fireplace has recurring draft problems, install a chimney cap with a device that pulls air up the chimney for better combustion and less smoke.
Burn seasoned hardwood in the fireplace. Softwoods contain resins and air pockets that combust irregularly, sparking and smoking as they burn. Green or unseasoned wood burns slowly, as it must heat up and remove moisture in the cells before the wood burns well. A slow and cool fire of unseasoned wood smolders and smokes. Seasoned hardwood such as oak or locust burns more completely and does not give off smoke and soot. The clean combustion ensures the wood gives off few smoke particulates. Store the wood in a protected area so that seasoned wood is not soaked by rain or snow.
A fireplace smokes when the wood is not burning clean. Inadequate air flow smothers the fire and makes the wood smoke. Open a window or turn a small fan toward the fireplace. When the fire first starts, hold a lighted newspaper torch at the chimney opening to heat the outgoing air and discourage confined smoke. For ongoing problems, install a fireplace vent or check the chimney for flaws. Build the fire on a grate so that air freely flows around the wood. Keep a smoke and carbon monoxide detector in the room as it alerts you to smoke particles in the air.
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