Smoky Fireplaces & Currier and Ives

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Author – Ron Herman

There have been numerous “Smoke Signals” lately regarding smoky fireplaces. This is understandable as we were leading up to the Christmas time Holidays. Many picture their families gathered together in their homes around the crackling fireplace. Everyone is happily sharing their treasured family stories, some funny, some bringing tears to their eyes of loved ones who have passed on.

Smoky FireplaceThis “Currier and Ives” moment is interrupted by the memories of the smoke hovering near the ceiling, slowly growing until it reaches the eyes of the taller family members. Then the frantic rush to extinguish the “romantic” fire begins! And the smoky fireplace also begins.

The windows and doors are opened, chilling the home, and the atmosphere quickly.

The fireplace pictured here was one of those fireplaces in the preceding story. It’s amazing that, while so many fireplaces were built during the “energy crisis” years, no attention was given as to how they would function. 

Smoky Fireplace Fixes


During these years homes became tighter with energy efficient windows, doors and insulation. Yet no thought was given as to where the air to create draft for the fireplace would come from. 

I remember the puzzled look, 25 years ago, on our Supplier’s face when I began asking if there was anything available to bring outside air into the fireplaces we were building. One of his comments was “why bother, no one else is doing that”.

Once found, we had to order them 10 at a time, because they had no interest in stocking such an item. I also realize there are numerous ways to create draft for a fireplace, such as a fan on top of the flue, but that adds one more mechanical device that uses power. You still need a source of combustion air to make the fire burn!

When we receive a call to check out a smoky fireplace, our first task is to inspect the chimney and fireplace completely, to be sure it is safe to use. We also look around, to determine where, if any, “free air” can come in to supply the fireplace. After we have determined the fireplace is safe to use, the next step is to ask our Customer to try and suffer through one more fire, but by opening a window first to supply some air for the fireplace to burn.

After thoroughly inspecting this pictured fireplace and chimney, and making a few minor repairs we added an outside air intake.

The outside air supply was added, which is the little black square you see on the left side near the leg of the fireplace grate. There is a sliding door that closes off the air when the fireplace is not being used. This kit worked the best I have seen, as it feeds air directly to the base of the fire, no elbows, through the chimney to the outside.

Our Customer commented that the fireplace now works “fantastic”, and that though it seemed to go through a bit more wood, it actually threw out a lot more heat, with no smoke in the room!

Having been in the chimney/fireplace business for just over 40 years, we have seen a lot of poorly built, unsafe fireplaces, that should not be used. However, if you would like to consider re-igniting those “Home is where the Hearth is” evenings, I would suggest finding a chimney/fireplace professional.

If you can find someone with enough knowledge and experience, maybe your fireplace really could become usable!

Could this be the answer you have been looking for?

~ Ron Herman

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