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How can one fill their basement with smoke from a first floor fireplace?

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by elkimmeg, Feb 18, 2006.

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  1. elkimmeg

    elkimmeg Guest

    I had an interesting but confusing phone call into the Inspections Dept yesterday.
    A Lady called for me to inspect her chimney due to severe smoke problems entering her playroom basement area. This home is not new she bought it about 8 months back, originally built in 1994. the past fall she hired a chimney sweep to clean her chimney before using it . The chimney sweep declared that it had never been used. and A OK
    she has glass doors installed and never uses the fire place till Super bowl night. They are al set when she decides to move a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer when she opened up the door the playroom area was filled with smoke. Evidently the playroom was built afterwards, and the walls erected blocked off any basement smoke preventing it to reach the smoke detector at her stairway. I checked the files and we have no permit on record for the basement build out. Which would have required an additional smoke detector.
    The Fire-dept arrives and with the aid of huge fans cleared the smoke out the bulkhead exit.
    Naturally when the fire dept arrives, they bring every truck and create quite a seen in the neighborhood. . After talking to some of her neighbors she finds out others had problems with their fireplaces and chimneys, and that the original builder had to come back and do some repaires. Here is where I am really confused? According to the neighbors, the original builder, told them he fixed the problem which was due to the flues being installed backwards or upside down? There is no backwards or upside down position in installing clay rectangular flues? When the chimney sweep was there cleaning he also recommenced a chimney cap and installed one to keep any animals out.

    Main points here
    1. cleaned chimney the owner has the invoice as proof

    2. glass doors installed

    3. Animal proof chimney cap installed by chimney sweep

    Puzzling is the smoke did not back-draft into the room of the fire place but down stairs.
    The obvious answer is there is blockage. but how ? Chimney sweep cleaned it and capped it , to prevent animal intrusion and blockage The Weather was light rain in the morning, turning colder but only about freezing at game time Should have been cold enough to decent draft. though a bit windy once a clod front passed.

    Puzzling the fire place is drafting but smoke is filling up the basement area below? Why did it not back draft the room of the fire place if there was blockage? Why fill the basement the
    floor level under? This coming Wed. I will be doing an investigative inspection. care to hazard a guess as to how the smoke got in the basement ?

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  2. djamwolfe

    djamwolfe Member

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    Some how is the smoke cooling so it falls to ground level, and getting sucked up by the make-up air system for the house? I know ive seen the smoke from my open fireplace sink to ground level.. My best guess.
  3. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    1. Ash cleanout in basement room with the clothes dryer?

    2, Clothes dryer runining?

    3, Intake air for clothes dryer crates negative pressure in the room and sucks smoke down the chimney and into the room through the ash cleanout?
  4. Hillbilly

    Hillbilly Member

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    I have a friend who has a fireplace on the first floor and in the basement. They share the same chimney with two flues. When he started a fire in the fireplace on the first floor he forgot to close the damper in the fireplace in the basement. The result was smoke being pulled down the flue for the basement fireplace. Filled his basement with smoke.
  5. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    My goodness, doesn't anyone follow my new products/inventions?

    Chances are good that this is happening because smoke comes out one flue and goes down the other. The solution:

    Raise the fireplace flue as per the recomendations of the Masonry Institute!

    See:
    http://www.extendacap.com for problem and solution.
    Also, if they want a nice looking solution, the Proper Topper does it in style:
    http://www.extendaflue.com/pt.html (see model with copper base)

    In most cases, chimney sweeps do one of two things:
    1. Install chimney caps, which actually make the problem worse! A multi-flue cap practically begs for this problem!
    2. Suggest a very expensive solutions - thousands of $$ to line one or both chimneys...problem will still happen.

    Sure, one can argue that in 1 out of 20 of these there is some other problem, like a breach between the flues....but I have sold a lot of these Boosters this year and the problem is fixed every time.

    Picture enclosed shows my booth at sweep convention - see the display at the right for what I am talking about.

    Attached Files:

  6. Hillbilly

    Hillbilly Member

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    Dylan,
    The basement fireplace was not in operation. The first floor fireplace was in operation. I guess the basement flue was working as a source of outside air for the first floor fireplace. With the flues side by side on top of the chimney, the basement flue was pulling in smoke from the first floor flue.
  7. Corey

    Corey Minister of Fire

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    I thought it was common knowledge that reversed flue tiles cause inverse smoke spin so instead of drafing up and out, it goes down and in ?? :)

    When I read the story I was thinking along the lines of Brother Bart's description. All the clues seem to be there. Doing laundry in the basement which means a clothes dryer in operation - the chance for negative pressure in the room. Flue tiles which means a masonry fireplace likely with an ash clean out in the bottom of the firebox with a door in the basement...if not a full blown second fireplace in the basement (although that would be one swanky laundry room with it's own fireplace! And the fact that the smoke did not leave that room in the basement which again points to negative pressure in that room.

    Elk- depending on how much smoke there was, you may be able to look around the various openings in the room for light traces of soot. If you see traces around something connecting to the fireplace, and traces around the dryer exhaust vent - Bingo!

    Corey
  8. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes, negative pressure can be made worse by a dryer, etc. - but exterior masonry chimneys tend to do it even with none of these factors present, so fixing this by introducing make-up air will usually not solve the problem....perhaps if one spent many thousands on air to air heat exchangers, etc. you might do it - but no one will do this....

    So, the simple solution that most people are capable of is to raise the upstairs fireplace flue.

    The amount of smoke it takes to smell up the downstairs is so little that is is possible you will not see the clues except in the most severe cases.

    This is a matter of not only the smell, but the degradation of indoor air quality. If a coal stove is present, ir provides a danger of poisoning or even death.
  9. JAred

    JAred New Member

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    Nice bird cages Craig.


    Just kidding sounds like you do I good business selling those. After becoming informed about chimneys and the like I can't believe the number of homes I see that have no caps at all on the chimney. its seems one could get all kinds of unwelcome critters and objects down there.

    Also where does down drafting into an adjacent flue come into code? Can you really build a multiple flue chimney and vent various appliances from such? without regard to height from the other flues? Could this be I major source of co2 poising in homes?
  10. elkimmeg

    elkimmeg Guest

    Jared there are conflicting codes Besides the 3' above any part of the roof 2' higher than any other framing menber of the house within 10 feet. That' s one code the most basic. Then code also states the need for a concete or weather resistant sloping shelf cap
    and that clay flues are limited to only 2" exposure above the concrete cap This makes it impossible to build in the stager effect without looking real weird. There is also code burried and most never realized it is there but it calls for 9" separation height differences of flues sharing or in close proximity or each other .

    Craig I will go to your home site and print out your advertisments and pertentaint info. Could end up with a sale there.

    Many pointer out what I was thinking negative pressures ash dump door and cleanout door. But Craig said it best the new cap acted like a channel to the next flue to down draft. Posibly pulled in by the Dryer Brother Bart pointed out. Makeup combustion AIR is part of the problem as too. I too am guessing, till I actually step foot in the home. I want to thank all for discussing out all possibilities and solutions. Once doing the inspection and I can see a blockage then or cracks in the flue liners another set of circumstances will exist
    along with the mentioned here. Fortunately for me, these homes were built 2 years before my appointment, so if faulty I never inspected them
  11. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Amazingly enough, it does not come into formal code.....but it comes as common sense.

    Here's the paper trail.

    1. The Masonry Institude of America, which is an engineering and standard group, mentions the offsetting of adjacent flues and has diagrams showing this. It calls for vertical separation of 4-12".

    2. In the educational books from our industry trade group, it shows the offset of PREFAB chimneys when two are close together. It also shows this in some prefab manuals.

    3. There are really no codes or standards covering chimney caps for masonry fireplaces and chimneys, and those that do exist tend to address sparks exiting the flue as opposed to these smoke matters.

    The funny thing is - it is SO SIMPLE and so evident. Keep an eye on wood burning chimneys in your area, and you'll see that on some days the smoke drifts out and hangs around the top of the chimney structure. If the adjacent flue is pulling down....well, then you have the problem!

    I invented and developed a whole bunch of these products, and although I am selling some I am too busy with HearthNet and other projects to do right by them. I am seeking to license (I have one patent and others pending) or sell these products to a company that can provide wider distribution. After all, if I have to sit around and ship chimney caps all day, how can I be in the forum!
  12. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Ah, Elk already has the excuses lined up! :coolsmile:

    Don't worry, it's not in any official code - just one of those things that should be done....like not putting large door openings on the north side of the house if you live in New England!
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