New Wood Fireplace and Now Angry Neighbour

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MomOf2Gr8Kids

New Member
Nov 6, 2023
18
Ottawa, ON
I’m here because I couldn’t sleep. We just installed a new wood burning fireplace. It’s at the back of our house. Last night was our first burn. We were excited. Background: We are on 1/2 acre. Semi-rural. Approximately 60 feet between homes. Golf course at rear so it’s wide open. Wind is 80% off the golf course (coming from Northwest). Within 20 minutes of lighting (and likely smoke outside), neighbour called. She is 82. She asked us to please “turn off” our fireplace. She smells smoke in her house and can’t breathe. I told her that the smoke will dissipate once the fire gets going but she got angry and said we should have told her we were installing a fireplace because she would have told us the wind would always blow into her direction and she would have told us not to install it. She started crying. Said she was old and needed to breathe. GEEZ. She was right; the wind WAS blowing her way. Her air exchanger intake vent is on the nearest side of the house so I told her I would call her personally when were having a fire so she could turn it off. But then she said she takes a shower some evenings and opens her bathroom window a crack to aid the exhaust fan and we can’t have a fire. Just can’t. I feel sick. Let me tell you, after paying 20 grand for this fireplace, number one, if I’m not home, there is ZERO chance my hubby is calling this lady to tell her he is starting a fire and two, it’s November in Canada and I would be surprised if hubby wasn’t planning to have the fireplace on 4-5 nights out of 7 this winter. Yes, everything is installed correctly. The stack is super high off the house. The wind is taking our smoke and whipping it all around the side of the house so I have no doubt she is smelling it. So now what!? I guess I’m not asking about making sure we are burning properly/have our fireplace installed correctly. I need advice on how to handle an older neighbour who actually said she will call the fire department or police if we burn again. I don’t wan‘t this aggravation in my life and want everyone to live peacefully. Her daughter lives close. I’m waiting for the dreaded knock at the door from her and her husband… I’m not an “FU” kind of person but hubby can be. I will feel sick every time we light this beauty and will hold my breath waiting for her to call every time. I could cry right now.
 
I think the first thing you can make sure of is to make sure you are using dry wood. Wood with greater than 20% moisture content will smoke more.
 
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Part of living around other people is compromise, and maybe she doesn’t open her window when she takes a shower.
 
Try lightning fires top down and use LOTS of kindling. If your neighbor is sensitive even a clean burning fire from a fireplace will be noticeable.

What kind of fireplace is it. A picture might be helpful.
 
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Why not try inviting her over for an evening meal and fire?


@joop That sure sounds like a callous statement you made............but yes, we do owe them. And a lot more than you could imagine, apparently.
 
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Try lightning fires top down and use LOTS of kindling. If your neighbor is sensitive even a clean burning fire from a fireplace will be noticeable.

What kind of fireplace is it. A picture might be helpful.
We were at the kindling lighting stage when she called. Three pieces of dry, small kindling and newspaper. Maybe that wasn’t right. We went outside and DID see smoke at the stack so she wasn’t wrong about the smoke. We have a Tatiana suspended fireplace by JC Bordelet.

IMG_1848.jpeg
 
Why not try inviting her over for an evening meal and fire?


@joop That sure sounds like a callous statement you made............but yes, we do owe them. And a lot more than you could imagine, apparently.
An excellent suggestion but she is already a friend. I visit and spend time with her already (she lost her husband 2 years ago). That’s what makes this so hard. Last night she said, “I like you but the fireplace has to stop.” I guess I’m so upset because if we do everything right (as the excellent suggestions that have already come in suggest— using very dry wood, lighting top down, warming the flue first, etc.), and she STILL smells smoke, my life is miserable and so is hers. I don’t WANT to upset her! She is a nice lady and deserves peace (and air) in her home but I also want a fire and can’t help that she needs to open her window to shower or has her air exchanger on all the time (as she should be allowed to). I don’t think there’s an easy answer here.
 
Maybe it's your lack of sleep and immediate concern but she seems a bit dramatic. Cooler heads will prevail in time.
A cleaning burning fire will be less conspicuious but I suspect the truth is, she'll be unhappy no matter how clean the burn actually is because she'll smell it.
The other truth is that the police and fire dept. aren't going to do anything.

I like this idea
Why not try inviting her over for an evening meal and fire?
...as a way to break the ice toward some compromise. If she is unwilling, let her call the authorities a few times. She'll have no chioce but to work with you after they dismiss her since there is nothing they can do.
 
I just ordered a moisture meter so I can be sure instead of guessing.
And know how to use it...the wood needs to be re-split, and tested on the middle of the freshly exposed face...ideally parallel to the grain, and the wood should be roughly room temp.
 
I need advice on how to handle an older neighbour who actually said she will call the fire department or police if we burn again.

If you are in code, and doing everything correct, then let your neighbor call the fire department. And let the fire department then explain to her you are doing nothing wrong (and maybe bill her for the cost of a false report). Sadly, it may take this "upper" authority to convince her. You and her back and forth will clearly never convince her. (Edit: what @cygnus posted 10 minutes before me.... :cool: )

I know it sounds brutal.... And even that may not work for a neighbor unwilling to compromise.

I suggest this because been there... done that... and that is what it took for us**. I can only hope it works for you.

But be aware, some neighbors will be completely unreasonable and egocentric. And even with the fire department approval what you are doing is okay, they may settle for nothing less than demanding you still not heat by wood at all. Which means you can still heat by wood if you follow the law in your area. And simply need to accept your neighbor is going to hate you for it. Worst case scenario. You may have to live with it.

Hope this helps.

** Weird side note -- my wife was at a government office and she realized our neighbor was there also, asking if the office could "adjust" things so we were not code compliant... Yes, the neighbor actually tried to get the local government to adjust our legal status. Of course the office said they could not do this. Only shows how some people can go to some significant extremes......
 
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Not my cup of tea for a fireplace as it will probably suck more heat out of the room than it puts out.

What I would do is have the installers come back and show you how to achieve smoke free fires.

As a last resort you could install a Particle Filter, this is newer technology for cleaning up smoke exhaust: https://enervex.com/systems/particle-filter-system-for-stoves-and-fireplaces
 
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You are in a tricky situation sadly. Should you or your vendor have thought about this? Yes. Are you negligent in any way, from the sound of it, probably not.
Will you win this, NO.

Your neighbor is 82. When she passes away, if it's anytime soon, guess who everyone will blame? Even if it is totally unrelated, they will say it was the stress you caused.

The best thing you can do is find an amicable compromise here. If the old lady is not willing to compromise, then you need to win over the family and neighbors. If your hubby is an F them type of person, Im going to go out on a limb and say that the neighbors might side with the old lady unless she is more abrasive. Not saying hubby is wrong or a bad person, but it comes down to who the people like more, that's it.

Personally my wife loves the fireplace although it literally is just sucking heat from the house and has a negative impact to my wood stove in the next room. There are times when smoke really bothers us as well, when there is an inversion of sorts and all the neighbors burning at once just chokes us all out for awhile. Burning really well seasoned wood helps, but too seasoned and you'll be ripping through so much wood you wont want to burn soon anyway.
 
Not my cup of tea for a fireplace as it will probably suck more heat out of the room than it puts out
I agree. We really didn’t install it for the heat output. This is an ambiance fireplace for sure. Lol (Although last night when it was starting to catch, we did feel heat off it).
 
You are in a tricky situation sadly. Should you or your vendor have thought about this? Yes. Are you negligent in any way, from the sound of it, probably not.
Will you win this, NO.

Your neighbor is 82. When she passes away, if it's anytime soon, guess who everyone will blame? Even if it is totally unrelated, they will say it was the stress you caused.

The best thing you can do is find an amicable compromise here. If the old lady is not willing to compromise, then you need to win over the family and neighbors. If your hubby is an F them type of person, Im going to go out on a limb and say that the neighbors might side with the old lady unless she is more abrasive. Not saying hubby is wrong or a bad person, but it comes down to who the people like more, that's it.

Personally my wife loves the fireplace although it literally is just sucking heat from the house and has a negative impact to my wood stove in the next room. There are times when smoke really bothers us as well, when there is an inversion of sorts and all the neighbors burning at once just chokes us all out for awhile. Burning really well seasoned wood helps, but too seasoned and you'll be ripping through so much wood you wont want to burn soon anyway.
@GrumpyDad , sadly I think you’re right. Unless we can get the smoke down to a bare minimum, we will not make her happy—and maybe not even then. People like her well enough (we know all the neighbours) but she is the kind of lady who tells you to stop barbecuing because she doesn’t like the smell of meat cooking. She does this by walking over and standing in front of you to tell you this. People just accept that she is who she is. I guess I’m just so sad because I know how sensitive she is and I’m going to have to contend with her calling all the time and crying or—heaven forbid—walking over and standing at the window to get our attention (which she would do). I will keep everyone posted. The fireplace company owner is coming back to personally check everything and troubleshoot. I’ve never been more hopeful that it’s a user problem that we can easily fix.
 
...she is the kind of lady who tells you to stop barbecuing because she doesn’t like the smell of meat cooking. She does this by walking over and standing in front of you to tell you this. People just accept that she is who she is.
That is not a reasonable person and you're never going to satisfy them. That sort of behavior is that of an entitled person who always gets her way.

You have a beautiful room and a very cool [sic] fireplace. Would be a shame to not use it.
 
I am 100 percent the person who wants to be the friendly helpful neighbor. That said, I don’t think your neighbor is being reasonable. If she truly is that health compromised, she needs to to consider a different living arrangement.
Just my opinion.
 
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...she is the kind of lady who tells you to stop barbecuing because she doesn’t like the smell of meat cooking. She does this by walking over and standing in front of you to tell you this.
Well, that sealed it for me. While I try very hard to be a good neighbor, and am in fact the first person most of them call in an emergency, this would be my "F-off" threshold. You are not going to find any compromise that makes this woman happy, so you're honestly wasting your time and worry even bothering with her. Someone who is only friendly and agreeable when every neighbor plays by "her rules" is not a good neighbor at all, and you don't need to accommodate them.

Note that my answer was completely different before reading this quote. If this were her first and only complaint, and she was an otherwise reasonable person, I'd be as upset as you seem to be over all of this.

Burn away, there is really nothing she can legally do about it. If she's really as unreasonable as you suggest, it's unlikely any other neighbor will be too upset, or blame you for any stress you're causing this woman. I think you're stressing because you think she's a nice lady, but again... only when you play by "her rules" for the neighborhood? Maybe she needs to move on to a different living arrangement, if she's not happy living around other families.
 
@GrumpyDad , sadly I think you’re right. Unless we can get the smoke down to a bare minimum, we will not make her happy—and maybe not even then. People like her well enough (we know all the neighbours) but she is the kind of lady who tells you to stop barbecuing because she doesn’t like the smell of meat cooking. She does this by walking over and standing in front of you to tell you this. People just accept that she is who she is. I guess I’m just so sad because I know how sensitive she is and I’m going to have to contend with her calling all the time and crying or—heaven forbid—walking over and standing at the window to get our attention (which she would do). I will keep everyone posted. The fireplace company owner is coming back to personally check everything and troubleshoot. I’ve never been more hopeful that it’s a user problem that we can easily fix.
Wow, she sounds interesting.
So she started crying as soon as you started burning? Sounds like a manipulator or off balance. Maybe she needs meds either way.
What sucks is, you'll never enjoy your fire knowing she's flipping out next door.
Whatever you do, good luck.
 
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You might want to talk to the neighbors to make sure they know the steps you’re taking to try to limit any smoke as much as possible. If you can present your side as standing up for your right to enjoy your property yet caring for your neighbor, it can’t hurt your cause. The best thing you can do is make sure they have both sides of the issue so they can make their own decision.

But if she conducts herself that way with all of the neighbors, I think you’ll be ok as long as your husband doesn’t tell her to go away with the garden hose.