Stinky wood burning fireplace and husband wants to install doors himself?!?!

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Doors, Cap or Combination?


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cateymoore

New Member
Jun 18, 2009
2
North Carolina
Help me! Help me! Help me! I've googled my brains out and still don't know what to do!

We are first time homeowners and last winter was our first in the new house. Brick woodburning fireplace, and we loved it! Now, the mother of all smells has invaded our home and if we don't fix it soon, don't know what we will do. First we had the fireplace cleaned by a professional, certified chimney sweep. It seemed to make the smell worse.

So then I started googling and learned about drafts. On the advice of one website, I taped a trash bag over the opening of the fireplace and watched. The damper is closed and the bag pulses like a beating heart. So next, I cracked a window and that neutralized the pulse of the fireplace and lessened the smell. But I live in NC and summer is coming! Cracking the window is no longer an option and as the humidity gets worse, so does the smell. My husband wants to install glass doors from one of the chain box stores HIMSELF and assures me this will solve all our problems. He is handy and an engineer, but I'm not sure if this is a job for the pros?

I called the chimney sweep and he suggested installing some kind of cap on the top of the chimney for about $200-$250. That's roughly the same cost as the doors we've been looking at. Currently we don't have any doors on the fire place but will be having children in 12-18mo, so we will need doors eventually. Odor is the top priority right now and safety for kids can wait until we have them.

So my question is what will stop the odor and is a better investment? Do I need both the cap and the doors or will installing doors stop the odor? And should I let my husband install them or do I need to call in a pro?

Any and all advice is appreciated. I'm going crazy and can't stand the smell anymore! And I don't want my husband to burn the house down!
 
I'd think you'd get a better seal from a cap, thats just my opinion.
 
Of the options you've listed, I feel strongly that sealing the TOP of your chimney would do the best to stop the downdraft you have. Yep, sure sounds like you have a definite DOWNDRAFT, when outside air actually travels down the chimney and enters the home. Fireplace doors do not provide a completely air tight seal, therefore, I would completely seal the top of the chimney. You gotta beware though, in the fall, when you want a fire, you'll smoke yourself outta there if you forget to go up and open up the top of that chimney.

Methinks a plastic bag taped tightly around top that chimney would quickly and cheaply solve the problem for now. Other things could be done but also would involve more expense.
 
This is what I have on top of my chimney and along with my airtight doors I have no more downdraft or smells in the summer. http://www.homesaver.com/content/lyemance/related.aspx

Be advised these chimney top dampers can freeze up. I had to go up on the roof a couple times last winter to chip the ice off so it would open.
 
Personally I would just stuff an old blanket from the Salvation Army up in the thing with a big tag hanging down, but the reviews I have seen of the Chimney Pillow have been mostly positive.
 
Hmmm, i thought most, if not all, fireplaces have a damper in the firebox that can be opened and closed. If closed, it forms a pretty tight seal IMO. Maybe the plate is warped or something.

To answer your question about installing glass doors, yes, this is a do it yourself project. Do yourself a favor and skip the local Home Depot or Lowes and go to a Fireplace shop and purchase a quality glass door set.

I have a fairly new (2 years of use) set of doors that I paid close to $700 for a few years back. Made of 1/4" forged cast. I just pulled it out last December and installed a woodstove insert.

What are your fireplace opening dimensions?
 

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When we lived in Virginia, we had two traditional open masonry fireplaces (upstairs living room & downstairs family room). The two separate flues shared a common chimney structure. I pulled out the original dampers, which didn't seal worth a damn, and installed two of these:

http://www.northlineexpress.com/lock-top_damper_info.asp

(Not this exact brand/model...I got mine locally at a stove shop, but functionally the same)

A stainless steel cable drops down the flue into the firebox, where a bracket is attached to the side. Wanna build a fire, you pull down to disengage the weighted handle on the end of the cable from the bracket, let the damper pop open, and go for it. After everything's cooled off, you pull the handle down to close the damper and re-engage it in the bracket. Worked great for that application. Aids in kindling a fire, as well, as the flue stays warm instead of being outside ambient temp. Also serves to keep birds/critters out of the flue. I'd install a chimney top damper for sure...prob'ly skip the doors. Rick
 
What Fossil said. Worked for me. 12 years and still no issues.

Congrat's on the house!

STAY AWAY from this site!!! I failed to and now have another chimney, Hearth, Stove, Truck, Trailer (Splitter on the way) !!!

Mike P
 
zzr7ky said:
What Fossil said. Worked for me. 12 years and still no issues.

Congrat's on the house!

STAY AWAY from this site!!! I failed to and now have another chimney, Hearth, Stove, Truck, Trailer (Splitter on the way) !!!

Mike P

Huh? If you had stayed away, you wouldn't have all those cool toys. :lol:
 
I would look into installing a fireplace insert into the fireplace. This is by far the most exensive way to go, but there are many advantages. Also there is a 30% tax credit on them, up to $1500. $250 for the doors. $250 for the cap. Puts you at $500. With the credit in place another $1000 would put would put an insert in, if you did it cheaply. Figure out how much you paid to heat the place last year and see how long your pay back would be.

1. It would make the fireplace much safer.

2. It would produce more heat. In North Carolina, it would easily provide all of your home heating needs. My insert paid for itself in under two years.

3. It woud stop the smell.

4. You would burn less wood and not have to add wood to fire as often.

5. It would make the fireplace look better. This is subjective but most people will agree.

6. It will cut down on the smoke and ash mess that often accompanies a fireplace.

7. Installing one is a do it yourself project, if you have basic skills and the help provided here.
 
I get that horrible stink every summer when the humidity goes up and the Missouri swelter sets in.

There are lots of ways to solve your problem, depending on your circumstances, abilities, and desires, as others have indicated with their solutions. Here's how I solved the same problem as yours at my house.

When I moved in I had an open brick fireplace with descent doors that we burned quite a few times the first two or three winters. Even with the fireplace doors, we had serious stink issues.

After a few years here, we installed a wood burning insert to get more heat in our very chilly, walk-out basement, rec room, which we love to burn nearly every evening in winter. Unfortunately, the insert still allowed the hideous, summer stink, just as bad as it ever was.

I have easy access to my roof and chimney top, so I bought a cheap, 8", galvanized stove-pipe cap at the Homeless Despot for about $4 or $5, to fit the top of our 8" stainless steel chimney pipe. Now, each summer, around now (July), I climb up there, remove the bird-screen-cap, put the galvanized cap on, and replace the bird-screen-cap over it for aesthetics. Since I brush the chimney once before burning season, I don't worry about forgetting the "stopper-cap" is on before building the first fire of the season. At least, I haven't forgotten it yet. ;) That *would* be bad, but I don't anticipate it ever happening since I wouldn't think of starting a new burning season without brushing the chimney, first.

You probably have clay tiles, so this might not work for you, exactly the same, but it might, and if you have easy access to the roof/chimney, just about anything reasonably snug up on the top of your chimney should stop the stink from moving downwards.

I don't think doors alone with do it.
I don't think an insert alone with do it with certainty (depends on insert, chimney set-up, etc.).
Most of the other solutions mentioned above should work.
Some of them I personally don't like all that much, but that's me.
Others I do. All seem reasonable.

Now, for the heating lesson... ;)

As an engineer, your husband should know that you are losing much more heat than you are producing with an open, masonry fireplace, especially if the masonry penetrates an external wall as so many North American chimneys seem to do (they lose heat even when they aren't burning, more when they are). IMO it is the worst of all chimney designs for lots of reasons.

So, if you are burning for pleasure and ambiance, then enjoy. If you think you are heating the inside of your house, even a little, you aren't, even though you will feel a bit of radiant heat (less with fireplace doors, BTW). You are also working your HVAC unit extra every time you open the damper, likely even more when you light up. So, enjoy your fireplace however you desire, but understand that its charm is about all it has going for it. It is a luxury with negative net heating ability.

Pictures: http://tinyurl.com/nr3u8v
 
Mo Heat said:
So, if you are burning for pleasure and ambiance, then enjoy. If you think you are heating the inside of your house, even a little, you aren't, even though you will feel a bit of radiant heat (less with fireplace doors, BTW). You are also working your HVAC unit extra every time you open the damper, likely even more when you light up. So, enjoy your fireplace however you desire, but understand that its charm is about all it has going for it. It is a luxury with negative net heating ability.

Pictures: http://tinyurl.com/nr3u8v

I can't say it any better than Mo Heat. I was once a weekend ambiance wood burner in our family room fireplace. I really didn't mind running the fireplace when oil heat fuel cost $1.00/2.00 per gallon. I knew I was loosing heat, but the comfort of the fireplace running on weekend nights outweighed the lost heat factor.

When oil approached $5.00 per gallon last summer, I told myself I will never burn another open fire in my fireplace. Hence, the insert went in last winter :) Payoff is three years and only two to go!


Best thing about it, it's less work and much cleaner than I ever expected running it 24x7. Besides that, it produces heat!

Look at all your options before purchasing. It's a great time to purchase an insert because there's a 30% tax credit on qualified stoves and install costs.
 
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