Q&A Woodstove emitting fumes

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New Member
Staff member
Nov 27, 2012

We installed an old Jotul woodstove nearly two years ago in our 1,100 square-foot, super-insulated home. We experienced no problems during the first two winters we used it.

At the end of last winter, we began noticing a toxic (headache-causing) smell coming from the stove when it was lit. We had the stovepipe cleaned over the summer and lit our first fire of the season a few weeks ago. The smell returned, stronger than ever. My husband then took the stove outside and removed the creosote build-up from the stove's interior, after which he reinstalled the stove and burned a very hot fire with all the doors and windows in the house open. That seemed to mitigate the problem. But now, just a few fires later, we've noticed the smell has returned.

Although we don't rely on the stove as our sole source of heat, it is a major part of the heating scheme. Therefore, we're desperate to either find a solution to our stove's problem or purchase a new stove.

My questions are this:

1) Any ideas what could be causing the smell?

2) Any idea whether the fumes are hazardous for us and, most importantly, our 8 month-old son to breathe?

3) Any ideas on solving the problem?

In case it helps solve the mystery, our stove pipe is 6 inches wide and has two slight bends in it, one two feet above the stove and the other two feet above the first bend. We burn fir.

Thanks in advance!


There are several things that could contribute to your problem. Here are some things to check....

Check all of your pipe joints and where the black pipe connects to the chimney by starting a small smoky fire. It is best to do this right after dark. Shut the stove down, turn out your lights and shine a bright light around all of the joints. Don't forget to check out the stove seams, too. If there is leakage, it is likely that it will show.

Check out any openings that you may have from the outside, IE: air infiltration. When the barometric pressure is low, smoke has tendencies to hug the ground and leakage into a home can happen through infiltration.

Make sure that you are not using any air moving devices such as bath exhaust fans, kitchen exhaust fans, clothes dryer, built in vacuum system, etc. These devices can create a negative pressure within the home and cause air reversal through the chimney. New stoves have a connection and means to obtain their combustion air from outside the home, which helps alleviate this problem, but does not in all cases prevent it.

If you have a masonry chimney, have it checked by a professional chimney sweep for creosote and cracks. They can perform a smoke test on the stove and chimney and zero in on the problem.

Invest in a carbon monoxide detector, if you don't already have one. My guess is that if you are getting headaches, you have low to mid levels of C O. It is not good for you or your child.
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