Air Quality

Published on September 5th, 2013 | by Henri


Odor in room when fireplace not in use

Q.    We have a problem with odor coming into our family room from the fireplace/chimney. Last fall we had the chimney swept and the damper replaced. Previously, the damper had been very difficult to operate for most individuals. It kept sliding off track and consequently, we frequently left it open more than we should have, losing precious heat. It was replaced by a damper fixed on top of the chimney outside. It is connected to a chain coming down the chimney on the inside. This chain easily slides into a slot which holds it in place and securely closes the flue.  Any 4-year old can operate it, we were told by the installer.

Sounded great to us until we began to notice that whenever we were not having a fire, the whole room smelled so strongly of damp ashes that you could not sit in there unless you opened the damper or a window. When we called the chimney person who recommended and installed this, he said he had installed many of this style and never heard of this issue from anyone before. He was certain he had installed a proper seal on the flue outside.

He suggested we use scented candles in the room or scented chimney sticks. This is not a solution for us. I am allergic to most fragrances and do not care to have my home dependent upon artificial scents in order to sit in my own family room. We have glass doors on the fireplace and keep them closed when not burning a fire. We have tried emptying the ashes after each fire. These remedies have not worked. Do you have any suggestions?

A.    The problem with top dampers is that they trap air in the chimney. This air gets cooled — particularly if the chimney is an exterior one —  and sinks down as all cold air does, carrying with it the odor of damp ashes and smoke deposits found on the chimney flue. Burning scented candles is not the solution for you or in general.

The best solution is to have a competent mason replace the damper flap that sits below the smoke shelf and keep the chimney top damper open. He or she should be able to find a replacement flap in a masonry and building supply store.

As an added precaution, spray all your firewood with ACS (a catalytic solution that helps deodorize flues) so that when you light a fire, the gases will work on the soot deposits coating the flue. You should be able to buy ACS from stove shops and some chimney sweeps or from

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