Smoke coming back into your room?

Do you have smoke coming down the chimney instead of up, does it refuse to go up the chimney when you light it or does the room always smell smokey whilst the fire is lit? This could be dangerous for your health so take a look at some causes and what you can do about it.

Nest in Chimney

If the top of the chimney is open to the elements and does not have a cowl then there is the possibility that birds or squirrels have nested in the chimney. A tell-tale sign of this would be twigs landing in the fireplace.
Arrange for the chimney sweep to visit and remove the nest

Birds nest removed from chimney fills fireplace and seven bin bags
  • The animals fill the chimney with sticks and other material to build their nest. This will stop the airflow through the chimney and can be very dangerous.
  • This nest removed from an upstairs bedroom filled 7 bin bags and took over an hour to clean out.
  • There was lots of kindling for future fires however!

Fire not hot enough / large enough

If you have set a small fire you might find that your fireplace wants to burn at a faster rate. It was designed to keep you warm, not look pretty. Because it doesn’t have enough fuel to burn well, it smoulders and the smoke lingers in the room.

If the width of the chimney is dis-proportionate to the size of fire you are using the fire will not draw well.  Wide fireplaces were built for big fires. Build a bigger fire, use small logs to start as these burn faster. Check you have set the fire correctly if you are new to it.

Poor quality fuel

Some cheaper fuels burn inefficiently and are smokey as is unseasoned or ‘green’ wood. Obviously burning anything other that solid fuels on your fire is a bad idea and can cause problems.
Check your wood has a moisture content of under 20% by using a moisture meter or ask for fuel to checked upon delivery – look for the ‘Ready To Burn’ logo.

For more information visit https://www.readytoburn.org/

Soot & Creosote build-up

Burning your fire at a low heat, produces more soot and creosote that burning at the optimum temperature. It also is one of the causes of air-pollution so is best avoided. Soot, tar and creosote can line your chimney flue slowly blocking it and decreasing the draw and pull of the chimney.
Burn open fires and wood-burners hot and fast never low. Get chimney swept at least once a year. Consider installing a wood/ multi-fuel stove.

Creosote blocking chimney flue
Creosote formed by burning ‘green’ wood

Wrong location of fire basket

Your open fireplace will need a fire-basket or grate if you are trying to burn coal. Wood does not a grate to burn but does need to be high enough to feel the pull of the airflow in the chimney. Thus a grate is usually used and will help stop the smoke coming back into the room. If the grate or fire-basket is too far from back wall it may protrude into your room and the smoke will no longer want to travel up the chimney.
Purchase a fire-basket. Try raising an existing one on bricks to improve the draw and move further back towards the rear wall of the fireplace. Buy a taller basket.

Damper in chimney closed

Some fireplaces have an inbuilt damper so that you can control air flow and thus the size of the fire. This is a small metal plate built into the chimney. These can be closed when the fire is not in use to stop drafts and if it is closed the smoke won’t be able to escape.
Open the damper. Call the sweep if it is stuck and do not use.

Capped Chimney

If you are new to the house, it’s worth checking whether the top of the chimney has been capped. This could be with a removable cowl or even slate and cement. The previous occupants may have not wanted to use the fireplace or found that the draft it caused was a nuisance.
Visually check the top of the chimney pot for a flat capping cowl and if present do not use and arrange for the chimney sweep to remove it

Chimney is decommissioned

If the previous occupants did not want to use the chimney or fireplace they may have blocked off the inside of the chimney from the bottom with a board or plate. They may even have removed part of it to enlarge a room upstairs or to create a loft conversion.
Do not use. Get a quote to reinstate chimney.

Multiple Chimney Pots

If chimney pots are not terminated at different heights then potentially the smoke from one pot can be pulled in to the pot next to it, if this flue is cold. Arrange for a taller pot fitted if both fireplaces are in use, or have the disused chimney pot capped / blocked off.

Stack not tall enough

The chimney stack should be at least as high as the ridge tiles at the top of your roof. If this is not the case then you are very likely to have problems with airflow and the chimney could go into reverse.
Arrange for the chimney to be built higher (as per building regulations) or a taller pot fitted.

Lack of Air Flow

New build houses or houses that have had newly installed double glazing may find that there is not enough additional air flow to fuel the fire. It can’t burn without oxygen so if your rooms are air-tight the fire is going to struggle.
Open a window a little or vent.

Competition

Open windows and doors, extractor fans, bathroom vents and air conditioning units are examples of items that may affect the air flow in the chimney.
Switch off other appliances, close doors and windows to the connecting rooms

Exposed Areas / surrounding landscape

If you are new to the house, you may discover that there has always been a problem because of the way the land around the property directs the wind and the way the air is channelled around the property.

This could also be affected by new houses recently built in the area or a neighbours extension.
Warm the chimney flue by burning paper to start with. Arrange for the chimney sweep to visit and advise

Unusual weather conditions

If it’s suddenly colder than previous days; the small amount of heat given off when starting the fire is not enough to shift the cold air already in the chimney and so it comes back into the room.

The wind direction could be adversely affecting your chimney or local high pressure could cause your chimney to go into reverse.
Warm the chimney flue by burning paper to start with / Wait for weather conditions to improve. Speak to chimney sweep if problem persists

Weather too hot

In hot weather you may find that the chimney stays cool and cold air is trapped there. Cold air doesn’t rise until it’s warmed up again.
Warm the chimney flue by burning paper to start with.