Help! My Chimney Smells!
By Karen Lamansky
Lindemann Chimney Supply
Springtime is such a wonderful awakening after a long cold winter. The days grow longer, the air warms, winter snows have melted and the first flowers are pushing up through the greening grass. But wait - that's not the odor of tulips and hyacinths coming from the living room. lt's the smell of ashes from last winter's many fires. Why does it smell all of a sudden? lt didn't it smell like this last winter.
Dry ashes and chimney residue usually don't hold much odor. lt's like anything that is warmed up and exposed to moisture, it starts to smell. For instance, if you open a cake mix and walk fifteen feet from it you aren't likely to detect a smell. But sniff it at close range and it smells yummy. Mix that cake with liquids and pop it in the oven. When it starts to heat up the aroma fills the house. Unfortunately, chimneys and fireplaces can do the same thing. But it's no piece of cake!
There are a lot of options for eliminating that nasty odor. Sometimes just one is all that's needed. Other times it becomes a process of elimination. Here are some of the things that your chimney professional can check for you.
A chimney cover or cap is like an umbrella that protects the flue opening from rain and other elements. Usually made of a durable metal such as stainless steel or copper, the cap may have a screen to keep birds, animals and leaf debris out while allowing smoke to pass through. A chimney top damper keeps out precipitation, and when closed provides a seal which saves on "paid" energy dollars.
The chimney crown covers the area at the top of the chimney around the flue opening. lt is usually a layer of concrete or mortar on top of the brick. lt is intended to shed water and keep moisture from penetrating the masonry structure. lf moisture gets in this area it can lead to deterioration, water damage, mold, and other problems. The crown may just need to be repaired. lf the damage is a structural issue then the sweep will need to replace it.
lf you have a historical chimney or one made of "recycled" bricks from an old building then the bricks may be soft and soaking up water like a sponge. lf this is the case, the chimney can be waterproofed. Consult your chimney professional for a solution that will repel the moisture without blocking the masonry pores.
Damaged Mortar Joints
Damaged or missing mortar joints can be the path way for moisture infiltration. These mortar joints can usually be repaired by a masonry craftsman/chimney sweep.
ln rare cases, odors still prevail when all of the moisture has been removed. One surefire remedy is a special exhaust fan made for chimneys. lt uses approximately the same electrical power as an incandescent light bulb and can usually be run on a low speed. lt can also be used to enhance draft in the heating months. lt requires no maintenance other than the chimney professional routinely cleaning the blades and the fan when sweeping the flue.
Chimney Deodorizers and Air Purifiers
lf there is only mild or occasional chimney odor your sweep can provide a chimney deodorizer to help neutralize the smell. Certain quality air purifiers available from your sweep can kill the odor and create a sense of freshness in the room.
Glass Fireplace Doors
Sometimes a high quality glass door will help reduce the odor. The degree of success depends on the door tightness and the severity of the problem.
Cleaning the Chimney
Having the chimney swept sometimes takes care of the problem if moisture isn't evident. lt's a good idea to have the chimney swept in the spring after the heating season. This removes potentially harmful residues that have accumulated through the winter. Then when next fall rolls around and a cold snap hits you will be enjoying your fire while your neighbors are waiting for their flue to be swept.
Chimney odors are like any household challenge. lt calls for an expert who can inspect and troubleshoot the situation. Spring and summer don't have to be the smelly chimney seasons. lnstead you can go cut a few tulips, hyacinths and daffodils and enjoy the sunshine.
Karen Lamansky has been involved with the hearth industry for 20 years and is the author of "Fireplace Design ldeas" published by Creative Homeowner,
Reprinted, with permission, from the April 2011 issue of The Chimney Sweep News an independent trade magazine for chimney service professionals. Jim Gillam, editor/publisher. 541-882-5196.
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