Help! My Fireplace Won’t Draft

It registers about a 9.5 on the Frustration Meter when you try to get a fire going and the fireplace won’t draft. Smoke backs up into the room and smells up the house. Do you open up doors and windows to air out the house and try again? Or, do you grab another blanket and forget about the flames?

There are a few reasons why a draft may be difficult to establish in your wood burning fireplace or stove. Our hope is this article will provide some insight and relieve that frustration.

FIREPLACE AND CHIMNEY BASICS

The air in your house is always moving. It may be subtle and you might not even notice it, but air is constantly trying to get into the house, or leak out of it. Generally speaking, airflow in the upper levels of the house is trying to get out and in the lower portions of your home, tries to get in. As warm air rises in the house, it’s forced out through tiny openings in the building’s envelope. This air infiltration occurs around windows and doors, outlets, switches and light fixtures, vents, pipes, etc.

So, what’s this got to do with my fireplace? Understand that a chimney works on negative air pressure. Adequate combustion air is needed when you build a fire in your fireplace. If there’s not enough, smoke will not be pulled up the chimney. The higher up a chimney goes, the more negative the air pressure. We all know that warm air rises. The heat that is generated from the fire is actually pulled through the firebox and up the chimney because of the difference in air pressure. This moving air and pulling effect is called “draft”.

THE NEED FOR COMBUSTION AIR!

A fire needs air to ignite and burn. There can be several obstacles that can prevent a fire from drafting properly.

First, make sure the chimney is cleaned and inspected regularly. Code says, at least once a year. A clogged or dirty chimney or one in deteriorating condition can restrict the airflow up the chimney. [Link to: Who Cleans Chimneys?] Have a certified professional evaluate your chimney annually.

HEIGHT AND LOCATION.

Some chimneys are problematic because of their height. Most inserts, stoves and fireplaces will perform best with a chimney height between 12’ and 30’. Too short, not enough draft. Too tall, too much draft.

The chimney location is critical, too. If possible, install the chimney straight up through the house, where it will stay warmer. Try to avoid an installation on or through an exterior wall, especially on the north and west sides of the house. Remember, if the chimney is cold, the draft will be more difficult to establish. Heavier, colder air, falling in the chimney can be hard to overcome when getting a fire started. Exterior chimney systems can be fussy, especially in freezing conditions. An extremely tall, exterior chimney is never a good idea.

CONSIDER THESE POINTS.

It should go without saying, but we’ll mention it anyway: make sure the damper is fully open on the fireplace. It’s not a good idea to try and control the air flow through a fireplace by partially closing the damper. Always keep it wide open.

Another frequent cause of poor draft is using damp or oversized wood. Always use small, dry kindling and a few wads of newspapers from a cold start. Add slightly larger pieces of dry kindling until a coal bed starts to form. See Fireplace, How To Light It. There are a few different techniques explained in the link that will help you get a quick and effective fire going in your appliance. Dry and small kindling is the key for getting a fire going. DRY is always the operative word when it comes to burning wood.

NEGATIVE AIR PRESSURE?

Another possibility of a poor draft in your fireplace, stove or insert is negative air pressure. We alluded to this earlier, but let’s discuss it a bit further. When a home tries to pull air inside, instead of forcing it outside around windows, doors, outlets, etc. the result is negative air pressure. This normally occurs in the lower levels of very tightly sealed homes. There isn’t an easy way for replacement air to re-enter the dwelling.

In our article, What Is Negative Air Pressure?, we’ve stated that “in serious situations, negative air pressure can actually out-muscle the draft in a chimney and sucks that “make-up” air down the chimney. Needless to say, the problem with this, is the difficulty of getting a fire established in your fireplace, stove or insert and the smoke filling the house! With any volume of outside air being pulled down your chimney, it will be difficult to get any sort of draft established.”

There are many constantly changing factors that can contribute to negative air pressure in a house. Bathroom exhaust fans, kitchen hoods, water heaters, and other mechanical and heating systems will influence the airflow in a home. Fortunately, there’s an easy test that can be done to see if negative air pressure in your home is an issue with your fireplace or stove. While the chimney and fireplace are cold, attempt to get a fire burning with a little kindling and a few wads of newspaper. If you notice the smoke is backing up into the room, simply open a window or door several inches and see what effect it has on the fire and draft. By opening a window or door, you should be supplying plenty of make-up air to the house and the smoke should be easily pulled up the chimney.

Remedies for negative air pressure can be a mechanical air make-up system. These can be installed by an HVAC contractor. Furthermore, many wood burning fireplaces and stoves have optional outside air kits that deliver combustion air directly into the firebox.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES.

Another possibility of a fireplace, stove or insert not drafting properly is strong wind gusts. Occasionally, a high wind from a certain direction can cause a downdraft. There are some pivoting, wind directional chimney caps designed for windy locations that could be helpful.

Additionally, an improperly sized chimney will also lead to a poor draft and smoke backing up into the house. It’s always best to match the size of the chimney to the flue collar on a stove or fireplace insert. For zero clearance wood burning fireplaces, usually a certain brand of chimney pipe will be specified by the manufacturer in the owner’s manual.
WE CAN HELP!

Your WE LOVE FIRE dealer, Home Comfort Warehouse, has certified experts on staff to evaluate and assist with the scenarios described here. We’re only a phone call or email away!

For more Information, Contact Home Comfort Warehouse at 54 Bridge Street, White River Junction, Vermont 05001. Phone: (802) 295-8778. Fax: (802) 295-5211. info@homecomfortwarehouse.com

How Does a Gas Fireplace Insert Work?

The quick and easy answer to this question:  with a simple click of the remote control!  All kidding aside, there are several items you should be aware of if you are planning to install a gas fireplace insert.  And, even if you already have a gas insert installed, there are safety, performance and maintenance issues to follow.  Please take a few minutes and finish reading this article.

DEFINITION:

A gas fireplace insert is a fireplace that has been designed to slide into, (inserted) in an existing wood burning fireplace.  A zero clearance (ZC) fireplace has an insulated housing around the firebox that allows it to be installed into a frame wall.  A gas insert is not a zero clearance fireplace and therefore cannot be framed into a wall because it does not have a protective, insulated cabinet around the firebox.  An insert relies on the integrity of the wood burning fireplace to protect any combustibles from overheating.

EVALUATION:

Before we discuss how a gas insert works, we need to determine if one can safely be installed in your existing wood burning fireplace.  The critical dimensions of the existing wood burning fireplace to determine the size of gas insert that will fit are as follows:

Front Height: __________ Front Width: __________
Rear Height: __________ Rear Width: __________
Depth: __________ Mantle Depth: __________
Hearth Depth & Width: __________ Mantle Height Above Fireplace Opening: __________

In addition to these dimensions, the chimney cannot be blocked with any debris.  It should be cleaned before an installation.  An electric and gas supply line will need to be installed into the existing wood fireplace and must not interfere with the gas insert as it’s slid into position.

INSTALLATION:

A gas fireplace insert can be set up to burn either natural gas (NG) or LP gas.  Most come ready to burn NG, but an LPG conversion kit can easily be installed by a qualified technician.  Physically getting an electric line and the gas supply inside the fireplace can occasionally be a challenge.  But by getting both into the firebox, no electric or gas lines are visible on the hearth.  It makes for a much cleaner and more professional finished look.

Gas fireplace inserts will operate without power and provide radiant heat.  However, an electric line is necessary to power the fan.  The fan operates on a heat sensitive switch that comes on and shuts off, automatically.  A rheostat allows the speed of the fan to be adjusted to several levels.

Gas fireplace inserts must be vented since they use a sealed combustion process that brings outside air into the firebox for combustion purposes.  Two aluminum liners, either 3” or 4” flexible pipes, are installed up the existing chimney.  One brings in combustion air.  The other expels the by-products of combustion to the outside.  The damper will need to be removed or permanently wired open so it will not damage the liners.

Sometimes an old chimney is taken down below the roofline.  In these cases, adaptors are used to convert the two-pipe-liner system to a one-pipe, co-axial system.  This coax pipe is installed through the roof and then flashed and vertically terminated.  Most gas fireplace inserts are required to terminate vertically.

The installer will use an electronic gas detector to check all gas connections and a manometer to ensure the gas pressure is set correctly.  The installer will also test burn the insert and make sure that the air-to-fuel adjustments are set correctly and the flame pattern burns true.

The final step in a gas insert installation is installing some sort of decorative surround panels.  The purpose of the surround is to hide the remaining space on either side and the top of the insert.  Your WE LOVE FIRE dealer always tries to maximize the size of the insert, so the viewing area of the fire is as large as possible.  By doing this, the surround panels can be as small as possible.

OPERATION:

Now that the insert has been installed, how is it turned on and off?  How is the fan speed or heat regulated?  Is it going to be too warm after several hours of continuous use?  Back to the first comment in this article:  It can all be controlled with a click of the remote!  Most people are aware of the convenience of gas, so it stands to reason that a remote control is standard equipment with many gas fireplace inserts today.

There are a few different types of remote controls.  There are simple remotes that turn the gas fireplace insert on and off.  Some remotes are thermostatically controlled; when the temperature in the room hits a certain temperature, the insert will shut off.  And when the thermostat starts calling for heat, the insert will turn on. Other remotes are “full-function” remotes that control all the features on the insert.  Remotes are used to control the fan speed, flame height, lighting features and the length of time the insert operates.

If another remote in the house does not appeal to you, some gas inserts still use a wall switch that simply turns the unit on and off.  Fan speeds, gas valve adjustments and lighting effects are set manually.

MAINTENANCE:

The owner’s manual is the place to start for the correct operation and maintenance of a gas insert.  Exterior painted surfaces, any metal-plated trim pieces and the glass should be cleaned with a soft, non-abrasive cloth and mild non-abrasive cleaner.  Be careful there are no fingerprints on the metal trim or glass.  The hot temperatures can bake them on permanently.  Your WE LOVE FIRE dealer has a special glass cleaner for gas appliances on the shelf.

Replacing batteries is something that’s normally done by a homeowner.  An annoying beeping sound will let you know when it’s time.

If bulbs for accent lighting ever burn out, or if any technical adjustments or replacing parts is necessary, this is work that’s best left to your WE LOVE FIRE expert.  And this brings up another good point:  Ask us about the warranty on the equipment we carry.  It’s the best around!

For more Information, Contact Home Comfort Warehouse at
54 Bridge Street, White River Junction, Vermont 05001
Phone: (802) 295-8778. Fax: (802) 295-5211
info@homecomfortwarehouse.com

Are Gas Logs and Insert the Same?

GAS INSERTS EXPLAINED:


If you’re wondering if a gas fireplace insert might help to eliminate heat loss and cold downdrafts from your existing fireplace chimney, you are absolutely correct! A gas insert is a self-contained, sealed combustion fireplace. A sealed combustion unit means the air for combustion purposes comes from outside, not inside the house. All gas inserts are designed to slide into an existing wood-burning fireplace opening. Keep in mind that there are logs arranged around a burner in a gas insert. By definition though, an insert is not a gas log. The key to a gas fireplace insert is sealed combustion resulting in high-energy efficiency numbers. Variable speed fans are also standard equipment on a gas insert.

Two flexible aluminum pipes are connected to an insert and are installed up the existing chimney. One brings combustion air into the unit, the other vents the by-products from combustion to the outside. The existing damper is permanently disabled so it will not damage the liners.

When using gas fireplace inserts, many people find they can postpone turning their furnace on in the fall and can shut it down earlier in the spring. Efficiencies of this equipment are normally in the range of 80%. Gas burners range from 20,000 – 45,000 BTU/hour. That means most inserts are capable of heating up to 1500 square feet of space. Why run the furnace at 100,000/BTU’s or more, if a fraction of that gas usage will warm the house in moderate weather?

Remote controls are typically used on gas inserts. Most inserts come set up for natural gas (NG). A professional can easily convert the appliance with an LPG kit.

Gas inserts are recognizable because they use a surround panel that is designed to fit tight on both sides and the top of the unit. The purpose of the surround panel is to cover up the rest of the old fireplace opening. These decorative panels come in several sizes and can be customized for large or unusual fireplaces. Can I Convert from Wood To Gas?

GAS LOGS EXPLAINED:

Gas logs, also called a gas log set, are very realistic looking ceramic or fiber logs, positioned over a gas burner. The combustion process is not sealed. Inside room air is used for combustion. Gas logs are not rated for efficiency. They are ordered for NG or LPG and come in sizes that range from 18” to 60”. No liners are necessary for a gas log set. Remote controls are normally used to turn a gas log set on/off.

There are two types of gas log sets available, vented, and unvented. The damper must be fully open when using vented gas logs. The by-products from the combustion process must be vented outside, via the chimney. These types of logs are considered a decorative appliance and are not designed to heat. Depending on the size of the logs, the burners on typical vented gas logs use between 65,000 to over 200,000 BTU’s of gas per hour. The realism on vented gas logs is terrific. It should be, though, given the amount of gas that’s being burned. It’s not uncommon for a gas log set to use more gas per hour than the forced air furnace in your home.

NOTE: Vent free gas fireplaces, gas stoves and log sets are not legal for use in Canada. Therefore, this subheading does not apply to Canada but provided for information purpose only.

Vent-free or unvented gas logs may or may not be allowed in your locale. Check with local building officials for requirements near you. Unvented logs use a different technology than their vented cousins. These logs do not need to be vented outside. The realism of the flames is generally not as impressive as a vented log set because the volume of gas being burned is considerably less. However, since the damper does not need to be open, vent-free logs will provide more heat because none is lost up the chimney.

Whenever gas is burned, by-products of the combustion process are created. These waste products include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, water vapor, formaldehyde, and nitrogen dioxide. If these are not vented to the outside, your home’s indoor air quality may become an issue. If vent-free equipment is on for longer periods than recommended by the manufacturer, you may notice moisture forming on the inside of windows and doors. This is because of the water vapor. (Incidentally, burning one gallon of LPG or one therm of NG creates nearly a gallon of water!) Odors are created by the formaldehyde. And the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning goes without saying.

MAINTENANCE

Vented gas logs generally do not require regular maintenance. It’s always a good idea to have the pilot assembly, gas connections, valve, remote controls, ember material, etc. checked periodically by a trained set of eyes. If you are not noticing any issues, probably every 3 or 4 years is fine. Soot that builds on a vented gas log set is not uncommon. Excessive soot can be a problem, though.

Sooting is not normal on a vent-free log set. If you are noticing it building up on your vent-free logs, call your WE LOVE FIRE dealer. LPG usually produces more soot than an NG log set.

Maintenance of a gas fireplace inserts should be done as recommended by the manufacturer and outlined in the owner’s manual.

ARE GAS LOGS AND A GAS FIREPLACE INSERT THE SAME?

Hopefully, by now, you’ve figured out that a gas insert, and a set of gas logs are not the same product. Industry professionals know there are certain applications where an insert is the best option. Other applications will dictate which one of the two types of gas logs might work best.

A vented gas log set is more decorative than a vent-free set. If you only want to have a few attractive fires during a heating season, a vented gas log set might be a good choice. They burn a lot of gas, give little heat, but look very impressive. If local codes permit them and you’re looking for occasional heat from an occasional fire, maybe vent-free logs are a viable option.

If you want to supplement the central heating system in your home and get the best efficiencies from the gas you burn, definitely go with a gas fireplace insert. Yes, you’ll spend more money. But what’s the point of spending any money at all, if you are not satisfied with the performance and results of the project? [Link to: What Fireplace Inserts Are the Best?]

Your WE LOVE FIRE dealer Home Comfort Warehouse is looking forward to helping you sort out what option might work best in your home. Just  send them an email today.