table below outlines typical chimney and fireplace problems and offers
a probable explanation.
fire never seems to burn properly and
the smell of smoke always seems to be present in your room.
fire that does not burn properly or more or less constantly trickles
smoke back into the room is generally the result of inadequate
maintenance or a flaw in the design.
If your chimney has been recently swept and you are satisfied that the
flue is clear and not obstructed by either deteriorating internal
masonry or by soot, then you need to start looking at the design of the
fireplace and chimney itself. There may be a flaw in the design.
and flue size are directly
corrolated ,sometimes the opening may be too large for the paticular
flue that is present in the chimney,we can reduce the fireplace opening
size with the use of a smoke guard ,the gaurds come in various sizes
and the use of one of these will often correct the problem.
Other times we need to look to the top of the chimney ,are there lots
of trees in the vicinity ? we need to have a distance of minimum ten
feet from the termination point of chimney too any obstruction ,as this
will also effect how the chimney draws.There should be a spark arrester
on top , is it clogged and blocking the smoke exiting ?
The metal handle you see when you look up your chimney is called the
damper ,occasionally the blade of the damper will become rusted and
will not fully open ,this may restrict the smoke flow causing the smoke
to enter the room.
Alot of prople when presented with a smoking chimney will install a gas
log set and think they have resolved their problems , in reality you
may have actually made things worse!When using wood and the fireplace
smokes we can see it and smell it so we wil obviously correct the
situation , the exhaust of gas of a log set that is not achieving
complete combustion is called carbon monoxide and this we don't have
the ability to smell or see ,if the chimney is still allowing the
exhaust gas into the room this could become a serious health and safety
My recomendation would be to install a carbon monoxide detecter next to
the fireplace opening , we place the detecter as close to the ground as
possible as carbon monoxide builds from the ground up,in the event the
detecter actually goes off ,turn off appliance and evacuate house
immediately , try to open as many doors as you go to allow fresh air
into the house when alarm finally stops make sure house has been
properly ventilated and make sure alarm is reset .change batteries
With the new modern home being built to different standards than the
older home we are finding fireplaces may sometimes upon start up and
cooling down may smoke.
Neutral pressure level: The warm air in the house tends to rise and
find a way out somewhere high in the house. In other words the whole
house acts like a chimney. In most houses there is a neutral pressure
level about half way between the ground floor and the roof. Everything
above that level is positively pressurized and air will leak out of any
open windows or holes, while below the neutral pressure level the house
is negatively pressurized and air will leak into the house through any
openings. In old leaky houses the negative pressure rarely exceeds
about eight Pascals, which is about the difference in pressure in ten
feet of altitude - not much. Furnaces and fireplaces usually do all
right pulling against a negative pressure of up to eight Pascals.
Modern houses, however, tend to be more tightly built, wrapped, sealed
and caulked. They also tend to be full of powerful kitchen and bathroom
exhaust fans. So the neutral pressure level may be higher or maybe the
whole house is negative and the negative pressure in the lower areas of
a new house can sometimes far exceed eight Pascals.
Wind: Wind can cause turbulence at the top of a chimney or blow down
the chimney and cause a fireplace to smoke, especially if there are
tall roofs or trees nearby. A far more common way the wind can cause a
fireplace to smoke is by de pressurizing the side of the house on which
the air intake is located. The wind causes the windward side of the
house to be pressurized and the leeward side to be depressurized - by
as much as 30 Pascals. It tilts the neutral pressure level so that one
side of the house can be all positive while the other side all
negative. When opening windows and doors to let in air or locating
makeup air intakes be aware of this effect of the wind and make sure
air is actually coming in the supposed intake.
Makeup air: For a fireplace to draw well, especially as the fire dies
down and little heat is being produced to overcome negative pressure,
you may have to let in some makeup air near the fireplace or somewhere
low in the house. The six square inch combustion air kits designed to
be built into the firebox are not big enough. And they can lead to
other problems like creosote or ash smells and enough turbulence to
cause the fireplace to smoke. See "Combustion Air". If you have one of
these make-up air systems ducted into the firebox, close it. Better to
open a window or add makeup air to a cold air return in the heating
system or install an air-to-air heat exchanger in the mechanical,
utility or laundry room. How much air does it need? See "Calculations
and assumptions behind exterior air requirements for fireplaces" below.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Energy concerns: Many people object to opening a window or punching a
hole in their house to let in cold air, especially if they have just
spent a lot of time and money to see that their home is tight, well
insulated and energy efficient. We recommend balance and control of the
ventilation system - not necessarily increasing the amount of
ventilation. Some houses are full of fans competing with each other to
blow bad air out of the house with no provision for make-up fresh air
to come in. Make-up air has to come in. It will come in through leaks
or backwards through the kitchen and bath vents or down the chimney.
Sometimes it's a good thing the fireplace smokes because when the real
problem is discovered we find out the furnace and hot water heater
vents aren't drawing and are spilling carbon monoxide into the house. A
home with a balanced ventilation system with approximately neutral
indoor air pressure is safer, more comfortable, and more efficient.
Testing with smoke: The engineering can be complicated but it's easy to
see if you have the indoor pressure under control. Use a smoke pencil
or some incense or a candle, and hold it up in the throat of the
fireplace to see if the smoke goes up the chimney. If it does, great -
no problem. But if the smoke blows down and out into the room,
indicating there is a down draft in the chimney, that means the room is
too negatively pressurized and the easiest way for makeup air to
replace the air being lost up high somewhere in the house is down the
Note: Once in a while we have discovered a very tight house that
doesn't leak in or out so there is no down draft in the chimney, but
when a fire is burning the fireplace creates the negative pressure that
won't allow it to draw properly. In such a case (when no down draft is
observed without a fire burning) first open a window or door and build
a fire in the fireplace. Then slowly close the door or window and go
through all the pressure sleuthing smoke tests.
Find a way to neutralize the down draft. Open a window or door low in
the house. Turn off a fan or the furnace. Close the skylight or
upstairs window. Do these things one at a time and give the air enough
time (a couple of minutes) to turn around and reverse itself. See what
it takes to control the pressure so that there is no down draft in the
chimney even before you light a fire in the fireplace. The specific
things you try depend on your house but always think of reducing the
air escaping high in the house and increasing the air coming into the
house on the lower floors. The cold air return in the room with the
fireplace may need balancing, it may make a difference which window you
open or close, especially in a breeze. But you want to let more air in
low in the house so when you open a window, check with the smoke pencil
to see if air is actually flowing into the house.
Once you've closed off as many leaks as you can high in the house and
found out where and how much makeup air you have to let in low in the
house, then you can think of a permanent solution like makeup air into
the cold air return or an air-to-air heat exchanger that might be more
comfortable and more efficient than opening a window. You may have
tried some of these solutions already, but if there is still a down
draft, as shown with the smoke pencil test, or you need to keep a
window open for the fireplace to draw properly, then you need more air.
Calculations and assumptions behind exterior air requirements for
The 1979 ASHRAE Handbook reports on empirical studies which show that
modern masonry fireplaces require a minimum average face velocity or
0.2 feet/second in order to exhaust all the products of combustion.
According to this calculation, a fireplace with an opening of 6 square
feet would need a minimum of only 72 cfm so in our code proposal we
exempted fireplaces smaller than 6 square feet in opening area from any
exterior make-up air requirement.
This same fireplace, with a 12"x12" flue at one cfm per square inch of
cross-sectional flue area would, from TABLE 2116.12b in the IRC,
require 91 cfm. A four foot wide fireplace with a 16"x20" flue would
require a minimum of 214 cfm makeup air.
While these fireplaces might actually require more air with a brisk
fire, the greatest potential for spillage is when the fire is dying
down and the draft and required makeup air volumes are reduced, so we
think sizing the minimum makeup air requirement to the flue size (one
cfm per square inch of flue area) and based on the ASHRAE formula is
about right and easy to regulate without having to go beyond the IRC
Pressure Controlled Make-up Air Systems up to 1000 CFM
you clean out
the grate you find debris with the ash.
could be lumps of mortar, pieces of brick red clay flue lining or stone.
Debris coming down the chimney indicates a decay in the structure which
may or may not be dangerous. It is normally associated with old age.
and the chimney probably would not have a spark arrester
problem of the brick and mortar falling is generally the result of
an unlined chimney structure ,This is a serious problem and the chimney
should not be used until you have a professional inspect the chimney
,the older chimneys generally never had a flue lining and were
plastered by hand with mortar .over the years rain and wind as well as
the acids in the creosote have eroded the plaster away leaving exposed
holes between the brick joints ,if there were any kind of chimney fire
the wooden frame of the house is located directly behind the brick and
has the possability to ignite very quiclkly .The the wood is very old
and dry and can prylosis over the years which means its ignition flash
point could be as low as one hundred and forty degrees, if we find
peices of the red flue tile in the firebox this is also very dangerous
as it shows the lining is no longer intact ,homeowners can often have a
chimney fire without even realising that they had one and often after a
fire there are some serious problems created which make the chimney
unsafe too use , one of the consistent problems is that the flues will
crack , even if it only shows is a hairline crack it is a potential
fire and safety hazard, in the event of a fire these cracks can expand
quite significantly causing significant problems.
With an unlined system we can remove the old firebox and replaster the
smoke chamber , we drop a liner down the chimney and seal it at the
bottom ,we would then build a new concrete crown to stop the elements
reentering the chimney and causing more damage ,place a spark arrester
on top of flue and a top mounted damper to enable the chimney to be
closed when not in operation.We would then rebuild the firebox.
This will make the chimney safe to burn a fire.
Another problem with the older chimney may be that it is designed
without steel. Steel is integral in the construction of modern chimneys
for the earthquake protection factor.the older chimney cannot be
retrofitted to accomodate steel as it must start in the foundation and
be intergrated in side the entire vertical structure.So while the
relining system mentioned above is perfect for rehabing an older
fireplace to use safely again to burn fires it does not conform to
modern standards and adds no structural strength.
If the chimney had flues that are cracked we generally have to take the
chimney down to the point where the last flue is cracked , replace the
damaged flues and rebuild the chimney.
is a damp
discoloration above your fireplace and/or near the sides of your
is called "damp" from rain and condensation and may be caused by:
Masonry: Rain will
penetrate open textured masonry, faulty flaunchings, and cappings. It
will run down inside the chimney to a ledge (or other obstruction)
where it will cause a damp patch.
flashings: If the flashings
protecting the outside of the chimney are faulty, water will get in and
may produce damp patches on the walls and ceilings. These are normally
seen to be worse after heavy rainfall.
flues: Most masonry is
porous and un-vented flues will trap moisture, which may then appear on
the chimneybreast as damp.
a complete inspection of your chimney and fireplace we can determine
the cause or source of water damage and make recommendations for
repair. Repairs may be minor or major depending on the extent of water
damage that has occcured.
Did you know that water which is absorbed into the bricks and mortar,
causes deterioration that damages and weakens your chimney. Over years,
if this kind of deterioration continues, it can eventually lead to
partial or complete chimney collapse damaging your roof. This is a
dangerous situation to both property and people alike. This can be an
expensive major repair including rebuilding the entire chimney.
However, most of the time, we frequently see that the reason for the
water damage is often a relatively minor repair to the chimney crown
and cap beginning at the top of the chimney.
CROWN REPAIR: The
chimney crown is a sloped structure, usually made of mortar, that
protects your chimney by diverting rain water away from chimney bricks.
If the chimney crown has deteriorated this could allow water to leak
into your chimney and into your home. Repair is just a matter of
removing damaged mortar and rebuilding the crown with new mortar,
assuring the proper slope and thickness for maximum protection. CHIMNEY
CAP REPLACEMENT: A
chimney cap helps to prevent rain water from entering the inside of
your chimney. Newer chimney caps with flashing are multi-functional and
do a great job in preventing water from entering your chimney and
fireplace, come with spark arresters, and deter animals and debris.
on the inspection we can
advise you if more repair is necessary especially if we find damaged
mortar and bricks. This will need to be repaired and/or replaced.
Long-lasting waterproofing can then be applied over the chimney top to
assure years of protection.
the weatherproofing shielding put around your chimney on the roof to
deflect water away from the seams. Over time flashing may deteriorate
allowing water to penetrate into your home between your chimney and a
wall appearing as a "damp" or "water-stained" discoloration near your
fireplace. Sometimes it may appear intermitantly like after a strong
rainfall. Persistant discoloration is more serious, indicating
immediate diagnosis and repair to prevent mold growth in the wall and
more damage to chimney masonry.
In a properly designed and well functioning chimney and fireplace it is
important that the chimney flue is well ventilated, meaning that warm
air constantly rises in the flue drying out the chimney avoiding water
Water condensation can combine with "creosote", a by-product of the
burning process, and form weak acids. These acids can actually cause
major deterioration ("sulphate attack") of the flue itself, motor
joints, and brick. Sometimes the condensation will even penetrate the
brick appearing as a tary or efflurescent stain.
Remedies begin by diagnosing design errors in the original
construction. Repair may include a new flue liner all the way to
reconstruction of a new fireplace and chimney, depending on the damage.
leaning. Bricks are damaged or missing. Smoke appears to be comming out
of the sides of the chimney.
Your chimney may be unsafe.
Your chimney may have sustained external and internal damage. External
damage occurs from water and wind. Internal damage occurs from acid
deposits which can corrode the brick on the inside of your chimney and
therefore weaken the structure.
In San Diego the first thing to do after an earthquake or "seismic
event" is to see if the chimney has been damaged. A damaged chimney
could fail to exhaust the gasses or protect the house from fire. >
CHIMNEY THAT IS LEANING ABOVE THE ROOF LINE- A chimney that extends way
above the roof line and is leaning is a potential safety hazard. The
leaning is usually caused because the mortar on one side has
deteriorated more than the other and is probably an older style chimney
not reinforced with steel rebar. A chimney that has a severe lean, most
times needs to be completely rebuilt at the leaning top section.
-A CHIMNEY THAT IS LEANING PULLING AWAY FROM THE HOUSE-
This indicates that the foundation or cement footing that the fireplace
sits on is settling away from the house and taking the fireplace and
chimney with it. The foundation needs to be inspected for
deterioration, cracking, and water damage.
NOTE: Many people ask us about a quick fix for this situation. Can you
pull the chimney back to the house and strap/bolt it to the house? NO!
This is not a proper repair, for two reasons:
(1) If it is a very large chimney, as the foundation keeps settling
away from the house, it may start to pull the house out of square. (2)
With a small or medium size chimney, as the chimney foundation keeps
settling away from the house, and with the chimney braced to the house,
the chimney could be severely cracked at the base.
Bottom line.........a leaning chimney is dangerous and requires
immediate attention! In most cases it is necessary to rebuild the
entire chimney beginning with a new footing, checking for proper water
drainage near the footing, and reinforcing the entire structure with
Rampart General Fireplaces
of Pre-cast concrete fireplaces built by Rampart General are unsafe.
They are all condemned and need to be torn down and rebuilt as the only
solution to repair them.
Rampart General was a system of concrete factory-built fireplaces
produced in Santa Ana and installed throughout southern California. The
company has long since gone bankrupt.
Rampart General pre-cast fireplaces are unsafe because of cracks that
developed while in transit and these cracks can pose a severe fire
danger. Repair is not
allowed, and the entire
fireplace must be replaced.
"Thanks Paul, you
went above and beyond by taking the time talk with me about my
Craftsman fireplace and
steps I need to take to ensure its
safety....all the while knowing that I live outside his service area and the
conversation would most likely not result in a sale.
I am a
real estate broker and property manager who
deals daily with
contractors and can tell immediately from our quick phone exchange that
you run a first class operation!"
Real Estate Sales &
Century 21 Discovery Regards,
Todd Foust (DRE lic # 01488032)
FOUST Real Estate Team & C21 Discovery
FOUST Real Estate Website
MASONRY AND FIREPLACE DESIGN
Masonry Contractor: Paul Walker
Trained in England, he has 24 years of experience in masonry
The first five years were in and around London, where he served working
with tradesmen who passed down their skills and knowledge acquired from
Paul has been building fireplaces in San Diego since 1992 and is a
recognized expert in fireplace refacing, fireplace repair, and relining
to prevent fire hazards.
He is trained in all areas of masonry construction focusing mainly on
the comprehensive aspects of fireplace
and chimney construction, including outdoor
cooking ovens and barbeques using real stone stonework, True stone, Rox
Pro rock, Eldorado and Cultured stone.
take pride in our work and guarantee quality craftsmanship."
- Paul Walker
construction masonry fireplaces
permits from city
with brick, tile, veneer
stone, precast mantles
existing chimneys, crowns
dampers, Spark arresters, Heat
and cultured stone
specialist Truestone,Rox Pro rock