Smoky Fireplace
September 22, 2004 7:00 PM   Subscribe

I love having fires in my fireplace. But I hate the fact that it makes my apartment smell like smoke for weeks afterwards. [mi]

My fireplace is basically a hole in the wall with a flue and a metal chain curtain. It doesn't have glass doors on it. Since I already melted one brush and lit another on fire trying to sweep hot coals out, I have to close the flue to keep the whole apartment from getting sucked up it, let the coals cool in place and sweep them the next morning... but then my apartment smells like smoke for a week afterwards, which isn't very cool in my opinion.

Short of buying a really expensive air filter, is there some trick I'm missing to making your apartment normal AND enjoying the fireplace?
posted by SpecialK to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
I'll volunteer to be the dumb guy and get it out of the way... you have in fact had the chimney cleaned, right?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:48 PM on September 22, 2004

First off, I would suggest you let you coals cool for more than one day. They can still be hot, maybe not hot to the touch but, hot enough to start another fire if piled together next to something combustable. Trust me on this, I almost burned the house down when I was a kid after cleaning up seemingly cold coals and putting them in a baggie for the garbage.

Secondly, the problem is either smoke not getting sucked up the chimney and getting into your apartment stinking up the joint, or smoke going up the chimney, and getting into the walls via some hole(s) in your chimney. On top of making your house smell, this could be a fire disaster in the waiting (again, same thing happened to me in the house I'm currently living in. First, grab a flashlight, stick your head in the fireplace, look up, and take a good hard look all over in there as much as you can to see if there are any holes in the wall of the fireplace. If you see anything, call the landlord and ask them to fix them. Additionally, you might just want to call a chimney repair place and have them come out for a free estimate on the job, then tell your landlord whatever they told you. If they rented you the place advertizing the fact there was a chimney, then they should have to fix it. As well, chimneys should be swept by a professional at least once every two years if not every year... Talk to your landlord again about that too.

If you cannot find any holes in your chimney, or want to go the cheep route, then just make sure as much smoke goes up the chimney and as little gets out. Put the fire in the very rear of the fireplace, don't make it so big that the flames or the smoke come out in the room, etc.

Good luck.
posted by pwb503 at 7:53 PM on September 22, 2004

It's a very small, shallow fireplace. What's interesting is that it has metal walls... and the metal walls have warped outwards, leaving holes in the back of the fireplace itself. I'm not sure what's behind the metal walls. I think I will go ahead and get an inspection done on the fireplace... our local fire department should either be willing to do it or know someone who will come out and do it for free. I doubt the chimney's been cleaned in a coon's age, but I'll check with the manager tomorrow.

Opening my patio door and airing the place out got rid of most of it, but I can still whiff smoke when I come in. It's been a week since I had a fire in the fireplace.

I do let the coals cool in a metal bucket outside after I sweep them up.
posted by SpecialK at 8:30 PM on September 22, 2004

Since I already melted one brush and lit another on fire trying to sweep hot coals out, I have to close the flue to keep the whole apartment from getting sucked up it, let the coals cool in place and sweep them the next morning

Huh? Are you saying that you close the flue while the coals are still burning? What is getting sucked up where?

If you close the flue while things are still burning, then smoke has nowhere to go but into your apartment. It doesn't matter how clean it is if it is closed, so an inspection/cleaning won't help.
posted by rorycberger at 9:03 PM on September 22, 2004

If it were me, I wouldn't have a fire until the fireplace was fully repaired. Holes? Leading to unknown places? You don't know when it's been cleaned? I couldn't sleep thinking about that.

Rory is spot on about your smell problem, though. The flue needs to be open even after the fire is out.
posted by transient at 10:35 PM on September 22, 2004

Yes, I leave the flue open until the fire is out. Apologies if that wasn't clear.

However, once the fire is out and there are no longer glowing coals, I tend to close the flue and sweep up the mess.

I am going to have the fireplace inspected before I do anything else... i.e. before I use it again. Thanks for that advice; I didn't think about it. (The things you forget that you need to take care of now that you're on your own...)
posted by SpecialK at 11:03 PM on September 22, 2004

Why the hurry to clean up the ashes? I leave mine in there and only clean them out maybe three times a year...

posted by pwb503 at 2:19 AM on September 23, 2004

From a Usenet post found by searching Google Groups on
fireplace "smells like smoke" --

Under normal circumstances, you shouldn't smell smoke in your house after the
fire is out.

There are several reasons the fire might not burn properly to draw the smoke up
the chimney - debris in the chimney, a spark arrester on the top that is
clogged or improperly installed, a chimney that has become clogged with
creasote, a damper/flue that is not open all the way. You might also smell
smoke in the house if you fail to close the damper/flue after the fire is out
and downdrafts in the chimney blow the odor back in the house.

Finally, a slowly smoldering fire may not cause enough heat to rise to draw all
the smoke upwards, particularly in a well-insulated house. Stupid as this may
sound, it's always a good idea to have a window cracked open somewhere near the
burning fireplace to make sure that all the carbon monoxide and other products
of a fire don't fill the house and that there is enough draft to make sure they
can rise up the chimney.

Get the chimney and firebox checked out by a professional before you use it
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:39 AM on September 23, 2004

The fireplace you have described is not suited for a large roaring fire. I have a similar fireplace and use one "fire log" at a time. You should have a draft created by a cracked window or door while burning a fire. Even with the flute is open, the burning coal's smoke will enter your living area if the house is all closed up. What type of wood are you burning? The more dense the wood the fire hotter and longer the fire will burn. Like an ash tree.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:33 PM on September 23, 2004

The more dense the wood the fire hotter and longer the fire will burn.

Denser woods have hotter and longer burning fires. Like wood from an ash tree.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:36 PM on September 23, 2004

Hmn. Maybe I should just use the firelogs instead of real wood. I'll try that once I've gotten the fireplace inspected.
posted by SpecialK at 1:25 PM on September 23, 2004

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