Fireplaces are one of the greatest luxuries for any homeowner. You can use them all year round in cold climates and in the winter almost everywhere. They look amazing and add an entirely new aesthetic.
But there is one part of the fireplace that is often overlooked by homebuyers. The damper. The fireplace damper is very important and every fireplace owner should know everything there is to know about it.
What Is A Fireplace Damper?
A The fireplace damper is very important and every fireplace owner should know everything there is to know about it. is a small door inside the fireplace that opens and closes access to the chimney. The damper is also called the flue ins some cases as opening the damper opens the flue but damper is the appropriate term.
When the damper is opened, it lets the smoke and harmful gasses escape through the chimney and outside. When the damper is closed, it blocks the cold air, preventing it from entering the house through the chimney.
Do I Need A Fireplace Damper?
Yes, every fireplace needs a damper. Whether you have a gas or wood-burning fireplace, it should still have a damper. If you’re having trouble finding your damper then you can do a couple of things to help.
Throat dampers can be found at the base of the chimney, near the main chamber. They are controlled by either a lever or a chain. Cap dampers are found that the top of the chimney and controlled by a chain.
How To Install A Fireplace Damper
There are many reasons why you’d want to install a fireplace damper. Perhaps your fireplace is old and needs the damper replaced. Or perhaps you just had a mason come in to build the fireplace but didn’t install one.
Keep in mind that it’s highly recommended to have a professional install the damper for you. If you do it wrong, it could be a fire hazard or smoke hazard, you definitely don’t want to wake up to a house full of smoke.
Step 1: Open All Doors
Clearing everything for easy access and ventilation is important. Before you begin anything, make sure that you open all the doors of the fireplace and clear the way as best as you can without removing anything.
Step 2: Clean Fireplace
It’s best not to do this on an exceptionally cold day, but before you begin installing the new damper, put the fire out, let it cool down, and remove the ashes. There shouldn’t be anything left in the fireplaces.
Step 3: Set Up
Lay out drop cloths over the floor and furniture to protect it from any ash and soot that you stir up and so you have somewhere to lay the old damper. When you do this, you’re ready to get started with the damper.
Step 4: Remove Old Damper
Find the old damper and remove it from the chimney. They usually simply pull out easily but you may have to use a screwdriver to unscrew it. If you are struggling, you can use a small flat bar to gently pry it out.
Step 5: Install New Damper
This can be done in multiple different orders. The best thing to do is take the old damper to the store so they can help you find the correct replacement. Otherwise, you’re just guessing and hoping it will work.
Since you’ll be getting a new damper, you can follow the instructions to install it. This is usually very simple, especially with a throat damper. Cap dampers should only be installed fully by professionals.
Step 6: Test Damper
It’s easier to test after you start a fire but you should at least flip it open and closed. Then you can ensure that at least the mechanism is working properly. Hopefully, you can see it open and seal closed.
Step 7: Start Fire
Now start your fire and test the damper properly. When closed, there should be no cold air coming out of the fireplace nor the blower. When opened, there should be no smoke coming out of the front of the fireplace.
Step 8: Clean Up
Now it’s time for the dreaded clean-up. It’s best to throw away the drop cloths unless you didn’t get any ash or soot on them. Then sweep up any messes and you are ready to relax by the fire once again.
Fireplace Saftey Tips
Fireplaces can be dreams if you take care of them properly. But if you don’t they can be a nightmare. Follow these tips to keep your fireplace in tip-top shape and you shouldn’t have any serious problems.
When To Open
Leave the damper open as long as there is smoke coming from the fire. The damper should always be fully open before lighting a fire and when a fire is going. Don’t fall into the partially open trap either.
If you allow the damper to be partially open, hoping it will let more heat into the house, it will actually in turn let more smoke in. Smoke can be just as harmful as fire and is more silent which can be more dangerous.
Install A Safety Screen
A safety screen is perfect for homes with children but it can come in handy in any home. It looks adorable and can be moved out of the way easily when it’s time to stoke the fire or clean out the ashes.
When To Close
Keep the damper closed when the fireplace isn’t in use. You can get by with it if the fire is almost out as long as there isn’t smoke coming from the coals. Keep the door closed and the damper closed when the fire is out.
It can be easy to forget to close the damper and really, there is no harm in doing so. It will simply be more difficult to keep your house warm if you have the damper open and no fire in the fireplace to warm the house.
Clean Ashes Out Daily
It may be a chore, but someone has to do it. Always clean the ashes out of your fireplace every day. On particularly cold days, you may need to twice, but usually, once a day is good. The schedule depends on you.
However, the morning is the most common time to clean the ashes out as the fire is at its lowest point and oftentimes is completely out. So you can completely clear the fireplace out without having to put the fire out.
Always have a professional check your chimney and fireplace annually. They can catch any problems that you may miss and they can safely get on top of the chimney without endangering themself.
Keep Indoor Woodpile Small
This is mostly for convenience as having too much wood indoors can be super messy. Keep an indoor wood box that is small and one with easy access outside that is larger. Then finally, the woodpile.
The woodpile should be within walking distance from the house. Because in the dead of winter, it isn’t always easy to get the car to the woodpile. Keep it stocked and make it easy to carry wood to the house.
Don’t Burn Trash
It is tempting to get rid of your trash by burning it, but really, it’s never a good idea to burn your trash. Instead, dispose of your trash properly, recycling what you should recycle, and using proper disposal etiquette.
Watch Mantle Items
Mantle items should primarily be fire-resistant. You can get by with wood decor items if they are near the back of the mantle. But keep an eye on highly flammable or combustible items and keep them away.
Never lay cans of chemicals on the mantle and never lay cotton, especially those treated with chemicals. For best results, only put things that are fire-resistant, not necessarily fireproof, on the mantle.
Crack A Window
This is optional, but if you want to be extra safe, always keep a window cracked when the fire is going. It may seem counterproductive, but if you do it right, it doesn’t have to be. Just watch the wind.
Choose a window near the fireplace that the wind isn’t blowing towards. This will guard the house against the wind while helping suck any smoke out of the house. So it’s a win-win situation.
Use Dry Wood
Don’t use green wood in your fireplace. Not only does it smell but it also doesn’t burn well. Some green wood can also release chemicals so you want to avoid those altogether. Instead, use dry wood.
You may have been told that green wood burns slower and thus saves you money. But only part of that is true. It is difficult to get green wood to burn and it is strongly discouraged to ever use it for your fire.
Don’t Use “Firestarter”
People that use lighter fluid or another firestarter to start indoor fires are asking for trouble. These are meant for outdoor fires and usually BBQs in very small amounts. Never use a firestarter indoors.
Sure, it can start a fire up really quick but it is far too dangerous to chance it. Stick to kindling, your lighter, and your own knowledge on starting fires the old-fashioned way.
Keep Working Alarms
This is super important. Always have a working fire alarm, smoke alarm, and carbon monoxide alarm. Most of the time, these are all-in-one units that need to be installed on every floor of the house.
Once you take care of this last important thing, you can have a fireplace and feel good about allowing your kids to grow up around it. So what are you waiting for? Curl up next to that thing with a cup of your favorite hot beverage.