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To stop chimney odor, reverse the downdraft

By Peter Hotton
Peter Hotton
Peter Hotton has been the handyman expert for the Boston Globe for more than 30 years.

Q: We have installed a wood-burning stove, which is tightly sealed to the clay tile flue. About 10 years ago, after heavy rains, we noticed a creosote odor around the stove. The flue and connections are clean, but the odor persists. Do you know where the odor is coming from?

Q: We use our living room wood-burning fireplace only a few times every winter, and we had it cleaned seven or eight years ago. In the last few years, when it rains or is very humid we get a smoke and ash smell from the fireplace. It’s bad. We do have a damper and we also have glass doors on the fireplace. Admittedly, the doors and damper are probably not as tight as they might be. We also have a chimney cap. I read online that a damper at the top of the chimney with a pull chain might be a good idea, to keep any rain from coming into the fireplace and causing the smell. Is that what you would advise?

A: One answer to two questions:

The odor goes right down the chimney and into the house because high air pressure outside forces air down the chimney, bringing soot, creosote, and other noxious fumes into the house. It is called a downdraft, occurring when the stove or fireplace is not burning. Extra-tight dampers, even on top of the chimney, do not work well. But adding a little heat will reverse that draft, forcing air and those odors up the chimney and out.

For the stove, light an old-fashioned railroad kerosene lantern and place it in the stove, with damper open. For the fireplace, buy a rack to hold votive candles and put it in the firebox, with damper open.

Q: I installed a wood stove this winter and it has really made a difference in cutting my oil bill. The problem is that the room where the wood stove is installed gets too hot and I would like to get that heat into our great room directly above. I understand that there are fire code laws prohibiting cutting a hole in the ceiling to circulate that warm air upward. Someone suggested installing a fusible link damper would satisfy those fire codes, but I can’t find much information about them.

A:I suggest you call your local building department or fire department for more information.

photton@globe.com
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