Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Preparing For Winter

It is starting to cool down at nights enough to make us want to light the fire.  In this old wooden house with great ventilation timber floors that allows for strong winds to blow up under the house lifting the rugs off the ground and timber walls that cannot be insulated a fire is necessary from about May till September.
Before we light the first fire of the season we like to do a day time trial run.  This way is there are any issues or the fire is a bit smoky we can a) try and work out the issue in the daylight with out our teeth chattering and b) you have time to leave all the doors and windows open to let any smoke out so you are not setting your smoke alarms off all night.

So on the weekend Hubby set about lighting the fire for it's test run.  But try as he might it would not light, even the paper would not stay lit.  Not only would it not light but the smoke was not going up the chimney it was coming straight out the door.  The whole house was filling with smoke and there was clearly an issue.  The smoke could not get up the chimney.
So we started to check all the possible areas that could be causing the issue.  We knew the chimney itself was clear as it had been cleaned out last year, so hubby climbed on the roof to check that there were not any critters somehow blocking the top chimney cap.  It was clear too.
The last place to check was inside the fire itself.  Once it had cooled down we were able to work out that this is where the problem was coming from.
The way the fire works can be seen in the picture below.  A heavy metal plate (top plate) stops the flames from shooting up the chimney and the smoke is sucked in at the front and back (the picture is a side view)
A side view of the fire working as it should
However over time there is a build up of resin on the inside of the chimney.  As the hot smoke rises it cools and all oils from the timbers condense and either cling to the inside of the chimney or fall back down.  The more sap or oil in the timber the more this happens.  Over time all of this sooty resin builds up and can block the gap at the bottom of the chimney, as in the picture below, this can also happen if the person who cleans your chimney does not clean out the top plate after cleaning.  This build up is what was preventing the smoke from escaping up the chimney, hence our house full of smoke.
A side view of a blocked fire 
Below you can see a picture of what was sitting on top of our top plate.  Ours has a triangular catch are that the chimney sits into but not touching the plate.  And as you can see it was full of an inch of soot.
It was just a simple matter of scrapping it all out and then we were right to go.
It was not a difficult job and yet if you did not know how to fix the issue you might be inclined to pay someone to come out and look at it.  It is however really important that you get your chimney cleaned regularly as they can cause house fires if left.  So if you are not able to do it your self the you should absolutely invest in having it cleaned or see if you can track down a friend or neighbour to help you with it.

Now that we have that sorted we are set for a nice cosy winter.  We will probably not have to do this for another 2 years now but it is worth checking every year and the fire is more efficient once done.

What fire maintenance do you do at your place.


  1. Every year we get our great big long chimney sweep..hubby climbs on the roof and plunges it down cleaning as it goes..a far bit of debris comes down...(chimney sweep was purchased at pivot online) it's a great tool it saves us heaps otherwise we would be charge around 300 to have a chimney sweep come out here.

  2. love your diagrams! We've been running our fire lately too. I light it later in the afternoon, otherwise it gets too hot. Creosote is a real problem, we are lucky to have a steady supply of very well aged wood, which should be pretty low in creosote.

  3. We have the same problem with living in an old house and those floorboards...starting to get very chilly now!!Thanks for the diagrams and info...we have wanted to get one for awhile but I worry about the maintenance and the girls around the fire...still want one though you lucky thing!

  4. We only just got a wood fireplace this year and really enjoying it so far - it gives out a really lovely heat and warms the whole house. As it's brand new, my only maintenance has been to empty the ashes out every few days, but I suspect I'll be investing in a chimney brush so I can take care of the annual maintenance routine myself. Love your blog - Michael from Suburban Digs


I'd love to hear your thoughts...
Thanks for taking the time to comment