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Woodstove smoking--any suggestions?

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 
DH and I are certainly not living "off the grid" (though it is a someday dream!), but we are trying to cut back on electricity usage this winter. To that end, we purchased two cords of firewood in an attempt to heat our house with the woodstove instead of baseboard heaters.

We live in a small, old cottage with a woodstove in the living room. We had a few fires in there last winter, but it was more for recreation than for heat. Since we brought home the firewood we have had many fires in the woodstove, but I have been having some problems . . .

When I try to get the fire started, I often have problems with smoke coming OUT of the woodstove and into the living room . . . last night when I came home the coals were still going (DH had just left) and I tried to add a couple of pieces of wood, and smoke just POURED out of the stove while the doors were open.

It's not like it happens every time, and it's not like smoke is belching out of the woodstove when the doors are closed or anything. But it is a bit of a problem because the house is so small; the living room gets really smoky, and it is hard to clear.

Is there any way to clean the chimney/flue to this thing--is it possible that is the reason that the smoke isn't going straight up when we start fires?
post #2 of 27
There could be a few different things happening. My dh's a chimney technician

1) You may have negative air pressure in your home. That means your house is too tightly sealed. Even with a wood stove, your home needs some way for fresh air to come in your house while you have a fire. Otherwise, when you open your wood stove (for example) the air will be SUCKED down the chimney and into the room. You can relieve the negative air pressure a few ways... If you have plastic wrapped your windows, you could take it off some of the windows AT OR BELOW the level of the wood stove. You can leave all the plastic on windows ABOVE the woodstove. Another way is to just keep an outside door open a crack while you are burning. Or better yet, is to install an air intake in your lowest level, ex basement or again BELOW the level of the wood stove.

2) Something else that may be happening - Your stove pipe may not be properly installed which is preventing the smoke from leaving the wood stove properly. You need to be sure that it vents out correctly meaning it must rise vertically a certain number of degrees based on any horizontal length.

3) Your piping could be dirty and having it cleaned is very important to prevent chimney fires. But odds are that it being dirty alone isn't enough for the smoke to not be venting properly.

4) Finally, if the flue is just too cold, it is hard for the smoke to vent out effectively. You do need to make sure you 'warm up the flue' when you are making a fire.

The link I posted is for the Chimney Safety Institute of America http://www.csia.org/homeowners/ownerHotTopics.htm where you can find certified reliable knowledgable chimney sweeps to help you if you need more answers. My dh is #1 in Minnesota
post #3 of 27
Sometimes when a person starts a fire a outside door needs to be open a bit for a good draw.

My great grandmother always stuck paper up the pipe and lite that to warm the pipe for a good draw.

Sometimes stoves just dont get good draws because of living in a canyon.
post #4 of 27
I don't have a woodstove here at home, but my inlaws heat with wood, and I work at a living history museum (1870's era) and use woodstoves quite a bit. One thing I notice is everytime I open up the door to the firebox, the stove smokes, then stops when I close it. I dunno, just thought that was how it worked. We always had a window or door open while building a fire, even if it's just a crack and that seemed to help. Reading the responses, I think my problem would be the draw factor.
post #5 of 27
We often have to warm the flue in order to establish a draft. We simply stuff a crumpled piece of newspaper up into the flue and light it.
post #6 of 27
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the responses, ladies!

We think we have figured out the problem . . . DH had a lot of problems with getting a fire started on Saturday, and happened to look out the glass-paned door next to the woodstove while he was working. What he saw was smoke coming out of the chimney that runs outside the house! Upon closer inspection, we realized that the elbow joint of the chimney is rusted through at the bend--no WONDER we weren't getting a good draw!

We have just returned from the hardware store, and DH is going to replace the joint . . . I will let you know how it goes!
post #7 of 27
Thread Starter 

No luck . . .

DH did the elbow joint replacement, started a fire . . . and our house is all smoky again. (My eyes are tearing up as I type this!) We had the window across from the stove open. The leak in the chimney is, at least, taken care of--but it's a bit frustrating to still have the smoke problem!

Fortunately we are leaving soon for dance rehearsal, and won't be home until late tonight . . . then planning on being out of the house again tomorrow night. So, not too much time to spend in a cold house. That gives us 48 hours to figure out another solution!

I don't think it is a "cold flue" problem . . . we have smoke seeping from every joint in the chimney, out around the (closed) metal doors . . .

I was eyeing the "chimney cleaning" logs at the hardware store today, but we decided against it because we were sure that the chimney repair would solve the problem. Wondering now if we should give it a try?
post #8 of 27
Could it be wet wood? Can you try another fire with some wood that you're sure is a good, dry, seasoned hardwood, like oak? My husband is a freak about not putting anything in our woodstove (our only heat source) that isn't hardwood.
post #9 of 27
Thread Starter 
Nope, definitely not wet wood (we bought two cords of seasoned firewood last month that are neatly stacked on pallets, under tarps, next to our house).

I'm starting to think it MUST be a dirty flue, or perhaps the mesh screen that is at the top of the chimney . . . DH says there is a lot of buildup in the chimney, so we are assuming that the screen also is probably caked with crud. (This house is a rental, and we have only lived here a little more than a year--and only did a few fires last year--so I have no idea when is the last time that someone cleaned the darned thing.)

Our only concern with using one of those chimney-cleaning logs is that we don't really know how safe the smoke from those things are . . . and since much of the smoke would end up IN our living space because of the chimney issue (and especially because I am pregnant right now, and DH is being just a LITTLE over-protective ) . . . we're just not sure. Anyone have any info?
post #10 of 27
Chimney sweeping logs do not replace a chimney cleaning. It says right on the product and on the commercials. They aren't worth the money. When you do get your chimney cleaned by a certified chimney sweep, make sure they use real brushes and preferrably a rotobrush to remove the creosote.
post #11 of 27
Thread Starter 
Ah, crud. Don't know if we can really afford to have someone come out and clean the darned thing . . . although I suppose we don't really have a choice at this point, since we spent money on firewood and are NOW spending money on keeping the heat running so that the house is semi-comfortable . . .

I suppose I'll have to make some phone calls, get an estimate, make sure that cleaning the chimney might fix our problem. I'll let you know how it goes!
post #12 of 27
Its easy enought to clean a chimneys yourself if heights dont bother you.

The brushes arent to pricey sure cheaper than having to pay someone to do it.

I have always use a stick and brush to clean the cap.

I as a child cleaned chimneys for my parents its that easy
post #13 of 27
Thread Starter 
Excellent news! I'm not a big fan of heights myself, but DH probably wouldn't let me do it anyway. I will let him know that he can clean it himself, and hopefully he can find an evening this week to give it a try.

Keeping my fingers crossed!
post #14 of 27
I would think keeping the woodstove in safe working order would fall under the responsibilities of your landlord. What if you had a fire in your stovepipe and burned the house down. Law suit city, baby. I'd inquire.
post #15 of 27
Thread Starter 
heh heh heh

Actually, according to our lease, we are responsible for all household maintenance and repairs. If something major goes wrong with, say, the water heater, or the septic system--that is our landlady's responsibility. Routine stuff like yard maintenance, plumbing issues, etc. she wants us to take care of it. (She has several rental properties and prefers to be a "hands-off" landlord, offering lower rent to reliable tenants who are willing to take on the day-to-day stuff without bugging her.)

DH took a look at the chimney and although it has a bit of soot in there, it is an 8" pipe--1/8-1/4" of buildup isn't going to make a difference in the venting of smoke, is it? At THIS point (although we've been wrong before!), we are thinking that it is the cap piece (the screen dome) that is up there to keep crud from falling into the chimney; he thinks it looks bent, like maybe a branch hit it, and needs to be replaced.

So, the saga continues. Tune in again tomorrow for further updates! (*grin*)
post #16 of 27
i think it will make a difference. woodstoves have more creasole (sp?) than regular fireplaces. we had ours cleaned last year and had a few chimney fires that we didnt even know about. thats scarey.
it sounds like you need a chimney sweep but i will warn you right now they aren't too cheap! to me, thats a major repair not something like yard maintenence, etc. i would try to work something out with your l/l.
good luck!
post #17 of 27

Maybe have the answer

Everything I have read on this thread happened to me just recently.
I have a rather long chimney for our woodstove.....going through 2 stories.
Just put in the woodstove and chimneys last fall. Been burning dry wood.
We have another woodstove on the 2nd floor also that has been in for at least 2 years but upon looking at both chimney caps, the most recent stove pipe going through 2 floors is almost black! The stove on the 2nd floor looks just as new as when we installed it.
I have done dome calling around and seems that the answer is that the spark-arrester screen is probably clogged up.
Since it is January now, I probably won't be able to get up on the roof till spring time. But we use the wood stoves as a backup and also to keep gas bills down as we have forced air heating.
Was thinking about using one of those crecote logs but read that they really don't do anything but since it is the middle of winter, I figure I might as well give it a try since it gives out such a hot heat. If that does not do the trick, I will have to wait till springtime to clean the spark arrester screen.
THe woodstove drew like a champ when we first put it in and after 3 months of use, I can only think that it is the spark arrester screen.
post #18 of 27
We had to have liner attached to our stove when we first moved in. It smoked like crazy. Our chimney was too large and thus too cold to draw it out. And we live in Hotlanta. Our insurance paid for most of it because it was a fire hazard, the chimney guy saw evidence of chimney fires.

DH also cleans our chimney. very easy, though I'm always nervous since it's high.
post #19 of 27
Originally Posted by Birth Junky View Post
So, the saga continues. Tune in again tomorrow for further updates! (*grin*)
Birth Junky,
Check out this wood burning forum.

I suggest posting a detailed description of your set up along with the symptoms, attempted remedies and the results of those attempts, etc. Pictures can be extremely helpful as well. You can't post pictures directly from your computer. You would need something like a "Photobucket" account.

You should be able to get some good feedback on that forum.

I don't have any answers myself but I would say that it sounds like you are due for a thorough cleaning.

Good luck. ~Cath
post #20 of 27
I just saw your thread and thought i'd post our experiences, since we live rurally and heat with wood exclusively....(i refuse any other...for a few reasons ). We cut our own wood off of our property and use a crappy old wood stove to heat from.... When we first start a fire we WERE having a little smoke problem, when dh realized that the top of the stove (under the rack on top) was rusting out!!!! He had the brilliant idea (sometimes I wonder!!??) to apply a caulking he had that was intended for metal (hot)...to my surprise it worked!!! Are you sure that your stove is sealed well??? As far as the chimney goes....we had a chimney sweep (guy??) come and check and clean ours before we used it.... we haven't had any trouble there,,,,so it was worth the $$$... Also just want to say don't give up!!!!! Heat is such an energy sucker!!! We dream of bein off the grid as well!!!!!!!!!! (ONE FINE DAY)
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