Fireplace Blamed For Smokey House – On the House

Fireplace Blamed For Smokey House

By on March 6, 2014
fire place smoke

Question

You probably don’t remember me, but I was the editor of California Life in the Sacramento Bee back in the late ’80s. I fondly remember you. Here’s my question that I can’t seem to find a good answer to. We now live in Charlottesville, VA, and our 2100-square-foot, two-story house has a heat pump (we had natural gas forced air in Sacramento, so it’s still pretty new to us). It works great in the summer here and our bills are pretty low. We’ve not gotten programmable thermostats because we were told heat pumps work most efficiently if the temperature doesn’t go up or down too much at a time. We also have a fireplace that we didn’t plan on using very much, but as the winters have gotten drearier, we have enjoyed having a fire on the one or two nights a week we are home to enjoy it. It’s also nice to have going when we have parties. When the fan is running while the fire is burning, we get a smoky smell throughout the house that lingers long after the fire is gone. So we’ve taken to turning down the thermostat when we build a fire. This seems to solve the smoky problem, but when we go up to bed, the upstairs bedroom is like an ice cube. Once we get under the down comforter, we’re toasty after a few minutes, but my nose is cold. What can we do?

Lori

Answer

How nice to hear from you Lori. Your new home must have a very efficient energy envelope. It sounds as though you have “negative pressure” building in your home – common in well insulated home. The air pressure inside is less than the air pressure outside, so your home equalizes the pressure by drawing from the chimney. The fan is probably warming more effectively and increasing the negative pressure. Crack a window near the fireplace, but only slightly. The pressure in the room should equalize and the fan won’t smoke up your home while the fireplace is burring.

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