The blast of Arctic air headed our way this week reminds us of the cozy possibility of a warm fire in the fireplace. However, for many homeowners, the joy of a cozy fire is matched by the frustration of cold air seeping into their homes when the fireplace is not in use. These beautiful home additions have a major downfall – drafts.
Even the best-constructed fireplaces pose draft problems. This goes double for wood-burning fireplaces – these traditional heat sources turn out to be an energy drain when they’re not in use. So what can you do to keep all of your precious heated indoor air from literally going up the chimney?
Check Your Damper
If you begin to notice cold air flooding from your fireplace, the very first thing you should check is the damper. A brand new damper is a thing of wonder – it sits just above the mouth of your fireplace and closes to prevent animals, debris, and precipitation from entering your home when the fireplace is not in use. They tend to do a good job of keeping cold air out and warm air in.
But that is the magic of a brand new damper. Dampers that are a few years old are a different story altogether. Made of iron, they tend to warp over the years, leaving gaps that allow air to flow freely. When the damper is warped, you are left with a draft problem on your hands.
When you first notice cold air flowing from the chimney, do a check to ensure that the damper is actually closed. If the problem continues, you likely have an issue with the damper itself. That means calling in a professional, or trying out another fix on this list before investing in new (and possibly expensive) equipment.
Add A Door
With traditional wood-burning fireplaces, you may have an open hearth with no separation between you and the fire. While this is certainly cozy, it is also problematic. The lack of separation can prove to be a safety hazard, especially in households with small children or pets. It also leaves open the possibility of an ember popping out of the fireplace and spreading fire where you don’t want it.
An open hearth is also a draft issue, especially if damper problems are involved. With nothing blocking the mouth of the fireplace, air is free to move into your home uninvited. This means more cold air that must be warmed, which leads to higher energy bills for you.
Adding a door to your fireplace can help to reduce drafts and adds a measure of safety when you have a fire burning. It can also be an inexpensive solution, as doors are available in standard sizes to fit most any fireplace. For older fireplaces that may be a little larger, custom door solutions are also available.
Try A DIY Solution
For those who are handy with tools and are looking for a weekend project, a DIY solution might be right up your alley. Most DIY projects focus on making a removable insulated insert to block any drafts that might be flowing from the chimney. These inserts are not a new idea – check out this example from the 1700s with a beautifully painted design.
While researching DIY options for fireplace covers, we came upon this design by Pretty Handy Girl. This insulated option would make a great weekend project for any ambitious homeowner! Click on the photo for full instructions on how to create this beauty.
Consider A Chimney Balloon
For those who don’t have the time or the skills necessary to create a DIY insert, a chimney balloon may be an option. Available from most hardware stores and online retailers such as Amazon, chimney balloons are an easy, and invisible, way to prevent drafts from flowing through your fireplace.
Here’s how they work: installed from inside your home, a chimney balloon looks just like a rectangular balloon you might buy for a party. It sits just below the damper. Once inflated, the balloon fills the space of the chimney, blocking airflow from the outside. The balloon is easily deflated and stored when not in use, and can be used year after year in both wood burning or gas fireplaces.
The best part is that no one ever sees them. Guests won’t know that you have installed a balloon to block airflow, and homeowners can still enjoy the charm of a traditional fireplace without any visual impediment.
Magnetic Covers For Vents
For some homeowners, a fireplace door comes with vents bordering the top and bottom of the fireplace opening. This is especially common on gas fireplaces. Even with the outside vent or damper closed, drafts can still make their way into the fireplace and back into your home. The indoor vents are usually the culprits, and there is a very easy fix to prevent cold air from leaking into your living area.
Magnetic vent covers are available from many online retailers and are relatively inexpensive. Just be certain to remove the covers before using the fireplace, so that air can flow properly through the vents and chimney.
There are some bits of old wisdom out there that advise placing newspaper or other flammable materials in your chimney to prevent drafts. Please don’t do this! While this may work for a brief period of time, the risk of forgetting about the insulating material and inadvertently starting a fire is much too high.
For those who have a fireplace that no longer works, using one of the solutions listed above is a far better idea than stuffing old blankets in the chimney! Or better yet, consider calling a professional who can advise the best way to keep the fireplace closed for maximum energy savings and safety.