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Old 01-01-2019, 08:01 PM   #1
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"Back Puffing" Fireplace


I have a house in California that was built in two sections, the "upper" and "lower." It's not a two-story, but a ranch type on a slight slope. Both the upper and lower living rooms have fireplaces, each of which has a chimney. The upper living room was built in the 19940s; the lower was built after that, likely in the 1950s.

The upper living room's fireplace makes a nice, pleasant heat for that part of the house. I don't have to run the furnace (there is one) the way it was necessary back in Ohio.

The upper fireplace "back puffs" when the fire isn't burning hot. If there's a lot of flame in there, the heat and draft carry the smoke up the flue, like it's supposed to. If the fire "banks" a bit, smoke gets in the room, sometimes a lot of it. Sometimes there's so much it's necessary to open windows and run a fan to get it out, which ameliorates the heating aspect.

I've consulted websites relating to this type of thing, and they have provided some helpful guidance. It's apparent that whoever designed this fireplace was far from a master. I've used bricks to reduce the size of the opening, and gotten a taller log grate to hold the logs up a bit closer to the flue opening. But still the problem persists. Sometimes the fire banks a bit and there's no problem. Other times (like tonight) it gets so smoky my roommate and I had to go outside and ventilate the place for a while.

The lower fireplace, by contrast, has never given any problems. You can burn any kind of fire in there you want and the smoke goes where it's supposed to, up the chimney.

Anyone have thoughts, experiences?
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Old 01-01-2019, 08:12 PM   #2
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Re: "Back Puffing" Fireplace


Does it work better with a window open?
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Old 01-01-2019, 08:19 PM   #3
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Re: "Back Puffing" Fireplace


Are you running both fireplaces at the same time? One could cause a back draft in the other.
How tall is the chimney on the outside? To close to the roof or any hills or trees nearby could cause improper drafting.
Could be related to the size of the flue also. Too big a flue and too much heat needed to maintain draft.
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Old 01-01-2019, 08:32 PM   #4
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Re: "Back Puffing" Fireplace


You said you've had to do repair on it . Are there obvious signs of deterioration ?

I would advise getting it professionally inspected . This isn't something to play around with !


Re-lining them is fairly common :


https://www.ctsweep.com/blog/top-swe...himney-liners/
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Old 01-01-2019, 08:33 PM   #5
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Re: "Back Puffing" Fireplace


Quote:
Originally Posted by joed View Post
Are you running both fireplaces at the same time? One could cause a back draft in the other.
How tall is the chimney on the outside? To close to the roof or any hills or trees nearby could cause improper drafting.
Could be related to the size of the flue also. Too big a flue and too much heat needed to maintain draft.
I've almost never run both at once. Usually it's either one or the other. The lower one is getting re-bricked, so it hasn't been used in a while.

The top of the flue is about 5 - 6 feet from the roofline, about 15 feet from the base of the fireplace.

Interesting about the size of the flue. I've heard that too small flues are a worse problem than the other way round. The flue in the lower fireplace has about half again the area of opening of the upper fireplace.
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Old 01-01-2019, 08:37 PM   #6
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Here it is in action now. Burning merrily away no back puffing.

Great Great Grandma the cat appreciates the heat too.
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"Back Puffing" Fireplace-1d624727-4b72-40d1-bcf8-1db78d578a35_1546396613716.jpg   "Back Puffing" Fireplace-3f4bb98f-f3af-4151-a9d7-3a79b9a0fabb_1546396632078.jpg  
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Old 01-01-2019, 08:39 PM   #7
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Re: "Back Puffing" Fireplace


Do you know if the flue is clean? If it has a smoke shelf and there is crud accumulated on it it will impair a smooth draft.
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Old 01-01-2019, 08:39 PM   #8
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Re: "Back Puffing" Fireplace


Quote:
Originally Posted by dd57chevy View Post
You said you've had to do repair on it . Are there obvious signs of deterioration ?

I would advise getting it professionally inspected . This isn't something to play around with !


Re-lining them is fairly common :


https://www.ctsweep.com/blog/top-swe...himney-liners/
Thanks for the link!

I'm repairing the lower fireplace; the problem is with the upper.

I've not found any obvious problems with it. The flue is nice and clear. Might not be a bad idea to get a second opinion.
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Old 01-01-2019, 08:41 PM   #9
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Re: "Back Puffing" Fireplace


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Originally Posted by Nealtw View Post
Does it work better with a window open?
There appears to be no difference.
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Old 01-01-2019, 08:49 PM   #10
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Re: "Back Puffing" Fireplace


A couple of important factors here:
1. You said the fireplace puffs smoke back when the fire dies down. When the firs is low it is also generating a lot of CO (carbon monoxide).
2. The open a window is a poor fix as when it gets cold someone will eventually close that window, again the CO risk.
If a window is to be opened it should be the lowest window possible. The pressures inside the house will always shift towards a new opening and in this case make the pressure in front of the fireplace a bit more positive.

Now, a fireplace is a poor source of heat, which I'm sure you have read. If the opportunity presents itself, adding a sealed combustion insert would produce real heat and eliminate the puffing.

A picture of the chimneys and the roof line would help.

Bud
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Old 01-01-2019, 09:01 PM   #11
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Re: "Back Puffing" Fireplace


Quote:
Originally Posted by Bud9051 View Post
A couple of important factors here:
1. You said the fireplace puffs smoke back when the fire dies down. When the firs is low it is also generating a lot of CO (carbon monoxide).
2. The open a window is a poor fix as when it gets cold someone will eventually close that window, again the CO risk.
If a window is to be opened it should be the lowest window possible. The pressures inside the house will always shift towards a new opening and in this case make the pressure in front of the fireplace a bit more positive.

Now, a fireplace is a poor source of heat, which I'm sure you have read. If the opportunity presents itself, adding a sealed combustion insert would produce real heat and eliminate the puffing.

A picture of the chimneys and the roof line would help.

Bud
No question, a fireplace is no substitute for central heating. It's just nice and pleasant, and the ashes make great fertilizer for my half acre of palm trees.

I'll see if I can get a picture tomorrow when it gets light.

One of those inserts might be a good idea. I've read about them, and they appear to do what I did with the bricks, which is to reduce the size of the opening.

Before I did that, the puffing problem was much worse.
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Old 01-01-2019, 09:02 PM   #12
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Re: "Back Puffing" Fireplace


Quote:
Originally Posted by lenaitch View Post
Do you know if the flue is clean? If it has a smoke shelf and there is crud accumulated on it it will impair a smooth draft.
I'll look at that!
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Old 01-01-2019, 09:04 PM   #13
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Der Baron von Komfy also likes the heat, even if he’s hairier than a husky’s hind end. Sleep tight, old buddy.

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts! Another reason to hang out here!

One strategy that seems to work, and appears to show that the general health of the system is okay (as it were) is that once a nice, hot fire gets started, with plenty of coals, it burns merrily away, and heat from the coals wafts the smoke out the flue.

The problem is, until it does that, it can back puff. As the pictures above show, the episode is over, and will likely be over.

The hard part is managing to be patient and let the fire get enough coals and hot enough. That can take a while.
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"Back Puffing" Fireplace-631a8e72-e758-4715-8338-2bacb662b653_1546398224778.jpg  

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Old 01-01-2019, 10:49 PM   #14
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When it gets that hot even big logs burn merrily
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Old 01-02-2019, 12:16 AM   #15
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Re: "Back Puffing" Fireplace


Dave, have you seen this?
https://www.csia.org/troubleshooting.html
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