Fireplaces: Maintenance, Troubleshooting and Repair

Fireplaces are commonplace in many St. Louis homes. They’re a great thing to have, whether you are enjoying the energy savings benefits from heating your home or just enjoy the warmth and sound of a crackling fire. And while they are fairly low maintenance, as with anything else, they can malfunction.

Fireplace Maintenance:


Your fireplace and flu should be inspected yearly. Examine the firebox (inside of fireplace) for holes and cracks in mortar or firebrick.

Next, Inspect the flue by opening the damper and peaking up with a flashlight to check the liner for soot buildup and obstructions (birds or squirrels nesting) or any other kind of debris.

Cleaning, if needed:

Cleaning the liner is a simple and affordable thing to address. A chimney should be cleaned if soot buildup has accumulated to 1/8 in or more or if there is any kind of debris, mentioned above, obstructing the path to the top. Depending on how often you burn and what you are burning would determine how often you should have the liner cleaned.

If you are unsure, give us a call or visit our contact page and we would be glad to help.

Troubleshooting Problems with Fireplaces:

Cracks in firebox mortar or firebrick:

If, during your inspection of your fireplace, you notice any cracks in the mortar or brick. Over time, settling of the house and constant use (heat stress) of the fireplace will cause this kind of damage. We address this by properly removing the deteriorated joints, cleaning the joints and applying new refractory cement (a fireproof mortar) as needed to match the existing work. Cracks in the firebrick, more often than not, can be fixed with the cement as well, though sometimes brick will need to be replaced if too damaged or missing.

Cracks in or missing flue tiles in Chimney Breast:

Spotting cracks in your liner can be a tricky task, however, if you do notice any kind of deterioration of the flue liner, it may be in need of being replaced. The liner should be fixed to prevent carbon monoxide or embers from entering or leaching into other parts of the house. The best and most cost effective route is to install a stainless steel liner designed for your chimney. If you are unsure about the condition of your liner, give us a call or visit our contact page, we would be glad to help.

Water or Pests coming down flue into fireplace:

One day you may find a puddle of water, a bird, a squirrel, a bat or something worse in your fireplace. The flue tile, that extends above the chimney, should have a cap on it to prevent this. Your chimney may have never had a cap before or the existing one has blown off from the wind or deteriorated and fallen off, either way, it should be replaced. Try to imagine your uncovered flue on the roof as a bucket collecting water during rain, or an inviting home to a bypassing pest, neither sound any good. If you notice your in need of a cap, give us a call or visit our contact page for more information.

Smoke backing up into house:

You find smoke buildup or smoke backing into your house from the fireplace, What is happening? The cause could be a variety of reasons.

  1. Oftentimes, a first time fireplace owner may forget to properly open the damper or the damper could be jammed or stuck not allowing proper venting for the fire. If you are having problems with your damper give us a call or use the contact page to schedule an appointment to assess the situation.
  2. Your house could be sealed up to tight or a fan could be on causing negative pressure drawing the smoke from the fireplace into your home. Try cracking a window to solve this.
  3. The firebox is too big for the flue liner. There is a little math involved when installing fireplaces or new flu liners that could have been overlooked. If the liner is too small for the firebox, it can usually be corrected with a smoke guard. If not, the flue may need to be replaced.
  4. Outside winds could be hitting the flue above your house in such a way to push the smoke back down. However unlikely, it can happen.
  5. With two or more fireplaces, smoke can back up into another flue vented out of the same stack when one fireplace is in use and the other is not. An example would be, if you are having a fire in your fireplace on your main floor and find smoke coming out of the unused fireplace at the basement level. This can be caused by negative pressure on the unused fireplace level. Try cracking a window. If that does not work, the height of your flu liners coming out of the chimney may need to be adjusted to discourage smoke from venting into one another.

Chimney Dampers:

Dampers can get jammed or stuck open, closed or partially either. It can sometimes be as simple as using a little bit of elbow grease to unjar the stuck damper. If not, the damper may need to be fixed or replaced.

While this does cover most of the maintenance and problems you might run into owning a fireplace, other problems can occur. Give us a call or visit the contact page to schedule a free estimate.