As a homeowner, it’s critical that you know how to prime a chimney before using your fireplace.

Picture this: You decide to start a wood fire during a cold Winter night. You build a flawless upside-down fire, open the damper up, light the stack, and then… smoke fills the room. You think you’ve done everything right, so what’s the issue? You’re experiencing an improper chimney draft!

For your system to draft effectively, the flue sometimes needs to be “preheated” or “primed.” Luckily, you can easily accomplish this within minutes! Follow along with this blog to get your air flowing the right way.

Cold Chimney Down Draft

Example: Cold drafts slowly work their way down the chimney when you open the damper plate.

The Importance of Prepping Your Fireplace

Warming the flue in a fireplace is important because it allows toxic smoke to flow up and out of your home from the moment you start a fire.

When your fireplace goes unused, especially in the cold months, the flue fills up with cold air. That cold air will slowly travel down the flue, while heated air will attempt to travel up it. And because the cold air is heavier than heat from a freshly lit stack, it will block heat from rising. Of course, that means the smoke has nowhere to go except for back into the room. This issue is called a backdraft.

Back drafting is serious! Smoke contains toxic chemicals such as carbon monoxide. Excessive exposure to these chemicals can inhibit lung function and potentially be fatal.

Preheating the flue will reverse the chimney draft, keeping you safer and allowing you to enjoy a warm and cozy fire faster.

How Do You Prime a Chimney?

Learning how to increase a chimney draft is a simple process. All you need is a bundle of newspapers and fire-building materials. Once you’ve acquired them, follow these easy steps: 

  1. Confirm that you’ve had a professional inspection and cleaning in the past year.
  2. Fully open the damper.
  3. Arrange your logs using your preferred method (but do not light the stack yet).
  4. Roll up 3-5 newspapers into a torch-like shape.
  5. Light one end and hold it close to the flue.
  6. Continue lighting these torches until you physically see the smoke traveling upwards.
  7. Finally, safely light your fire and enjoy.

Fireplace preheating is an effective process because the heat from the newspapers is significantly hotter than a freshly lit wood-burning fire. Your system should be ready in a few short minutes!

In the video below, we demonstrate how to light and hold the torch under the flue. This is a basic demonstration. It’s imperative that you follow each step we listed above! 

Other Preheating Methods

If you don’t have newspapers lying around, there are various ways to prime a chimney flue.

    • Keep the Damper Open- Try leaving your damper open for at least 30 minutes. It’s a methodical and inefficient method, but the warm air will eventually rise through the system.
    • Open a Window- Slightly open a nearby window to help the fireplace draw air up the flue.
    • Install a Top-Mounted Damper- A top-mounted damper cap seals the flue at the top of the system instead of the bottom. Especially if you have an exterior chimney, it will help keep it warmer while not in use. Visit our fireplace damper service page to learn more.

My Fireplace is Still Smoking

Suppose you’ve followed the steps correctly and attempted the additional methods, yet the warm air still isn’t flowing correctly. This is a sign that your system is experiencing larger issues.

If you’re lucky, a simple cleaning resolves it. But if it doesn’t, the smoking and drafting problem could result from several factors such as blockages, under-sized chimney height, or improperly seasoned wood.

Whatever the case may be, only a certified sweep is capable of accurately diagnosing your system’s issues. Contact your local sweep to schedule an appointment as soon as possible.

Summary

Cold chimney flues are common causes of fireplace smoking problems. Flues fill up with cold air when they go unused for a while. And when you attempt to start a fire, that cold air blocks smoke (heat) from properly flowing upwards through the flue. To reverse it, you need to know how to prime a chimney for use.

If you follow the steps detailed in this blog post, you’ll be minutes away from enjoying your fire. But if the smoking issues persist, be sure to contact your local sweep as soon as possible. Exposure to smoke is dangerous for everyone in the home!

Prime a chimney before burning fire

Lighting the perfect fire doesn’t have to be a difficult task. As long as you schedule annual maintenance, preheat the chimney before use, and burn the correct type of wood, your home will be warm, cozy, and comfortable throughout the Winter.

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