Chimney flues and fireplace dampers both are related to venting and drafting a fireplace. While they engage in similar processes, flues and dampers are very different, with each having its own maintenance needs and potential damage issues. Let’s look at these two important components.
Your fireplace damper
Just above the firebox in your fireplace sits the damper. Essentially, it’s a plate system that opens and closes with a handle or device you can control conveniently. The purpose of the damper is to open fully to allow the right amount of air (oxygen) to be pulled into the fireplace for proper combustion and drafting.
When your fireplace isn’t being used, the damper should be closed tightly to protect your warm or cool inside air from cool or warm outside air coming down the chimney.
Dampers also seal off the pathway for bugs, insects and small animals who might want to take a look around your home and establish new living quarters.
Common problems with dampers include rusting, warping and general disrepair from old age. This component is part of a comprehensive chimney inspection and can be repaired or replaced, if and when necessary.
Your chimney flue
The internal area of your chimney contains tubing or a pipe that provides the channel for smoke to move from your fireplace to the outside air. This is your flue. Most modern flues contain flue liners, or chimney liners, which can be made from stainless steel, clay tiles or a poured-in-place compound.
Your chimney is only as safe as its flue. A cracked or broken flue will expose vulnerable materials of your home to fire and damage from smoke and acidic compounds such as creosote.
A compromised flue or chimney liner also can allow toxic combustion gases including deadly carbon monoxide to seep into the living areas of your home.
As noted, your chimney flue is the path for smoke to leave your fireplace. Various things can hinder this process. Falling leaves, twigs and fruit from nearby trees as well as the nests of small animals like squirrels and birds can create venting obstructions and lead to sluggish fires and backdrafts of smoke and toxins.
Obstructions can easily be prevented by having a secure full-width chimney cap installed or by repairing
a damaged cap.
Chimney flues also are susceptible to accumulations of creosote, a flammable compound that forms when smoke condenses inside the flue.
Most chimney fires are started because of ignited creosote. Some chimney fires are brief and go out on their own; others destroy chimneys and parts or all of the home, depending
on their severity.
The only way to address creosote issues is with the services of a licensed, professional chimney sweep, who uses a variety of tools and solvents to remove the substance. Annual chimney cleaning is recommended by all fire-safety and hearth-industry agencies.
Have your chimney inspected
As you can see, while both dampers and flues are involved in smoke-drafting, each has its own unique needs and potential problems to solve or prevent. If it’s been more than a year since your last chimney and fireplace inspection, now is a good time to arrange for one.
High’s Chimney Service of Gaithersburg, MD, is a Certified Chimney Reliner, and our lead chimney sweeps carry professional certifications from the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). We provide flue and damper service as well as complete chimney inspections and repairs and rebuilding work year-round.
Talk with an expert today at (301) 519-3500.
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