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You’ve got your book, your glass of wine, and an evening to yourself for once, and you’re all set for success. But when you go to light your fireplace, your dream night in turns into a night of frustration. Why isn’t your fireplace working?

You know that whether you have a solid fuel burning fireplace or a gas fireplace, you need to have it professionally checked and serviced every year. But you did that. So what’s the deal? If you’ve kept up with annual maintenance and you’re still experiencing problems with your solid fuel or gas fireplace, don’t worry. Many times the problem is a simple fix.

Top 4 Reasons Your Solid Fuel Fireplace Isn’t Working & How You Can Fix It

#1 Closed damper

The most common reason why a solid fuel fireplace stops working or starts smoking is that the homeowner hasn’t opened the damper. The damper is the metal plate that opens up the connection between the chimney and the fireplace. If it’s closed, the smoke from the fire will have no way of escaping the home, and will instead enter your home through the fireplace opening.

Before you call the fire department, take a look up into the fireplace and make sure the damper is open. You may be thinking, “But I never close my damper,” or “I’m pretty sure I left my damper opened last time I built a fire in my fireplace.” Even if that’s the case, check anyway. It’s possible the wind or something else knocked the damper closed, so it’s always worth a quick glance.

If you aren’t able to see up into the chimney, that means your damper is closed and the damper plate is blocking the passage of smoke. All you need to do is open your damper up and that should fix the problem.

What about top-mounted dampers? How can you tell if they’re open?

For many, there’s a little brass nut that connects the handle to the cable that closes/opens the damper. If that nut is in the bracket or around the bracket in the wall, the damper should be closed; if it’s above the bracket, it should be open.

Not all dampers are the same, so the key is to understand how your damper works and how to tell if it’s open or closed.

#2 Big fire, poor draft

The second most common reason why a solid fuel fireplace smokes or won’t work efficiently is that the fire is too big and draft hasn’t been established yet. When you first go to light a fire in your fireplace, the chimney flue itself is cold, and cold air does not rise. You have to take the time to warm the flue and establish draft before building a big fire.

How do you warm the flue and establish draft?

Start your fire slowly with a small piece of kindling or paper. Light it up and test to make sure the smoke goes up and out of the home on that small scale, ​and then build the fire up.

The worst thing you can do is put a large amount of wood in the fireplace, light the bottom of the wood, and hope everything works well. Build the fire as the draft gets established. As the flue warms up, draft will improve and pull that smoke up through the chimney, which means you can then make a bigger fire, without worrying about smoke coming back into your home.

Fire building tip:​ Start by building your fire as far back into the fireplace as you can. Top down fires are also a good idea because they can help establish draft. Start out by lighting the smaller kindling at the top, which is closer to the flue. This will heat the flue and get smoke going up into the chimney, so that by the time the flame gets down to the bottom larger pieces of wood, the flue is warmed up and draft is established.

#3 Negative pressure/inadequate make-up air

Another common reason for smoky fireplaces or fireplaces that just don’t work well is negative air pressure or inadequate make-up air in the home. If your fire starts out good, but after a while you get smoke coming into your home, this might be your problem.

Think of your fireplace like a big hole in your house that’s letting air out. There needs to be enough air coming back into the home to replace the air lost through the fireplace.

Where does make-up air come from?

It can come from windows, doors, and general “air leaks” in your home. But if you’ve been burning a fire for a long time, the doors have been closed for a while, and your house comes to pressure and doesn’t have enough make-up air, your fireplace will start to smoke. To fix this problem, you may simply need to crack a door or window.

#4 Too much moisture in the wood

You may not think about it, but there is an optimum moisture content for wood for use in a wood-burning fireplace or wood stove. Wet wood or “green” wood will always smoke more and make it appear as if your fireplace isn’t working right.

Firewood selection tip: Ideally, wood should have a moisture content of 10-20%. This will ensure your wood is relatively dry, which means it will burn cleaner and be less smoky. But you also want to make sure it has enough moisture in it, because wood can actually be too dry, too. If there isn’t enough moisture in the wood, you won’t get much heat from your fire and your fire will produce a lot of creosote. So how can you tell if your firewood has the right moisture content? Buy a simple moisture meter. You can get them in just about any paint store for less than $30, and all you have to do is stick the meter into the end of the wood to check the moisture content. It’s as easy as that.

Of course, there can also be many other reasons why your solid-fuel fireplace isn’t working or is experiencing problems — your chimney could be too short to establish good draft, for example — which is just one more reason why you should always have your chimney and fireplace inspected by a certified professional, each and every year.

Top 3 Reasons Your Gas Fireplace Isn’t Working & How You Can Fix It

Usually when homeowners have issues with their gas fireplaces not working, it’s when they go to light up the appliance at the beginning of the season. If you’ve had your gas logs maintained in the last year, but your gas fireplace won’t light, it’s likely one of three things:

#1 Air in the gas line

If you haven’t used your gas fireplace lately, it’s possible that air has gotten into the gas line, and no gas is coming through the pilot assembly.

What’s the solution?

You may need to hold the pilot button or knob down for a few minutes (sometimes 10-15 minutes) to bleed the line and get gas up to the pilot light so it’ll start firing.

#2 Clogged pilot assembly

Here in Tennessee, we have plenty of spiders to freak out over. But believe it or not, there’s actually a really small spider (the Yellow Sac spider) that loves the smell of one of the chemicals in gas. These spiders like to build nests in pilot assemblies over the summer months, which can clog the line so the gas fireplace doesn’t work. Of course, general dust and debris can also clog the line.

If this is why your gas fireplace isn’t working, all you may need to do is simply take a little can of compressed air and shoot it into the pilot hole or blow through a straw into the pilot hole to remove any dust, debris, or little spider nests.

Fun fact: The tiny Yellow Sac spider led to a massive Mazda 6 recall a few years back.

#3 Dead batteries 

Many homeowners don’t realize it, but there are actually two sets of batteries to change out with gas logs: there are the batteries in your hand-held remote and the batteries in the receiver that’s located where the gas logs are. Both sets of batteries should be changed out every year.

If your gas fireplace isn’t working and you haven’t put a fresh set of batteries in both places this year, try swapping them out and seeing if that fixes your issue.

Still Need Help? Call Ashbusters

Still having problems? No matter what’s going on with your gas or solid-burning fireplace, know that you can count on the team at Ashbusters Chimney Service to fix the problem and help you get more enjoyment from your fireplace. We love what we do and we’re always just a phone call away for our customers in the greater Nashville area.