Although fireplaces make a beautiful addition to any room or home, they do require a certain amount of care and upkeep. Unfortunately, even the most carefully maintained fireplaces and chimneys can cause problems; one of the most distressing problems can be a stench or smell coming from the fireplace.
Any time a fireplace emits an unpleasant odor, it is a cause for concern. Not only does it affect the livability of the home, but it is also an indicator that there is a problem with the chimney or fireplace system.
While it is important to call a professional to pinpoint the exact cause of your chimney or fireplace odor, the following are several issues that can sometimes be the culprit behind an unsightly smell.
If your fireplace begins emitting a musty, damp odor, check carefully inside and around your fireplace for signs of water entry or water damage. Using a flashlight, check the walls of the chimney for signs of moisture, including feeling the walls to see if they are damp. If any water is present, you should immediately call for an appointment and evaluation, as water can be extremely harmful to masonry, brickwork, and other parts of your chimney and fireplace.
One of the most common causes for water entry into a chimney is a damaged chimney cap. In addition to letting water in, a broken chimney cap also allows animals and other debris to enter the chimney, creating potentially hazardous blockages. Even seemingly small cracks can let in water, leading to a number of potential future problems.
Despite its ominous name, creosote is a naturally-occurring byproduct of burning wood. An excessive buildup of creosote will cause the fireplace to stink, particularly while the air conditioning is running or during hot and humid summer months. To prevent creosote buildup and its accompanying unpleasant odor, chimneys should be professionally cleaned and maintained regularly.
A creosote-caused odor that remains even after a chimney sweep may indicate an air pressure problem; air moves down the chimney and into the home, bringing the smells and odors of the chimney with it. An ineffective or improperly aligned damper closure is sometimes the cause, but a pressure imbalance can also be affected by new windows and doors or new heating and cooling units.
A sharp, rotting, or foul odor may indicate the presence of a dead animal or animal droppings in your chimney. Likewise, scurrying, scratching, or other noises coming from the chimney often signal that an animal has either begun using your chimney as a den or has fallen into the chimney and become trapped. Wild animals should be treated with caution, and should only be removed by trained professionals. Starting a fire to “smoke out” an animal should never be done, as this can result in the burning or death of the animal, as well as the ignition of any flammable nesting material in the chimney.
Animals typically gain entry to a chimney when a chimney cap is damaged. Caps should be repaired or replaced as soon as possible to prevent additional animals from entering, nesting, or getting trapped in your chimney. Unfortunately, the presence of animals in a chimney can sometimes mean they have also entered the attic. In attic areas, animals can cause costly damage to wiring, insulation, and roofing, along with carrying fleas into a home. A properly maintained chimney cap can prevent animals from entering the house in this way.