Family Handyman online did a “Stuff We love” segment that includes a Smoke Pencil review video:
Smoke Pencil video
This informative Smoke Pencil review video takes a close look at a number of tools and solutions to tighten up the energy envelope of your home.
The Smoke Pencil is a very effective and simple to use diagnostic tool. It is effectively a hand held fog machine. You pull the trigger to get a trail of smoke, or pump the trigger to get a puff of vapor, so you can see drafts and air currents. As you can see int he Family Handyman Smoke Pencil review video, you would use the vapor to test around obvious leak points, like windows, doors, fireplaces, and outlets. But you may be surprised by finding lek points in unexpected areas like under cabinets, or near soffits, or basement rim joists.
Do you have a room in your house that has a fireplace, and is really hard to cool in the summer? Your fireplace chimney snorkels in hot, humid, dirty air from your roof all summer.
Metal dampers are just rough-closures and have no weatherstripping to them, so they let a lot of air past. So when you close up your house and turn on the AC for the summer, your home will often operate at a negative pressure and start drawing in outside air from the path of least resistance. It is really important to air seal a fireplace since it accounts for 13% of air leakage to an average home.
Below is a video of a Smoke Pencil demonstrating how much outside air a fireplace chimney snorkels in with a closed damper and a closed glass doors.
Your fireplace chimney snorkels in hot humid air from your roof. You may not feel the heat draft coming in, but often you can smell a musty smokey smell that is present in the house as your fireplace chimney snorkels in chimney stink with the warm air.
It is important to plug a fireplace or wood stove chimney with a Chimney Balloon or Flueblocker in the summer to prevent chimney snorkeling like this. A tight fitting chimney plug will force the home to draw make-up air from another location, other than the dirty snorkel that is your chimney.
Have you ever gone snorkeling at the beach and set your mask and snorkel kit in the sand for a moment?
The sand, grime, salt water, and beachy smell get all over it. Now imagine grabbing that snorkel kit, not wiping it off, and popping it right into your mouth and taking a big inhale…* cough*cough*. That is the equivalent of what a fireplace chimney snorkels into your home all summer long. Only your home is breathing in hot, humid, ash and creosote tinged, dirty air. And in turn you and your family are breathing it in too.
You can avoid all of that heat, humidity and chimney stink from closing your flue low and tight with a Chimney Balloon or a Flueblocker from our online fireplace store.
Q: My Flueblocker has gaps around the edges.
I measured my opening of my cast iron damper frame. The opening of the damper frame in the flue is 7″x20″.
So I purchased the 8×24 Flueblocker. I don’t know if I needed a bigger size, or what the issue is, but the seal is poor since my Flueblocker has gaps around the edge. I am including pictures and video of the two biggest gaps, where I can feel the draft come in.
I tried plugging the gaps with other material, but it just made the seal worse and it started to fall down. Any help would be appreciated, even with our top sealing damper and this Flueblocker, the smell inside the house from the draft is terrible. Thank you for your help. – M.U.
A: Dear M.U., Wow! you did a great job with the photos and video showing your Flueblocker has gaps! Thank you!
The right side where your Flueblocker has gaps is pretty easy to fix. The top seal damper cable is causing that. So just take a pair of sturdy scissors and make a small slit in the edge of the wool pad to let the top seal damper cable through.
Flueblocker pulled through the damper
The center spot where your Flueblocker has gaps is a little trickier. It looks like the culprit causing the gap is the white mortar that is kind of gooped up on top of the metal frame right there. Sometimes you can use a hammer and a flat head screwdriver to chisel off a chunk of mortar like that. It should release from the cast iron pretty easy.
But, I keep an L-shaped bent wire hanger in my tool kit to help with this kind of situation. I use the hanger as a hook to get behind the wool pad in the spot to bring it forward a bit. Sometimes you even need to actually bring the pad to the front of the frame in that little spot or in the center in general. Like the photo on the left.
Mortar globs are a pain in the butt. In your case it is the reason your Flueblocker has gaps in that center spot. You just have to try a few things to knock them out or work around them.
I bet you didn’t know your home has a wood toilet. Uh-huh…Yes, it does!
Your wood toilet may not look like the stylish throne pictured above, but the wood toilet you have is actually worse! There is a pejorative name for fireplaces in the energy conservation world. They are called a “wood toilet”. The reason is, you are flushing wood up your chimney, and also watching your energy dollars swirl out with it.
What are you talking about? I love my fireplace!
It is true that according to the NAHB survey as of 2018, 44% of single family houses have at least one open fireplace in them. That is down from a peak of 58% in 2002. Unlike a literal wood toilet, a fireplace is generally a desirable amenity. Some homeowners don’t use their fireplace, and don’t care to use their fireplace. However, some homeowners burn in them every chance they get. I must admit, there is something about a crackling hearth…but is it worth it?
The hard truth about fireplaces, and why are energy conservation people name-calling?
Let me give you some facts about fireplace, reported by the EPA in their Burn Wise campaign.
- There are roughly 17.5 million fireplaces in the US.
- They account for 4,000 residential fires every year.
- Confined fires (like fireplaces) account for 87% of residential building heating fires.
- Smoke from fireplaces contain a mixture of harmful gases and small particles that can cause severe bronchitis, aggravate heart and lung disease, and may increase the likelihood of respiratory illnesses.
- Research estimates 70 percent of smoke from chimneys can actually reenter your home, and your neighbor’s home. (Pierson et al 1989)
Below are the hard facts about what fireplace use does to energy consumption in your home
Fireplaces waste more than they give back. This is what the US Department of Energy has to say about fireplaces.
- Fireplaces should not be considered heating devices.
- Traditional fireplaces draw in as much as 300 cubic feet per minute of heated room air for combustion, then send it straight up the chimney.
- Even when dormant, fireplaces account for 14% of home air leakage.
- Energy.gov Energy Saver program recommends to seal your flue when not in use, and use an inflatable Chimney Balloon or wool Flueblocker.
Are wood toilets super trendy and stylish, and coming back in vogue
150 years ago, home owners all over the globe used fireplaces to heat their homes. They used wood toilets (that were called outhouses) to do their business. They used horses to ride to work or to town. But now we have central heat, and indoor plumbing, and commuter cars and public transit. For nostalgia or old-time-sake feel free to go on a horsey ride, or poop in a smelly old shack, or even warm yourself by the hearth. But don’t fool yourself with your fireplace. This is not little House on the Prairie anymore, so lets be a little smarter with our homes, health, and energy dollar.
Temperatures aren’t the only thing rising this time of year. According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, home energy bills sit at 10-year highs just as air conditioners hum into gear across the United States. While there are several ways to ensure homes have energy efficient home improvements. One often overlooked areas is the chimney. Worse yet, the chimney acts like a dirty snorkel that allows warm, smelly air to waft inside the home. This can happen even if there is an existing metal damper inside the chimney.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution that homeowners can install themselves that seals the chimney and reduces energy waste, and is a energy efficient home improvement.
Cool your home, not your neighborhood
Before homeowners seek unfounded DIY-hacks online, the first step in creating a more energy efficient home improvements list is understanding where energy is wasted. According to Energy Star, an Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy-run program focused on energy
efficient home improvements. Air leakage is one of the top contributors to wasted energy in homes and can account for as much as 40 percent of the energy used for heating and cooling in homes.
While the fireplace is designed to provide warmth in the winter, the chimney acts as a conduit for energy loss throughout the summer. The large openings in traditional fireplaces, also known as flues, allow conditioned air to escape while simultaneously drawing warm, humid air from outside into your comfortable living space. This constant exchange of air leads to increased energy consumption and higher utility bills as air conditioners work harder to compensate for the loss.
Through consistent seasonal use and exposure to extreme temperatures, a cast iron or sheet metal chimney damper warps over time, and even new metal dampers are not airtight. Without an airtight seal, a chimney is akin to leaving a window open all summer. And while caulks and foams are useful air sealing techniques for some applications, they don’t work in a fireplace.
The solution is shockingly simple for energy efficient home improvements
Energy Efficient Home Improvements Like Blocking the Chimney
There are eco-friendly, all-wool inserts called Flueblockers, designed to plug the chimney. These thick-layered wool inserts not only prevent conditioned air from escaping the home, but they stop hot, humid outdoor air from passing through the toxic, soot-filled chimney into your home. This provides increased comfort and improved indoor air quality. Homeowners breathe easier knowing there’s a sustainable, cost-effective solution for one’s health (and wallet).
These flue inserts are available in varying shapes and can be customized and scissor-trimmed to fit any-sized flue, making it the easiest, most cost-effective solution on the market. Not to mention they are available for purchase online and can be installed quickly and easily.
Money savings on energy efficient home improvements
So what are the examples of energy efficient home improvements? Similar to having solar panels installed, the government incentivizes homeowners to take advantage of the tax credits and rebates being offered for energy efficient home improvements. The same goes for insulation and air sealing improvements, but these tax credits have an even quicker payback than solar, and are energy efficient home improvements tax deductible? Many wool flue inserts qualify for 30% federal air-sealing and insulation tax credits that heavily subsidize the products. And due to the energy savings that come with installing a wool insert in your flue, the products pay for themselves with the savings in less than one year – with or without the federal tax credit.
The Bottom-line on energy efficient home improvements
Plugging the flue can make a house more energy-efficient
So, what can make a house more energy-efficient? Homeowners with wood-burning fireplaces should explore whether their flues are currently sealed. If you have a metal damper, place your hand on it (assuming you’ve not recently used the fireplace) and feel its warmth from the outside air. You’ll likely hear and feel a draft, too. Making your home more energy efficient this summer is simple, and wool inserts are also great at blocking cold drafts in the winter. Users simply remove the insert – which takes less than 15 seconds – if they choose to use the fireplace.