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Old 01-06-2015, 01:02 PM   #1
dpg
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Default Fireplace vs insert

ok here's a question, need some opinions...Was up this past weekend burning in the fireplace and at times had some smoke come in the room and got a smoky/ashy/fire smell in the house as well. Was discussing an insert as an option with the wife. So..question is do you smell anything (as much) when you burn in them like an open fireplace? We don't really care for the lingering "smoky" odor we get now in everything - clothes, etc. Also I know the insert would throw way more heat but I'm wondering about specifically any smoke or odor. Thanks...
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Old 01-06-2015, 01:06 PM   #2
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Default Insert?

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ok here's a question, need some opinions...Was up this past weekend burning in the fireplace and at times had some smoke come in the room and got a smoky/ashy/fire smell in the house as well. Was discussing an insert as an option with the wife. So..question is do you smell anything (as much) when you burn in them like an open fireplace? We don't really care for the lingering "smoky" odor we get now in everything - clothes, etc. Also I know the insert would throw way more heat but I'm wondering about specifically any smoke or odor. Thanks...
Same here! We are tired of being smoked out by our fireplace, too!
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Old 01-06-2015, 01:14 PM   #3
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A fireplace insert will allow smoke into the room when you open the door to feed wood into the unit. Each time the door on the unit I used was opened a good amount of smoke escaped. It did not seem to matter how I had the air inflow set the smoke would escape the unit. When the doors are closed the smoke does not access the room as it can with a fireplace. I used a insert which was in a home we recently purchased last winter. It worked better than a fireplace a containing the smoke and putting heat into the room.

A wood pellet stove has much less odor than a wood burning fireplace insert. A propane fireplace has no odor. But the cost of pellets and propane is much higher than wood.

I think you will find a insert to be a big improvement over a standard fireplace.
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Old 01-06-2015, 01:21 PM   #4
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If the smoke is backdrafting into the house, whether open fireplace or insert, your issue is one of draft, not type. Either your house is too tight or your chimney is not drafting correctly, or both.

Even with an insert, the smoke should not puff back into the house if the draft is working well. You either need to add more fresh air to the fire (via a second pipe/flue. Or the more expensive route of an air/heat exchanger)

An easy test for this is to slightly open a window in the room with the fireplace. If there is no puff back during operation while the window is open, you have a draft/air issue. Clearly not a method to use as a permanent fix.
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Old 01-06-2015, 01:42 PM   #5
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If you are in Laconia drop by Fireside Living on Union Ave. and talk to Bobby. I was there last week and he gave me a thorough education on every aspect of an insert installation and had many thoughts on flues and stove pipes. He's an expert and very willing to share his knowledge and experience.
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Old 01-06-2015, 02:57 PM   #6
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Default Fireplace Insert

DPG & MDoug,

We have fireplace inserts at both our house and at the camp.
When we first bought our house we attempted to use the fireplace, even putting glass doors on the fireplace. My issue was the fireplace seemed to suck the heat out of the house instead of warming it up. Had a wood burning insert installed and absolutely could not live without it. It has also been very helpful when we've lost power.
When we purchased the camp we immediately had a wood stove insert installed.
The only time I have any issue with smoke is when I am first getting the stove up to temperature. If I can get the stove up to at least 200 degrees before I open the door, I have no issue with smoke.

Just my 2 cents,
Hope it helps,
Bill
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Old 01-06-2015, 03:17 PM   #7
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Forget about using a plain fireplace for heat, extremely inefficient.

Agree with visit to Fireside Living, you should not get smoke back no matter plain fireplace, wood stove insert or pellet stove. The only exception might be very briefly on initial start of fireplace or insert with a cold flue.

At home we started with plain fireplace then later wood stove insert and now a pellet stove (Harman from Fireside living). At camp we started with a plain fireplace and now a wood stove insert. Never had a smoke in the room issue.
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Old 01-06-2015, 03:26 PM   #8
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Default Inserts work Great

We have 3 fireplaces in our primary house (20 years) 2 normal with glass doors and one large insert wood burning stove with fan. I really like the insert, great heat, little smoke and nice view of the fire. The room with the insert is very tight and an open window helps to get the fire to catch. It's fine after that. Even with the fan off it throws heat into the room

We only burn candles in the other ones now, just for aesthetics; too smokey and more heat loss.

In our new to us, 50 YO 3 season cabin we choose an insert to replace a damaged firebox. Used it a few times in the fall and it heated the place up nice. Ours is a little tricky due to the fact we had to use the smallest size available, which reduces the amount of wood you can load at once. I have not used it since I shut the water off.

It is a sizable investment and we stopped at about 6 shops on Rt 3 from Tilton to Laconia. If I had to do it over I may go with a Jotal Stove from EnergySavers in Meredith. I'm not overly thrilled with the fit and finish of the Stove I bought.

One hint, When I set up my generator at the primary house I made sure the outlet for the fireplace insert was included, this way I can run the fan during a power outage.
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Old 01-06-2015, 03:27 PM   #9
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Quote:
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Forget about using a plain fireplace for heat, extremely inefficient.

Agree with visit to Fireside Living, you should not get smoke back no matter plain fireplace, wood stove insert or pellet stove. The only exception might be very briefly on initial start of fireplace or insert with a cold flue.

At home we started with plain fireplace then later wood stove insert and now a pellet stove (Harman from Fireside living). At camp we started with a plain fireplace and now a wood stove insert. Never had a smoke in the room issue.
Thanks do you smell the burning a lot less also?
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Old 01-06-2015, 04:02 PM   #10
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Thanks do you smell the burning a lot less also?
No wood burning smell with occasional exception of puff of smoke at time of starting a fire in the insert with a cold flue. Cure for that is to add crumpled newspaper on top of the what ever kindling you normally use. The quick hot flame heats the cold flue and gets a normal draft going.
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Old 01-06-2015, 04:52 PM   #11
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If you are burning for ambiance, then a fire place is fine... and as other have stated, if you are getting smoke that is not going up the flue you have a draft problem...

If you are trying to heat your space you are better of with an insert.. if you want to heat solely with wood and space is not a problem, skip the insert and go to a wood stove.
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Old 01-06-2015, 05:19 PM   #12
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Default When we lived in upstate NY...

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No wood burning smell with occasional exception of puff of smoke at time of starting a fire in the insert with a cold flue. Cure for that is to add crumpled newspaper on top of the what ever kindling you normally use. The quick hot flame heats the cold flue and gets a normal draft going.

Our house had a fireplace, and before using it, we had a chimney sweep come out and clean it. He gave us a similar hint to Slickcraft's:

He said to set up the crumpled newspaper and then kindling on top, then put some smaller logs on the top of it all. Then crumple some paper into a wand. Light the paper under the kindling, then light the wand, and hold it up to the flue area. It would only take about 5-7 seconds for the flames to start to reach up into the chimney meaning the draft was created, at which point we put the wand on the top of the logs, and closed the fireplace glass. Never had smoke come back into the house.

With all that said, an insert is probably a better idea. If it is a small insert, put smaller splits in it until the fire is well established. And for easy start, a couple of pieces of fatwood.
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Old 01-06-2015, 05:26 PM   #13
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Default Draft and other issues.

If you have a fireplace and have problem establishing a draft, check your flue. You may have to have it clean or the flue is poorly constructed. Also objects near a chimney such as a tree or roof if extended above the chimney can create a downdraft.

If you have a problem maintaining a draft after the flue is warm, then the chimney may have object above or next to it creating a downdraft.

Many energy efficient homes have a separate flue next to the fireplace to eliminate negative pressure in the room that prevent the smoke from going up the flue. That is why someone suggest opening a window.

Most stoves, stand alone and inserts tend to smoke when you open the door. Experienced stove owners adjust the vents and flue to maintain a 'clean' burn. Normally I would open the flue and wait a couple of minutes before opening the door. Open the door slowly or you may end up with a lot of smoke. This is perfectly normal.

If you have trouble establishing a draft in a cold stove, I strongly suggest you look into this otherwise you will have a problem once the stove is going!
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Old 01-06-2015, 07:13 PM   #14
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We have a fireplace that was built just as few years ago and we always have to crack a door or a window to keep from having the room smoke. We had a very reputable mason build it and he came back repeatedly to try to correct the problem but it still smokes. I sure wish we could get it to not smoke but maybe we are just going to have to live with it. Maybe the house is too tight.
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Old 01-06-2015, 07:31 PM   #15
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For those who may be wondering about all the advice to use a newspaper high in the flue to get a draft going, it's simple physics/chemistry. Cold air sinks, hot air rises.

Before you start a fire, the masonry and flue are cold. You have a tall column of cold air sitting there. When you first start the fire, the heat from the fire must counteract the tendency of the cold air to "fall" into the room. If not, the cold air does "fall" into the room, carrying the initial smoke with it.

If you open the flue (or door) a bit before starting, you can sometimes allow the cold air in and the hot air from the room out, starting a bit of a flow up the chimney. Then light the newspaper as high up into the flue as you can get it and the draft should begin (this assumes no other issues with draft in your flue)

This phenomenon sometimes causes a slight odor problem for us in the Spring. The masonry mass and column of air in the flue is still cold. On a warm Spring day when we begin opening the doors and windows, we sometimes notice a burnt ash smell in the house. I finally realized that it was being caused by a reverse draft of air down the chimney as the cold air spills into the house, replaced by the warm air outside.
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Old 01-06-2015, 07:53 PM   #16
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A quick suggestion: consider using a regular woodstove further out on the hearth vs. an insert. I did and prefer the silence of no fan, lower maintenance, and ability to use without power.

If you smell smoke with a wood stove, you're doing something wrong. Simple as that.

Good luck!
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Old 01-06-2015, 08:25 PM   #17
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Like most rewarding activities, thoughtful subtle technique wins the day.
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Old 01-07-2015, 06:38 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Water Camper View Post
DPG & MDoug,

We have fireplace inserts at both our house and at the camp.
When we first bought our house we attempted to use the fireplace, even putting glass doors on the fireplace. My issue was the fireplace seemed to suck the heat out of the house instead of warming it up. Had a wood burning insert installed and absolutely could not live without it. It has also been very helpful when we've lost power.
When we purchased the camp we immediately had a wood stove insert installed.
The only time I have any issue with smoke is when I am first getting the stove up to temperature. If I can get the stove up to at least 200 degrees before I open the door, I have no issue with smoke.

Just my 2 cents,
Hope it helps,
Bill
Thanks! Very helpful
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Old 01-07-2015, 08:07 AM   #19
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Yes I second MDoug's "thanks" lots of good information and first hand experience here. Nice to hear the odor and smoke issue "should" be greatly reduced with a stove or insert. I do not believe the house is to tight actually just the oposite if anything, we're always complaining it's always freezing. Chimney certainly needs cleaning it's been awhile that I know of.
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Old 01-07-2015, 10:57 AM   #20
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Quote:
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Then light the newspaper as high up into the flue as you can get it and the draft should begin (this assumes no other issues with draft in your flue)
exactly what I do! My woodstove at home has two elbows in the flu and an outside chimney (which cools off much more quickly than an interior chimney) making it even more important to get a good updraft before lighting the actual fire. If not you'll get a whole houseful of smoke!
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Old 01-07-2015, 01:41 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tis View Post
We have a fireplace that was built just as few years ago and we always have to crack a door or a window to keep from having the room smoke. We had a very reputable mason build it and he came back repeatedly to try to correct the problem but it still smokes. I sure wish we could get it to not smoke but maybe we are just going to have to live with it. Maybe the house is too tight.
Many times these days new homes are entirely to tight... Construction techniques and materials have come a long why. Many times in new construction traditional fire places are looked at negatively because they comprimise what is a very efficient home... I have also seen and read of instances where new homes are so tight that they actually have to vent
air in on occasion.....
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Old 01-07-2015, 01:52 PM   #22
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I know, but I sure wish we could remedy the problem, LI!!
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Old 01-07-2015, 03:45 PM   #23
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I use a hair dryer to preheat the chimney air for a few minutes. Once the air starts moving there is far less smoke when you start the fire.
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Old 01-07-2015, 06:34 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LIforrelaxin View Post
Many times these days new homes are entirely too tight... Construction techniques and materials have come a long way. Many times in new construction traditional fire places are looked at negatively because they compromise what is a very efficient home... I have also seen and read of instances where new homes are so tight that they actually have to vent air in on occasion.....
"Too tight" would mean only too tight for using a traditional fireplace without providing combustion air inlet some way. A fireplace lets far too much excess air go up the flue, and that air has to come in somewhere. In a leaky home, that's through the myriad cracks and holes in the exterior shell. No wonder many complain that the fireplace warms the room it's in while making other rooms so drafty and cold.

As far as building a new house deliberately very tight, that is the only strategy that makes sense if the intent is to make a very energy efficient house. The opinion still sometimes heard, that the house shouldn't be too tight, that it has to "breathe," is simply wrong. The occupants have to breathe fresh air, and the house has to avoid moisture accumulation problems. Air leakage is driven by pressure difference, and that is worst in cold, windy weather, but practically zero in mild, windless weather. Air at zero is 15% heavier than air at room temperature. It's like floating a leaky boat in the lake; you find all the leaks in a hurry. There is simply no way to build a house that leaks just the right amount of air for the occupants under any particular set of conditions, let alone under all conditions. The only strategy that works is building as tight as possible and providing ventilation air mechanically or via passive air inlets. In our area (climate zone 6), a good solution is to provide a heat recovery ventilator, basically a heat exchanger that brings in a controlled flow of fresh air, warming it up against the outgoing air being displaced.

A wood stove or pellet stove needs far less combustion air to run properly, less than even a new very tight house leaks in cold weather. Many stoves permit the direct connection of an outside air duct, disconnecting the air/flue path from the living space. Even so, lighting the fire in a stove can result in backdraft under conditions mentioned by others in this thread.
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Old 02-01-2015, 09:04 AM   #25
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Exclamation The "Rocket Stove"...Intriguing...

I stumbled on the "Rocket Stove" this morning. The flames travel sideways, burning all gases—even smoke and ash—from twigs and smaller, un-split, pieces of firewood. It vents whatever's left at ground level. (What's left of the firewood is moisture and CO2). It's said to be a "controlled chimney fire".

On the downside, the "rocket stove" is one hungry woodstove! But I suspect that's an indication of its efficiency.

In the first picture, the entire length of the "couch" is heated. A large thermal mass is contained within. The "thermal mass" can be rocks, bricks, or sand to hold and radiate heat.

The "Rocket Stove" didn't turn up on a search.
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Old 02-01-2015, 10:41 AM   #26
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Default Cleanliness is next to...

When was the last time you had the chimney cleaned or inspected? I see lots of good advice and tips above but if your chimney is choked with soot and creosote it won't draw properly and you may be at risk for a chimney fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

I have friends who have their own cleaning gear and I watched them do a cleaning through an exterior service hatch. It was a big mess with chunks of gunk and lots of soot. This chimney is for a wood-stove and I don't remember how often they do this job. I would suggest you hire a service since they will know how to do it with a minimum of mess and will probably include cleanup in the price. You will also get paper work which might be required by your insurance.

Good luck!
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Old 02-01-2015, 02:59 PM   #27
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Default Good Advice

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When was the last time you had the chimney cleaned or inspected? I see lots of good advice and tips above but if your chimney is choked with soot and creosote it won't draw properly and you may be at risk for a chimney fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

I have friends who have their own cleaning gear and I watched them do a cleaning through an exterior service hatch. It was a big mess with chunks of gunk and lots of soot. This chimney is for a wood-stove and I don't remember how often they do this job. I would suggest you hire a service since they will know how to do it with a minimum of mess and will probably include cleanup in the price. You will also get paper work which might be required by your insurance.

Good luck!
I agree ... keeping the chimney flue clear of creosote and soot is important when one burns wood for heat. There are a number of professional chimney flue cleaning businesses in the Lakes Region, many of which charge around $100 - $150 for a thorough cleaning. It's well worth the annual investment and greatly reduces the possibility of a chimney fire.
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