Fireplace Odor? Fix my stinking chimney!

Fireplace Odor? My chimney stinks!

Fireplace Odor
Got a bad case of the fireplace odors!

Fireplace Odor? Ask the Chimney Sweep recently received this question about fireplace odor that you may be dealing with yourself:

I have a wood-burning fireplace that I have not used in at least six years. I have had it cleaned 3 times since last using it. In the late spring and summer, or when it is raining, the fireplace odor is so horrible that I can’t deal with it. It doesn’t bother anyone else. It isn’t “smokey” smell, it is sharp, acrid chemical creosote smell. Short of ordering specially-made doors (2,000$ and that still won’t be totally tight) for it or getting the fireplace taken out (have no idea how much, brick home), I don’t know what else to do.


First off, I agree with you, chimney creosote odors stinks!!

This chimney cap is clogged up with glazed creosote. Most likely associated with closing down the damper with a wood stove. The fire likely never had a chance to burn good and hot because the damper was too tight.

For many homeowners, however, fireplace odor has become second-nature. It emits through the home through the furnace and the duct work to the point where creosote is now a part of the smell of the entire house. Check the faces of your guests the next time they’re over. If you notice anyone cringe or wince when they walk through the door, it may be time to get the fireplace checked out! Additionally, if you’re living with any children or elderly relatives, this also a potential health risk to consider. If it’s a bother to the nose, just think of the bother it is for your lungs! On top of this, creosote build-up can lead to chimney fires! Fortunately, there are much simpler ways to resolve this problem than expensively removing your fireplace.

What causes those nasty fireplace odors?

There are many potential causes of creosote odor, but there are several obvious factors that can easily contribute to creosote build up, thus resulting in fireplace odor.

  • Using wet and unseasoned wood. 

When you’re burning wood in your fireplace, you want to make sure the wood is seasoned properly for burning. If the wood is not completely dry or seasoned, there is moisture in the wood that translates into creosote deposits when burned. Even if the wood looks completely dry, you cannot know this for sure with the human eye alone. The best practice is to buy a moisture meter. A moisture meter is an inexpensive device that you can shove straight into wood that does a very efficient job of determining the moisture content in your wood. You can read more about moisture meters here.

  • Keeping the damper too tight.

For many wood-burning homeowners, it is a habit to keep the damper not open enough. It is important to know that creosote build-up is largely determined by airflow through the chimney system. Frequent hot fires are important to moving the gases in creosote up and out of the chimney. If you’re closing your damper too tight then you’re restricting your air flow, preventing everything from flowing smoothly through your chimney system, which allows for much more likelihood of creosote build up.

  • Your home is fairly airtight.

Creosote odor most often occurs in the spring/summer because the air conditioner is on and pulling creosote odors through the house. Spring rains and those hot summer, humid days are perfect times for odors to be carried back through the house. Air needs to be able to circulate throughout the duct work in your home. If your home is air tight with the air conditioner blasting, usually with lots of glass, tight windows, air has no way to travel outward through your home. This means air can only travel downward through your chimney system, redistributing all the creosote back into your fireplace, instead of out of it.

Chimney Odor Solutions?

Anti-Creo-Soot is a great product to prevent creosote. However, these chemical removers are NOT nearly as effective against serious odor problems in the home.

Many people resort to using chemical cleaners, air fresheners, place heavy glass doors over their fireplaces to resolve their odor issues. Unfortunately, all this does is mask the problem. Creosote odor is distributed into the ventilation of your entire home, so simply blocking or treating the firebox is not going to remove the odor. You must attack the source of. Creosote builds up in the firebox, the smoke chamber, and the chimney flues. This means a complete treatment is in order.

PCR (Poultice Creosote Remover)

Get a quote from your chimney sweep on using PCR to help resolve a severe fireplace odor problem.

Our most effective and recommended treated for creosote odor is Poultice Creosote Remover (PCR). PCR is designed to completely remove glazed creosote all of forms from the flue tiles, smoke chambers, and fireplaces. Poulitce Creosote Remover is a substance that when applied, the creosote dissolves and completely absorbs it. PCR can be applied by brush in easily accessible areas or with a specially designed tool that can be pulled up through the chimney by a winch, check out our video below. Once it completely drys out the creosote, the creosote fails to stick to the chimney and falls off the sides of the flue tiles. The remaining PCR is removed by then sweeping out the rest of the chimney.




  • Completely removes creosote of all forms
  • Eliminates the need for rigorous and ineffective cleaning methods
  • Cleans and prepares surface of flue tiles for additional chimney applications

How to do I get PCR treatment?

The best way to get PCR treatment is to get a chimney sweep to do the treatment. Using the provided resource on the front page of NCSG (National Chimney Sweeps Guild), you can search by your zip code and it will provide you with the nearest NCSG chimney sweep.

Once you’ve found a chimney sweep in your area, you’ll want to ask them if they do PCR treatment. Whenever you allow a contractor into your home you’ll want to do research. Check out Google, Angie’s List, Yelp. A professional will have all the equipment necessary and know-how to complete the job safely. As a Cincinnati Chimney Sweep contractor, I can tell you, everyone I know who’s has this done has told me they’ve been incredibly satisfied with this removing their problems with creosote odors!

Don’t forget to visit our channel, Ask the Chimney Sweep on YouTube.

Author of this blog, Clay Lamb, is a Cincinnati Chimney Sweep, also the producer of the YouTube channel Ask the Chimney Sweep and owner of American Chimney.

Level 2 inspections are needed if you are making any changes in the way you use your chimney, such as changing the type of fuel used, relining the flue, or if you’ve had any accidents that may have caused damage, a level 2 inspection is needed. If you have  had a building fire, chimney fire or an earthquake. You will need to have a level 2 inspection performed. This type of inspection is also recommended by NFPA 211 any time there is a sale or transfer of a property, largely because a large percentage of fireplaces have problems that could lead to a chimney fire.

As you probably assumed, a level 2 inspection is more in detail than level 1. A level 2 chimney inspection includes all of the visual examination included in a level 1 inspection. Also some additional work including examination of the attic, crawlspace and other accessible areas. In a level 2 inspection, a video camera or other device may be in use to examine the flue. It might also check for cracks or damage to the joints in the chimney’s structure. There are no specialty tools in requiry to open doors, panels or coverings in performing a Level 2 inspection.

A Level 2 inspection should also include a visual inspection by video scanning. Or other means in order to examine the internal surfaces and joints of all flue liners incorporated within the chimney. No permanent removal or destruction of an attaching portions of the chimney, building structure or finish shall be in requiry by a Level 2 inspection. When a Level 1 or Level 2 inspection suggests a hidden hazard. An evaluation cannot be in performance without special tools. These will be in use to access in concealing areas of the chimney or flue. A Level 3 inspection is to be in recommendation.

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Affiliate Disclosure

I NEVER recommend a product or service that I don’t personally use (and love) myself but just to be totally transparent you should know that some of the links on my site ARE affiliate links and I DO make a small commission from any sales that are made. Thanks for your support!

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Leaky Chimney: Chimney Water Damage

Got a Leaky Chimney?

A Leaky chimney is no April Fools joke, with Spring just around the corner the rainy season will be upon us! Keep this video and hope that you never have to use it!

Schedule an appointment to get it checked out!


Author of this blog, Clay Lamb, is a Cincinnati Chimney Sweep, also the producer of the YouTube channel Ask the Chimney Sweep and owner of American Chimney.

  1. Moisture coming in from the top

This isn’t hard to imagine especially when there isn’t a chimney cap. Even though chimney caps and rain shrouds are accessories, they are still necessary. Not only does it keep out birds, animals and debris out, but it also keeps rain out. Rain water comes straight from the top of the chimney flue, and leaks down and creates moisture problems. The types of damage caused by rain pouring into the flue include a rusted firebox, rusted damper, and a damaged flue lining. The moisture can also cause strong odors from the fireplace, especially during warmer months.

A simple solution to rain in the chimney is to have a chimney cap or rain shroud installed. Whichever is appropriate for your heating unit. One of the most important value of a chimney cover is it keeps the chimneys from getting blocked. This can cause CO poisoning. (Check out our blog on CO poisoning for more information).

  1. Leaks from a damaged chimney crown

The chimney crown is at the cement part at the very top of the chimney where the masonry ends, the chimney crown covers the top of the masonry and forms a waterproof seal all the way around the flue. The crown is made with cement, and cracks can form due to shifting of the structure, freezing and thawing cycles in wintertime, from age, or shrinkage dating back to the first day the crown was put on. When your crown has cracks, the water goes right through those cracks.


  1. Condensation, Leaking from Inside Out

Even when you try a chimney cover, flashing or even rebuilding the top of your chimney, the problem of condensation cannot be fixed. To fix the problem, you might have to resize the loner. Some places along the way a gas furnace was installed, the chimney is not lined with a properly sized liner. So the fumes of the gas were condensing on the inside of the chimney and soaking the bricks and keeping them moist all the time. This can be easily fixed by a chimney liner.


  1. Flashing that is not Watertight

The flashing may not be watertight. So this can be caused by faulty installation or deterioration. Flashing is the metal pieces used to form watertight connections between the chimney and the roof. When the flashing weakens or hasn’t been correctly installed, water can get in the chimney flue and make wood rot, attic damage, roof damage or even ceiling damage. You should have your chimney checked annually. Along with checking your attic regularly for signs of leakage around the chimney area. Flashing leaks are common problem. So make sure you watch out for it. 

Check out our YouTube channel and blogs with Ask the Chimneysweep!

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

“Get a bucket, the Chimney is leaking”

Author of this blog, Clay Lamb, is a Cincinnati Chimney Sweep, also the producer of the YouTube channel Ask the Chimney Sweep and owner of American Chimney.

  1. To Prevent a Chimney Fire

A chimney fire can be very large and noticeable with loud popping and cracking sounds, lots of dense smoke and a strong, and hot odor. But chimney fires aren’t always dramatic enough to let the neighbors know something is wrong. Sometimes, they burn slow and aren’t visible. They still can reach high enough temperatures to seep into the walls of your house and ignite flammable objects. Flames from a chimney fire can quickly spread into the walls or onto the roof of your home and cause massive devastation of your home.

This is a very bad scenario, but it can be carefully avoided with the right care and maintenance of your chimney. One of the most common causes of chimney fire is, a dirty chimney. Over time, chimneys will become clogged with creosote. Creosote is a natural, tar-like substance that is created by burning wood. Creosote is black or brown in appearance and, over time, it builds up. As it builds up, it leaves a glazing inside your chimney. So, this glazing is highly combustible and it can take a small amount of glazing to start a chimney fire. Not enough air supply is only one of the factors that contribute to the buildup of creosote. This is an it important reason to make sure your chimney is cleaned regularly.

  1. To Protect Your Health

Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever fuel is burned. At low levels, CO can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion and fainting. So, a blocked chimney or a chimney with an nonfunctioning flu can cause a buildup of this dangerous gas. With too much CO, it can be fatal.  CO is responsible for thousands of deaths in America each year, and many of these poisonings are caused by blocked chimneys. This is why it is critical to have your chimney examined and swept to make sure your flue is clear before using the chimney.

  1. To Avoid Smoke Damage

So, when a chimney is not cleaned regularly, shoot will start building around the flue. This makes it difficult for the flue to draw the smoke upwards. This can cause the smoke to enter your rooms. Soot will leave a black film around your hearth and dirty any furniture, carpeting or decorations nearby. Sometimes, smoke can even cause black staining around your chimney. This can be near impossible to remove.

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Affiliate Disclosure
I NEVER recommend a product or service that I don’t personally use (and love) myself but just to be totally transparent you should know that some of the links on my site ARE affiliate links and I DO make a small commission from any sales that are made. Thanks for your support!

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Level 1 Inspection: Chimney Cleaning

Chimney Cleaning and Maintenance

Are you looking for a chimney inspection? This is what your chimney sweep should be inspecting for when they visit your home. Level 1 Inspection is a visual inspection of the easily accessible parts of your chimney.

Here at American Chimney, we do a series of levels of inspections. Level 1 inspections are 33 point chimneys. We look at readily accessible chimneys which require no tools as Jerry Isenhour describes in the video up above.

A level 1 inspection is when a technician comes out to do a very basic inspection of your chimney. Basically anything that can be in reach is included as well as viewing the interior of the chimney.  According to NFPA 211 standards, the inspection should be done every year so we can begin using the fireplace or other appliance knowing the chimney is capable of venting the exhaust out of the home as it should. As a Cincinnati Contractor, American Chimney, a level 1 inspection is when the chimney technician will examine the readily accessible portions of your chimney.

So this means the technician will perform a visual inspection with a bright light source. They will examine all areas of your chimney and flue that is viewable without any special tools. Your technician may use common tools such as a screwdriver or pliers to examine any openings.

There should be no damage to any structures or finishes. Parts of your chimney that should be in examination in a level 1 inspection will include portions of the chimney exterior, portions of the chimney interior, accessible portions of the appliance and chimney connection.

In a nutshell, your chimney technician will be examining the chimney to make sure that the basic structure is intact and there aren’t visible signs of damage. During this inspection, your technician should also verify that there are no obstructions or combustible materials in your entire chimney flue system. In the inspection, the chimney contractor will check to see if there is any combustible material in the chimney that do not meet code clearance standards. If so, you should schedule a cleaning with your local chimney sweep.  

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We love the shorter fireplace tools!!

Affiliate Disclosure

I NEVER recommend a product or service that I don’t personally use (and love) myself but just to be totally transparent you should know that some of the links on my site ARE affiliate links and I DO make a small commission from any sales that are made. Thanks for your support!

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Fireplace Damper Problems

This is my conversation regarding a damper problem that one of our Ask the Chimney Sweep readers had.

Top Sealing Damper
Lock-Top II incorporates rain cap, bird-screen and spark arrester all-in-one. Plus it saves energy.


Question from Reader

But, how does this work when I’m in a condo and the top of the fireplace has a raised protective cover that covers 2 holes (one from my condo’s chimney and one from the condo above me)?

A.) I would want to discover why that damper is stuck. Is it because it is out of round, warped metal or just rusted closed?
Then I would be checking to see if there is a replacement damper blade available from the manufacturer. Most competent chimney sweep contractors can install this for you!

This is the Lock-Top II top-sealing damper in a closed position saving you lots of energy dollars.

To start your hunt, grab a flashlight and begin to look for a riveted, small metal tag to the fireplace metal framing. It is hiding there somewhere; this tag will provide you with the needed information of who the manufacturer is, the model number and serial number.

Then go online and start gathering your information.

While pour hunting for this damper replacement, look for that manufacturer’s UL  “glass-doors”, if they manufacture them.
My experience is that many prefab glass doors will work as well as a damper, in controlling air movement of the fireplace. May I caution you put just any set of doors on your fireplace, as many glass doors are not tested for your unit and may end up blocking air vent that is required to cool the fireplace off.
I caution you on installing any type of top sealing damper on your condo chimney top, as it most likely is not UL listed for your fireplace. Also, let’s not forget that you have that unique situation where I believe someone has installed “sides” on the top, not designed or provided by the manufacturer. In the past, I have dealt with draft and smoking problems with some aftermarket installs (shroud metal side covers) that were not designed and UL tested for that fireplace manufacturer.
These are my own insights
. . . regards

(Readers reply)

Your answer confusing me but I realize that maybe you are talking about a prefab fireplace. My condo building (over 30 years old) is brick, the fireplace both inside and outside is also brick and when I had someone clean it they said it was a masonry fireplace, So, does this change your answer?

(Clay’s reply to Reader) and more fireplace damper

Millions and millions of these types of throat dampers were installed in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

I apologize and yes I’m jumping to conclusions thinking that you were referencing a prefabricated fireplace. Please allow me to re-edit my reply. Discover why that damper is sticking. Is it a warping metal blade or just rusting closed? Then I would be checking to see if there is a replacement damper blade available from the manufacturer.
To start your hunt, grab a camera, flashlight, and tape-measure, and get into the firebox (after it cools and the wood ashes dissipate, that is, assuming that is wood burning in hopes of discovering the manufacturer or your damper. Often the Mfg name is on the damper frame (i.e. Vestal, Majestic or Donnelly).
It is my experience that, all of these manufacturers’ are very popular and are still available at your local brickyard. On a personal note I have purchased many dampers and just used the valve blade and handle and threw the frame away.
If this were mine have a top-sealing damper. If this was my property, using a *Lock-Top II damper.

Lock-Top II

I personally use this damper because it offers a rain cap, spark arrestor, animal screen and damper all in one. Another benefit of using a top-sealing damper as it actually has a payback (ROI), saving you energy dollars.
Installing a top sealing damper actually allows for the preheating of the entire chimney flue stem with warm house air, often making it much easier to start a (wood) burning fire, while at the same time sealing the cold air out, while your fireplace is not in use.
Remember, it also prevents hot air moving through the chimney during the summer–time AC usage.
Regarding your statement “the top of the fireplace has a raised protective cover that covers 2 holes (one from my condo’s chimney and one from the condo above me)?” I recommend speaking to your chimney contractor about that issue.
Burn safe and warm while saving some energy!


For more information on top-sealing dampers, check our YouTube video from our Ask the Chimney Sweep channel!

Make sure that if you buy these dampers, you make sure it is the right size!

Affiliate Disclosure

I NEVER recommend a product or service that I don’t personally use (and love) myself but just to be totally transparent you should know that some of the links on my site ARE affiliate links and I DO make a small commission from any sales that are made. Thanks for your support!

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What to do after experiencing a chimney fire

Experienced a Chimney Fire?

Chimney Fire
Chimney Fire Dmage

Don’t know what to do after a chimney fire? This is a great 28-minute Podcast/Slideshow! Russ Dimmitt and Clay Lamb of Ask the Chimney sweep recorded this episode to educate homeowners about problems with their fireplace after experiencing a chimney fire!

Schedule an appointment with American Chimney to get your chimney checked out.

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Vent Free Logs: Smells and concerns

Question regarding; Vent Free Logs:

Smells, heat & respiratory concerns,

Q. My husband just had Open Heart Surgery. We had a Fireplace Build 30/years ago and have been using a large buck stove. Because of his health conditions, we decided to go to Vent Free Natural Gas Logs. We have had a gas smell since we have had them installed.

The installer of our Vent free gas logs has been back and everything is correct. Today I called the Gas Company, no gas showed up on their monitor. But they could also smell the gas, “just a small odor”. I do not burn these thru the night, only from around 11: am to 8 or 9: pm and sometimes not that long. The biggest problem the gas order is smelling stronger in two bedrooms 20 ft away. Nothing would show up on the gas company’s monitors, but they to could smell the odor.

First, they claimed it was our cold air return, but we do not use our furnace/heat and cut the logs off at night. Then they came up with when we took the buck stove out, there is a lot of creosote back in where the stove was which is now open and the logs are setting in. He is claiming the creosote is melting and causing the smell Is this correct. Is there any product that I can get to clean this since it is baked on?

Stage 1, Creosote is often a dusty looking or may appear as a coffee ground texture.



Stage 2 Creosote, This often starts out as a very layer of lightly glazed creosote in the chimney system. This creosote will expand rapidly as it catches fire and changes into a brittle, fragile and puffy styrofoam consistency and can then easily block the chimney flue cause serious smoking problems!






Stage 3 Creosote, this stinking, tar, or gummy substance can accumulate in the firebox, on the damper, in smoke-chamber or at the top of the chimney flue cap.













Creosote is a fuel and “could possibly ignite into a fire, and it does stink! Odors move as air moves in many homes. It is my experience that some air is “still moving”, even if the furnace is not running, or pushing or blowing the hot air out of the vents

PCR being applied using a slip casting method of coating the interior of the walls of the chimney flue system.

If any creosote is visible at the start of one of our repair or installation projects,  we would have included a price to remove all of this creosote from the firebox, smoke chamber and chimney flue with a product called Heat Shield PCR (Poultice Creosote Remover) manufactured by CeCure LLC; c/o Saver Systems

In most cases, this is not cheap to repair, but it does work and it will remove the creosote problem.

$1,200 to $1,900 dollars and possible higher are not uncommon. Once again PCR has resolved stinking flammable creosote problems for us.

We would have also included what is called a level 2 chimney cleaning inspection with our chimney scanning equipment. It is viewed as a “change of use” of fuel source according to the NFPA 2:11 or National Fire Protection Association. The standard for Chimney, Fireplaces, Vents and Solid fuel Burning Appliances.



With that being said I’m personally not a fan of vent-free logs at all. My customer’s odor problems alone and this is just one reason that I stopped selling Vent Free Gas units altogether.
Take some time to read your manufacturer’s installation instructions, as well as their printed CAUTIONS section.
To the best of my knowledge, most manufacturers will state something about opening a window while the vent-free products are in use, which seems somewhat defeating when you think of it.
How long of a period of time they can be burned is also referenced.

I also feel you may be using these logs way too long of a period of time. But again follow your Mfg. instruction or call their help or customer support line.

Does the manufacturer of your Vent Free Gas Logs have cautions or warnings, regarding respiratory heath issue for seniors small children?

I have often read heath cautions on the use of vent-free gas around seniors, small children as well as family members with respiratory problem warnings; to seniors, small children along with individuals with breathing problem would knock out about 85 % of families that I know of, from installing these log sets, including myself with my own bouts with asthma.
It has been stated that burning 100,000 BTU of natural gas in any form, generates about 1 gallon of water. So my question is, so where does that water go, especially since the chimney flue is now closed up tight. Another possible issue is the dramatic rise in temperature of surrounding masonry, wood mantel and any possible hidden. Construction framing on the sides or the fireplace or under the hearth.

I know well that many fireplace shops and chimney contractors sell lots of these vent free units to a homeowner on the warmth benefit. And many of their customers really love them. For me personally, I know well that vent free appliances’ actually do produce a huge amount of heat. But for me, it comes with a high cost, as well as potentially to many health and safety concerns to my customers, as well as my own family.
I hope that I have shed some additional insights, on possible solving your issue.

Affiliate Disclosure

I NEVER recommend a product or service that I don’t personally use (and love) myself but just to be totally transparent you should know that some of the links on my site ARE affiliate links and I DO make a small commission from any sales that are made. Thanks for your support!

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