What is a damper? Customers often call in saying that their “flue” is broken or needs to be repaired because it won’t work properly. The flue is actually what lines the chimney, whether that be clay tiles or a stainless steel liner. The damper, however, opens and closes manually to either keep the warm air of the house in when the fireplace is not in use or allow the smoke produced by the fire to exit. This being said, if the damper stops opening and closing properly, you experience problems.
Dampers are the cast iron plates that are attached to hinges at the top of the chimney. While lighting the fire, open the damper, then close it once the fire has gone out. Dampers can be traditional or top sealing and are usually operated by a lever or chain inside the home. Be sure that your damper fits well because any gaps between the damper and the walls of the flue system cause warm air to float up and out of the home, increasing energy costs.
Manual dampers are opened and closed by a handle outside of the flue system. Automatic dampers, conversely are controlled by a thermostat and operated by motors. Although automatic dampers are not necessary, can be expensive, and are not widely popular, it is very likely that they will become more widespread as time goes on seeing that society makes a constant push toward the automatic, hands-off type goods.
Zone dampers are very interesting, they control the flow of air in an HVAC cooling or heating system. By using a zone damper, efficiency and comfort can be improved. Heat can be directed to a particular floor or area of the house. Heating homes this way is the most efficient- heating just the rooms you are in allows you to save heat and energy while still enjoying the comforts of a warm home.
Realize that the damper and the actual building of a fire will function differently based on what conditions exist both outside and inside the home. Having certain windows open while you start a fire or having the damper at a particular angle will cause different results. Weather conditions also affect fires, seeing that barometric pressure is affected by the weather which ultimately affects the general “draw” of your flue system.
It is always prudent to have both a chimney cap and a damper installed in your chimney. A top-sealing damper, such as a Lock-Top system, essentially “plugs” the hole created by your chimney. Expensive air simply rises up the chimney and out of the home without one. A damper works in much the same way. Remember to always start fires with the damper open.