If you have a damper in your fireplace or woodstove, do you know how to use it, or even what it does? Today the wood-burning stoves don’t always require a damper and central heat doesn’t require homes to be heated with a fireplace that requires a damper, so dampers are not in evidence as often. Most of us won’t ask about them feeling we should know. Dampers of old were common and people knew about them and we think we should, too. That isn’t so. Yet, the damper is important if your home has a fireplace or woodstove. Using it improperly can actually raise your heating bill or cause a lot of air contamination.
How the Damper Works
The damper is in the flue or the pipe from the stove or fireplace which goes out the chimney. It can be inexpensive, a small round cast iron piece with a bar running through it. Open in the flue, it is sideways. Closed it is flat. Other dampers, in these times of advanced technology, are more advanced.
The damper should always be fully open when starting a fire or when adding more wood. An open damper allows for air to be drawn down the open chimney. Dampers also allow the smoke that will surely accumulate when starting a fire, to be drawn out the chimney and not into the room. Smoke is bad enough, but the open damper allows for drawing out of gasses and particulates, even carbon monoxide.
How to Open Fireplace Flue
If it is not known whether the damper is open or closed, an easy way to tell is to put a hand in the stove or fireplace. If air can be felt, the damper is open. Another way to tell is to look up inside the fireplace simply or woodstove if possible. If you can see the chimney, the damper is open.
Closed, the air is stopped from getting farther than the chimney. When there is no fire, the damper should be closed to keep the air from coming into the room. Many times this step is forgotten and people don’t realize why the room gets cold. This is the step that causes the heating bills to rise.
To re-iterate, the damper should be open when starting a fire or adding wood. The damper should be closed when the fire or embers are dead.
Questions about Using the Damper
Does every wood stove need a damper?
No, the more modern stoves are equipped with air vents on the side that allow air in and regulate the fire. These newer stoves burn the wood with more intensity getting more energy from each bit.
What happens if the damper is partially closed?
This will dampen the intensity of the fire by partially closing off the air. This will also affect the efficiency of the stove.
How do we keep animals out of our stove?
The closed damper will not allow animals, birds, or rain to enter the firebox. They can enter and may be stuck in the chimney.
Will closing the damper when there is a chimney fire slow the fire?
The chimney fire is usually at the top of the chimney and in the flue, burning up the accumulated creosote. Closing the damper will keep the fire from entering the firebox itself but will not stop the fire. Always burn dried wood for more heat and to avoid the buildup of creosote.
I had a wood-burning stove and did not know how to use the damper. Later we bought a more modern stove with glass doors and side vents controlling air that didn’t require a damper. It was stupid not to learn how to use that damper. Our heating bill was always high and that was probably why. How to use the damper is not complicated.
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