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Chimney Dampers: Everything You Need to Know

Already partway through November, nearly half of fall has passed and winter is only a few short weeks away. Soon, the clocks roll back an hour, and the days will continue to shrink until we experience only a few short hours of daylight. Any hints of an Indian summer are long gone, and everyone has swapped any remaining warm-weather clothes for jackets and scarves. Right around now, particularly along the chilly upper East coast, homeowners everywhere have begun lighting up their fireplaces. They are used to heat homes, to create a serene atmosphere, or even both. Most homeowners know the basics about their fireplaces – enough to use them safely year after year, such as knowing to have them swept and inspected annually. However, fireplaces are surprisingly intricate structures that have many small but crucial components.

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One such component of a fireplace that many people take for granted is the damper. This apparatus is located somewhere in the flue, which is the pipe that lines the length of the chimney. Normally made of metal or ceramic to withstand the high heat, the damper is a flap that opens and closes using a variety of mechanisms, like a handle, pull chain, or latch.

A damper controls the flow of air and other gases in and out of the chimney. One way a damper affects the air flow is by controlling the heat of the fire. While the damper should always stay open while a fire is lit to allow toxic gases and smoke to escape the home, how wide it is opened can be adjusted. The wider the opening, the more oxygen flows to the fire, which increases the temperature. If the damper is only opened slightly, the fire cools down because it receives less oxygen to fuel it.

Another way the damper involves air flow is by keeping the heated air from escaping your home during the cold months. Hot air rises, so if the damper is open to the outside while the fireplace is not in use, the heated air you paid good money to produce in your home will escape right through the chimney. In addition to keeping air from exiting your home, the damper also keeps unwanted debris and even animals from entering your home when the fireplace is not being used.

The damper in your chimney may be located at the bottom of your flue, which is right above the fireplace. If this is the case, your flue will be cold when you start the fire initially. The cold air in the flue moves slowly, impeding the hot air from escaping, and this may result in smoke filling your home if you light too large of a fire to start with. The damper may also be at the top of the chimney, so the flue stays closer to room temperature even when the fire is not lit. While this design makes it tougher to tell if the flue is properly open, it allows you to start a hot fire right away.

If you have questions about your damper or fireplace in general, contact Above and Beyond Chimney Service to speak with a professional.