The Fireplace and It’s Consequences

The weather outside has been frightful this December in Knoxville.  We’ve had snow and ice storms bad enough to clear the supermarkets’ bread and milk supply and cancel public schools for almost a week.  In the mid-south, this equates to about two inches of snow.  Although I scoff at the sheer panic, I’ll agree that it’s been flippin’ cold.

But I’ll tell you what’s been delightful about our first full winter in this house…

Finally, after years of daydreaming about it, it’s real.  There’s an actual, functional, wood-burning fireplace inside my primary residence!  We can watch a movie in the dark with a fire crackling in the background.  It’s awesome.  Truly.  And it heats the entire house so much better than our ancient furnace does.

Back in February, our home inspector recommended that we get the chimney swept, or at least inspected by a professional chimney sweep. Being surprised that chimney sweep was still an actual job, I was hoping for a hardscrabble, cockney-speaking bloke with black smudges across his cheeks.  To my disappointment, they were just good ol’ Tennessee boys who make most of their money cleaning air ducts.

Turns out we didn’t even need a sweep, but the $80 inspection gives us peace of mind that we won’t burn down the joint if we screw with the fireplace.

We’ve had two fires so far.  Although they’ve been warm and fuzzy, they bring up an issue that impacts my plan for the living room.

From the time we moved in, there has been a smoke mark on the ceiling directly above the fireplace, contributing to the dire need to repaint it.  I was all ready to get started painting it this weekend, but realized that I could be completely wasting my time.

We intend to use the fireplace heavily this year, and by doing so we could be contributing to that ugly smoke stain on the ceiling.  I could bust my ass painting it now, only to have to re-do it when spring rolls around.  The problem is that I have no idea how long it’s been since the ceiling was painted last.  How many fires does it take to get to the level of stain-age that we have right now?  It’s anyone’s guess.

So I’ve executed a little test.

I have some flat white ceiling paint leftover from the office, so I painted a patch of the ceiling that overlaps with the really bad part of the smoke stain.  The contrast in the picture above shows you just how nasty and grey it is currently.

So the idea is to wait it out through a few more fires and see if the nice white patch gets dirtied up.  I’m desperately hoping that it it will be okay and I can proceed with the living room as planned.  But if the new paint does get stained quickly, I may have to put it on the back burner until the spring.

Long term, we’re thinking about what we can do to eliminate the smoke issue.  The chimney sweep guy said that because of the small proportions of the firebox, it will always have a tendency to emit more smoke inside the house.  The only viable solution seems to be a wood-burning insert like this one:

Since our house seems to be heated very well via fireplace, this would let us throw some logs onto the fire before bed and safely let it burn away all night long.  It would also regulate the smoke and air flow adequately.

The downside?  It looks like they cost about $1200.  Yeah, maybe next year.

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5 thoughts on “The Fireplace and It’s Consequences

  1. Love fireplaces! I think the smokestain might just go with it, though. My parents always open the bathroom window just a crack when they have a fire, I think its so the living room doesn’t fill with smoke- for some reason, even when the chimney is clean, it tends to drift into the room instead of up. The chimney sweep they use has an office in a small building that looks like a beehive. No cockney lads, alas, but they have a big shaggy dog at the office that almost makes up for it.

  2. looks great! I love fireplaces. I bet it took at least a few years to get a noticeable smoke stain, though I really have no basis for my guess. I am interested to see how your experiment goes 😀

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