Staying Safe in the Line of Fire – Troubleshooting Common Fireplace Problems

Nothing spells cosy in wintertime quite like a burning log fire. Sitting or laying down, admiring the dancing flames, feeling the warmth, sipping a drink.

Fireplace safety | Building Pro Home Inspection Kelowna

Nothing spells cosy in wintertime quite like a burning log fire. Sitting or laying down, admiring the dancing flames, feeling the warmth, sipping a drink (hot chocolate for the kids, maybe something stronger for the adults), enjoying good company and good food in a warm and inviting atmosphere. It’s a great visual. As long as the fireplace is working properly. There are many reasons why a fireplace may not be working properly. Here are some of the main reasons, and what you can do to avoid or fix them in order to maintain your Christmas glow this holiday season.


Fireplaces work mainly because of the rising of hot air. When you start a fire, the air inside the chimney becomes warmer and less dense than the air outside the chimney, and consequently it starts to rise. As the warm air rises, cooler air from the room flows into the firebox, fanning the fire and creating more heat in an ongoing cycle. Wood is added to keep the fire emitting light and heat in a process of perpetual incandescence. The fireplace is not a trash disposal, so never burn anything besides wood or paper in the firebox. Ensure the wood you use isn’t wet or it won’t burn; damp wood, even if you can get it to light, often produces more smoke than heat. If it’s raining outside, the moisture in the chimney may make it harder for the fire to light, particularly if you didn’t close the damper, which is the next point.


Check your damper. Make sure it’s fully open when you have a fire so that the smoke can rise out of your home up the chimney, and close it when the fire has completely burnt out. After a fire, the damper seals the fireplace so that heated air from your home will not escape up, or cold air down, the chimney when the fireplace is not in use. An ineffective or broken damper that doesn’t fully close can cause a significant rise in your heating bill. As for the ashes of the fire, place them in a metal container stored outside the house, and always ensure you have smoke detectors installed and functioning properly in your home before starting a fire.


An old chimney may need repairs to work. A dirty chimney may not work properly either as the gradual accumulation of soot can adversely affect the way it performs. Thick layers of soot can physically restrict the flue so there is no longer enough free space to vent the fireplace properly. Restricted flow causes a backlog of smoke and soot – not something you want to be cleaning up off your living room floor or carpet. Chances are you don’t use your fireplace outside the winter months, so the chimney is not in use for the majority of the year. Birds may nest in or around the chimney, thinking it is a tree; small animals too can make it their home. Debris, such as leaves, moss, and twigs can also clog up your chimney. The solution is a good cleaning. To be on the safe side, have your chimney cleaned minimum every 2 years, with of course an annual clean the most effective option. Consider too installing a chimney cap to keep birds and animals out and prevent the build-up of debris.


Fireplaces that run on gas are highly efficient heating sources with temperatures that are easy to control. Gas is clean-burning, resulting in less soot production and are easy to keep clean. But sometimes they still act up and cause problems. If there’s no ignition (i.e. the fire won’t start), check to make sure the gas valve is open. If this doesn’t work, check that the natural gas lines to your home are operating correctly. Most gas fireplaces have a pilot light that stays on all the time to light the fire. If there is no pilot light, check the gas supply. Some gas fireplaces have a intermittent pilot light, which means it has to be switched on electronically first. If the gas fireplace still refuses to light or stay lit, the wiring may be damaged and you should contact a professional for help before continuing.

When buying a new house, a fireplace is a great addition, but the best bet is always to hire a professional home inspector to inspect your fireplace and chimney to ensure it is clean and working safely and efficiently. At Building Pro Inspections we have the expert advice and years of experience that can help you make decisions with confidence. All inspection are performed in accordance with the CAHPI(BC) Standards of Practice which covers all of the home’s major systems, including fireplaces. Contact us today.