Second Nature's Tips to an Efficient Home Part Four: Prepare your Fireplace and Chimney for the Winter

Winter is coming.

By all, we mean people with chimneys. And by grave danger, we mean your energy bill could go up. If your first thought when you read chimneys was “pffft, who cares, I don’t even use mine,” well then this is definitely something you should read. You’re in more danger than anyone.

You’re not alone though. A lot of people don’t use their chimneys anymore. That doesn’t mean that you can just ignore it. There’s a lot of heat to be lost through a dormant fireplace, and as we all prepare for colder weather, there is not a better time than now to get caught up on how to prep your chimney for the cold.

Use a fireplace sealer

A fireplace sealer is designed to seal your fireplace. Often a chimney balloon is what people use as a fireplace sealer, and these things are actually pretty neat. It’s literally a massive balloon that you shove up your chimney and inflate. It then holds your warm air in and keeps that frigid winter air out. You’ll have to measure your chimney’s dimensions to make sure you get a balloon that expands to the appropriate size.

A balloon that’s too big won’t be able to inflate all the way, and a balloon that’s too small will just fall down the chimney. The bottom of the smoke shelf is a popular place to install your balloon, but chimneys with smoke shelves vary in width throughout them. This is why it’s crucial to know where you want to place your ballon before you purchase it so that you can measure that particular area.

Once the balloon is situated correctly, make sure to create a reminder for yourself that it is up there if you intend to use the fireplace. Some balloons come with a card designed to be stuck near the fireplace as a reminder. If you purchase one that does not, just write it on a note card and glue it to your forehead so you won’t forget. We’re kidding, taping it to the fireplace will do.

The reminder card will stop you from accidentally lighting a fire with the balloon still inside the chimney. If you happen to do this though, don’t worry too much. You’re not going to smoke yourself out of your house. You’ll just need a new balloon.

Still want to use that Fireplace? That's Okay

Some folks will still want to use their fireplace through the winter. After all, that’s the best time to build a fire. If you fall into this group, a chimney balloon is probably not for you. Continually having to deflate and inflate that thing would turn it into more a nuisance than anything else. Luckily, you can still stop your chimney from sucking the money right out of your wallet this winter.

Make sure that the chimney is as close to sealed as it can get. Without a balloon, it won’t be completely sealed, but by making sure the damper is closed, you can cut off a decent amount of air flow. The damper is nothing more than a small flap inside your chimney flue that can be opened or closed to alter the flow of air and smoke in and out of your chimney. Keeping this closed when the fireplace is not in use will at least help with insulation.

Make sure your chimney is capped as well. There are many different kinds of chimney caps available, but the general premise remains the same across most of your options. A typical cap is rectangular shaped with wire mesh sides to allow smoke and air through, but with a solid metal top. This prevents junk like debris, rain, snow, and even animals from getting in your chimney. Without a cap, Fall can be a problematic season for chimney owners with all the leaves and other debris that come down from trees. If you don’t cap your chimney, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise next time you open your damper.

Be sure to inspect your chimney and fireplace, or pay a professional to do it. Cracks in the walls of the chimney are a great way to fail the insulation test, and there are other apparent dangers with a compromised chimney. Brick chimneys are the most at risk as the mortar between them can break down.

A professional chimney sweep (like the guys in Mary Poppins, except not like that) is a great resource. Typically, we support DIY fixes, but we also understand how much of a pain it can be to clean a chimney. It’s also not something to slack on, as a dirty chimney can become a serious fire hazard. Having your chimney professionally inspected on a yearly basis before the winter is a good practice.

A professional chimney sweep can help make your fireplace more efficient and safer

Previously, we discussed the value of spending some money on adequately insulating your home. These tips remain relevant if you’re planning on using your fireplace as well. Making sure windows and doors around the fireplace are sufficiently sealed will cut down on the amount of heat that can escape your home. This may not save you a ton of money, but it will make the fire more enjoyable and effective at warming your home.

Enjoying some time by the fire is always nice once the cold weather rolls in. If you love to do that, or even if you don’t, you should be aware of the potential impacts your chimney can have on your energy bill.

Alec Lower

Content Writer

Alec is a third-year member of the team at Second Nature. He brings expert knowledge of a myriad of home air filtration topics including HVAC filters, filtration efficiency, and indoor air quality.