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The Purpose Of A Chimney Damper

A chimney is not just an open interior space that allows air and smoke to evacuate your home. It has a number of moving components that assures that it works properly when your fireplace is in use. These components need regular maintenance, but if you keep up on chimney inspections and cleaning, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Chimney damper, madison wiOne major component of the chimney is the chimney damper also known as the fireplace damper. It is a metal or ceramic sheet that’s inside the chimney that manually opens and closes. When it’s open, smoke, gases and other byproducts of the fire burning in your fireplace can escape your home. When it’s closed, cold air from the outside and air from inside is prevented from entering and leaving your home.

It also assists in controlling the efficiency and reducing the intensity of a fire when it’s partially closed and prevents animals and debris from falling into the fireplace from the outside when it’s fully closed.

Although not essential, your fireplace probably has a chimney damper. Most fireplaces do. You’d probably want one because it keeps warm air from leaving your home during the winter and cool air from evacuating in the summer. It is located just above the firebox at the base of the chimney, at the top of a chimney, or at the base of the flue.

How A Chimney Damper Works

A handle, rotary style screw, or pull chain is used to open and close the chimney damper. Dampers with handles may also include latches on the handle to allow you to partially open or close the damper at specific angles.

Leaving the damper partially open allows you to control the intensity of the fire and also allows the smoke and gases from the fire to evacuate the home. You may not be aware of it, but as much as 80 percent to 90 percent of heat from a fireplace fire can be lost up the chimney. Adjusting the damper helps reduce the heat loss.

Opening And Closing A Fireplace Damper

For chimneys with traditional dampers, you will find a handle under the top of the fireplace. The handle moves forward or sideways and may have latch control as well. If there is no handle, there will be a screw style handle.

Push the handle away as far as you can to fully open the damper. Drop the handle down into the latch to assure that the damper stays open. Pull the handle toward you to close the damper.

Some dampers have a lever that moves sideways to open and close the damper.

If your damper features a rotary style screw control, turn it clockwise to open it, and turn it counterclockwise to close it.

If your chimney is equipped with a top-mounted damper, you will find a chain hooked on the side of the fireplace. Unhook it and the spring on the chain will open the damper. To close the damper, pull the chain down and then place it back onto the hook. If the chain does not spring up to open the damper, then there may be an issue with the damper.

Determining That Your Chimney Damper Is Open Or Closed

It is essential to know whether your chimney damper is open or closed before using the fireplace. If the damper is closed when you start a fire; smoke, gas and other byproducts will enter your home.

There are three ways to determine whether the damper is open or closed:

  1. Visually
  2. The controls
  3. A draft
  4. The sound of moving air


Lean in and look up the chimney. Look for a metal or ceramic sheet in the opening of the chimney or flue. This allows you to determine visually if the damper is open or closed. If the confined area is too dark, use a flashlight to illuminate it.

It is not always possible for you to see the damper from the fireplace. If you can’t visually see the damper, then use one of the other alternatives to determine the position of the damper.

The Controls

If the damper is located at the base of the chimney, then a metal handle with a latch or rotary style screw should be on the open side of the fireplace. The further away the handle or lever is from you the more open the damper. Try to move the handle further away. If you can’t, then the damper is probably fully open. If you pull the handle toward you, then you are closing the damper.

Throat dampers can be opened and closed by moving the lever to the left or right. Move the lever to the left and you’re closing the damper, push the lever toward the right and it will open.

If the damper is at the top of the chimney, then there is a chain on the inner side of the fireplace. If the chain is hooked onto the side of the fireplace wall, then the damper is closed. If the chain is hanging free, then the damper is open.

Check For A Draft

Place your hand at the top of the inside of the fireplace. If you feel a draft, then the damper is open. If you don’t feel a draft, then the damper is closed.

checking chimney damper, middleton wiAnother way to determine the position of the damper is to set a rolled up newspaper on fire using a match and place it near the inside top of the fireplace. If the damper is open, the flames and smoke will be pulled up into the chimney. If they are not, then it is closed.

Listen For Moving Air

If you stand quietly next to your fireplace, then you may hear the sound of moving air inside the chimney as well as noises from the street. If you hear the air and street noises, then the damper is open. Keep in mind, however, that some dampers do not have a tight seal. So you may hear moving air as well as street noise even if the damper is closed.

Never start a fire to determine the position of the damper. If it’s closed when you’re doing this, smoke and gases will fill the room.

We’re Here To Help

If the damper on your fireplace doesn’t open or close properly, it’s damaged, or it needs maintenance, call CSI. Our staff is skilled in inspecting your chimney, chimney damper repair, and other general chimney issues. We will also clean your chimney yearly.

In addition, we sell and install wood and gas fireplaces and fireplace accessories.

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