There are many fireplaces that seem to smoke back into the house no matter what is done. In our experience, the most common cause is that the fireplace simply needs to be cleaned. This is especially likely if the fireplace has gotten worse over time, that is, the smoking back is worse now than it used to be.
Several other possible causes of smoking back are problems with the damper, chimney cap, grate, firewood, or structural problems with the chimney itself. At Chimney Clean Company, we do a full inspection with every cleaning, or we can also do just the inspection if the chimney doesn’t need to be cleaned. This inspection is designed to reveal any causes of smoking back.
In the Bay Area, many chimneys were broken in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Usually, these chimneys are broken at or near the roof line, although sometimes they can be broken further down, even at the ground level.
We are fully licensed masonry contractors. We rebuild broken chimneys. If they are broken at the roof line, this usually entails taking the chimney part of the way down brick by brick, installing steel reinforcing bars, getting an inspection from a city inspector, then rebuilding the chimney back up around the steel rebar.
Over time, many chimneys develop places that are missing mortar between bricks, or damaged bricks, either inside the firebox or on the outside of the chimney. These areas can usually be repaired, either by replacing the missing mortar or replacing the bricks themselves. Items such as these can be dangerous because they can allow flames, sparks or hot gases to enter the structure of the house.
Sometimes the metal that seals the chimney at the roof, called “flashing”, will come loose or develop leaks. In this case, water sometimes comes into the ceiling of the room and causes water spots and stains on the sheet rock. This flashing should be repaired before the water causes more damage.