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Why is smoke leaking from around my cleanout door?

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This is a new problem that started at the end of last winter. I live in an old farmhouse with a basic woodstove, nothing fancy. The chimney is old but serviceable. I cleaned the chimney prior to use this fall and in spite of being cleaned It is leaking smoke from the cleanout door upon first lighting, and if I open the stove door to load it. Also, when I open the stove door, there is spillage from the front, much more than there used to be.

 I clean from the bottom up, with a chimney "snake"  through the cleanout door. I also cleaned all the stovepipe thoroughly and ran my chimney snake up through the stovepipe hole into the chimney. Could there be blockage at the top that I missed? Would that cause the leakage at the bottom of the chimney and spillage from the front?

If I were to use a brush I would have to get on the roof, and I'm trying to avoid that! I'm not as young as I used to be!

Thanks for your thoughts on this!

asked in House Chimney by hymnsinger (160 points)
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1 Answer

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Best answer
Hi Tracey,
The spillage sometimes occurs in a cold chimney, but only before the flue becomes warm enough to create sufficient draft and pull exhaust fumes all the way up through the chimney.
That’s common on exterior type chimneys with 3 walls exposed and one wall shared with the house. Interior chimneys (only top section exposed above the roof) rarely experience it because the entire chimney stack surrounded with house walls is already warm.
 If you’re constantly getting smoke spillage into your house (even after operating wood stove for a few minutes) there might something inside the chimney flue preventing proper draft. I would suggest checking the flue from the top. It could be a bird / bird nest, rodents, debris from trees, or deteriorate chimney material blocking the flue.
Third issue could be a negative air pressure in your home. This is sometimes created by operating exhaust fan(s) inside a house (kitchen, bathrooms, whole house fan) that are capable of reversing chimney draft and creating backdraft.
However, such fan(s) would have to be quite powerful and operating constantly to create backdraft effect for an extended period of time. 
Other conditions creating negative air pressure could be: 
  • Another chimney or chimneys with open flues
  • Poorly sealed windows and doors
  • Open floor vents to the crawlspace beneath and crawlspace venting to exterior, etc. 
However, if there were no significant changes in your house prior to this chimney backdrafting issue, I would start from chimney flue evaluation. 
answered by (460 points)
Thanks Rudek! "Properly sealed windows and doors . . ." LOL!!! I had to laugh at that one! WHAT sealed windows and doors!? I usually duct tape all my cracks and crevices but not usually until late November.  This is not only an old house, its a poorly built and maintained house! (Not mine though! I just live here!)

You confirmed my thoughts on the chimney. I will have a sweep come out and check the top. My first year here I used my snake on the chimney and pulled 2 five gallon buckets of creosote from the cleanout. I use a heavy duty plumbers snake reinforced with duct tape so it doesn't collapse back down the chimney when it gets too far up. The last two years I have gotten 1/2 a bucket of creosote cleaning twice a year. The snake does work, but I'm never completely confidant that I'm getting all the way to the top with it.

Thanks again!
You're welcome Tracy. Whenever you have concerns related to home operation, just let me know :-). I'll do my best to help you resolve them.