city boys, cleaning

The Mystery of the Smokey Stove is Solved!
How a Blocked Chimney Almost Killed Us



If the NSA had been documenting the goings on at the Dream House over Thanksgiving weekend, they would have witnessed Mr. and Mr. Blandings wildly flailing their arms and gasping for air as the house filled with smoke. Our first attempts at using the wood burning stove in the basement quickly devolved into a comedy of errors. We’d light the fire, the basement would start to fill with smoke and then we’d panic. We’d run upstairs and find that the first floor was also filling with smoke. So we would throw open the windows and let the arctic winter air fill the house and force out the smoke. We repeated this scene three times over the weekend before we finally decided that we’d better call in the professionals.

Although our home inspector looked at the fireplace and wood burning stove and said they seemed OK, he wasn’t able (or qualified) to give us a detailed inspection. We had heard from the sellers that they used the wood burning stove in the basement quite frequently but had never used the fireplace. We reasoned that we would be able to use the stove right away but would have to wait for a full inspection of the fireplace before using it.

As it turns out, we could have saved ourselves a couple of near death experiences had we called in a chimney sweep to begin with. When we had a chimney sweep come to the Dream House earlier this week, I explained our situation with the stove and also indicated that we’d like to see if the fireplace in the living room is in working order. Although he wasn’t able to give us an update on the fireplace – it was too snowy for him to get up on the roof to properly inspect the chimney – he was able to solve the mystery of the smokey stove. And he did it within five minutes of assessing the situation.

For anyone who read our original post about the smokey stove and thought that there might have been a bird’s nest or something blocking the chimney, you were almost correct. The chimney was indeed blocked. Not by a nest, but by a whole lot of built up ash, residue and crud. The second the chimney sweep pulled the pipe that leads from the stove out of the wall and into the chimney, he said, “Oh! Here’s your problem!” We couldn’t get the smoke to go up the chimney because there was no room for it! Where the smoke would normally exit the stove and go into the chimney, there was a thick mass of build-up. There was so much build up that the chimney sweep filled a 5-gallon bucket just by scooping it out. Here’s our problem, indeed! After the chimney sweep cleared the initial batch of build up, he also used his magical chimney sweeping tools to completely clear out the flue.

And we’re in business! We’ve built multiple fires in the stove and it works like a charm. The fires start easily, there’s no smoke in the house and the stove warms up the basement within an hour or so. In other words, that was the best $200 we’ve ever spent on a chimney sweep!

The chimney sweep promised that he would come back out as soon as it’s safe to climb onto the roof to inspect the fireplace. Until then, we’ll have to be content with fires in the wood burning stove in the basement. Release the inner pyromaniac!

PS – I’m sad to report that the chimney sweep neither looked nor sounded like Bert from Mary Poppins! Not a single “Chim Chim Cheree” was uttered!

— J. Blandings

Image: Mr. and Mr. Blandings

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1 Comment

  • Reply Jolene 12/18/2013 at 12:22 am

    First visit to your new blog from your old one. Congrats on your new house – it’s AWESOME and I would possibly be tempted to drive that far for a real, live Wright house too! Can’t wait to see all your projects. I can totally relate to your filling up the house with smoke. I, too, recently started a fire in our new basement woodstove, and because of down-draft filled the house with thick smoke, set off all the smoke alarms, and created general chaos. Isn’t it fun? Glad your problem found a solution, and that you love your stove.

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