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What Is A Fireplace Damper?

By Lawrence Macmillan August 15, 2021

When the weather drifts away from the summer heat and turns toward the icy bite of winter, you may see smoke rising from the chimneys in your neighborhood.  

There are few things better than cozying up besides a roaring hot fire, snuggled in a blanket, with a warm drink and a book, during the winter months. 

If you have a nice warm fireplace in your home, you may like to light the fire when it gets a bit colder outside. Sure, it is nice to put the internal heating system on, but a wood fire doesn’t raise your bills, and it will make your home feel even more cozy. 

While many homeowners who have wood fireplaces will know how to open up the damper when they start a fire, some are unaware of how they can use the fireplace damper to actually control the fire as it burns. 

So, what is a fireplace damper, and where is it? 

What is a fireplace damper, and where is it? 

One of the jobs of a fireplace damper is to help start up a fire inside your fireplace. Most people will know that for a fire to ignite, it must have oxygen available, otherwise the flame will die.

Therefore, by opening your fireplace damper you will allow air to get into the chimney so that your fire will get a healthy flow of oxygen, and your fire will start up. With the damper open, the fire can then continue to build, and allow smoke, soot, and all other fireplace related contaminants to exit through the chimney. 

However, on the downside, leaving the damper fully open while you have the fire burning will also allow warm air to escape, which will prevent the fireplace from operating as fully as you would like. The room may not be as warm as you had hoped, and the burn rate will increase as well, which will mean that it will need to be fed more wood more frequently. 

If you were to partially close the damper in the chimney, it will reduce the oxygen levels. This will also reduce the burn rate as well, which will result in a longer burning fire. It creates a downfall effect too, which will force the heated air back into the fireplace, which will increase its efficiency, and make your room feel warmer, without you having to layer up. 

The damper is found inside the chimney. You simply open and close it to your preference so that you get the result you want from your fireplace.

What does it do? 

When should it be open, and when should it be closed

Now, we know the basics of a damper don’t we, it provides oxygen for your fireplace, while letting the contaminants escape and the smoke rise. However, these devices can actually help fireplace owners in many ways. They have more than just a couple of benefits. 

  • Dampers can also keep cold air out. When you aren’t using your chimney, outside air can work its way into your home through your chimney, making your home cold and uncomfortable, and it will cause your heating bills to rise rapidly. Dampers seal your chimney when you are not using them, so when your fire isn’t burning, keep the damper closed, and no cold air will be working its way inside. 
  • Dampers also send smoke up and away, before you get your fire going, open up the damper, and the smoke and contaminants get out of your chimney, it is a very clever device and while smoke is being released, the cold air will also stay out too! 
  • Having a damper also means you have more control over your fire. If you want your fire to burn long and hot, or short-lived and flaming, you can have control. As you adjust your damper more or less, it feeds your fire with the oxygen it needs, allowing you to make it as intense, or calm as you desire. 

When should it be open, and when should it be closed? 

When you are using your fireplace and having a fire going, you should always have the damper open, do not close the damper when the fire is burning, and do not leave the fire unattended to. It is not just a hazard that could cause a fire, but it can also cause life-threatening carbon monoxide poisoning as well. 

Only close the damper when the fire has gone out. When you do not have a fire burning, you can close the damper to prevent any of the warm air in your home from getting out through your chimney. 

Using a damper to control your fire. 

So, now you know all this, you are probably wondering how you can use your damper to control the fire, well it is very simple.

First of all, open up the fireplace damper all the way when you are about to start up your fire. Then after you have let the fire burn for a few moments, adjust the damper, so it is only partially closed, halfway is a good position, and see how this affects your fire. 

Finally, keep a close eye on the fire, monitoring how it is burning. If it is still blazing hot then close the damper a little more, doing so should reduce the efficiency due to less oxygen, and it will increase its efficiency, allowing it to burn for longer. 

What if it isn’t working? 

If your damper does not seem to be working, then this may be due to a debris build-up, or an accumulation of creosote within your chimney. If the damper is blocked, then it might not be able to open or close properly. You should get a professional in to give your chimney a good clean out, so it can open and close again. 

Another reason it may not work is if it doesn’t fit the chimney correctly, the damper should be the appropriate size for your chimney for it to be able to function properly. A good fit ensures no air easing when fires are unlit, and easy access when you do have a fire lit. 


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