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10 Reasons Your Fire Won’t Start (and what to do about it)

Introduction

Picture this. 

After a long day of work outside, all you’ve been looking forward to is spending time on your couch watching football and cozying up to the fire burning in your fireplace. 

But as you go to turn it on or light the wood, you realize something is off. 

Literally. The fire is off and not starting. So you don’t get a fire this evening. All you get is a few hours of tinkering to figure out what the heck just happened to your perfect day. 

I’ve got you covered, though. Here are 10 reasons that your fire won’t start. That’s whether you have a gas fireplace or wood fireplace.

#1 The Wood Isn’t Seasoned

If your wood isn’t dry enough you’re likely going to encounter some troubles lighting your fire. If your wood isn’t dry enough then the moisture content still in the wood isn’t allowing the fire to get hot enough. 

And if the fire isn’t getting hot enough, it’s not producing enough warm air to push the cold air in the chimney up fast enough.  The result is no fire. 

Luckily, the fix is easy! 

You need to make sure your wood is between 15%-25% moisture. You can check this with a tool like this

Wood with too much moisture, otherwise known as greenwood, uses the fire’s heat to burn out the moisture. But the moisture can also make it difficult for the wood to come up to an adequate temperature required to spark. 

Read more about seasoned wood here: The Ultimate Guide to Seasoned Firewood 

#2 The Damper Doesn’t Fully Open

Your damper is the valve or plate in your chimney that stops or regulates the flow of air inside your chimney. Your chimney relies very heavily on the airflow in your house. 

When your damper is closed, the airflow is restricted since the air won’t escape outside as efficiently as possible. 

Sometimes, the only problem is that you’ve just forgotten to open the damper. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone out to a customer’s house only to find the damper wasn’t open. 

But a big issue that we find is that the damper isn’t open enough. 

Just as if it were closed, a partially opened damper hinders the airflow. 

Your damper can be stuck because of rust, normal wear and tear, animal debris, or even just having soot built up in your chimney behind the damper. Whatever it is, that’s just one of the many reasons to have an inspection each year. 

 

#3 The Gas Supply is Turned Off

This one seems obvious. But just like the warnings on the bottle of bleach to not drink it, this one needs to be said…

Your fireplace needs fuel to operate. For gas fireplaces, of course, that means gas. There are usually three options for why this happens: 

  1. You or someone else bumped the valve or wall switch that transfers the gas from the mainline to the fireplace. All you need to do is switch it back on and you should be good to go. 
  2. The gas company turned off the gas supply to your home. Maybe you forgot to pay or the bill got lost in the mail. 
  3. You’ve run out of gas. Call the gas company to go out to refill as soon as you can!

If it’s none of those, you should call your gas utility company to check it out because something could be wrong with your gas lines.

#4 The Pilot Light is Out

One of the most common issues we see with gas fireplaces is that the pilot light is out. This can happen if the pilot light was blown out by a sudden downdraft or by the wind. 

All you need to do here is turn the pilot light back on. 

To do this on most appliances, you’d need to turn the control knob in a counterclockwise movement to the “pilot” position. 

Click the red button and that should light the pilot. 

If that doesn’t do it, then give us a call (or another CSIA certified company) and we’ll be able to diagnose the actual reason. 

#5 The Gas Valve is Blocked

In your gas fireplace, you have something called the thermocouple. 

That’s what produces the electric spark from the pilot light that opens the gas valve. The spark is extremely tiny and the smallest amount of dust can block the valve. 

All you’d need to do is dust the whole log set with a microfiber cloth and try again. 

If it doesn’t work out, then you may need to give a chimney company a call 

#6 The Chimney Draft is Poor

As I mentioned before, your chimney heavily relies on airflow in your house to work efficiently. If there isn’t enough draft in your chimney, then there isn’t enough oxygen to help get your fire going. 

You could have a few issues that will hinder your chimney’s draft such as: 

  • No chimney cap
  • Animal nests
  • Branches
  • Clogged openings with soot or other external debris

Another issue is that the chimney simply isn’t tall enough. If your chimney is too short, it allows the wind to blow right back into your chimney. 

Your chimney should be at least 3 feet above your roof and 2 feet higher than anything that’s within 10 feet of it. 

You can fix this pretty easily by adding some height to your chimney or investing in a motorized draft inducer that will suck out the smoke from the top.

#7 Your Chimney is Filled with Cold Air

When your chimney is on the outside of your home, it’s possible that there is a column of cold air pushing down toward the fire. 

This would keep your fireplace from lighting since the fireplace can’t draft properly. It could also lead to smoke flowing back into your house instead of up the chimney like it’s supposed to. 

To fix this, you’ll need to do something to push the heat up the chimney to push the cold air up and out. 

We’ve heard some people lighting rolled-up newspapers to make a makeshift torch. They’ll hold it up in the chimney near the damper so that the heat can move the air. 

You can try that but be cautious not to let the flame touch any of the sidings of the wall for there could be creosote deposits built up. Creosote is highly flammable so you could have a much bigger problem than cold air. 

#8 Your Home is Sealed to Tightly

You might be thinking this isn’t such a bad thing. After all, as my mom would say, “we’re not trying to heat the neighborhood!” 

But you need little areas that the air can flow out. 

I’ve mentioned this a couple times, but airflow is important. Air is needed for a fire to burn. Air is flowing up your chimney so there needs to be a sufficient air supply in the home to help move the air up and to provide oxygen to the fire. 

A lot of new homes are supposed to be modern and energy-efficient. That means they are insulated and weather-stripped to a point that air doesn’t flow properly. 

What you’ll get are fireplaces that become sluggish and smoky. Unfortunately, this is a huge issue because when fireplaces are smoky, you’ll get increased creosote deposits and a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide. 

You can open a window to get the air flowing again, but you’ll need a more permanent solution. 

#9 Wrong Flue Size

Your chimney’s flue needs to be a perfect fit. 

We see a lot of DIY installations with improper flue sizes. Many people think it’s enough to just install the flue to the stove. 

If your flue is too big, too much air will be sucked up through your chimney and you’ll lose heat. On the other hand, if your flue is too small, then air can’t exit the chimney fast enough, so you’ll get a smoke-filled room.

#10 Your Chimney is Dirty

The last thing that typically keeps your fire from starting is that your chimney is dirty. 

How long has it been since you’ve had a chimney sweep? 

If you have a build up of creosote in your chimney, then you likely are having draft problems since the air won’t be able to flow properly. 

This is probably the easiest to fix. But also the most dangerous to leave be. That’s because creosote is highly flammable and is the main cause of chimney fires that cause 22,300 house fires, 20 deaths, and more than $125 million. 

To fix it, all you need to do is get a chimney company to head out to your house and clean out the chimney. 

creosote sweep

Hiring a Chimney Company

Navigating through all of the chimney companies in your city can be a chore all on its own. And it makes sense, too. 

Hiring anyone to come into your home to fix something like your chimney shouldn’t be a task you take lightly. So I created a list that you can use to make sure you make the right decision when you need someone to help you in your home.

Questions to Ask

When you’re hiring a chimney company, you should always ask the following questions before allowing them to come into your home:

  1. Can the company provide references? 
  2. Does the company carry a valid business liability insurance policy? 
  3. Does the company ensure that a certified chimney technician will be on the job? 

If they guarantee all three of those, then you are in a good spot. The technicians don’t necessarily need to be certified by the CSIA, but I do recommend putting in a bit more due diligence before accepting a certification that’s not by the CSIA. 

This is because certifications are a tricky thing, especially in an unlicensed industry like ours. Any company can craft a list of job-related questions and sell them as an exam and certify those who pass. 

Certifications

I recommend you take a few extra minutes in your research before making your hiring decision to learn more about the certification the company has. Here are a few tips to make sure the certification is reputable: 

  • Is the word “certified” just part of the business name or is it an earned designation? 
  • Is the certifying body a for-profit business or non-profit? 
  • Does the certification need to be maintained and renewed through continuing education as the industry evolves, or is it well enough to be certified through a one-time exam? 
  • Is the certifying body well-established or are they relatively new to the scene? New doesn’t mean “bad” but you should make sure the requirements for certification are more or at least equally stringent as those of more established certifications
  • Is the mission statement of the certifying body focused on educating and protecting homeowners or is it more focused on making it easier to earn a certification? 
  • Does holding the certification require following a code of ethics? 

If you can answer all of these questions, then I think it will be safe to allow the company in your home to work on your chimney. 

It doesn’t matter if you are in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Blacksburg, or some other city anywhere in the USA — if you have any questions about the safety of hiring a chimney company, please don’t hesitate to email me at mitchell@patriotchimney.net or call me at 540-225-2626. I’m happy to help!

Schedule Service

Patriot Chimney has a few CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps that you can trust with your home and family. During your service, you can expect your technician to inspect your chimney with a video camera so we can give a full top-to-bottom, inside out inspection. 

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