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In Q&A on January 30, 2012 at 3:21 pm


I have recently moved into a two-story house with a basement.  Whenever I light a fire in the natural wood fireplace located on the first floor, I can smell the smoke in the basement. There is also a similar fireplace in the basement too. I am not sure if the two chimneys are connected. Could you help me solve this problem?


There is negative air pressure in the house. The least expensive thing to try first would be prior to lighting a fire in the fireplace on the first floor, open a basement window and leave it open for 15 to 20 minutes. Then light the fire in the fireplace on the first floor and check to see if you get are getting the smoke/smell in the basement.

If you are not getting the smoke smell you will need to call an HVAC company and have them install a “make up air unit” (although there are many brands on the market a good one is called the Skuttle). Another one is Equaliz-Air 734-462-1033. Ray Gilreath from High Hat Chimney Sweep states that make up air units must be sized to the house and recommends Keeth Heating and Cooling in Plymouth, who are experts in properly sizing the unit for your needs.

If this does not take care of your problem then the problem could be originating at the top of the chimney on the outside. The liners may be too close together, damaged (least likely cause), need something like a plinth installed to separate the liners above the wash or possibly just a metal hood installed on one or more of the liners. The smoke appears to be exiting the first liner and blowing down the basement chimney flue.   I can think of two other possible causes:  the liner for the 1st floor fireplace may need to be raised so it is not the same height as the basement liner. The final factor could be inadequate cold air returns on the 1st floor.

Always do the least expensive things first. That may be just installing a chimney top damper, which will seal the top of the basement flue when that fireplace is not in use.  I also recommend my favorite chimney guy Ray Gilreath and he can be reached at 734-466-9590.


I live in a condo complex with ridge, soffit and gable vents. Every winter, depending on the wind direction, snow blows in through the ridge vent, accumulates in the attic, melts and causes damage to the ceilings. Do you think the gable vents could be the problem?


All the condo’s gable vents absolutely must be sealed. It could be the problem or part of the problem. When installing any ridge vent, all other vent openings, except the soffit vents must be removed or closed. That includes gable vents, can, power, and turbine vents.

Some types of ridge vents do not have wind baffles on the exterior. I have seen video and studies where that type actually allows rain and snow to get into the attic on windy days. If that is your type, replace them but still seal the gable vents.

Finally, you should have an equal or slightly greater amount of soffit ventilation with ridge vents.


In my front room closet I have noticed some mildew and moisture where the walls meet the ceiling. I am not sure if it is a leak or possible humidity.


If the plaster or drywall is soft, damaged or deteriorating and the paint is bubbling and/or peeling, it is a leak. Check with a roofer. It may be a leak or ice dam problem.

Otherwise if it is surface moisture and mold then it is because you have no insulation in that area and moisture in your house is collecting on the colder surface. It is the same principle as condensation sticking to a cold glass on a hot, humid day.

Wash the area off with bleach and a mild detergent, then rinse.

Add more insulation in that area and provide more air circulation in the closet.


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