Robert Lamoureux: New windows introduce new problem

Robert Lamoureux
Robert Lamoureux

Question No. 1 

I live here in Santa Clarita and have read your column a couple of different times, regarding retrofit windows and how, about every five years, they will tend to leak if maintenance hasn’t been done on them.

Sure enough, I had five of my retrofit windows leak last year, and because I am close to retiring, I have elected to change all of my windows out; break out the stucco and put new windows in, per your recommendation.

Everything was better going this way, including sound-proofing, but since then I have smoke coming in from the fireplace when I use it, and the fascia bricks on the fireplace are turning black.

The timing of it all makes us think that the new window installation is involved in the cause but, of course, it could be coincidental, too.

Do you have any thoughts on if and how this could be related, and what we could do about it?

Brian M. 

Answer No. 1 


It’s no doubt related to the windows, in my opinion.

A good window like you’ve installed is going to have a much better seal than a retrofit, therefore not allowing the draw of the air as it had before, when the fireplace is on. This is a great weather-tight window and efficient for keeping warm air in and cold air out in the winter, and the opposite in the summer.

Unfortunately, it can cause a backdraft effect such as this, where the fireplace doesn’t have the ability to draw air in and up as it did before.

The simplest fix for this would be to use a room on the opposing end of the house and secure a window open by an inch or two with a window lock, and this will allow the fireplace the draw that it needs. Along with this which will hopefully solve your issue, please have your chimney inspected and cleaned every one to two years.

Any possible issues (including this draw issue) can be detected, and the creosote that builds up inside the chimney can be cleaned away for safety. A good and experienced chimney contractor will not only clean your chimney, they will inspect and offer suggestions for issues you are having and this includes inspecting the exterior of the chimney as well as the chimney cap. 

Be sure to burn good, dry wood, also, and keep all fire hazards under control, including trees close to your chimney. A couple other tips: Be sure that your flue is open always, prior to starting any fire in the fireplace. Often folks wonder which way is open, so just think of it as a drawer – pulled toward you is an open drawer and pushed away from you closes the drawer.

Preheat your fireplace also; the cold air within the chimney is too heavy to allow smoke to pass, so you need to relieve the chimney of this by preheating. Open the flu, light the gas and perhaps burn a sheet or two of newspaper. This will allow the cold air to be forced up and out, and make a clear path for the upcoming smoke that will happen with the beginning of the wood burning process.

Steer clear of the pre-formed logs, they are loaded with chemicals and products that stick to the interior of the chimney, it is always best to burn natural wood over pre-formed logs.

Good luck to you,


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