Fix or repair fireplace damper?

Discussion in 'Remodel Forum & Blog' started by chassis, Jan 26, 2008.

  1. chassis

    chassis Engineer

    SE Pennsylvania
    My basement fireplace has not been used for several years. It seems to be functional, but the damper mechanism is finicky. I took a close look at it and everything seems to be in place. The problem is the damper door can get out of whack and not close properly, unless you fuss with the lever just right. What are the options here? The house was built in 1950.

    Take it apart, wire brush the parts, and reinstall? Has anyone done this?

    Take it apart, and put new parts in? How do I identify what I have, and where would I buy new parts?

    The damper is nothing fancy, just a long narrow flap/door with a simple lever to operate it. Everything is contained inside the firebox, there are no rods or levers coming out of the mantle. Thanks for any advice.
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    New England
    One thing I've seen on This Old House, and some magazines is a roof cap damper. This is a spring loaded cap for the top of the chimney. A SS cable comes down the chimney to allow you to open and close the thing. I thas the advantage that it will keep birds, squirrels, etc. from falling into or staying inside, and does a better job of closing things off. If used, then you take the old damper out, or disable it.
  3. chassis

    chassis Engineer

    SE Pennsylvania
    Thanks Jim. I have seen these on the internet but haven't seen them in actual use, or spoken to anyone who has used them. Seems like it would work.
  4. bromo999

    bromo999 New Member

    Northern Virginia - outside DC
    My brother and I used to do fireplace repair many years ago (many many... got out in 1980).

    Many of the dampers used back then were cast iron and the lids are not actually attached or hinged to the damper body. The damper lid is a seperate plate and there are two cast iron "nubs" on the lid bottom that line up with matching nubs on the bottom of that damper opening. Basically they just keep the lid from sliding side to side and the lid rests on them to line it up.

    I'm also guessing the control arm is just a ratchet-toothed piece of cast irona as well that slips through a square, bolted-on bracket. (another common type from that period, though not quite as prevalent, used a rotary screw based mechanism where the control comes through the front of the finished masonry and can be opened/closed without having to squeeze into the firelplace)

    As long as all the pieces are intact (we used to see alot of broken lids, or missing control-arm brackets, or broken control levers), you should be able to get it working again by just cleaning out up inside around the damper opening. The biggest problem over time is chunks of mortar breaking off and falling down around the rim/edge of the damper. Then when you try to open or close it, the lid rides up on that debris.

    If the lid, bracket or the lever are broken, you may be able to find replacements. If you're lucky the manufacturer of the original may be cast into the lid, that's probably the only place it will be visible. You might check online for replacement parts. Here is one source:

    If the damper body itself is damaged you're looking at an expensive masonry job or using a chimney-top retrofit damper (of which there are several)

    Hope this helps

  5. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Yakima WA
    Here's something you might want to think about. A fireplace is a very poor method of heating. When you open the damper and start a fire, the heat in the room is drawn up the flue. You lose more heat than you gain. Years ago, I put in wood burning insert. This certainly heated the house, but getting wood was becoming more and more difficult and expensive each year. Moreover, the mess created by snow covered wood was awful. To add to the problem, in my area, there many inversions in the winter and the Clean Air Authority puts a burn ban in effect when that happen. Of course, these are always the periods you really would like a fire! So, I replaced the wood burner with a natural gas insert and I can tell you that it is wonderful. I get the look of a real fire and the warmth and atmosphere, and it's instant on and off. No mess, no fuss. And, I can have a fire anytime I want it, inversion or not. Oh yeah, the old damper is permanently wired open. The insert is vented with a metal tube that runs up the old flue and is capped on the top.
  6. Mikey

    Mikey Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek

    Central Florida
    Of course, doing that (switching from wood to gas) releases more carbon into the atmospheric carbon cycle, which adds to the greenhouse effect, which causes the earth's temperature to rise, which raises the mean sea level, which will cause hundreds of millions of people to be displaced, which will result in global turmoil and conflict over land and food resources, which will.... well, you get the idea. I'm sticking with wood.
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