Don’t Blow Smoke: Milestones in the Evolution of the Chimney

Ancient Chimney DesignThe chimneys of today can be expected to keep smoke from the fireplace out your home, however if you notice a problem like drafting, you can call our chimney professionals to resolve the issue. There was a time when a chimney sweep couldn’t fix a smoky chimney because all chimneys were inefficient and putting up with smoke was an expected part of burning a fire inside your home.

It’s unknown when chimneys originated, but historians believe they were used prior to 1200 in Europe. Several chimneys were destroyed by an earthquake in Venice in 1347; and there is evidence that chimneys were fairly common in Padua, Italy, as early as 1368.

Chimneys were very popular among the upper class society in Tudor England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, while the poor were afflicted by smoke-filled homes as they burned fires on a brick or clay bases. Actually, the chimneys throughout these periods and for centuries more were inefficient and often dangerous.

To reduce the number of fires caused by clay-built chimneys, by 1719 all chimneys in England were required to be built or rebuilt using bricks. Here in the United States of America, President George Washington took notice of brick chimneys when he was touring the east coast and considered them noteworthy. During that period in America, fire wardens were appointed in most cities for the purpose of routinely inspecting chimneys. While the brick chimneys were definitely much safer than clay chimneys, the problem of smoke from the fireplaces wasn’t solved.

What was lacking in part was an understanding of heat which could lead to a proper design that carried the smoke more effectively up and out of the chimney. One of the hindrances through the early nineteenth century was that heat was considered by scientists to be a fluid.

Significant improvements in chimneys came about in the 16th century, when a Paris physician, Louis Savot, conducted a study of smoky chimneys with a scientific approach. He concluded that a stronger draft can result from a narrower fireplace together a smooth flue.

Wood shortages in the mid-18th century inspired several inventors to create more efficient stoves which reduced the amount of heat that escaped up the chimney. The most notable among the inventors were Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Thompson, who later came to be known as Count Rumford.

Franklin worked to improve fireplace efficiency and was referred to as “a universal smoke doctor” by Lord Kames of Edinburgh in 1768. In 1787 Franklin published “Observations on the Causes and Cure of Smoky Chimneys.”  The small cast iron Franklin stove was widely adopted and used to heat small rooms prior to the American Revolution.

Meanwhile, in Europe, coal-burning in fireplaces led to an even greater need to make chimneys more effective at removing smoke from homes. Count Rumford, born in 1753 in Massachusetts, is credited with the most significant milestone in the history of chimneys, perhaps partly because he recognized that heat was not a fluid; he broke ground by challenging that popular theory.

Count Rumford made many innovations to fireplace & chimney design, alleviating many common issues like a smoky fireplace.

Count Rumford made many innovations to fireplace & chimney design, alleviating many common issues like a smoky fireplace.

While living in London, Count Rumford invented a fireplace and chimney specifically designed to virtually eliminate smoke. His invention meant a switch from deep fireplaces to shallow ones which could reflect heat back into the room. Another switch was that, instead of building chimneys on an outside wall of the house, chimneys were incorporated into the wall, which helped to prevent smoke from leaking into the room.

Another of Rumford’s inventions was a stove which prevented kitchens from becoming unbearably hot. In 1854 Henry David Thoreau acknowledged that a comfort provided for civilized society was a Rumford fireplace.

For about 150 years, the Rumford design was the norm. But when other heating sources replaced the fireplace, previous chimney styles made a comeback.  Whether your chimney is located on an inside wall or is built on the exterior of your home, there is no need to put up with a smoky fireplace.  Call our chimney experts for help with any problems you may have as well as for annual inspections and cleaning services.

Northeastern Chimney, Inc.
formerly Nayaug Chimney Services, LLC
37 Cody Street, West Hartford, CT 06110
Phone: 860-233-5770

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