Way back in 2011, we had a chimney company come out to clean and inspect our fireplace flue. They noted that the chimney was in need of tuck-pointing, and that placing a stainless steel flue insert would be in our best interest for safety, etc. We would also likely need a fireplace fan to assist with prevention of smokiness. The trouble was - the estimate was extremely expensive, we simply did not have the money. So we put it off, hoping our fortunes would improve and thought "a year or two perhaps". Wellll, maybe not.
Then about two years ago, I would sometimes notice a "sooty" smell in the parlor. It often happened when it was raining. It made me nervous about even lighting a fire. I imagined large gaping holes in the chimney, allowing airflow and sparks to move past any holes and possibly start a fire in the walls. I also had visions of the chimney collapsing in on itself à la "The Money Pit" (video clip here, advance to minute mark :35).
From "The Money Pit"
This moved fireplace repair into "take care of soon" queue, but I remembered that awful estimate. Two years went by ("...that rusted grate knew no fire..." Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier).
(The gate to Manderley)
Paul suggested that we try putting the missing chimney caps back on to see if that would at least help the sooty smell when it rained. I had a different company come out, and while they were here asked him to give us an estimate. The company was well-rated and the estimate was less even than the one from five years before, so I told Paul I would pick up extra shifts at work to make it happen.
So, all was set, they put in the liner. It was the smallest size they had due to the small opening of our flue, so of course we did need the fan. The electrician came to wire it. We did a test fire. But, you see, the new flue opening mechanism was opposite the old one, so we started the fire with the flue closed instead of open. Disaster! The electrician came to the rescue and fixed it. The house smelled like a campsite for several days after that.\
We thought we were set. We had one fire with a commercial "log". There was some smokiness, but barely, so no biggie. But then we made a roaring fire with actual firewood. Gradually our eyes began to burn, and upon leaving the room and coming back, there was a haze. We also felt that the fan did not sound as loud as it did with the initial test fire. Oh dear, what went wrong?? We emailed both the chimney company and the electrician.
It turns out that the fan control is German-made, and is set up a little differently than one would expect. It actually made a whole lot of sense in retrospect. When you first turn on the fan, you hear a click, and after about a minute the fan is running full force. Then you can turn the dial to the right and decrease the speed of the fan. This makes a lot of sense when first starting a fire: you want that airflow to be going full blast, then once the fire settles down, you can reduce the speed. So from left to right on the dial the order is: Off, High, (gradual decrease), Low. We had incorrectly assumed that the far right would be full blast, had turned the dial all the way to the right immediately. Hence, our problem. Now we understand!
Fireplace Fan Control
I also got a special (improvised) thermal harp cover. I don't want heat from the fires to adversely affect my harp, so I got a welder's thermal blanket to protect it. The only exception might be if I have Tea ladies over, have a fire, and want to play harp at the same time. A small amount of time exposed to the heat won't be so bad, but in general it should be protected.
Now that we've got it straight we've had two lovely, non-smoky fires. I am in love.