Preparing for winter. Just the thought of winterization sends shivers up my spine! But that has been on the agenda at Chez Charlene spurred on by predictions of a “brutal” winter for this area. Where we live, there seems to be more misses than hits with weather forecasts. Something about jet streams that change their mind – crossing fingers that’s true again.
Our fireplace damper is tightly closed, but there was always a draft. We caulked, inside and out, and still a draft. If drafts come in, then heated and cooled air can go out. So at the end of last winter we did a little research and decided to invest in a fireplace draft stopper balloon. It is just what it sounds like — a heavy duty inflatable bag that fits across the chimney out of sight above the firebox. We don’t use the fireplace often — like every fifth year — but the balloon is removable so we can light a fire and then put it back in place. There are different sizes, so Wheels wriggled into the fireplace to measure and determine which we needed. For about $60 we placed an Amazon order.
It arrived in a flat box and was installed in less than an hour. Snapshots are from a small digital and lose something in the translation to posting, but you can see how simple the process is. It went like this:
Step 1 –This is the entire assembly laid out flat. You can see the balloon itself is tapered on the sides to better fit the contours of our chimney. The balloon comes in different shapes so pick the one that fits your needs. You can figure out the shape when you measure the opening. The balloon is made of a thick , heavy plastic. The clear tube is for inflating the balloon (or small air bag). It was already attached and remains attached during use. The black t-bar is attached to the bag by velcro loops and is used for pushing the balloon up into the chimney.
2. Inflate the balloon. You provide the air power for this step. We could have used an air pump on this if we’d had an adapter, but it wasn’t difficult to inflate by blowing into the tube. Just took a bit more time. Bytes said he felt like a bag piper. The channels prevent the balloon from folding in on itself and make it easier to handle for the next step.
3. Position the balloon, aligning the tapered area of the balloon with the fireplace. (If you have a straight chimney or a round stack this step isn’t necessary. ) Our fireplace hasn’t been used since the chimney sweep was here so there was no build up of soot to worry about. A visual inspection showed no sharp edges or protrusions to work around. Use the T handle to push the balloon into place. This one fits up against the closed damper.
4. Push the balloon into place, adjusting any reluctant stray parts. There is a slot in the middle of the balloon with reinforced edges that allow you to push it above the damper handle. Do that now. Tuck the inflator tube away and out of sight. When you are satisfied the balloon is in place, unfasten the velcro and remove the T-handle. You can leave it in to help hold the balloon in place, but it fits tightly enough that should not be necessary. Yes, that’s wood in the firebox — just in case the electricity goes out rendering our gas furnace inoperable and we need heat. But mostly because it looks better than an empty firebox. The wood is well aged by now — close to petrified even.
5. Finished. You can see the inflator tube with is red tip is tucked up between the fireplace wall and the balloon. The whitish alien head looking thing in the middle is really the damper handle that has been pulled through the slot. The two gray rectangles are the velcro strips for the T-handle.
Does it work? The real test will be this winter. We will be happy if it increases the comfort level in the living room. A reduction in the heating bill would be a bonus! They are also advertised to reduce noise, stop downdraft smells from other fireplaces nearby, prevent bugs and birds from coming into the fireplace. These were not problems for us, so no report on those. But I’ll let you know how this works out for comfort and energy savings!
Edited to add: This worked great in stopping drafts from the fireplace itself. We sold the house four years after we installed it. The inspector for the buyer was VERY concerned that he could not see up the chimney and called in an expert to make recommendations for repair, leaving a warning that we would be expected to pay for the work. I went through the household paperwork file and quickly found the information on the draft stopper. We left it lying on the hearth when the expert came. Never heard anything more about it. 🙂 Just something to remember should you sell your home after you install the draft stopper. (And is probably what we should have done for the initial inspection — but never thought of it.)
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Do you ever have to re-inflate it? It seems like it would loose air after a while.
Good question – I wondered the same thing. It is made of a nylon-urethane material that seems to be very tough and the possibility of a puncture while it is in place is not too likely. There is a one way valve in the inflator tube that keeps air from escaping. The air pressure from inside keeps it sealed – so no leaks there. Haven’t been through a prolonged cold snap yet – perhaps the cold air will make the balloon shrink. Should be able to inflate the balloon a bit more while it is still in place if that does happen. You can see the inflator tube is at the front of the fireplace so it would be a matter of untucking it and adding more air. Thanks for the interest!