Fireplace questions

So, after reading many posts on several fireplace topics, I understand how to create the proper draft to get the fire going and such. Haven't tried yet, but have a few questions. My fireplace is wood burning (non-gas), brick chimney. Built ~6 years ago.
1. I have this metal cover at the bottom, ~3" x ~6" or so. It opens into a chute down to the garage, where there is a deposit area and a metal gate ~10"x10". I assume this is how you take out the ashes. What is this called? Can this be used to create the updraft as well? The garage isn't tightly sealed, so I think it'll provide enough air. I don't like to open the window for the draft because we took all the window cranks away (windows come down very low and can be dangerous for 2 young kids if left open).
2. I don't see the damper handle. Could it be that there is no damper at the top of the chimney? There is a handle that control the opening into the flue just above where the fire would be.
3. Haven't used the fireplace yet, and there is draft leaking into the room from the flue opening, even when the gate is shut. Is there an easy way to block the cold air seaping in? It's not too bad, but feels like sitting next to a window with large glass area (maybe a tad worse). Of course, I'd use the seal only when there is no fire going.
4. Assuming I get the proper draft going when there is fire. Will I still get some ashes into the room? The room has a high, white cathedral ceiling, and I wouldn't dare paint it myself if it needed repainting.
Thanks!
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F Green,
1. It's called the grate. While I've never heard of it being used as a draft that sounds reasonable if the hot ash which will drop into the garage is not a fire hazard. Do you store gas in your garage? 2. The damper is located just above the fire as you describe. 3. Fire places are drafty 4. Fire places are dirty
Good luck, Dave M.
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That thing is for cleaning out the ashes, and it should not be necessary to get involved with it just to get more draft. I'd be very surprised if you couldn't get sufficient draft simply by opening the damper. It sounds like you're new at this. If you're nervous about the whole thing, experiment with very small pieces of wood, perhaps some scrap molding, that'll burn very quickly.

I've only lived with or used perhaps 5 fireplaces in my life, but the damper (the flap right above the fire area) is the only thing I've ever seen.

Sounds like you have glass doors with a metal frame. If so, grab a refrigerator magnet and see of it'll stick to the metal frame. If YES, find an attractive piece of heavy fabric and have a tailor sew some magnets into the seams. Radio Shack sells magnets in various sizes.

You shouldn't get ashes in the room unless someone's stirring things around carelessly in the fireplace. Everything should go up the chimney. However, be aware that sparks have a sense of humor and will pop out when the following conditions are met: 1) You have carpet right outside the fireplace and 2) You're opening the door to fiddle with the burning logs
Pick up a thick, cheap rug to put in place when you're having a fire.
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On 11 Nov 2004 08:26:04 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com (FGreen) wrote:

What's it called? Jeez, who cares--as long as your wife knows where it is and how to open and empty it.
If your house is as well constructed as most, you needn't worry about providing sufficient air (draft) for the fireplace. Get a good fire going and you'll feel cold air being sucked in around windows, doors, light switches, receptacle plates, etc.

Top of the chimney? That's a new one on me.
Call that control handle just above the fire a "damper" and your search is complete--that's it! Usually one reaches it with one of the fire tools--push in/pull out. Fancier fireplaces have an exterior control lever.

Sounds like the damper is faulty. Perhaps damaged from violent attempts of the previous owner to open/close it? Could be encrusted with soot or creosote from previous fires. It oughta seal tighter than that.

Not if your keep that ash door in the garage closed! The more likely danger for newbie pyros is smoke in the living room. You set up the fire, newspaper, kindling, etc., and light it. It bursts gratifyingly into flame, and suddenly your missus says, "Honey, should all that smoke be coming into the room?"
Either you've forgotten to open the damper, or even if you have you haven't ensured that a proper draft exists. So the first step in lighting a fire (after checking the damper) is to take a twist of newspaper, light that, and hold it at the top of the fire area until you see its smoke head up the flue. Then, light the fire.

Your combination of a cathedral ceiling and primitive fireplace (not even a 'heat-o-lator,' I bet) means little or no help in heating your house. But it will seem nice and cozy in the immediate area.
John W. Wells
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It's called an ash pit, and no, you shouldn't try to use it to provide combustion air. At least, not without significant modifications, which will then prevent you from using it as an ash pit.

Far as I know, that's normal. That opening into the flue *IS* the damper.

If you're not using the fireplace, you can cut foam insulation to block the throat of the fireplace. But if you forget to take it out, it's going to be ugly.

You're mixing up ashes and smoke. You should expect small amounts of both.
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Sounds like the house was lived in before you bought it. Have you had the chimney inspected & cleaned? Here (Rochester NY), it just cost me a little under $100.00. The previous owners (young & clueless) said something about some "nice pine" they'd burned during two previous years. Hmm.
Get it looked at.
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FGreen wrote:

Make sure your ashes are COMPLETELY extinguished before your sweep them down the chute. 3-4 days, should be safe.
Paul in San Francisco
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Ash dump, pit, etc.

There are a couple different types of dampers. The traditional style is a throat damper, with sits on the damper plate between the combustion chamber and the smoke chamber (which narrows to the flue). That's what you have.
The other type is a top-mounted damper (TMD) which is opened and closed with a pull-handle connected with a stainless cable to the damper. This style of damper typically provides a better seal than throat dampers. RMR makes a great version that works as a cap and TMD.

Check and see if your throat damper is open. They can also untrack fairly easily if your have a lot of debris in the smoke chamber. Try to clean out the track and reset if this is the case (this can be messy and difficult for the inexperienced). It may still be drafty, as throat dampers don't create a tight seal.

If you have trouble with backdrafts, you may experience discoloration. You'll typically notice it first just above the fireplace opening.
As always, it's a good idea to have your system thoroughly inspected by a certified chimney sweep. They should be able to go over the finer parts of your system and help diagnose your draft issue, as well.
mark __________________________ Mark Cato snipped-for-privacy@andrew.cmu.edu
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