Chimneys have come a long way since they were first used. Smoky, inefficient chimneys were the norm in days gone by, but that should no longer be true. Homeowners can expect that virtually all of the smoke from a fire exits via the chimney; and if it doesn’t, our chimney professionals can help determine what is causing the problem. The following is a brief history of the chimney and the evolution of its design:
It is unknown when the very chimney was built, but there is evidence of people having used chimneys in Europe since before 1200. In the year 1347, there was an earthquake in Venice; and there was evidence of the destruction of several chimneys in the quake. In Padua, Italy, there is evidence that goes back to 1368 which shows that chimneys were fairly common.
During Queen Elizabeth I’s reign in Tudor England, chimneys were commonly used by members of upper class society. The poor, however, burned fires on clay or brick bases in their homes and were forced to endure smoke-filled rooms. While the chimneys brought improvement, they were still dangerous and inefficient for centuries to come.
In England, action was taken to make chimneys safer beginning in 1719. Requirements were imposed which mandated that chimneys be built or, as appropriate, rebuilt with bricks instead of being built with clay. Brick chimneys were much safer than chimneys made with clay, but fireplaces were still smoky. At about the same time that this change was made in England, fire wardens began being appointed to routinely inspect chimneys here in the United States of America, for the purpose of trying to prevent fires. These actions were largely prompted by President George Washington, who took note of brick chimneys on tours of the east coast.
What was needed was for a chimney to be properly designed so that smoke would move out through the chimney effectively. A hindrance to achieving this design was a misunderstanding about heat, which scientists considered to be a fluid through the early part of the nineteenth century.
Louis Savot, a physician in Paris, used a scientific approach in a study of smoky chimneys in the 16th century. Savot’s studies revealed that if the flue is smooth and the fireplace narrow, a stronger draft can be achieved, a find which resulted in significant improvements in chimneys.
A mid-18th century wood shortage led inventors to concentrate on designing more efficient stoves that would improve on burn efficiency. Benjamin Franklin invented the famous Franklin Stove, which achieved the desired goal. Prior to the American Revolution, small Franklin stoves of cast iron were widely adopted for the purpose of heating small rooms. Franklin was famously referred to as “a universal smoke doctor” by a member of English nobility in 1768, for his work related to improving fireplace efficiency.
Benjamin Thompson, also known as Count Rumford, was also a notable inventor during that time. He was born in Massachusetts in 1753 and has long been credited with making the milestone of most significance as relates to the history of chimneys. His success is partially due to the fact that he challenged the popular theory that smoke is a fluid. In fact, he recognized that heat is not a fluid. Around this time, coal-burning in furnaces had become more common, which also meant that efforts to remove smoke from homes were more important than ever.
Count Rumford was living in London when he invented a chimney/fireplace system that was specifically designed to virtually eliminate the smoke problem and involved building shallow fireplaces which reflected more heat in the room. Prior to that, fireplaces were deep. Rumford also discovered that incorporating chimneys within walls of a home instead of on an outside wall further helped to prevent smoky chimneys. Rumford is also credited with inventing a type of stove which didn’t produce unbearable heat in kitchens.
Rumford’s designs have stood the test of time. Today, no matter where your chimney is located on your home, you can expect it to be smoke-free. If your fireplace smokes, if you need an inspection, or if you have unanswered questions about chimneys, contact our chimney professionals today.
Chimney Solutions, Inc.
1155 McFarland 400 Drive, Alpharetta GA 30004