The BIG tiny house problem nobody seems to be talking about

Picture this:

You are enjoying a morning cup of tea by the fire, protected from the icy cold winter elements outside. You take a bite from your toast and the sticky jam slides off onto your fingers. You step over the sink to rinse your hand and turn on the hot water faucet. The hum of the propane water heater starts up and warm water begins dispensing. Suddenly, your fire has been reduced to ash and your house is flooding with black smoke! In a panic, you open all the windows and the front door. As fresh air floods in, your house adjusts to the frigid outside temperature.

The above scenario outlines what we have been struggling with for several months. During the summertime we have not had this problem. During that time, one or more of our windows have always been open preventing an air vacuum from forming when we do certain tasks. When air gets displaced from our home, the smoke from our chimney gets sucked down to fill the void.

We have come up with a few practices that help us avoid the vacuum problem.

  • Do not shower unless a window is cracked
  • Do not open or close the front door while building a fire
  • Do not turn on the bathroom or kitchen fan unless there is a very strong fire or a cracked window
  • Avoid opening the door or activating air circulation anytime after a fire has burnt out because there is still smoke sitting in the chimney

Cracking one of our windows it is not an ideal situation in -40°C but we have no other choice.

Most importantly, I have been working on practicing patience. One slip of the hand can be a huge setback and neither of us are perfect. Over time, these practices will become second nature to us and I doubt we will even notice.

If you have also struggled with this problem or have any advice please comment and share!

Thank you,

-The Copper House

holy-smoke-my-fireplace-is-smoking-suffolk-ny-chief-chimney


18 thoughts on “The BIG tiny house problem nobody seems to be talking about

  1. Chip Clark Reply

    I have always wondered about this being a problem. Seems like you should install a pressure relief ” valve” in your house. This could be similar to the ones that are in automobile doors to relieve the pressure when you close the door hard. Would be very easy to do and is a totally passive device.

    1. livingtinycanada Reply

      That sounds like a promising idea. I’m not very familiar with automobiles though.
      What would it look like? And do you know if it would be a concern with letting cold air in?

  2. Eddy Winko Reply

    Who would have thought!?

  3. Joe Bee Reply

    There are ovens which run with an external air inlet. Maybe that would be a solution for the Problem.

    1. livingtinycanada Reply

      Yes, if we were to design from scratch we would incorporate that into our future design.

  4. Lou Reply

    I need to put my 2 cents worth here,
    That’s called negative pressure… I would suggest having your wood stove installation verified by a pro (a certified chimney sweeper can do this for you) for the proper flu diameter, connections and total chimney height (inside and out) and considering prominent winds, tall outdoor obstacles and the amount of air exchange in your house. Ask a lot of questions they are the best people to help you out and show you exactly what’s going on and how to deal with it.
    Your stove needs fresh air to keep the fire going and evacuate the smoke properly and your house is too airtight. Also make sure your chimney got a good sweeping and that all the stove parts are well cleaned and in good working order.
    Last but not least, always heat your chimney to over 250 F (you can buy an inexpensive magnet stove pipe thermometer for this) before closing the baffle even more so if it’s one of those high efficiency stoves.
    Please be safe and don’t take unnecessary chances. We’ve had 2 chimney fires here and, let me tell you, it scares the daylights out of you when the smoke detector screams at 3h00 am and you realize the chimney is glowing red. And remember, carbon monoxyde poisoning does not give a second chance. Please be careful.
    Good luck.
    Some information here: http://www.rural-energy.net/docs/ws_WoodFaq.php#draft

    1. livingtinycanada Reply

      That’s very helpful! We didn’t install the chimney and it passed inspection. It would be nice to swap it out at some point, but I’m guessing it’s going to be quite a headache.

      1. loubaril Reply

        Even if the installation is to code it may not be the optimal solution for your house. Might be your stove is too big and sucking too much air out of the house that’s why I was suggesting an expert’s advice. It never hurts to ask questions. Plus, If you have the manufacturers name and model number of your stove, you could get the operator’s manual and see if there’s something that can be adjusted. There’s so much more to a stove than what lays in front of our cozy warm feet. (Ours has this tiny lever that covers a tiny hole in the lower back side corner which, if closed, will make your life miserable. Many sleepless nights came from that tiny omission).
        I hope you find an answer to this significant problem.
        (p.s.: sorry for the double post. I have no idea how it did that)

  5. loubaril Reply

    I need to put my 2 cents worth here,
    That’s called negative pressure… I would suggest having your wood stove installation verified by a pro (a certified chimney sweeper can do this for you) for the proper flu diameter, connections and total chimney height (inside and out) and considering prominent winds, tall outdoor obstacles and the amount of air exchange in your house. Ask a lot of questions they are the best people to help you out and show you exactly what’s going on and how to deal with it.
    Your stove needs fresh air to keep the fire going and evacuate the smoke properly and your house is too airtight. Also make sure your chimney got a good sweeping and that all the stove parts are well cleaned and in good working order.
    Last but not least, always heat your chimney to over 250 F (you can buy an inexpensive magnet stove pipe thermometer for this) before closing the baffle even more so if it’s one of those high efficiency stoves.
    Please be safe and don’t take unnecessary chances. We’ve had 2 chimney fires here and, let me tell you, it scares the daylights out of you when the smoke detector screams at 3h00 am and you realize the chimney is glowing red. And remember, carbon monoxyde poisoning does not give a second chance. Please be careful.
    Good luck.
    Some information here: http://www.rural-energy.net/docs/ws_WoodFaq.php#draft

  6. Nicole Reply

    Oh I hadn’t thought of that! Ours is nowhere near that air tight. Is that -40 degrees Fahrenheit?

    1. livingtinycanada Reply

      Celsius :S

      1. Nicole Reply

        Oh my goodness! How thick are your walls?
        In terms of getting air into your house without letting the cold in, I’ve seen instructions on making a heat exchange type mechanism for tiny houses where the air coming in is warmed by air leaving. We have our bathroom window open year round.
        Ps I have so many silly questions for what it is like to live somewhere that gets to minus 40 degrees, I don’t even know where to start! Where in Canada are you?

  7. Mike Reply

    You either have a draft problem (chimney) or an air intake problem (not enough) I would suggest adding an outdoor air kit to your wood stove if can be added. This way you are not relying on inside air for combustion, which should eliminate the problem.

  8. Penny Cameron Reply

    Great advice! Thanks! Oh…-40F and -40C are the same.

    1. livingtinycanada Reply

      That’s really good to know! Thanks 🙂

  9. Kay Rodriques Reply

    Oh wow! Thanks for this information.

    1. livingtinycanada Reply

      No problem! Our struggle is your gain 🙂 Thanks for reading.

  10. LC Reply

    You should consider an ERV. That’s an energy recovery ventilation system. It prevents negative air pressure while keeping a healthy level of fresh air (and oxygen) flowing through your home. You can find ones for THOWs that are around $150. I think Panasonic makes one.

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