Monday, November 29, 2010

We can't have a party without balloons!

As you surmised from the picture, we hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our place last week.  There's always lots to do before having guests over--removing all of the papers from the kitchen table, straightening up the kitchen, removing the construction equipment from the kitchen...wait, other people don't do that?

I had an additional mission: get rid of the ugly board covering the fireplace.

The problem is that we don't have a damper in our chimney--so that ugly board was the only thing prevent our warm house air from flying up the chimney and heating the whole neighborhood.  And to add insult injury, the board wasn't doing a very good job of it.  It wasn't particularly airtight.  When the air conditioner switched on this past summer, we could often smell chimney soot.  Ick.

Ideally, we should install a damper.  But that's really far down on our very long project list.  So I figured that the ugly and not-very-good-at-its-job board would remain in place for a very long time.

That is, until my friend had the local utility company out to do an energy audit at her house.  And he told her that, even though her chimney has a damper, she really should also install a chimney balloon.

What's a chimney balloon?  Basically, it's exactly like it sounds: a balloon that's inflated inside the chimney to prevent nice warm heated air from leaking out of your house.

Cool!  Sign me up!  Where do I get one?

Google, apparently.  I'm always a little edgy about ordering from a website I've never heard of like  (.us?  Who does that), so I picked it up from a third-party seller on much more reputable.  (This one, if you're interested.)

It arrived, looking so darn gimmicky that I have to admit that I never would have ordered it if the man from our very reputable local utility hadn't recommended it:

I have to admit--this was the first time I had gotten up close and personal with our chimney.  I was surprised to find how narrow it was.  Is everyone's chimney this small?  Or are we special?

Inserting the chimney balloon was not as clean and easy an operation as I expected.  After a few tentative forays, I quickly realized that some specialized gear was required:

I totally would have gone for a dust mask, too, but it's hard to blow up a balloon while wearing something over your mouth.  :-)

Now either my chimney was far smaller than usual, or I was a little too determined and shoved the balloon farther up than the manufacturer intended.  Long instructions with some diagrams definitely would have been handy.  It took me a few tries to get it positioned so that it filled in all of the corners and gaps--and I'm still not at all certain I've got an airtight seal going.  (Which is why I totally need this thermal leak detector--but surely a product that advanced can't actually work if it only costs $30?)

Still, I decided that the situation was good enough for the time being, and look!  a nice, pretty fireplace for our Thanksgiving dinner.*

P still intends to install a damper someday, but now we can both live with the fact that that's about two years down on our to-do list.  :-)

*Yes, the easier and cheaper solution would have been to just light a fire at dinnertime.  But since our high on Thanksgiving day was nearly 70, we decided to skip broiling our guests.  And please note: every piece of packing on the chimney balloon is covered with warnings to remove it before lighting a fire.

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