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Chimney vs. Vent: What’s the Difference?

Terminology in the chimney and venting industry can be confusing at times, especially for homeowners. This is because chimney part names are confusing and not very descriptive, and terms are used interchangeably in some cases. Many times, homeowners confuse the terms chimney and vent thinking they mean the same thing, when in fact, the terms are very different.


What is a Chimney?

A chimney is a vertical structure that contains several parts that are integral to it performing efficiently and safely. (If you want to know more about the parts of the chimney, see our blog post here). At it’s very basic definition, the chimney is responsible for carrying the byproducts created by the wood burning in your fireplace out of the home. A chimney works on the principle that hot air rises because it is less dense than cold air. As the hot rises it creates what’s known as “draft,” which draws air into the appliance and expels the exhaust gas outside.

There are two factors that can affect the amount of draft produced by your chimney.

They are:

Heat: the hotter the gases in the chimney compared to the air outside, the stronger the draft.

Height: the taller the chimney, the more draft it will produce at a given temperature difference.

The amount of draft is important because many problems with chimneys stem from problems with draft. Chimneys can be masonry or factory built and handle all types of fuel, such as gas, oil, and solid.

What is a Vent?

Now, a vent is a totally different structure than a chimney. This can be confusing since we talk about a chimney venting gasses from the fireplace. A vent is used to release byproducts from gas or oil appliances outside. These appliances, such as hot water heaters, furnaces, and boilers, handle lower temperatures and can’t withstand the hot temperatures found in a chimney. Often times, vents may pass through a house or run outside of the house. This is fine as long as the vent is protected from the elements, such as cold weather. If the temperature becomes too cold outside and the vent is not protected, the byproducts moving through the vent may not release into the air properly. This can lead to a dangerous amount of flammable product buildup. If your vent is having trouble releasing byproducts, a fan can be installed to either push or pull the byproducts through the vent. To make matters more confusing, a vent can be run through a chimney. However, when a venting system is run through a chimney it will need to be located in a separate flue so that it does not become damaged by the hotter temperatures found in the chimney.

Regardless of if you have a chimney, vent, or both the CSIA recommends you have both inspected and cleaned each year. Give us a call today to clean and inspect your existing systems in time for winter weather.