Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


July 25, 2009

Review: Chimney Balloon Saves Money, Conserve Energy, Simply

Category: Companies,Energy Audit,Green Reviews,Save Fuel,Tips – Tom Harrison – 4:48 pm

chimney-balloonAfter our recent energy audit found drafts in a number of places in our house, and even though the damper was closed, one of the biggest was the chimney — the auditor recommended a “chimney balloon“. It’s a good, simple product, and I can tell that it works beautifully. The maker claims that you can save almost twice it’s cost annually: a good way to reduce heating bills.

The chimney balloon is an inflatable bag, available in various sizes to fit inside your chimney. A tube and valve on the bottom allows you to inflate it so that it conforms to even the roughest, oddest shaped chimney interiors. The inflating tube is detachable, so there’s nothing visible when installed. The balloon is made of a tough, durable plastic. It can be easily removed as needed (but don’t forget to before lighting a fire!) and just as easily reinstalled. The cost is under $50, and their web site has a lot of great and helpful information on how to choose the right size.

I can tell that the chimney balloon works because it has solved an annoying problem for us already this summer: during cooler evenings, we get fresh and cool air into the house using our whole-house fan. If we don’t have enough windows open, the living room would have a smokey smell, as the fan would draw air in through the chimney. After we installed the Chimney Balloon, the problem is solved, and we get fresh air in the house.

As a result of an inadvertent slip, I did manage to put a small puncture in our chimney balloon (don’t ask: I’ll just say it was not a very clever move on my part, and involved a razor knife :-). After a quick look around on their site, I found good instructions for repairing it: a patch with packing tape did the trick and it’s as good as new.

It’s hard for me to quantify the savings in heating (and cooling) one could expect from this product. Based on our audit, we’re expected to save about $350 per year on our heating bill after completing the various air sealing projects identified. It’s pretty clear, just from walking around with the inspector while the blower-door sucking air out of the house during the test that the chimney, even with damper closed, was one of several large sources or air leakage. Perhaps if it accounts for 10% or 15% of the fixable leaks, the cost of the larger sized chimney balloon we needed should be paid for in a year or less. This seems to be backed up by independent testing reported by the seller which suggests savings of more than $100/year (for a house in Minneapolis). At a cost of under $50, it’s a quick payback on fuel alone.

Another solution for blocking chimney drafts is to install glass doors over the fireplace opening. They are far more expensive, however (around $250 and up), and a bit of a chore to install, especially if your fireplace opening is not relatively flat. The tests I note above suggest that the chimney balloon is a bit more effective than glass doors, too, although I suspect either makes about the same difference.

This is a small expense and small effort that can save you a lot of money over the years, and reduce your carbon footprint a little bit.

8 Comments

  1. Tom, thanks for the tip on the chimney balloon and also for the tip on sealing the basement windows with foam. I think I might try these two as a DIY project. If I really screw it up I can always call a friend of mine that works in insulation and have him straighten it out :)

    Comment by TerryB — July 26, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

  2. [...] Review: Chimney Balloon Saves Money, Conserve Energy, Simply [...]

    Pingback by Cool and Comfortable with No AC | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — July 31, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

  3. Tom, I had someone call into the chimney balloon tech support line asking a question and she mentioned your blog about the chimney balloon. I was pleased to hear about it.

    If that patch you fashioned ever gives you trouble be sure to call us and we will take care of it. I know it is frusterating to open a package with a blade and end up damaging the contents. However, If you followed the prep directions on the product blog I am certain the patch will last a very long time. -Best Regards, Jason

    Comment by Jason R — August 29, 2009 @ 11:03 pm

  4. Thanks Jason — I am glad to hear that people are finding energy saving products through whatever means; a main reason I started the blog was to identify, try, and report on products.

    The patch is working great, and so is the chimney balloon. It’s easy to tell, since we regularly use our whole-house fan — if we don’t have enough windows open, it will suck air down the chimney opening and the house will smell like smoke. That hasn’t happened since we installed the chimney balloon. The real benefit is coming soon when we start having to heat the house in the winter. Between this product, and a number of other changes we made this year (top-off insulation, other air-sealing) we’re expecting to use a lot less fuel this winter.

    Regards,

    Tom

    Comment by Tom Harrison — August 30, 2009 @ 9:41 am

  5. I bought a balloon for each of my two chimneys at the end of 2007 and am glad I did. My experience is that it is still tough to get a good seal which I attribute it to two problems. First that the cavity inside the chimneys are rough and catch the balloon. Second is that I bought a balloon big enough for the cavity just above the damper and I should have extended the inflater tube so that I could cram it up high where the chimney isn’t tapered (I could have bought a smaller balloon). Of course I had trouble holding the balloon as high as I did while inflating it (!gravity).

    Anyway, the balloon that stays in year round is great. The balloon I take out at the beginning of winter is worth it, but it gets me very messy.

    Comment by Jeff — September 5, 2009 @ 10:50 am

  6. I had similar issues. Getting the right size is a bit of a trick — looking up a dark tube with an odd shape and trying to get a tape measure in place is an acrobatic feat. Knowing where to measure to required some reading on the Chimney Balloon site — I read three times before I aligned the solution they had to the chimney I had. I was a little tentative in inflating it the first time around, and was able to smell soot when we had our whole-house fan on. Then (as I mentioned in the post), I had to take it out a second time in order to apply the patch, which has worked great. The third time was the charm — inflating to “firm” has made mine nearly airtight. Taking it in and out it pretty easy now that I kind of know where and how it should fit.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — September 5, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

  7. [...] a chimney balloon to prevent leakage of air up the chimney [...]

    Pingback by I Believed I Was Conserving, Until I Looked at the Facts | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — January 23, 2010 @ 10:54 pm

  8. I purchased my chimney balloon online (here’s the link http://www.shopchimney.com/Chimney-Balloons/) and it was a pretty simple installation. I was able to do it myself, and I called up the website I got it from for help with sizing. Hope that helps someone.

    Comment by Alyssa Burton — June 6, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

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