In my experience, people are more or less “chimney literate” based on the number of years they have been burning as well as
whether or not they have experienced any problems in the past. Those who have experienced problems have more than likely been in contact with a professional who has given them some information and maybe even conducted a repair. This being said, some folks know what a damper is and others have never even heard the term. I recommend top sealing dampers because they maximize efficiency and prevent your conditioned or heated air from exiting the home through the chimney when the fireplace is not in operation. This article discusses the options you have as a homeowner looking into a top sealing damper.
In my experience, stainless steel is the best material for any top sealing damper. Stainless steel does not rust and is not extremely expensive. It gives you the most bang for your buck and will offer you the longest lifetime before repair or replacement becomes necessary.
Cap Damper Combos
A top sealing damper with a chimney cap connected is one option. LockTop dampers are one brand of such products for the chimney. The damper is located at the top of the chimney, and a chimney cap which prevents rain and critters from entering the chimney, is attached. Usually, the default position for these dampers is “open,” which means that if there is a problem with the damper’s operation cord, the damper will be stuck open. Although this would allow energy loss until the problem can be resolved, it is better than not being able to vent the smoke from your fire.
Chimilator is an interesting product because this gives you the option to have your damper be slightly open, or slightly closed, as opposed to open or closed. These damper systems can be cumbersome because there is a large handle that sticks out into the living room. There is a detachable part to the handle which, of course, runs the risk of getting lost, eaten by the dog, etc.
Dampers to Steer Clear From
The design of the damper is a huge deal. Never install anything on your home which looks like it would allow water to pool. If the damper has a cap connected, be sure that it is not shaped in a way that would allow water to pool, which would increase rust and cause more problems down the line. Similarly, if the damper is made from a metal other than stainless steel it runs the risk of rusting out, breaking, or having other problems far more quickly than a stainless steel damper would.