I thought I had things pretty well under control, but I just had to extinguish my fire because there was so much smoke building up in the house. Over the last few days, I've been able to open the firebox door less and less before the smoke came rolling out. This afternoon shortly after I fired it, I smelled smoke upstairs in the house. When I went to check things out, there was smoke billowing out of the baro. This was even with the draft control flap completely closed, and the ash pan door closed and the vent on it closed. Opening the firebox door just resulted in smoke billowing out there too, so I had no choice but to open up a bunch of windows, and shovel most of the actual fire out of the firebox into a bucket of cold water, leaving the remaining clinkers to burn themselves out pretty quickly.
I feel like this has been building up over the last couple weeks as my draft seemed to keep getting weaker and weaker. I would open up the heat exchanger and vacuum out large amounts of ash and the hangy-stringy formations and that seemed to help a little, but still didn't get things back where I think they should be. Also last night and today I noticed the baro wasn't flapping at all like it usually does, it was just closed. Last March or so, I had a chimney sweep come and clean out my chimney and flue pipe. I do have a chimney cap, but they didn't actually get up on the roof and clean it out. It's one of the types that is cylindrical with a flat top and about 6-8 inches of a screen/mesh looking material around the sides, and I suspect it is at least partially clogged since I have personally cleaned out the heat exchanger, firebox and flue pipe myself.
I have read that with bituminous you need to let air get to the top of the fire as well as the bottom. I hadn't realized this and had been keeping the top vent completely closed. Lately that hasn't been an option for me since even cracking the vent the slightest bit, I would get smoke coming out instead of going up the chimney. I also wasn't aware that you should bank the fire and actually plow the red coals over to one side, then fill the other side with coal to keep the flames and temperature up to help burn off the soot. I had just been shaking the ash down, then poking up the solid mass that would congeal and piling more coal right on top in the center.
So my two problems, one, I suspect my chimney cap has been clogged due to my negligent bituminous burning. Does this sound plausible given the symptoms I'm seeing, or is there something else at fault? It has been getting into the 40s here during the day, is that too warm to be burning coal? Secondly, can changing the way I fire it cut down on the smoke and soot problems? I'm really struggling with this, but want to make it work as I can't really afford to heat with oil, or make some kind of change at this exact moment.