Your chimney is a vital part of your house. And yet as it is often out of sight it is probably out of mind. You might think of it from time to time when you pull up after a long day of work or while mowing the lawn, but for the most part, it likely isn’t something you’re wondering about. But this is where the problems start. Your chimney helps direct smoke and other heat byproducts out of your house. Any damage to the chimney and it can lead to this pushing back into your home, a fire, or even the collapse of the chimney itself. Due to this, you need to know how to tell if you need a chimney rebuild as well as what steps are required if you’re looking for a new fireplace install.
If you’re moving into a new home you’ll want to check for a chimney cap (or have the person inspecting the house to tell you if there is one there or isn’t one there). If you’ve been living in your home for some time now and are not sure, take advantage of an inspection to find out.
A chimney cap will protect the top of your chimney from just about everything and it is a good thing to have. Some homes, especially older homes, just don’t have a cap in place. The lack of a cap will leave your chimney exposed to the elements, and chances are you have some sort of damage on the top of the chimney.
Like the chimney crown (which we’ll get into in a little bit), it is a primary line of defense against damage. Due to this, you need to have either your cap inspected and replaced when damaged, or you need to have one installed if you don’t have a chimney cap there at all. Because failure to maintain (or have) a chimney cap and the rest of your chimney will suffer, leading to a potential rebuild.
This is a problem and, if you’re experiencing it, you probably need to have your chimney rebuilt.
Over time, water may begin to seep into the bricks and other areas of your home. The water will eventually push into the area between your chimney and the flue lining. Eventually, you will begin to see shaling flue tiles fall into your fireplace. If this has happened to you at all it is a major red flag and you need to bring in a professional to inspect your chimney right away. Falling shaling flue tiles literally means your chimney is falling apart from the inside. You might be able to catch it in time, but if you are already at this point chances are you’ll need to have your chimney rebuilt.
Do you have colored bricks (such as the traditional red brick look or another color altogether) that are suddenly starting to look a bit white? No, this isn’t from road salt sticking to the building or just from fading under the sun. No, when this happens it is because moisture has started to seep into the pores of the brick or stone. Once in the stone, it will begin to pull the color out of the stone. The sodium within the water will linger and then, once the water evaporates, the sodium mineral will be left behind.
Over time, the sodium buildup will begin to damage your chimney and call all kinds of problems. Think of it like rust, but with your chimney. As long as you stay on top of this it won’t turn into a problem. You can wash it away before it develops further. The best way to do this is to wash (either with soap and water or with a power washer) and clean the chimney once or twice a year. If you don’t, you will end up with a chimney that needs to either be rebuilt or completely replaced.
As the name suggests, this is a piece that goes on top of your chimney. It is what helps keep rainwater out of your chimney and running down into your home. Because it is exposed to all the elements it can take a considerable beating over the years. And once the chimney crown begins to fail water and other debris might pool into your chimney.
Once the crown falls your chimney will begin to absorb additional water, which will expedite the damage process. Chimney inspections often start by looking at the crown. As long as you have your chimney inspected on a regular basis you can spot damage to your crown easily. The regular inspections allow you to have the crown repaired or replaced.
Failure to stay on top of your chimney crown damage and the rest of your chimney will fall apart quickly.
If you live in an area where the temperature fluctuates wildly it will cause the chimney crown to crack under this shrinking and expanding.
This is probably the biggest red flag and an indicator you absolutely need to call in a professional to look at your chimney right away. Because if you don’t you may suffer significant damage to your home and even put people around the house in danger.
Water is the cause of most problems when it comes to your chimney. Bricks starting to turn white is often a precursor to this, but not always. With spalling bricks, your bricks will become so waterlogged that the bricks will begin to chip away and crumble off. If you’ve noticed any bits of brick falling off of the chimney this is a likely sign of spalling bricks. And if you’ve seen full bricks and stone fall out it is an obvious sign you can’t wait any longer and you need to call a chimney professional right away.
As the chimney begins to corrode and fall apart the structural integrity of the chimney weakens. Eventually, the remaining bricks will not be able to hold up the weight of the chimney and simply collapse. Even if it doesn’t collapse it can cause splintering throughout the siding of your home and even down into the foundation. This single chimney problem will then spur massive foundational repairs, potentially costing you tens of thousands of dollars to get everything back up to normal.
Don’t let your property run into this kind of a situation. By taking advantage of regularly scheduled chimney inspections you can avoid all of these problems as well as stay on top of having it repaired for the least amount of money possible.
There are also secondary issues that can come up that might be unique to your particular property and the surrounding environment. When you contact a chimney professional make sure to not only find out what might be wrong with the structure but ask about how you can improve its strength and integrity (especially if you live in a colder environment or a location where the temperatures fluctuate).
This is regionally specific, but if you live in an area where there’s a constant need for your fireplace and chimney (such as if it snows where you live or if you go through months of heavily relying on your furnace and fireplace) you will want to have your chimney inspected annually. In some regions where you don’t use heat as often, you can likely get away with having it inspected once every two or three years, although if you’re not sure when the chimney was last inspected it is a good idea to bring in a professional. This way your chimney will have a clean bill of health and they will tell you how often you need to have your chimney inspected.
If you haven’t had your chimney inspected in a few years (or ever) now is the time to do so. Even if the chimney looks fine from the outside you never know what might be going on inside of it, and this is where most chimney problems begin. By bringing in a professional you can have your chimney cleaned as well as inspected. Regular inspections help you identify problems early on, which helps you save money on repairs and avoid dangerous fires as well. So before cold weather hits, now is the perfect time to have your chimney inspected.