Functional and beautiful fireplaces in a home can create some of the most wonderful experiences for a family or couple. They radiate warmth and good feelings when the weather outside may be dark, cold, and dreary. Add to that the fun of starting the wood fire, hearing its crackling sound, and getting out marshmallows for creating toasty smores. The moments can be magical.

Fireplaces in Cold Climates

Most of the time the fireplace may remain unused. Some homes never have those magical moments movies portray and some friends may report. But functional fireplaces can still be an important part of keeping a home warm at night, especially in areas where people get snowed in and fuel oil for gas heaters becomes unavailable. In those cases, the fireplace may become critical lifesaving sources of heat.

Fireplaces and House Value

In many parts of the United States, fireplaces and chimneys are of more aesthetic value than of any functional value. Sometimes the placement of the fireplace system, while it balances out the living room or another room in appearance, is impractical for heating a home. But the builder of that house thought it was important. The next owner of your house may also think a fireplace is important, so try to keep it in good shape.

In some newer homes, gas fireplaces are common. In other cases, people have installed gas burners into their wood fireplaces, so they could enjoy the warmth of a fire without having to cleanup ash. If you do not mind the current setup, just make sure it remains functional while you own that house.

Would building a new fireplace and chimney system into an existing home would be worth the potential extra sale price? Look at the local climate, both in terms of weather and economics. If most of the local homes have functioning fireplaces, and your home does not, you may want to install or build fireplace.

Homes without fireplaces inside them could have an enclosed porch with a fireplace added to the outside of the home. Some very large living rooms can have steal fireplaces with relatively light chimney systems installed with little structural modification. Bioethanol fireplaces are also beautiful options.

There are lots of options to restore fireplace. The firebox is often the darkest part of the room, usually black. Brick does not need to be red. The hearth could be made of steel, special tiles, or stones. Mantels can be built with other heat-resistant materials.

Inspecting for Need of Chimney and Fireplace Repair

Just like a good home centralized heating and/or cooling system should be professionally inspected, the fireplace and chimney system also needs periodic inspection. That inspection is especially important if your area has suffered any earthquakes heavy enough to cause the house to rattle a bit. (A small 3.0 with an epicenter of only a few miles away could still damage an older fireplace/chimney system.)

The flue can have internal damage from a faulty chimney liner, which creates a potential house fire hazard. The damper in the flue can freeze-up or suffer movement loss from creosote and soot buildup.

Common Problems for Fireplaces and Chimneys

Chimneys and sometimes the backsides of the fireplaces are exposed to the outside weather. They are also exposed to strains that differ from the rest of the house. In earthquake country, since they are the most rigid parts of a wood-frame house, they could become cracked or even break apart. On houses with non-slab foundations, the earth may shift, causing the heavy fireplace and chimney structure to stress supporting wood frame supports. The flashings on the roof that join the roof to the chimney could rust or break apart. The brick and mortar can spall and crumble over time from freeze-thaw cycles.

Chimney Problems

The top of the chimney has the following parts: The cap, which fits over the chimney flue, prevents water and wind from going in. The crown covers the top of a chimney over the flue. The brick and mortar of the chimney itself. The last part is the flashing, which connects the chimney to the roof in a weather-protective manner. If any of these parts are not properly doing their job, water damage will result.

Chimney problems are best solved as soon as possible. Water can seep into the attic, the walls, the flooring, and into the basement or foundation area. The last thing any homeowner wants to do is have to replace portions of the house because of wood rot and other types of water damage.

Most chimneys have dampers, which are lever-activated doors inside the chimney. They keep the warm air in the house when the fireplace isn’t being used. They can also keep out rats and other animals that may discover delicious odors coming from your house. If the damper doesn’t work properly, then it needs to be fixed.

Fireplaces and Chimneys as House Structure Supports

Some houses are built with their fireplaces and their chimneys as major structural supports. In these cases, any modifications of the fireplaces or chimneys must be done with care. It may be necessary to submit structural modification plans to the local authorities before proceeding with projects that modify those parts. Check with the local authorities to see If they have blueprints on your home and ask them about what modifications may need pre-authorization.

Reputable fireplace and chimney construction and repair companies will always do building code checking for you. Make sure you ask them about how they intend to do any proposed modifications before contracting work to them.

The Flue

The flue usually has a lining made of stainless steel or a special lining tile. If it gets damaged, then it might be a major repair job to fix.

Creosote and Chimney Fires

Creosote can build up within the flue, creating a potential fire hazard. Creosote, unlike soot, is flammable. If it builds up past a quarter-inch thick, the flue must be cleaned. Contact a reputable chimney sweep or inspection company for that work.

Missing, Wrong Size, or Homemade Caps

The chimney cap needs to keep wind and rain from going into the flue of the chimney. If it is missing, then rainwater can directly enter the flue. Remember that strong wind a while ago? Perhaps when you bought the house, you forgot to check if it was there?

A chimney cap that is the wrong size can also be a problem. Wind can carry rain right under the cap into the flue. Snow flurries can do the same. Another problem is making sure it is not partially plugged on one side. Tree branches or other debris can funnel water down the flue. Or, you may have a bird nest there.

Cracked and Broken Chimney Crowns

The crown is usually made of sealed concrete that covers the top of the chimney from the sides of the bricks to the flue. If this becomes cracked or chipped, water can seep inside, damaging the chimney structure. Brick spalling can happen, where water gets in between the bricks and mortar, and then freezes, splitting apart the bricks and breaking up the mortar.

Damaged Flashing

Depending upon the local climate and the house construction, the flashing can be one of the worst sources of chimney leaks. Earthquakes, a settling of the ground under the house foundations, rust, acid rain, and many other factors can cause a flashing to break apart and leak.The upside hill of a chimney can also create water ponding, where water will settle and collect leaves and other debris. The dampness of this spot can speed up the deterioration of the flashing. Many builders avoid this potential ponding problem by building a chimney cricket, which diverts rainwater, snow, and debris to flow down the sides of the chimney. Installing a chimney cricket the next time the house roof is repaired could save a lot of money later on.

Damaged Chimney Masonry

The grout of brick chimneys does eventually weather and fall out, requiring tuckpointing, the clearing out of bad grout and putting in new weatherproof compounds. Bricks and mortar can be protected with sealants, but they first should be power washed and given ample time to dry before applying the sealants.

Efflorescence on the exterior of chimney bricks is more unsightly than dangerous. But it may mean the grout between the bricks is going bad. Get expert advice when you see it.

Damaged Firebox

This requires immediate attention. Firebox damage can allow heat and flames to penetrate to the areas around the firebox, creating a fire hazard for the entire house. Never use a fireplace with a damaged firebox no matter how cold you are.

Final Words

Your fireplace and chimney can increase the resale value of your home. But without proper care, you may have no home to sell. Keep paper records and receipts of all repairs and maintenance to the chimney and fireplace, for they may be the selling points for getting a better price for your home.