Nothing can make you feel at home quite like smoke lifting peacefully from the chimney (during the cooler months of the year). With that said, those cozy feelings can quickly vanish if a damaged chimney leads to a house fire or health concerns.
While most chimneys will last more than 100 years with regular cleaning and care, they are not invincible and will need some maintenance from time to time. In this article, we will break down the common signs of chimney damage, explore the risks associated with a malfunctioning chimney, and help you determine whether a routine repair or more extensive replacement is the right option for your home.
Signs of a Damaged Chimney
There are numerous signs of a chimney that needs attention. Some of them are easy for the untrained eye to notice, while others take a little more careful observation to detect.
Efflorescence is a white substance found on the outside of chimneys. It forms due to excess water in the chimney and is the result of salt deposits left behind from evaporation.
The presence of efflorescence is a sure sign that your chimney is experiencing unwanted water ingress. Not only can this lead to mold formation within the chimney, but it is likely that the water will spread to other areas of the home, creating uncontrolled water damage.
If you notice efflorescence, don’t wait to get your chimney inspected.
Cracked Mortar Joints
Using a quality brick cleaner, clean the exterior of your chimney. If you notice any cracks or gaps between the bricks, they should be repaired immediately.
The risks associated with chimney gaps are fairly evident. Obviously, they present a weak point for water ingress. If this water freezes, it can cause the cracks to expand, causing further damage to the chimney and the adjoining areas of the home. It will also allow smoke and heat to escape the chimney at undesirable locations. In a worst-case scenario, cracked mortar can lead to a complete chimney collapse.
While many cases of cracked mortar can be seen from the outside of the chimney, other cracks form from the inside and can only be observed from the firebox. As such, it is important to hire a trained chimney professional to perform regular chimney inspections.
The crown is the covering at the top of your chimney. It plays an important role in protecting the interior of the chimney from weather. It will also keep animals from entering the chimney.
Any visible damage to the crown should be immediately repaired. Small cracks can usually be resealed with a quality masonry sealer, but significant cracking and crumbling masonry could mean a complete crown replacement.
What's the difference between a Crown and a Chase Cover?
Not all chimneys have a crown. Click here to determine if your chimney has a poured crown or a prefab chase cover. (Either way we hope it has a cap!)
Risks Caused By a Damaged Chimney
Although a damaged chimney is definitely an eyesore that will detract from curb appeal, the risks associated with a damaged chimney are far more than cosmetic. Some of the most prevalent threats include:
- Carbon monoxide – carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas caused by combustion. As it is colorless and odorless, carbon monoxide in your home can be fatal without the proper detection. Fireplaces are a common source of carbon monoxide in the home. In a properly functioning chimney, it simply travels up the flue and out of the home. However, a damaged chimney can allow carbon monoxide to escape through cracks and flow back into the home.
- Creosote – creosote is an oil produced by burning wood. It dries on the interior lining of a chimney and accumulates. Over time, creosote buildup can cause significant blockage. This can lead to toxic fumes being trapped in your home. It’s an irritant that can lead to a number of health issues from extended exposure. It is also combustible and can lead to unexpected chimney explosions.
- Smoke and soot – like carbon monoxide, smoke and soot should flow seamlessly from your fireplace and up and out of your chimney. However, chimney damage can allow them to escape to other parts of your home via cracks or flow back through the chute due to blockages. Extended inhalation of smoke and soot can lead to asthma, bronchitis, or even lung cancer.
Again, not all chimney issues are visible from the exterior. Therefore, if you are experiencing unexplained symptoms of dizziness, coughing, shortness of breath, or any other respiratory issues first verify there is no immediate danger, such as a gas or carbon monoxide leak. Once you have determined there is no danger, then it’s time to schedule a chimney inspection immediately.
When To Repair a Chimney
In many cases, repairing the chimney will be the preferred and most advisable course of action.
It will be more cost effective and will adequately fix basic cracks and reseal trouble areas. There are also targeted fixes that upgrade fundamental components of the chimney, such as the flue lining or chimney cricket, without requiring a full-scale chimney replacement.
When To Replace a Chimney
In cases of severe or insidious damage, the entire chimney may need to be rebuilt.
While more expensive, it is the best way to ensure the safety and structural integrity of the chimney. Other times, such as when upgrading to a modern white stone fireplace, homeowners may prefer a full chimney replacement for aesthetic purposes.
In still other cases, a partial chimney replacement may be all that is necessary. For example, only the exterior portion of the chimney exposed to the elements may be all that needs replacing.
Don’t Wait: Repair or Replace Your Damaged Chimney Today
Although chimneys are incredibly durable structures, they will face some issues from time to time. When you spot trouble, don’t wait, as chimney damage can put your home and its inhabitants at risk.
For more information on the best course of action to take with your chimney, contact Full Service Chimney today for a consultation!
What's it gonna cost?
Learn what a Chimney Crown is made of and what it might cost have it repaired or replaced.
Brian Jeffries is a freelance writer that loves sharing his knowledge and expertise on construction projects and materials. He lives in Winter Park, Florida where he enjoys spending time with his wife and working on projects in his spare time. Brian’s work as a freelance writer can be found on Building Product Advisor, a construction industry resource site.