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Spotting Common Chimney Problems

Chimneys are that out of sight, out of mind part of your home. Especially for first-time homeowners. Worse yet, many common chimney problems are hard to spot. Not only can chimney repair get very expensive, neglecting signs of a problem can lead to a house fire.

 

Here we’ll cover the four most common chimney problems, how to spot them, and what you can do about them.

 

Chimney Obstruction

Obstructed chimneys are responsible for more than 25,000 house fires per year in the U.S. There are also countless more chimney fires that go undetected; they don’t get enough air or fuel to spread to the rest of the home. Each of these small fires, however, damage the chimney, inching it towards an emergency situation.

It’s important to have your chimney inspected each year before you plan to use it. Chimney sweeps have special tools and cameras to inspect the entirety of your chimney, not just what you can see from the ground or roof (which isn’t much).

 

There are a few things you can spot as a homeowner that signal a past, present, or future chimney fire:

 

  • Cracks in chimney exterior masonry
  • Discolored or distorted rain cap
  • Creosote flakes found on roof or ground
  • Roofing damaged from hot creosote
  • Smoke escaping through mortar joints or tile liners
  • Cracked or collapsed flue tiles
  • Warped metal of the damper or chamber

 

Damaged Chimney Liner

Your chimney liner protects the combustible parts of your home from the heat of the fire. Even a small crack in the liner can lead to a house fire. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do as a homeowner to spot this common problem. If, however, you notice broken masonry in the firebox, DO NOT light a fire. That’s a pretty solid indication, your chimney liner is damaged.

A chimney professional will identify any damage to your chimney liner during an annual inspection. Because chimney liner repair is generally expensive and invasive, a professional will often suggest a liner replacement using a stainless steel liner.

 

Leaking Chimney Flashing

Water and chimneys aren’t friends. Water can wreck both your masonry and the surrounding interior of your home. Poor installation of chimney flashing and rust over time, causes water to seep into the attic and onto the roof, causing weakness and damage.

 

Here are some flashing problems you can look for:

  • Area around the chimney in the attic is dripping or shows signs of water damage
  • Flashing has pulled away from outside masonry, visible from the roof
  • Flashing is visibly rusted, visible from the roof 

Reattaching your flashing to the masonry is a task many homeowners can complete on their own. If flashing is badly corroded, however, it needs to be replaced by a professional.

 

Cracked Chimney Crown

Chimney crowns seal the edge of the outside masonry to the edge of the flue liner. Because they’re at the very top of the chimney, it’s hard to remember to check on them. Even small cracks in the crown can welcome unwanted moisture and damage. Installing a chimney cap or recoating with a mortar mix as needed, can keep the cracks at bay.