Checking Your Chimney

By Sharon Naylor

June 24, 2011 6 min read

Fall is the perfect time to schedule a professional checkup on your chimney. Over time, weather extremes, moisture and even wild animal nibbling and nesting can damage the structure of your chimney, causing perilous dangers inside and out. For instance, chimney leaks and water penetration cause rust in steel and cast iron, weakening or decomposing the metal parts. Some damages can cost a fortune down the road, and some pose serious fire threats and cause the buildup of toxic gases. If cracks and water intrusion are left to compromise your chimney and flue over time, a complete rebuild will be necessary. According to The Brick Industry Association, chimneys require special attention, inspections and maintenance to protect them from the elements.

Your chimney is not just the lead-out for your fireplace. In some instances, it is the lead-out for wood-burning stoves and your recently upgraded kitchen, as well. According to the National Fuel Gas Code, when a new appliance is installed into an existing system or an existing appliance is removed from a common vent, the entire venting system, which may include a masonry chimney, must conform to current codes.

There are few fall home improvements as necessary as a thorough chimney check, and the trained professional eyes of a licensed chimney repair company will best advise you on your structural needs. Don't make the mistake of trying to save money by re-mortaring the loose bricks you see and calling it a day. Many of the dangers are inside your chimney, and experts will send down cameras to locate the weaknesses and threats to be repaired.

--Tuckpointing: The process of tuckpointing repairs the masonry mortar joints between your bricks to safeguard your structure from water intrusion and further structural weakness and damage. Expert application will repair your chimney's weak points, returning your chimney to full security and aesthetic value. Your chimney even may return to a greater waterproof standard than it had when it was first built. Many homes are more than 50 years old, so the materials used in tuckpointing and masonry are vast improvements over those decades-old mortar mixtures.

--Crumbling bricks: In advanced stages of disrepair, the faces of some bricks may chip off and fall, posing injury threats and causing weakness in your chimney structure. When bricks flake, or "shale off," the lessened thickness of the chimney wall allows cold drafts and perhaps even insects into your home.

--Crown damage: The crown of your chimney is the concrete slab on top of your chimney. If this slab cracks, it can allow moisture to enter your chimney or home, causing expensive damage. A professional can assess whether your crown needs a simple seal repair with a fast-drying sealant or needs a complete replacement to fully protect your chimney's structure and your home. As another reminder that today's repair materials are far superior to the original mixtures used decades ago, modern sealants are now available in eco-friendly formulas. Ask your chimney repair specialist about the warranties offered by the makers of such products as CrownCoat brushable sealant. Some products offer warranties of 15 years or more.

--Flashing repair: Flashing is the metal strip that connects the base of your chimney to your roofline. Flashing is immensely important, as it prevents water from seeping into this joint and entering your home. When flashing sections have warped or lifted, they require flashing seal. In extreme conditions, entirely new and improved flashing is warranted.

--Post-repair or replacement sealant: On top of any chimney repair work, such as brickwork and tuckpointing, your professional chimney repair specialist will apply a waterproof sealant. Ask questions about the type of sealant used, because some sealants have been found to dry into an unexpected hue. The most popular brands used by experts whose work is 100 percent guaranteed -- meaning they don't buy the cheap stuff -- provide full waterproofing through their modified siloxane, which reacts with the minerals in the masonry materials, creating a waterproof quarter- to half-inch layer to protect your chimney. Top-end waterproofing sealants are VOC-compliant and even protect against UV damage and atmospheric moisture. They protect against stains and are mildew- and fungus-resistant, as well as formulated to protect in freeze-thaw conditions.

Ask plenty of questions about the products your chimney repair team plans to use. It's a terrible error simply to trust that repairmen are going to show up with the best products possible. Ask for the brand names of their materials, and research them online to be sure they waterproof from the outside and are 100 percent breathable, which means they allow water vapors formed when the chimney is in use to pass through the stone and escape into the air; they are not trapped, which would cause damage to the inside of your flue. Look for 100 percent vapor-permeable materials. And ask that chimney flue liners also conform to safety codes.

Yes, chimney inspections and repairs are pricy, but they are worth every penny to protect your home and family.

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