Home Maintenance Tip: Don't Ignore Chimney Issues

A home feature that is on many buyers list of 'must-haves' is a fireplace.  Understandable, since a fireplace adds ambiance and coziness to a home.  What many people may not realize, though, is that fireplaces require regular maintenance in order to stay safe and healthy.  This is the case whether it is wood-burning or has gas logs.

It can be dangerous to operate any type of fireplace without routine upkeep. For a chimney to operate as it is intended  and keep your family safe requires cleaning and making needed repairs. The most common chimney issues are (1) obstructions in the chimney, (2) creosote and soot build-up, (3) cracks in the flue, (4) deteriorating brickwork, and (5) chimney cap and crown issues.

A chimney may become blocked by all kinds of debris that may have entered the chimney due to chimney cap or other issues.  Common causes of chimney blockage are birds nests, leaves, and heavy creosote. The most dangerous thing about a blocked chimney is that it can cause deadly carbon monoxide fumes to enter your home. Carbon monoxide is odorless, tasteless, and invisible. By the time any signs of poisoning manifest, it is often too late to avoid severe injury or death, especially among children. Because this is possible, it is crucial to install carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

Research shows that thousands of house fires occur every year as a result of a buildup of creosote in the chimney caused by a neglect of chimney maintenance. Creosote is highly flammable tar that is dark brown or black in color, and soot is a carbon powder. Creosote has three different forms. The first level of creosote is easy to clean with basic chimney sweeping tools. The second level of creosote is more difficult to clean, and the third looks like tar has been poured down a flue and is extremely difficult to remove. The third level of creosote is the most dangerous because it can keep a chimney fire going, which can result in a damaged chimney liner and even a house fire. 

The flue is the most important part of a chimney. It protects combustible objects near the chimney system from being exposed to the extreme temperatures caused by fires. When there is even a small crack in the flue, the fireplace or wood stove should not be used again until the flue has been repaired or replaced. All it takes is one opening in the flue to cause nearby combustibles to catch fire. The vast majority of masonry chimneys have clay liners, and they last for about 50 years. At some point, however, they must be replaced. So if your home is nearing 50 years old and still has the original clay liner, you should have it inspected often and plan for replacement soon.

Deteriorating brickwork on the chimney is common. Mortar lasts only about 25 years at best; and if damaged mortar isn’t repaired, the result can be a chimney that crumbles, leans, and collapses. Deteriorating mortar exposes the masonry to moisture, which means that the moisture freezes and thaws repeatedly in winter, causing the masonry to flake off and break off.

Both the chimney cap and the chimney crown are the first line of defense against moisture and debris entering the chimney. If either becomes damaged, they should be replaced right away to avoid costly repairs later.

Bottom line, a carbon monoxide detector is a must-have for your family's safety, and it is prudent to have your chimney cleaned and inspected regularly.  In fact, annual chimney inspections are recommended by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).