For most homeowners, the chimney doesn’t exactly take center stage when it comes to regular home maintenance. In fact, more often than not, the chimney only ever gets any attention only when it starts to break down, deteriorate, and causes issues in your day-to-day life at home.
Chimneys are an essential part of the home – during the cold seasons of fall and winter, the presence of a chimney allows you to burn wood in your fireplace, giving you that feel-good warmth that travels around the entire home, leaving you comfortable through the cold nights. Therefore it is important to check for any sign of damage that may be on your chimney, because during the dead of winter, these damages almost always become worse. And to top it off, any leaking or exterior damage, if left untreated, could prove to be a much costlier repair over the long term, no thanks to the bleak weather conditions that it is exposed to throughout the years.
What goes on in a chimney?
Let’s first explore how chimneys work. There are two parts to a chimney – the “flue” and the “chimney”. Contrary to what the name suggests, the hardest working part of the chimney is actually the flue – which is the inside part of the chimney which takes the smoke and combustion up and out of the home. The chimney part is basically the exterior part which shields and protects the flue from the elements.
So basically, if you have an unlined chimney, it is just called a flue – but this type of chimney is not common because it is a big fire hazard and should be repaired immediately before use.
What are chimneys made of?
Modern chimneys are made with materials such as stainless steel, fibreglass, ceramic or plastic, while old style chimneys are made with original materials such as concrete, clay or pumice stone.
How can chimneys get damaged?
Although chimneys are meant to be heavy-duty builds, over time, even the toughest of materials start to break down. Whenever you light up your fireplace or stove during winter, the chimney and flue rapidly heats up and the material expands slightly – and once you’ve gone to bed and the fire dies down, water is absorbed into your chimney crown thanks to rainfall and dew, and because the temperatures go below freezing overnight, this process of expansion and contraction causes your chimney crown to crack and break down.
Your chimney may also face leaking, in which water and moisture seeps through the gaps in your flashing and drops down into your fireplace or stove. The “flashing” refers to water tight strips that are used to seal the joint between your chimney exterior and the roof of your home. If it is incorrectly installed or deteriorates due to extreme weather conditions or wear and tear, water easily seeps through the gaps and causes water damage to the roof, ceiling and walls surrounding the chimney itself.
Brickwork damage can also occur on chimneys made using traditional masonry methods. Exposed brick and mortar will erode one way or another over time, and as they heat and cool to extreme temperatures, degradation can cause major issues if not treated immediately. In some cases, the entire chimney stack will have to be broken down and rebuilt if need be.
How are chimneys repaired?
During a chimney repair callout, the technician will assess any damages visually on the chimney itself, and diagnose the issues in order to carry out the repair job effectively and efficiently.
In most cases for brick and mortar chimneys, the mortar is the first material to deteriorate, because it is much softer than brick. When your chimney is maintained or serviced, the old, crumbly mortar is scraped out and replaced, in a process called repointing.
Next, the joint between the flue and chimney crown is caulked up – meaning the gap is sealed and made watertight. This is because this particular area of your chimney is susceptible to water damage and leakage, no thanks to the constant exposure to the different seasons all year round.
The chimney crown is next – it is a sloping cap that sits at the top of your chimney, protecting the masonry of the chimney exterior and preventing any water or moisture from pooling at the top of your chimney. During winter, snow, ice and sleet will almost always gather on your chimney crown, no matter how sloped your crown is. During a chimney crown repair, cement or mortar is used to fix up any holes or damage.
Can I maintain my own chimneys?
Short of doing the chimney sweeping yourself, the answer is – yes, you can do several things to maintain your chimney, and you should. Although, these involve callouts to your local professional chimney technician, you can be sure that with early detection of any issues, you get to save money and effort in the long run.
If you notice any excessive smoke or smoke smell coming into your home from your fireplace or stove, it may be because you have a blocked flue – this can be remedied by a good old-fashioned chimney sweep and cleanup, which a trained professional can do for you in no time.
You should also conduct regular testing and maintenance of your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in your home to ensure that your chimney is not pulling any poisonous smoke and combustion gases into your home, endangering your health and safety.
When it comes to major repairs like flashing and chimney crown cracks, the job is best left to professionals, who have specialized tools and extensive training to be able to deal with these issues in the most effective way.
Keeping your chimneys well-maintained and regularly looked after ensures that you’ll get to keep warm with a working fireplace throughout the coldest nights, and you remove any risk of it breaking down at the worst possible moment, like during the dead of winter for example. So it’s best to always inspect your chimneys for any signs of wear and tear and get any issues fixed as soon as possible.