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When you think about home improvements, your chimney may not be something you think about. However, like many other things in you home, it can break down and need replacement. But how do you know when you should replace your chimney since it’s usually not something on your repair list? Well, it all depends on the condition of your chimney.
Chimneys are very sturdy, but they still need some TLC every now and then to functional properly. And if your chimney is in really bad shape, it might be time for a chimney replacement. To see if your chimney needs fixing or replacement, it’s recommended that you do an annual check, usually in a
season that you won’t be using your fireplace. You’ll also want to check it out after any severe weather like hail storms or hurricanes.
We’ve rounded up a few obvious signs to check for yourself, right after you schedule a professional chimney inspection.
1. A DAMAGED CHIMNEY CROWN
The crown of your chimney is a vital piece of masonry as it protects the chimney from anything that might fall into it (expect for directly above the flue). It keeps out water and weather damage and takes a beating. If it’s injured, the damage can spread down the chimney, resulting in a complete rebuild. It can also degrade and crack due to age, which can be a disaster for the chimney.
2. WHITE SALTS ON BRICKS
White bricks can mean water damage inside the bricks, which pulls out the natural salts and minerals to the surface of the bricks. The white staining can wash off easily, but if comes back, you’ll definitely need to call a professional to come in and help.
3. SPALLING OR SHALING
Spalling is the result of water entering brick, concrete, or natural stone. It forces the surface to peel, pop out, or flake off. Spalling can eventually cause crumbling and destruction of a structure. If you have spalling bricks, it means your chimney is damaged and will need to be rebuilt. You’ll want to call a professional ASAP.
Shaling is also caused by water, but describes what happens to affected tiles. If you notice that tiles or pieces of tiles fall into your fireplace, this is shaling. You’ll definitely need a chimney replacement if you see this!
4. NO CHIMNEY CAP
The chimney cap is like a little hat worn by the flue, to keep debris and water out. Some chimneys don’t have a cap and the ones that do can lose them from time to time. If your chimney doesn’t have one, it’s because it’s most likely sustained some damage at one point. The cap acts as the first line of defense and you’ll want to call a professional for an inspection before any damage gets worse, needing a full chimney replacement.
Do you know how to care for your chimney? If you’re wondering what I mean by that, you probably don’t. Which is why you need to learn basic chimney care! As your go-to heating option in the colder months, you’ll want to make sure it’s ready to warm up your home when the weather starts to get chilly. The truth is, not many people think about their chimney much, which is why problems arise when they want to use it. To avoid these problems, here are some basic tips on home chimney care:
1. ALWAYS LEAVE SOME ASH
Although you’ll want to clean the firebox monthly when it’s in use, a clean firebox retains about an inch of ash. This allows your fires to stay strong and retain heat easier.
2. HIRE A CHIMNEY SWEEP
For safety, you’ll want to call a chimney sweep to not only clean it, but also provide an inspection of the fireplace and chimney. They’ll look for any damage or evidence of creosote, which is a tar-like buildup. Do this at least once a year before you begin using the fireplace again.
3. CLEAR THE AREA
As part of basic fire safety, you’ll want to keep the fireplace area clear for the entire fire burning season. Not just while a fire is burning. Any furniture should be at least 36” away from the fireplace to avoid any sparks igniting it, which can be a fire hazard. No flammable decor or plants near the fire.
4. ENSURE THERE’S A CHIMNEY CAP
You’ll want to make sure that your chimney has a cap to prevent any birds from building nests inside or any animals from climbing it. Most importantly, it keeps the flue and fireplace dry, which prevents the breakdown of the materials your chimney is made of.
5. MAKE SURE THAT THE DAMPER IS CLOSED
The damper is the hinged flap that’s above the fireplace and it controls how much air passes through the chimney. You’ll want to leave it open when a fire is on, but close it when it’s out to prevent any heat loss inside your home.
Normally, it’s not the shaking ground itself that claims lives during an earthquake. It’s the associated destruction of man-made structures and the other natural disasters earthquakes cause such as tsunamis, avalanches and landslides. In a city, your biggest earthquake threat is often the safety of your own home.
One structural engineer told the SF Gate: “Masonry chimneys are perhaps the most urgent earthquake hazard in older homes. The problem is that they’re likely to fall in even a modest shake. A rule of thumb is that brick chimneys extending more than 1 1/2 times their least width above the roof pose a hazard of collapsing above the roof, not to mention any possible hazard they may pose below the roof level. That’s less than 2 feet for a typical 14-inch-wide chimney.”
Be sure your chimney is safe, or have it removed. Simple as that.
After an earthquake, damage to your gas lines can mean a gas leak on your property. Which you won’t detect, because you’ll have evacuated! Best case scenario, your home stinks and you have to air it out. Worst case scenario, it goes up in a fireball. To avoid the whole problem, consider having an earthquake gas shut off valve installed, if you don’t already have one.
EARTHQUAKES AREN’T JUST FOR HUMANS
Most of us know to have a first aid kit, supplies, and an emergency plan for the humans in the house. Do you have an appropriate first aid kit for your parrot, ferret, or dog? What about emergency food set aside? Do you have a “save our pets” decal in your window, just in case? Be sure to include pets in your emergency planning.
FEMA HAS A PREPAREDNESS CHECKLIST
Many families try to make their own checklist or plan for earthquake preparedness. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s extremely unlikely you’ll come up with a more thorough and useful document than this: FEMA Earthquake Preparedness Checklist (download link). Compiled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, this is more than a list. It includes diagrams that teach helpful skills, and much more.
DROP, COVER, AND HOLD
The old wisdom was that doorways were the safest place to be indoors during an earthquake. That is no longer true in most buildings, especially buildings in earthquake prone areas, or new construction. Now Your safest place to be is near the ground, under something solid. The new mantra is drop, cover, hold. Drop to the ground, gain cover by going under a table or other furniture, and hold onto your protective cover with one hand, protect your neck with the other.
When a home has a chimney, and something is awry with it, many homeowners only consider 2 options: fixing it or leaving it in place but declaring the fireplace unusable.
But there are two unexamined options: removing the chimney completely and replacing it with a safer style of chimney.
WHY REPLACE YOUR CHIMNEY?
No amount of repair will make a masonry chimney as safe as a metal one. Masonry chimneys are more likely to fall down and hurt or kill someone during an earthquake than any other part of the house. A full replacement means leaving that risk behind, and still enjoying your fireplace as you always have. It’s all gain, no loss.
WHY REMOVE YOUR CHIMNEY?
Chimney removal is another great option. Why do I call it “great”? Because no chimney means no risk of chimney fires, no risk of a falling chimney, no more place for rain to enter your home, or your hot air to escape in winter.
When having a chimney removed you can opt to remove it below the roof line (if it’s not along on exterior wall), and keep your mantel and firebox area indoors (decorative only). Or you can remove the entire fireplace system. This can create new space in your home, too. The chimney removal cost is often less than repair, and unlike repairs, you’re not going to have to do it again in a few years. No more chimney maintenance for you!
Sometimes a chimney is utilized to vent gas appliances that are connected to the metal flue liner. If your chimney is being used to vent gas appliances such as a furnace, water heater, or boiler, a vent will still need to penetrate the roof to carry the exhaust gases to the exterior after your chimney is gone. This doesn’t mean you can’t remove your chimney. Your chimney removal specialist can help you navigate this safely.