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4 Chimney Structural Problems that Should NOT Be Ignored

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As homeowners, we often take the warmth and comfort of a crackling fire in our fireplaces for granted. But what happens when something goes wrong with the chimney? 

Ignoring chimney foundation problems can lead to hazardous and expensive consequences down the line. That’s why it’s crucial to address these issues as soon as possible. 

This article will discuss four of the most common chimney structural problems that should NOT be ignored. By being aware of these issues, you can take proactive steps to ensure the safety and longevity of your home.

What are the Most Common Chimney Structural Problems?

Here are some of the most common chimney structural problems to keep an eye out for:

1. Cracks and Gaps in the Masonry or Chimney Crown

Gaps and cracks on chimneys. These are obvious Chimney Structural Problems.

Continuous exposure to harsh elements like pounding rain, sleet, and snow can eventually lead to cracks on the crown, exposing the chimney’s interior to moisture. Neglecting to repair these cracks can cause further deterioration of the crown.

Your chimney masonry may also develop cracks over time because of direct exposure to sunlight, rain, snow, and other environmental elements. These cracks usually occur in the mortar or the bricks due to water infiltration. One of the common chimney crack causes is the relentless cycle of water seepage, freezing and thawing, which gradually erodes the bricks and mortar chimney exterior.

If ignored, these small cracks accumulate moisture. Over time, this moisture further deteriorates the structure, leading to larger cracks that put your chimney’s structural integrity at stake. In such situations, the repairs can cost homeowners thousands of dollars.

A chimney doesn’t go down in one day, though, and it usually takes some time, so it’s best to watch out for warning signs and take prompt action to save yourself and your family from harm’s way and thousands of dollars in repairs.

A fire hazard is another major danger of cracks and gaps in the chimney. Fire from the fireplace can interact with flammable house objects (that are near) through the gaps, causing house fires.

Plus, harmful gasses such as carbon monoxide or sulfur oxide may escape through the gaps or cracks in your chimney. Once these gases accumulate inside your house, they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning upon inhaling.

To avoid such situations and to steer clear of putting your family in harm’s way, hire professional for regular inspections (at least once a year) and make repairs when needed. You should also take minor cracks and slight gaps seriously and fix them immediately.

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2. Leaning or Tilting Chimney

A leaning chimney. This is an obvious Chimney Structural Problems.

A leaning or tilting chimney is usually caused by either internal or external issues. Besides the harmful effects of moisture, the chimney’s age can also cause it to lean. With time, components wear down, and the brick-and-mortar structure begins to crumble. Eventually, the structure becomes so weak that it cannot support its own weight and starts to lean.

If none of the causes applies to your leaning chimney, there might be an external issue, and it’s time to look at your roof. Gaps or holes where your chimney intersects the roof can lead to water seeping inside, causing the mortar to deteriorate. Thus, the chimney’s structural integrity deteriorates, ultimately causing the chimney to lean.

On top of this, if your house’s footing is uneven, the chimney will naturally lean.  An uneven footing impacts the chimney’s foundation and makes it tilt naturally. 

Homeowners should call for professional help immediately if they notice their chimney is tilting. Chimney experts will thoroughly inspect the chimney to find the cause of the tilt and provide relevant solutions. For example, if there’s a foundation problem, the professionals can reinforce it with steel, replace damaged bricks, or perhaps fill the cracks to prevent leaning or tilting.

Moreover, a professional may suggest installing a chimney brace to prevent leaning or tilting. A brace helps to anchor the chimney in its place by providing support and stability. 

3. Chimney Settlement

A chimney on its base. Problems with the foundation is an obvious Chimney Structural Problems.

The most obvious cause of chimney settlement is a lack of soil compassion before laying the chimney foundation. If the base soil is not stable or strong enough, it will not be able to support the weight of the chimney and cause it to tilt.

An important consideration when laying the chimney foundation is the soil condition upon which your chimney rests. The soil should neither be too soft nor too wet. If it’s either of the two, it might not support the chimney’s weight properly.

A qualified soil engineer may apply pressure to the soil to increase its density and volume. This process is known as compaction, and it helps the chimney receive proper support and stability.

Another cause of chimney settlement is old age and lack of maintenance. Chimneys bear the wrath of environmental elements, rain, dust, and snow throughout the year. If proper care is not provided, its components begin to wear down. With time, brick and mortar begin to lose their integrity. When this happens, the chimney may settle and sink under its own weight.

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4. Water Damage

Water damage usually occurs when there’s a leakage in the roof or cracks in your chimney exterior. Once the water begins to sit around the chimney’s footing, it damages its components, leading to structural issues.

Furthermore, when the bricks or mortar deteriorate with time (wear & tear, climate change), they may also allow water to seep through. Another reason may pertain to damaged flashing. This metal strip is used to close the intersection between the roof and the chimney. When the chimney flashing gets damaged and cracked, water may enter the chimney through these cracks and cause damage.

If you regularly clean your gutters and take care of roof flashing at a moment’s notice, chances are you will avoid structural issues with your chimney. You can create an additional layer of safety by installing a chimney cap to secure the chimney and prevent water damage from harming its structure.

However, water may enter the chimney’s structure if the chimney cap or crown is damaged or has cracks. That’s why checking your chimney’s condition is crucial and ensuring regular maintenance and swift repairs.

Preventing Chimney Structural Damage

Prevention is better than repairs, and that is why NFPA recommends homeowners have their chimneys inspected at least once a year. If any issues are found, necessary repairs must be made to prevent problems and costly fixes.

Apart from annual inspections, homeowners must conduct regular chimney sweeping and maintenance visits to avoid dust, soot, and creosote accumulation. Homeowners should also visually inspect their chimneys and call for professional help if they see deterioration, cracks, damaged crown/cap, or other issues.

Conclusion

As you can see, Ignoring chimney structural problems can result in hazardous and expensive consequences for homeowners.

These issues often arise due to a lack of maintenance and care, resulting in various problems such as water damage, deteriorating chimneys, tilting chimneys, and weak foundations. That’s why conducting regular inspections and repairs is crucial to avoid such situations. 

It is always recommended to seek professional assistance if you encounter structural issues with your chimney. Regular maintenance not only helps prevent hazardous situations but can also save you money in the long term.

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Thomas Green

Thomas Green

Thomas has worked in the Chimney & Fireplace field for over 12 years. He is an expert in his trade and loves to help People with their needs. Thomas Write helpful articles so that homeowners can make the most informed decisions about their fireplace and chimney.