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Chimney Crown Explained: Key Facts Homeowners MUST Know!

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The chimney crown serves as the primary line of defense for your chimney structure, shielding it from external elements such as rainwater and snow. Positioned at the top, the crown is crucial for maintaining the chimney’s safety and integrity.

It’s vital to understand the significance of the chimney crown and its maintenance to prevent moisture-related damage and deterioration. Typically, damage and cracks in the crown arise from inadequate maintenance, allowing moisture to penetrate the chimney and potentially causing significant damage.

This guide offers an in-depth overview of the chimney crown, highlighting its importance, identifying frequent problems, and providing solutions for these issues.

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What Is a Chimney Crown?

A chimney crown is a huge slab of concrete, stone, or metal that covers the top layer of brick of a chimney. Its primary purpose is to seal the chimney and keep the brick-and-mortar structure protected from moisture.

With a thickness of at least 2 inches, the crown usually slopes to the side to direct rainwater and snow away from the chimney.

If properly constructed, it can last quite a long time. However, if the crown has poor construction, its lifespan will be significantly reduced, and it’ll start to deteriorate, which can cause serious (and costly) damage to your chimney.

Note: Prefabricated chimneys don’t require a chimney crown. Instead, they have a metal chase cover that fulfills a similar function.

Importance of a Chimney Crown

A masonry chimney is made up of brick, mortar, and stone. When a masonry chimney is exposed to water, the moisture seeps inside the mortar, causing it to deteriorate. Thus, the mortar and bricks crack, putting the structural integrity of your chimney at stake. Since moisture deteriorates mortar, the chimney bricks loosen and eventually cause the chimney to crumble.

To address this issue, applying waterproofing treatments to the chimney can significantly reduce water absorption and protect the structure from the damaging effects of moisture. Waterproofing provides a protective barrier that repels water while allowing the masonry materials to breathe, preventing trapped moisture.

Furthermore, when water leaks into the chimney, other parts of the chimney get exposed, which can rust, corrode, and ultimately malfunction, affecting the efficient working of the chimney.

When the water reaches the firebox, it makes it harder to start a fire and leads to condensation, further exposing the brick-and-mortar structure to moisture.

Thus, to protect your masonry chimney against water damage, a chimney crown (made from concrete) is constructed over the last bricklayer on top of your chimney. Since it protects the brick and mortar of your chimney against water damage, it can be credited for increasing the overall lifespan of your chimney.

Difference Between Chimney Crown and Chimney Cap

People often confuse the chimney crown and chimney cap. It makes sense that you might confuse them, as they have somewhat similar roles and are both located at the top of the chimney. The difference, however, is that while a crown is constructed atop the last layer of chimney bricks, the chimney cap sits on top of the chimney.

A chimney cap essentially covers the chimney flue and keeps water, dust, debris, small animals, and birds from entering the chimney. Together, the chimney cap and crown protect the flue and the chimney from outside harm.

Types of Chimney Crowns

Here are the main types of chimney crowns you should know about:

Cast-In-Place Chimney Crown

Cast-in-place chimney crowns are used for larger chimneys. Made from concrete, these crowns are constructed at the site using steel or wood forms.

How to Construct a Cast-In-Place Chimney Crown?

  • Step 1: Assemble Form
    Begin by assembling the form for your chimney crown, selecting either steel or wood. Note that steel forms are generally more efficient, requiring only half the time to set up compared to wood forms.
  • Step 2: Cover Chimney Flue
    Cover the chimney flue with a compressible material like cardboard, metal sleeves, or a similar alternative. This step is critical to create the necessary space for the expansion of concrete and masonry between the crown and the flue.
  • Step 3: Prepare for Concrete Pouring
    Before pouring the concrete, cover the top of the chimney chase with flat plates made of metal or wood. These plates will support the weight of the concrete and act as a bond break.
  • Step 4: Add Reinforcements
    To prevent potential cracking, integrate welded wire mesh or steel bars into the setup.
  • Step 5: Concrete Pouring
    Now, pour the concrete into the form. To ensure proper compaction, apply repeated blows with a hammer. Following this, use a trowel to smooth out the concrete pour for an even finish.
  • Step 6: Allow Concrete to Cure
    Leave the concrete to cure for at least two days before removing the form. This waiting period is crucial for the concrete to set properly.
  • Step 7: Seal the Crown
    Finally, seal the new chimney crown using silicone or butyl caulk. This sealing step is essential to protect the crown from evaporation and external elements.

Pro Tip: Buy a form that already has a drip edge formation. If not, after removing the form, use a masonry saw to create the slope or drip edge.

Precast Chimney Crown

A precast chimney crown, also made of concrete, is used for smaller chimneys (dimensions of 16 inches square or less). Since larger chimneys would require a bigger (and heavier) crown, a precast crown is impractical for larger chimneys.

How to Install a Precast Chimney Crown?

Use the appropriate equipment to carry the precast crown to the required height. While installing, make sure the crown doesn’t touch the chimney chase or masonry. Use mortar as a base for the precast.

Fill the gap between the chimney flue and crown using compressible materials to allow for insulation and expansion, as is done for the cast-in-place chimney crown.

Once done, cover it with butyl caulk or silicone.

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Floating Crown

Also called an overhang crown, a floating crown uses an overhang or block about 2 inches above the chimney.

Due to the added protection and advantage, floating crowns are more expensive. They also require more time and effort to install, which increases the installation charges as well.

However, these crowns last longer than others, and therefore, the extra cost is justified.

How to Tell if Your Chimney Crown Is Properly Built?

Your chimney crown should be made of concrete. If your crown is made from mortar, it will deteriorate quite rapidly as it’ll absorb moisture and form cracks, eventually disintegrating.

Make sure your crown has a slope. The slope is required to direct water away from the chimney.

Your crown should also have an overhanging drip edge. The drip edge should extend at least 2 inches over your chimney from all sides.

Also, the thickness of the chimney crown should be at least 2.5 inches, while the sides with the minimum thickness should be at least 2 inches.

There should also be silicone or any other sealant for extra strength.

Common Chimney Crown Issues

Chimney crown repair

Without proper chimney maintenance, a chimney crown can start to show various signs of deterioration and damage. It’s important to know about these signs so that you can look out for them and act accordingly to ensure the safety of your crown and your chimney.

  • If you see cracks inside your crown, it’s time to act. Even if the cracks are small, they can still allow moisture to seep inside and cause serious damage to your chimney.
  • Another obvious sign is rust. If your fireplace has rust, that means moisture is getting inside your chimney. And if there’s moisture, there’s a huge chance that it is damaged.
  • Discolored blotches or any other sign of water damage on the walls close to your chimney usually point to a damaged chimney damper that is allowing moisture to seep inside.
  • If chimney tiles are falling down inside your fireplace, that means your chimney flue is in poor condition, likely because of moisture. And the number one culprit of that is usually a broken crown.
  • Damaged or crumbling chimney mortar usually means that your crown is letting water inside and needs to be fixed immediately.

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Reasons Your chimney crown is damaged

If homeowners are noticing signs of a damaged or cracked chimney crown, that’s probably because of the following reasons:

Sealant Is No Longer Effective

Your chimney crown sealant becomes less effective over time. Moisture can seep inside and crack the concrete structure. These cracks then allow for moisture to seep inside the chimney and create serious problems.

Poor Construction

If your chimney crown is made from materials other than concrete or the slope isn’t created, it can crack and break down sooner.

Ground Shifts

Ground shifts can cause your house to shift and settle. This process can damage or crack your chimney crown.

Shrinking of Concrete

If not covered, the moisture content in the concrete evaporates over time, resulting in shrinkage. After a while, this shrinkage can create cracks inside the concrete structure.

What to Do if Your Chimney Crown Is Damaged?

If you’re noticing signs of a damaged chimney crown, you need to repair it as soon as possible to avoid serious damage to your chimney. Make sure to do a regular chimney inspection to get informed of any issues so you can acquire a solution immediately.

The repairs depend upon the type and extent of the damage and the type of crown installed, among other things.

For example, if you have it made from cement that has a few tiny cracks, then covering the cracks with a waterproof sealant will be more than enough. However, if the cracks are larger, you’ll have to apply a high-bond patching material. It’s best left to the professionals as they employ a special sealant that not only covers the cracks and keeps moisture from entering but also lets the structure breathe so that further deterioration can be avoided.

If the damage is severe, the best option is to install a new one or completely rebuild the old one. Here’s a great video on how to repair a damaged chimney crown.

Chimney Crown Maintenance Tips

To help ensure that your chimney crown is in good condition and prolongs its life, install a chimney cap over it. A chimney cap is installed over the crown and extends over its edges. The cap protects the crown from rainwater.

Apart from keeping the crown safe, a chimney cap has other advantages.

It contains a spark arrestor that keeps hot embers from the chimney from damaging the roof. A chimney cap also comes with a wire mesh that allows smoke and other exhaust gases to escape while keeping small birds, animals, and debris from entering the chimney flue.

Make sure you regularly clean it using a nylon brush. And while you’re at it, look for any signs of cracks. If there are any, fill them with patching cement or silicone.

To further protect your chimney, it’s essential to ensure proper flashing installation at the base of the chimney. Flashing acts as an additional barrier, preventing water from entering the area where the chimney meets the roof. This helps to prevent leaks, which can lead to significant damage over time.

The Takeaway

Given their position, chimney crowns are the first protectors of your chimney against moisture.

However, most people neglect it, which results in damage and allows water to enter the chimney. This puts their chimney at risk of serious water damage.

Therefore, it’s important to ensure your crown is properly built and in good condition. If there are tiny cracks on the surface, cover them up with a sealant. However, if the damage is greater, it’s best to rebuild it.

Since the chimney crown is at the top, it’s not always possible to inspect it. Therefore, having annual chimney inspections goes a long way toward keeping your chimney and all of its parts in proper condition.

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