Damaged Chimney – 7 Warning Signs You Should Never Ignore!

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Don't let a damaged chimney go undetected. Read these seven warning signs and get the repairs done before it's too late!

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To enjoy the warmth of your fireplace in chilling winters, it’s important to have your chimney and fireplace in great shape through annual chimney inspection and regular maintenance.

Most people don’t realize this. They only act when the damage has been done. But ignoring a damaged chimney is a health and safety hazard. It’s also costlier because the more you ignore the issue, the more damage it causes. This results in more expensive repairs that could’ve been avoided through vigilance and swift action.

But how do you know your chimney has been damaged? There are some warning signs that hint at a damaged chimney. If found, you should not wait to call a professional chimney expert to take care of it.

In this article, we’ll talk about these signs and how to spot them. But before that, let us talk about the most common causes of chimney damage and their associated risks.

What Causes Chimney Damage?

Wear & Tear

A chimney structure and its parts are subject to the elements. This results in the gradual decay and wearing down of the chimney. For example, a chimney crown and exterior may form cracks if it has been exposed to moisture for a long time. Also, the flue liners crack or warp after years of being exposed to hot exhaust gasses from the firebox.

Neglect

A chimney and fireplace system needs to be maintained to be in proper working conditions. If regular cleaning and maintenance are not done, various parts of the chimney begin to crack or undergo damage due to rust, exposure to the elements, normal wear and tear, etc.

Moreover, dust and debris start to clog the chimney. This prevents its efficient working and increases the risk of a chimney fire.

If you don’t hire a professional chimney sweeping service for the annual inspections of your chimney, many of these issues go unnoticed and worsen over time. This leads to severe damage and puts you and your family at risk.

Faulty Chimney and Fireplace Construction

A chimney and fireplace system is complex and needs to be constructed according to the NFPA 211 standard. If the design guidelines are not followed during construction, problems can be built into the system which causes serious damage later on.

Some of the common design issues include:

  • Chimney flue size is not accurate or is not installed properly, resulting in drafting issues.
  • Use of the wrong type of mortar or low-quality bricks in construction. This can drastically reduce the chimney lifespan and cause the fireplace to crumble when exposed to wooden fires.
  • The chimney foundation is too small or proper rebar support is absent. In such cases, the foundation cannot bear the weight of the chimney which starts to lean.

Act of God

Sometimes the cause of the damage is not due to anyone’s fault or negligence and the damage occurs due to some unforeseen natural cause such as a lightning strike or a hurricane. An earthquake can also shake the chimney foundation and form cracks in it. It’s also common for strong winds and storms to throw away your chimney cap, letting water and snow inside your chimney.

Risks of Having Chimney Damage

Toxic Gasses

A damaged chimney flue cannot properly draft smoke out of the chimney. The smoke and other exhaust gasses most notably Carbon Monoxide (CO) leak through the cracks and enter your living space.

Smoke can cause irritation and respiratory issues after prolonged exposure. CO gas is extremely poisonous and can cause fatality in just about 3 to 5 hours. Since CO gas does not have any color or smell, it’s harder to detect. So it’s important to have CO detectors installed throughout your house.

Chimney Fire

When a chimney is not maintained and cleaned for a long time, debris, soot, and creosote deposits start to clog the chimney flue. This can lead to hot exhaust gasses from the firebox getting stuck inside the chimney. The heat of these hot gasses ignites the highly flammable creosote deposits which result in a chimney fire.

A chimney fire is dangerous and it can spread into your house through cracks inside the chimney flue. And before you know it, your whole house is under fire.

Moisture Problems

Moisture is the single worst enemy of your chimney. Water damage and moisture problems can arise from a myriad of reasons:

  • cracked chimney cap
  • bad chimney flashing
  • roof damage
  • broken chimney crown
  • damaged exterior, etc.

Whatever the reason may be, moisture can result in serious damage and even put the structural integrity of your chimney at risk.

How Do You Know if Your Chimney Is Damaged?

Here are seven warning signs of a damaged chimney that you cannot ignore:

#1 – Damaged Chimney Masonry

A damaged chimney masonry is harder to inspect from the ground. You’ll have to climb up the roof and carefully look for signs of any deterioration or gaps in the mortar joints. Also look for signs of moisture damage e.g. spalling bricks, efflorescence (white stains), and discoloration.

#2 – Damaged or Cracked Chimney Crown

While on the roof, check your chimney crown for any signs of cracks or damage. These cracks should be repaired and covered with a sealant to prevent further leaking and deterioration. If the damage is severe you’ll need to get a new chimney crown installed.

#3 – Damaged or Cracked Chimney Flue

If you notice:

  • drafting issues,
  • smoke is coming back inside your room,
  • CO detectors going off,

That means your chimney flue (liner) is cracked.

Another sign of chimney flue damage is the presence of broken chimney flue tiles inside the firebox.

#4 – Damaged Chimney Flashing

Climb up your roof to check if your chimney flashing is in good condition. If your chimney flashing has cracks or if there are any gaps left uncovered, you should get it sealed to prevent leaking. But if you have a wrapped and severely damaged chimney flashing, you should get it replaced by a professional chimney company. 

#5 – Rusted Chimney Metal Parts

Moisture can seep inside a chimney and can corrode your chimney firebox and damper. This hinders the optimal performance of your chimney and causes irreversible damage.

If you notice rust on your firebox damper, the only solution would be to get your chimney damper replaced by a professional. But it should be done after fixing the actual source of damage i.e. chimney leakage.

#6 – Water Damage

Water leaking from the chimney can seep inside your attic and cause damage to the ceiling. You’ll notice the wall paint, plaster, and wallpaper deteriorating. If left unchecked, mold can start to form.

Other signs of water damage include water stains on the walls beside your chimney, condensation inside your fireplace, a weird, moist smell, and dripping sounds coming from the chimney.

#7 – Leaning Chimney

One of the most dangerous forms of chimney damage is structural damage to the chimney. A leaning chimney poses a serious threat to the structure of the chimney. If there’s a gap between the chimney and the house siding, or you notice a tilt in your chimney, call a professional immediately.

Is Chimney Damage Covered by Insurance?

Chimney damage is often included in house insurance. But all insurance policies differ. So it’s best to have yours checked by an expert to see if it covers chimney damage.

Even if your insurance policy covers chimney damage, not all forms of chimney damage will be covered. That’s because insurance policies only cover damages incurred by sudden, unforeseen events.

Chimney damage caused by lack of maintenance, negligence, or normal wear and tear will not be covered by insurance. But if a lightning strike, storm, or earthquake caused the damage, it is most likely to be covered by insurance.

In such cases, it’s best to call in a professional chimney sweep to have your chimney inspected to find out the cause of the damage, suggest appropriate fixes, and provide a quote. You can submit the detailed report provided by the chimney sweep to your insurer and file a claim.

The Takeaway

A damaged chimney is a health and safety risk that should be dealt with immediately to avoid further damage and destruction. If you notice:

  • Water damage
  • Roof and flashing damage
  • Cracks in chimney crown and exterior
  • Rust in fireplace damper
  • a lean in your chimney, etc.

Call in a chimney sweep immediately!

But, prevention is better than cure. That’s why it’s important to have your chimney cleaned and maintained regularly. Additionally, make sure you conduct thorough chimney inspections at least once every year.

Not only will it increase your chimney’s life and protect it from damage, but it will also help you in claiming insurance in case chimney damage does occur.

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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.