An annual chimney inspection and regular maintenance are essential to ensure a safe and comfortable winter by enjoying the warmth of your fireplace. Ignoring a hazardous and damaged chimney can be costly and poses a significant health and safety hazard.
The longer you ignore the problem, the more expensive the repairs become.
In order to prevent hazards related to damaged chimneys, it’s important to recognize the warning signs and contact a professional chimney expert to address these critical issues immediately.
This article will discuss these warning signs and how to identify them. But before that, let us first examine the most common causes of chimney damage and their associated risks.
What Causes Chimney Damage?
Chimneys face a constant battle against nature, where weather and neglect can lead to damaging effects like:
Wear & Tear
A chimney structure and its parts are subject to the elements, resulting in the gradual decay and wearing down of the chimney. For example, a chimney crown and exterior may form cracks if exposed to moisture for a long time. Also, Your chimney liner can crack or warp after years of exposure to hot exhaust gasses from the firebox.
A chimney and fireplace system must be maintained in proper working conditions. If regular chimney 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., making the system weakened and unsafe to operate.
Moreover, dust and debris start to clog the chimney, preventing its efficient working and increasing 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 Problems
Constructing a chimney and fireplace system is a complex process that must comply with the NFPA 211 standard. Deviation from the recommended design guidelines during construction can result in the incorporation of issues within the system, leading to potential unrepairable chimney problems in the future, including the possibility of the system being destroyed.
Some of the typical construction issues include:
- The chimney flue size is inaccurate or improperly installed, resulting in drafting issues.
- Use of the wrong type of mortar or low-quality bricks in construction. This can drastically reduce the chimney’s 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 issue is not due to anyone’s fault or negligence; 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 due to storm damaged or wind damaged can throw away your chimney cap, letting water and snow inside your chimney.
Risks of Having Damaged Chimney
Broken Chimney can put your home at risk and can have serious consequences like:
A cracked 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. Therefore, installing CO detectors throughout your home is critical to prevent smoke damaged and protect against potential CO poisoning.
When a chimney is not maintained and cleaned for a long time, debris, soot-stained, and creosote deposits start to clog the chimney leading to a damaged 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 home is under fire.
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, moisture can result in serious damage and even put your chimney’s structural integrity 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 – Chimney Masonry Damage
Chimney masonry is harder to inspect from the ground, and 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 – 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 must install a new chimney crown.
#3 – Broken or Damaged 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 your roof to check if your chimney flashing is in good condition. If your brick chimney flashing has cracks or any gaps are 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 Metal Parts
Moisture can seep inside a chimney and corrode your firebox and damper, and 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 water-damaged signs to appear, such as 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
Collapsed chimneys represent one of the most dangerous forms of chimney damage.
Structural damage, such as a leaning chimney, can seriously threaten the structure’s integrity. It is essential to contact a professional immediately if you notice any gaps between the chimney and the house siding or observe a tilt in your chimney.
Does Home Insurance cover Broken Chimneys?
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. 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 insurance will most likely cover if a lightning strike, storm, or earthquake caused the damage.
In such cases, it’s best to call a professional chimney sweeper to inspect your chimney 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.
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 the 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, so it’s essential to have your chimney cleaned and maintained regularly. Additionally, ensure you conduct thorough chimney inspections at least once yearly.
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.