Buying a house is among the most important decisions you can make. It also marks the start of a new beginning, so you want to make the decision perfect.
While looking at other important factors such as the flooring, plumbing, roofing, etc., it’s essential to get your fireplace and chimney inspected by a professional as well.
A house with a leaning chimney is a serious concern. It might not cause immediate damage but it often points to serious underlying issues. These include a compromised foundation, structural issues, etc. You should not ignore them as they can lead to costly repairs and pose a serious threat to the health and safety of your family.
So, should you buy a house with a leaning chimney?
To answer this question, we have to look at what causes a tilt in a chimney, what can be the consequences, and more importantly, how to fix a leaning chimney?
All of which we’ll discuss in this article.
What Causes a Leaning Chimney?
A chimney can start to lean due to various reasons, as discussed below:
- Chimneys are heavy structures so their foundation needs to be properly built with rebar support. If the foundation was built without reinforcement, it can crack and bend the chimney.
- The freeze-and-thaw cycles during hard winters can create cracks in the foundation. These cracks then damage the foundation to such an extent that the stability of the chimney is compromised.
- A chimney foundation can also be compromised by a poor drainage system. Water settles around the foundation creating cracks that weaken the foundation. A weak foundation can’t bear the weight of a chimney and results in chimney leaning.
- Your chimney foundation rests on soil. When the loose soil starts to shift, it bends the chimney.
- A poorly constructed chimney or one made with lower-quality bricks or the wrong type of mortar can lead to structural damage over time. Such damage can cause the chimney to lean.
- Chimney structures last for several decades but the mortar joints are not as durable. As the mortar joints start to deteriorate and form cracks, bricks begin to get loose. Ultimately, the chimney bricks start to fall. This creates an imbalance and results in a tilt at the chimney top.
- In chimneys venting an oil appliance, sulfur reacts with water. It condenses at the upper part of the chimney (which is cooler) as sulfuric acid. It erodes the mortar and the chimney starts to lean from the top. This is a common cause in unlined chimneys.
- Houses shift and settle over time, which can result in a leaning chimney.
How Do You Know if Your Chimney Is Leaning?
Learning about the signs of a leaning chimney helps you to realize the problem before it’s too late. It can save you thousands of dollars in repairs.
The most obvious sign to spot a leaning chimney is to find that the chimney makes an angle. Or a gap between the home siding and the exterior chimney. But, this could mean that the problem had been going on for a while. So call a professional for an immediate inspection to mitigate the damage.
There are other, not so obvious, signs of a leaning chimney, as follows:
- Chimney flashing is displaced.
- If caulk or mortar is used to fill in the gap between the home siding and the exterior chimney or metal straps are used to fasten the chimney, that means the previous owners tried to resolve the issue. But these are not effective since the actual problem i.e. issues in the chimney foundation are not addressed.
- Roof damage such as damaged shingles or gutters.
Sometimes, the chimney hasn’t started to lean but there are underlying issues. These issues weaken the chimney foundation or structure and cause a chimney tilt. You can spot these underlying issues using signs and fix them to avoid a lean in the chimney.
- Flaked off masonry bits around your chimney, water stains on walls and ceilings, and other signs of water damage point to a leaking chimney. This could weaken the chimney structure and result in leaning.
- A bad chimney flashing can also result in water damage and cause a chimney to bend in the future.
What to Do When Buying a House With a Leaning Chimney?
If the house you want to buy has a leaning chimney, you need to hire a professional for a thorough inspection of the chimney. The chimney expert will be able to reach the root cause of the problem and tell you how severe the lean is.
But even if there is no visible lean, when buying a house, having a chimney inspection is crucial. As mentioned before, sometimes the issues are not visible. A chimney expert can find if a chimney is leaning before the condition becomes severe. The expert will also find and fix issues that might cause a chimney to lean in the future and save you thousands of dollars.
Is a Leaning Chimney Dangerous?
You should not take a leaning chimney lightly. It’s just a matter of time before a leaning chimney will create serious problems for your chimney and home.
A leaning chimney puts enormous pressure on your house, way more than it’s designed to bear. This leads to structural damage to your house.
A lean in the chimney can start to displace bricks which can fall off and hurt someone severely. And there’s always the danger of the chimney top falling off and putting the lives of your family at risk.
Chimney Flue Damage
A leaning chimney can also create cracks inside your chimney flue. This can lead to harmful exhaust gasses e.g., CO entering your living space and causing Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
If your chimney is leaning, it can damage your roofing materials such as shingles, gutters, and chimney flashing. A damaged or wrapped chimney flashing can cause further damage because of water leakage.
A leaning chimney creates a gap between the chimney and the house siding which becomes the home for pests. Water can also enter, creating molds and causing deterioration..
Can You Straighten a Leaning Chimney?
A leaning chimney can be straightened. But the solution depends on the extent of the issue and the cause of the problem. Here are a few different ways experts fix a leaning chimney:
When a chimney is leaning because of cracked footing, steel piers are installed. Two piers are installed to the sides (to keep it from displacing to the sides) while one is installed at the back (to pull the chimney back into its place.)
Repairing Chimney Top
When the problem is not severe and the chimney is leaning only from the top, experts usually deconstruct the old chimney top and reconstruct it to align and stabilize it.
Sometimes the problem is too severe to fix. In such cases, the old chimney is completely deconstructed and a new chimney with stronger footing is erected in its place. Or, the old chimney is stabilized and left alone, while a new chimney is constructed in another place.
Once you’ve straightened the lean of the chimney, it is important to fix all the issues that might have occurred because of the lean. This includes repairing:
- cracked chimney flue
- wrapped chimney flashing
- damaged gutters
- damaged roof, etc.
Is a Leaning Chimney Covered by Home Insurance?
Since insurance plans differ, chimney damage may or may not be covered by your home insurance policy. But, even if it is covered, insurance policies do not cover damage caused by sheer negligence or aging of the structure.
Damage caused by sudden occurrences such as lightning strikes, earthquakes, etc. is usually covered.
So, if you’ve got a leaning chimney caused by normal wear and tear, you might not have any luck with insurance. Still, it’s best to consult an expert to make a case.
If, however, an earthquake caused your chimney to lean, you might have a strong case to make.
Leaning Chimney Repair Cost
|Chimney Repair||Average Repair Cost (Lower)||Average Repair Cost (Higher)|
|Chimney Restoration or Rebuilding||$500||$4,000|
|Repointing or Tuckpointing||$500||$2,500|
|Chimney Stack Repair||$500||$3,500|
|Chimney Foundation Repair||$1,500||$3,500|
|Steel Pier (Single)||$950||$1600|
A leaning chimney is dangerous. It can result in chimney damage, roofing damage, CO poisoning, chimney leaks, house damage, and a myriad of other issues.
Chimneys start to bend owing to various reasons. These include: water damage
- chemical poisoning
- the gradual shifting of the house, etc.
But the most common cause is a wrong-sized or damaged footing.
Do you plan on buying a house with a leaning chimney? You should consult with chimney experts and structural engineers. They will find the cause of the problem and the threat it poses. Experts will also guide you on the best possible solution.
If the chimney leaning is not severe and the solution is not costly, you can consider buying the house.
But if the chimney is bending too much you will have to deconstruct and reconstruct it. It’s best to look for a new house in such cases. You can also negotiate to lower the price of the house you’re buying based on how much it would cost you in chimney repairs.