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Know Your Chimney this Holiday Season

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

A white house is covered in snow with snow-covered trees in the background, creating a perfect winter wonderland scene

Chimneys are an important part of many homes, and not just during the holidays. Along with being an entrance for Saint Nick, chimneys allow residents to safely burn wood or other fuels for heat and warmth. However, it is important for homeowners to understand the proper care and maintenance of their chimneys in order to prevent dangerous chimney fires and other hazards.

In this article, we will discuss the key things that homeowners should know about their chimneys, including the importance of regular inspections and cleanings, the proper materials to use, and how to identify warning signs that may indicate a need for repair.

Chimney Types

There are two main types of chimney. The first type is a masonry chimney. These chimneys are made of bricks, or stone, and mortar. Masonry chimneys are long lasting, but they are also heavy. You will need a strong foundation for this type of chimney.

The other type of chimney is prefabricated. Unlike masonry chimneys, prefabricated chimneys are not meant to heat a home. They are mostly used for decorative purposes. As such, these types of chimneys use a chimney pipe to expel the smoke, rather than a flue.

Chimney Anatomy

A chimney is typically made up of several key components, each of which plays a critical role in its function. By understanding how each part of a chimney functions, homeowners can better take care of their chimney.

Flue: The chimney flue is the vertical tube that smoke travels through to reach the outside. The flue is one of the most important parts of a chimney as it clears the smoke from your home and helps prevent a house fire.

Chimney Liner: The chimney flue has a fireproof liner to prevent a chimney fire. Priddy Chimney Sweeps says the most common material for a chimney liner is clay tile. Clay tiles are long lasting and less expensive than other materials. Homeowners should not use their fireplace if their chimney liner is damaged.

Cap: The chimney cap is what prevents the outside elements from entering your home through your chimney. A cap is made of wire mesh on the sides with a solid top. The mesh on the sides allows smoke to escape while keeping critters out. The top will act like an umbrella while it is precipitating.

Chase cover: Chase covers are used to make manufactured chimneys water tight. It is a metal covering that sits over the entire chimney structure, not just the flue opening. This allows the brick to be built higher than the chimney flue to hide any unsightly venting.

Flashing: Flashing sits around where your chimney meets the roof. This part of your roof is vulnerable to water leakage, so flashing is used to help keep water out. Check out Vertical Chimney Care to learn more about chimney flashing.

Crown: Similar to a chase cover, a chimney crown protects the top of a chimney from outside elements. The crown is made of concrete or mortar to help seal the end of the chimney. The chase cover will sit above this.

Damper: The damper is useful when your fireplace is not in use. It consists of a lever and a seal that sits just above your firebox. When not in use, the damper should be closed to keep the heat indoors. This will help increase energy efficiency. Always check to make sure the damper is open before lighting a fire to prevent any house fires.

Smoke chamber: The smoke chamber is the space between the chimney flue and the damper. The purpose of this chamber is to compress smoke so it ventures up the flue and out of the chimney. Otherwise, the smoke will fall back into your home.

A fire crackles in an old fireplace with aging brick in the firebox to showcase natural damage that can occur in a fireplace

Chimney Damage

Like any other part of a home, a chimney can become damaged over time and require repair. The Chimney Safety Institute of America has some great tips on how to tell your chimney is damaged. Watch out for these types of damage to safely use your fireplace.

Efflorescence: Chimney efflorescence is a white, powdery substance that can sometimes be seen on the surface of chimneys. It is caused by the presence of water, which can dissolve minerals present in the bricks or mortar of the chimney. In some cases, it may be a sign of a more serious issue, such as water damage or the presence of excess moisture in the chimney.

Cracked mortar: Cracked chimney mortar is a common issue that can affect the safety and functionality of a chimney. It can lead to gaps and voids in the chimney structure, which can cause a range of problems, including water damage, heat loss which will decrease energy efficiency, and the potential for chimney fires. There are several factors that can cause chimney mortar to crack. One of the most common is the natural expansion and contraction of the bricks or stones due to changes in temperature.

Spalling bricks: Spalling occurs when the surface of the bricks begins to flake or peel away, leaving a rough, uneven surface. This can be caused by a number of factors, including exposure to water, extreme temperatures, and the natural aging of the bricks. Spalling bricks can lead to problems like decreased energy efficiency, weakened structural integrity, and the potential for chimney fires.

Damaged crown: A damaged chimney crown can lead to water and animals penetrating your chimney. Crown damage can occur due to natural age, or because of temperature change.

Shaling tiles: If you start to see slices of flue lining in your firebox, then you have a shaling problem. The chimney liner keeps your chimney safe from chimney fires, so you should not use your fireplace if you notice pieces of the liner falling from the chimney flue.

Damaged flashing: If the flashing around your chimney becomes damaged, then your chimney is at risk for water damage. It can be hard to notice damaged flashing without getting on your roof, so call a professional inspector to take a look.

Bubbling paint near fireplace: Bubbling paint near a fireplace is a clear sign of chimney damage. When the smoke and heat are unable to escape through the chimney, then it will make its way into your home, which can cause the paint to bubble.

A white brick chimney rises towards the sky against a gray sided home with a blue sky background

Maintaining Your Chimney

Maintaining a chimney is an important task for any homeowner with a fireplace. Not only does a clean chimney prevent fires and carbon monoxide poisoning, but it also ensures that your fireplace is operating at its best. Here are some tips on how to maintain your chimney.

First, it is important to have your chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional at least once a year. A chimney sweep will be able to clean the inside of your chimney and remove any built-up soot or creosote, which can be highly flammable. The chimney sweep will also be able to check for any damage or obstructions in your chimney and make any necessary repairs. In addition to having your chimney professionally cleaned by a chimney sweep, you should also inspect it yourself on a regular basis. Look for any cracks or damage in the masonry or the chimney cap. If you notice any problems, have them repaired by a professional.

Another important aspect of maintaining your chimney is to make sure that it is properly ventilated. This will prevent carbon monoxide from building up inside your home. Be sure to open the damper before starting a fire, and keep it open until the ashes have cooled completely.

It is also important to use the right type of fuel in your fireplace. Burning wet or unseasoned wood can create more creosote, which can lead to chimney fires. Always use dry, seasoned wood and make sure to dispose of ashes properly by storing them in a metal container and placing them outside at least 10 feet away from your home.

Finally, make sure to keep any flammable materials away from your fireplace. This includes things like newspapers, furniture, and decorations. Also, be sure to install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home to ensure the safety of you and your family.

For more ways to maintain and care for your chimney, check out Chimney Specialists.

Happy Holidays

In conclusion, maintaining your chimney is an important part of being a responsible homeowner. By having your chimney inspected and cleaned regularly by a chimney sweep, inspecting it for damage, using the right fuel, and keeping flammable materials away, you can help prevent fires and keep your family safe this holiday season.

If you suspect your chimney flashing may be damaged, then call Lifetime Quality Roofing at 614-407-7663 for a 100% free roof inspection. Our expert inspectors will be able to safely check for any damage to your roof and flashing.

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