A chimney is an important part of your house that can be prone to damage if not maintained correctly. It’s wrong to think that every part of the house will just stay out there and be intact for decades.
Inspections are a must-do; however, many homeowners neglect such routine checks if ‘everything’s fine, there are no alarming signs’. These signs may be present deep in the chimney where you can’t see unless you inspect the whole system.
If the alarms are missed, the structure starts to deteriorate and needs serious repair. This may sound overwhelming, but any case can be fixed. You’ll find a guide to everything chimney in this article.
By the end, you’ll know:
- What the structure consists of;
- What types of repair there are;
- What type to use in a particular situation.
What a Chimney Stack Consists Of
Before performing any kind of repairs, you need to know the anatomy of a chimney stack. It’s not obligatory to know everything, but to understand who to call and what kind of work will have to be done is very useful once a problem occurs.
It’s always nice to know what to say to the contractor you choose when describing the issue.
So, talking about a chimney stack, we mean the outer part of the structure located above the roof. It’s easy to inspect and maintain.
There’s also a chimney pot. If made from high-quality materials and secured properly, it will last for many, many years. This element is responsible for proper ventilation and provides oxygen to the fire. It’s placed on the very top of the structure.
A chimney cowl is placed right on the top of the pot. It provides additional ventilation and:
- Prevents birds from making nests in chimneys that are no longer in service;
- Prevents smoke from coming back into the house in chimneys that are working.
There’s also chimney flaunching, which is bedding made from mortar right on top of the brick structure. Its functions are:
- Ensuring there’s no rainwater collected on the stack. It should be diverted ASAP not to promote damage;
- Stabilizing the chimney pot.
Flaunching must be inspected frequently and repaired as soon as cracks appear.
The last element we’ll describe is chimney flashing. It seals the connection between the stack and the roof. Flashing can be made from tin, metal, or even mortar. The main function is to prevent water from soaking through, creating leaks.
You should check the documentation and see what kind of chimney you have. It may have a slightly different structure. However, the one described above is the most common.
Types of Chimney Repair
The types of repair are plenty, but we’ll mostly focus on rebuilding and repointing. These are the two most complicated repairs that are usually necessary when the whole structure is in danger.
Chimney rebuild is the only way out when the stack is no longer safe. If it’s too old and was poorly maintained all this time, it’s either removal or rebuilding. This is the most dramatic way to repair the structure. We’re starting from it to motivate you to check on your stack more often than you do now.
There are two types of chimney rebuild you can choose from, after a consultation with a professional, depending on the scale of damage:
- A partial rebuild.
If the damage isn’t too dramatic, only a part of the chimney may be rebuilt. Best-case scenario, you’ll only have to rebuild several brick courses. Worst-case scenario, it’s the stack. The more you need to rebuild, the better idea it is to call a professional to handle the job.
- A complete rebuild.
In case the chimney has serious structural damage, it’s better to rebuild it all. In this case, you will definitely need help from a specialist. This is also the most expensive option, but the most long-lasting and secure. There may be damage you don’t see, internal cracks and leaks that may lead to serious consequences.
The cost of the work increases greatly if your building is listed as historical. All the elements will have to be identical to the ones that used to be, which will add to the expenses.
All of this can be avoided by routine inspections, small repairs, and chimney repointing if the damages are more serious than simple cracking.
This approach is used when the structural integrity of the chimney is fine but there are lots of cracks and damage to the layers of cement and mortar between brick courses. Such deterioration is inevitable due to weather conditions and seasonal changes. While the first signs might not be alarming, a couple of cracks that don’t look serious, the damage from water seeping through the tiniest crack may lead to the need to rebuild the chimney.
Repointing is only applicable if you find the cracks early. That’s another reason for routine checks.
Basically, chimney repointing is the process of renewing those connections between the bricks in order to seal them and prevent water from seeping. There are other benefits:
- Aesthetics improvement.
A repointed chimney looks much fresher, increasing the whole house’s appeal. Cracks and stains never look beautiful.
Timely repointing adds stability to the stack, which makes it more durable and less prone to deterioration.
This is a great preventative measure. It’s not that expensive or labor-intensive and leads to years more of service.
Other Types of Repairs
Other small repairs include:
- Flaunching repairs.
Flaunching is a crucial element that keeps water out of the stack as much as it’s possible. But if it’s all in cracks and some pieces of mortar are even missing, the water will most definitely seep through. So, the protecting part becomes a danger, which shouldn’t happen. Mortar isn’t that expensive or rare, so small crack repairs must be performed regularly.
- Flashing repairs.
Flashing is used to seal the connection between the roofing and the chimney stack. If it’s rusting, damaged, or deformed, it’s a good idea to change it. This is especially important if you have mortar flashing. The material provides amazing sealing properties but it’s prone to cracking because of temperature changes. Metal and tin may deform or get too old as well. It’s not expensive to update the flashing. But it’s much more expensive to rebuild the whole thing later on.
- Watertight repairs.
Any small crack on any part of the chimney may lead to water seeping through the structure. If it’s not water, it’s dust, debris, and other substances that may also make the materials deteriorate. Have some mortar on hand when inspecting the structure to fill any cracks you find.
If you do all of these routinely, there will be no reason for rebuilding unless you want to remove the chimney or redecorate it completely. This will save you a lot of money, effort, and time.
What Damages the Materials Chimneys Are Made Of
There are two major types of damage:
Seasonal changes, heavy rain, frost, snow, and all the other weather conditions impact the mortar, first of all. And it’s one of the main materials the chimney is made of. Temperature changes and water cause it to expand and shrink, which leads to cracks.
Age is formidable to everything and everyone. Solid materials aren’t an exception, whether it’s brick, mortar, or tin. Most old buildings have chimneys, and many people don’t realize this element needs inspection. When neglected, the number of age-related damages grows exponentially, which may lead to horrible consequences.
There may be other damages connected to the renovation of the house, earthquakes and other natural disasters, etc.
The Consequences of Neglect
The consequences may start from regular leaks, which may not sound like a big deal. But let water stay there for a long time and you may face a partial or complete collapse not only of the stack but of the whole structure.
This may lead to serious damage to the house interior and exterior, especially the roof. The tiles will break and fall along with the bricks and pieces of mortar. Worst-case scenario a heavy stack piece may create a hole in the roof, which will require serious repairs. This is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, not to mention the financial side.
The price of routine check neglect is very big. If you don’t have time or expertise in such things, there are local contractors that will send experts to look at your chimney and consult you on repairs.
Don’t Forget About Routine Inspections and Small Repairs
It’s better not to lead to a situation when you need a large repair. Inspect the chimney every now and then and do small fixes when you see an issue. Thus, the chimney will serve you for a much longer time.
Don’t wait until the first signs of a defect show. Check if there are cracks and other issues regularly. And if you see something and don’t know how to fix it, make sure to contact a local professional. They know just how to fix any problem with your chimney and will give maintenance recommendations.