With November in full swing, the wet and rainy season is once again upon us. Water is an essential to life, but it can be extremely detrimental to the life span of your fireplace wreaking havoc on unprotected chimneys. All masonry chimney construction materials, except stone, will suffer accelerated deterioration as a result of prolonged contact with water.
Masonry materials deteriorate quickly when exposed to the freeze/thaw process common in the Midwest. Water and moisture in the chimney not only penetrates the brick—weakening it—but also causes rust in steel and cast iron weakening or destroying the metal parts.
While most stone isn’t affected by water penetration, large chunks of mortar can crumble creating a very unstable and weakened chimney.
Preventing chimney leaks or repairing chimney leaks during the November rainy season should be a top priority of every homeowner. No need to panic, the following are 5 key steps to take to ensure you get the most out of your fireplace.
- Inspect for Masonry Damage—Water leaks can occur anywhere around your masonry work and are very difficult to spot. Repair any cracked, missing, or spalling bricks and deteriorating mortar joints as soon as possible. Don’t forget to inspect the chimney crown. Water penetration can cause interior and exterior damage to your home and masonry chimney including; rusted damper and firebox assemblies, water stained walls and ceiling, clogged cleanout area, stained chimney exterior, decaying and cracked mortar and flue liner system, collapsed hearth support, and tilted and collapsing chimney structure caused by settlement.
- Install a Chimney Cap—Chimneys have one or more large openings (flues) at the top that can collect rainwater and funnel it directly to the chimney interior. Even a commonly-sized flue would potentially allow large amounts of water and snow to enter during just a single year. A chimney rain cap attaches to the crown and works like an umbrella to prevent leaks and clogs. If you ever notice water in the firebox or white smoke when you light a fire, you likely have a missing or damaged chimney cap. You should also replace your damper—The metal or aluminum cover inside the flue seals out the elements and protects the fireplace when not in use—if it’s damaged and compromised. Water, debris and such can reduce the dampers usefulness.
- Repair or Replace a Damaged Chimney Crown—The chimney crown (or wash) is the top element of a masonry chimney. It covers and seals the top of the chimney from the flue liner to the chimney edge. A properly constructed crown should create a downward slope directing water from the flue liner out to the edge of the crown where the overhanging drip edge helps prevent erosion from water running down the side of the chimney. Many masonry chimneys are built using inadequate crowns constructed from common mortar mix and doesn’t allow for the proper casting or forming of a 2” overhang created when using a Portland cement-based mixture.
- Apply a Waterproof Coating—After a few rainy seasons, masonry—like bricks and mortar—soak up water like a sponge. This can begin to soften causing loosened masonry to deteriorate and even fall from the chimney. Several products have been developed specifically for use as waterproofing agents on masonry chimneys. These formulas are vapor permeable allowing the chimney to breathe. Waterproofing is a preventative measure. When damage or deterioration—gaps, voids, cracks, missing mortar—already exist in masonry structure, the chimney should be cleaned and repaired before a waterproofing agent is applied. Applying a waterproofing coat specifically formulated for masonry can prevent chimney leaks. It’s recommended to be re-applied every 5 to 10 years to maintain it’s effectiveness.
- Annual Maintenance—Inspection by an accredited, certified, chimney specialist with proper equipment–specifically designed to spot and prevent chimney leaks–is your best first line of defense to ensure a life-long enjoyment of your fireplace. If your appliance or venting system has been under constant use and has not changed, a Level I inspection is recommended. When acquiring or selling a home or making changes to your home or appliance, a Level II inspection is the recommended course of action. Level I inspections consist of examining the readily accessible portions of the chimney exterior, interior, and accessible portions of the appliance and chimney connection. Your certified technician will be looking for basic soundness of the chimney structure as well as the flue and basic appliance installation and connections. Furthermore, he will also be verifying the chimney is free of obstruction. Level II inspections are more in-depth inspection than a level I—including a camera visual inspection. When a level I or level II inspection suggest a hidden hazard and special tools are required to access concealed areas of the chimney or flue, a Level III inspection is recommended.
Contact us to schedule your chimney inspection today.