New homeowners are often under the impression that their chimney is a maintenance-free area of the home. Unfortunately this is not the case. Your chimney should be considered as important as any other appliance in the home, if not more so. It requires at least one inspection and cleaning per year – more often if you use it often. Several Delaware County homeowners schedule two inspections and cleanings per year; once in the spring and once in the fall.

There are five very common chimney problems that we see most often as a chimney professional. Obstructions, creosote buildup, masonry problems, crown and cap damage, and damaged flue. Today I’m going to explain each of these problems in detail and give you an idea of what to look for to help you protect your family from a potentially dangerous situation.

Chimney Obstruction: This could be anything from a bird’s nest to a dead animal, or even leaves or an ambient updraft. You won’t be able to look up through the chimney to see an ambient updraft, so you may feel that the chimney is perfectly safe and in workable condition when it is not. Even an unseen updraft can create a dangerous situation and allow dangerous smoke and gases to enter your home. A yearly inspection is required to prevent an obstruction from forming. You can also use a very bright flashlight to look up the chimney to make sure there’s a clear line of sight to the opening at the top.

Creosote Buildup: A properly working chimney allows smoke, wood particles, and gases to escape your home undetected. As smoke travels up the chimney, it cools and may stick to the interior walls of the flue. This substance becomes very sticky and tar-like, and is called creosote. Creosote is extremely flammable and will cause a chimney fire if it isn’t dealt with properly. Follow these steps to avoid creosote buildup.

Masonry Problems: Brick or stone and mortar chimneys take a lot of damage from the elements. Water seeps into the masonry if it is not properly sealed and freezes, expanding, and possibly creating cracks. Cracks worsen over time as the freeze-thaw process repeats throughout winter. There are several maintenance and repair methods that we can use to help reduce the amount of wear and tear your chimney suffers each year. Pay close attention to the exterior of your chimney and call me if you see anything that doesn’t look right.

Damaged Chimney Crown or Cap: The chimney crown is made of the same concrete mixture that creates the lines between the brick or stone work. As we just stated, this material is very porous and allows water to penetrate if it is not properly sealed. The purpose of the crown is to shed the rest of the chimney and whisk water away. A damaged crown does not perform its job properly. Any time you see cracks or visible damage to the crown, call me for a thorough inspection.

The chimney cap is the topper of sorts for the chimney. It’s usually made of a metal such as steel or copper. The primary purposes of the cap are to keep small animals and birds out as well as keep rain and debris from entering the chimney and becoming an obstruction. Any damage should be inspected and repaired as quickly as possible.

Damaged Flue: The flue is the lining inside the chimney that allows for the smooth flow of smoke and gases as they exit your home. Any type of damage to the flue puts your home at risk for a chimney fire or can allow dangerous gases to enter your home. Install a carbon monoxide detector in the same room as your fireplace or wood burning stove, and call me if you notice any changes in how well smoke exits the chimney.

Please keep these five chimney problems in mind each and every time you use your chimney and pay close attention to any potential dangers. Make sure to schedule a chimney cleaning and inspection at least once per year, and more often if you use it regularly.