Common chimney problems and fixes
By Steve Graham, Networx
Chimneys are unlike most other parts of the home, where you might hire a professional for repairs after detecting and diagnosing a problem. Hire a professional to look over the chimney, then try your own cleaning and repairs.
Chimneys are too dangerous to rely on guesswork. Improper chimney ventilation can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, and chimney fires can quickly become dangerous structural fires.
Annual Chimney Check Up
Even if you use the fireplace regularly and don't see any problems, consider an annual chimney checkup. Trained professionals are likely to see problems such as tiny cracks in the flue liner, which can increase the risk of chimney fires.
If you notice any problems, we suggest consulting a professional before trying any DIY repairs. The most common problems are blocked flues, damaged crowns and inadequate caps. Here are the simplest fixes for each problem.
Chimney Problem: Smoking in the Living Room
If smoke blows into your house instead of up the chimney, the first place to look is probably in the flue. A blocked flue is the main cause of many chimney problems. Look for soot, debris and even bird nests. Again, to be safe, hire a certified inspector to check out the problem. If the inspector confirms straightforward blockage, you can clean the chimney with a couple of specialized tools and some basic precautions.
Start by protecting the area around the fireplace with drop cloths over any rugs and furniture. Then install a fireplace cover. They cost about $50, attach to a shop vacuum and protect the room. You also need a chimney brush that is the appropriate size and shape for your flue, and probably various rods and adaptors.
For the best results, work from the top of the chimney rather than the fireplace. Take care when working at heights, and use eye protection, gloves, and a dust mask. Push the brush up and down through the chimney all the way to the fireplace, using a powerful flashlight to check your work.
Chimney Problem: Leaks in the Attic
A damaged chimney crown and cracked mortar may cause dampness and problems in the attic, as well as general deterioration. Before problems spread throughout the masonry and become costly and dangerous, repair the chimney crown and the mortar between your bricks. If you have any masonry experience, the project is fairly straightforward. Just be sure to maintain a slope from the top of the flue out to the edge of the masonry, but avoid leaving the outside edge too thin. Cracks are likely to return in thin mortar.
Chimney Problem: Critters in the Creosote
If you have blowing wind, dripping rain, and nesting animals in your flue, you probably need a chimney cap. They cost as little as $30 and are easy to install (caps typically come with installation instructions). They keep the elements (and wildlife) out of your chimney, while keeping sparks from flying onto the roof.
Chimney problems can be dangerous and even deadly. Thankfully, cleaning and repairs are relatively straightforward. After a professional inspection, consider cleaning the flue, replacing the crown or adding a cap.
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