Chimney Damage: When to Repair or Rebuild?
Your chimney plays an important role in venting smoke and other contaminants from your home while you’re family enjoys the warmth of a gas or wood-burning fireplace. And while most masonry chimneys are built to last for decades, moisture, strong winds and normal wear and tear can result in chimney damage. Sometimes the decision to rebuild is easy like when it is in disrepair. Other times it’s not so easy to decide. This leaves many homeowners wondering when they should repair or rebuild a damaged chimney.
The deterioration of masonry brickwork is the most common type of chimney repair. This type of chimney damage is easily spotted by observing falling, missing or cracked bricks in the chimney. Spalling bricks are often the result of years of heavy moisture that constantly freeze and thaw. This freeze-thaw process expands the water crystals that accumulate inside the porous brick masonry causing them to crack. The softened mortar also loses its grip and bricks begin to fall off the chimney.
If your chimney has just a few spalling bricks it is generally more cost effective to repair the chimney. But since tuckpointing is a tedious process that involves carefully filling in the gaps with new brick and mortar material, it will be more practical to rebuild the chimney if there are a lot of bricks in need of repair.
While not common, hairline cracks in the chimney do occur. They are more prevalent, however, in older homes where settling has occurred under the chimney foundation. Also, in western states like California, minor earthquakes and tremors can cause cracks in the chimney. In almost all cases, a crack or fracture in the chimney requires a rebuild.
It is difficult for many homeowners to understand why these types of cracks in the chimney can’t be repaired even if they appear to look relatively minor. It’s a structural issue. In most homes, the chimney is attached at the roof line and provides stability to the entire structure of the home. And because the structure is weakened, a chimney rebuild is the best option to restore structural integrity. It may also be required by your local building code.
Frequent chimney repairs
When the condition of your chimney requires frequent and expensive repairs every year just to maintain it in a safe and working condition, it may be time to consider a chimney rebuild. Also, if you have chimney damage like a hidden water leak or smoke entering the house that requires a level III inspection to uncover, you will probably want to consider a chimney rebuild. That’s because a level III chimney inspection is costly and involves tearing out a portion of the chimney structure to determine the cause and extent of the damage. And once the problem is identified and repaired you are left with a very expensive “old” chimney. In most cases like this, you will be better off in the long-run with a complete chimney rebuild. You will have a beautiful brand new chimney that will be much easier to maintain and will provide years of safe enjoyment for the entire family.
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA), the National Chimney Safety Guild and fire safety experts recommend homeowners have an annual chimney safety inspection by a certified chimney sweep. Certified chimney sweeps have extensive training and experience to identify any type of chimney damage and will provide advice on whether it’s best to repair or rebuild.