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Dangers of Neglecting Chimney Maintenance

While many homeowners understand the importance of annual chimney inspections and chimney sweeping, some put it off because they don’t think it is really necessary. Although your fireplace or heating stove and chimney may appear to be in good working order, that is not always the case. There are many hidden dangers like flue obstructions, creosote build-up, and other hazards that may be occurring unbeknownst to the homeowner. Here are five common dangers of neglecting chimney maintenance.

creosote buildup in chimney, carytown vaCreosote Build-Up

When burning wood in the fireplace, the combustion process creates creosote through the distillation of tars and plant material in wood. As it travels up the flue with the smoke and fumes, some creosote sticks to the interior masonry walls, flue liner, and other components. In its early stages, creosote is a benign powdery substance easily removed with regular chimney sweeping. However, if chimney maintenance is neglected, the creosote will continue to accumulate and harden into a thick, tarry, and highly flammable substance increases the risk of fire. Excessive creosote is often cited as the leading cause of residential structure fires. Creosote build-up can also restrict the airflow that results in a sudden backdraft spilling smoke and fumes, including carbon monoxide, into the living area, which can be harmful to health.

Flue Obstruction

The chimney cap is installed at the top of the chimney to help keep wind, rain, and snow out of the flue. A chimney cap may also have a mesh screen that prevents small animals, leaves, and other debris from getting inside the chimney. In addition, strong winds and extreme weather can damage the chimney cap or blow it off the chimney entirely, exposing the flue and fireplace to external elements. Unfortunately, homeowners that neglect an annual chimney inspection may not be aware of a damaged or missing chimney cap until they notice water dripping in the fireplace, foul odors, or a downdraft that suddenly blows smoke, soot, and debris out the fireplace and into their room.

Chimney Crown Cracks

A homeowner that neglects routine chimney maintenance may also be unaware they have cracks in the chimney crown until more severe damage occurs. The cement chimney crown tops the entire masonry chimney. It is built with a sloped design to help deflect water away from the chimney. However, the cement crown can develop cracks due to age, home settling, and weather damage. Also, extreme weather conditions can cause severe damage that leaves gaping holes in the chimney crown.  When rain and snow leak inside the chimney through these cracks and holes, it can cause widespread damage to the interior masonry, flue liner, and damper the longer it goes unnoticed, leading to costlier repairs.

damaged chimney flashing, henrico vaWorn Flashing

Another potential danger of neglecting chimney maintenance is being unaware that the flashing is worn, corroding, or is damaged. The sheet metal that seals the seam where the chimney meets the roofline is the flashing. When the flashing is damaged water will seep through the gaps that can damage the masonry, ceiling, attic, and roof. Water stains on the ceiling or walls near the fireplace are a sign that flashing may need repair or replacement.

Brick Spall

Since the Richmond, VA, area typically experiences very cold, snowy, and wet winters, neglecting chimney maintenance can also accelerate masonry damage.  While masonry chimneys are durable structures, bricks and mortar are porous materials that absorb moisture. The continuous freezing and thawing cycles every winter cause cracks in the brickwork and gaps in the mortar joints. Without repair, the continually expanding cracks can spall bricks that crumble and fall off the chimney. In severe cases, brick spall can lead to a partial or complete chimney collapse resulting in extensive property damage.

Neglecting chimney maintenance can be costly and dangerous. Annual chimney inspections and periodic chimney cleaning protects your home and family. It will also minimize repairs prolonging the lifespan of the masonry, flue liner, and other vital components that make the chimney safe to operate your fireplace or heating stove.

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