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Anatomy of Your Chimney (And Common Chimney Problems)

Your chimney may be the biggest system in your home besides the central air and heating unit and there’s a lot that can go wrong with it. Because it’s so big and can cause big problems for your home, it’s important to understand just what makes up the chimney system, how it works, and how it can go wrong.

Anatomy of Your Chimney (And Common Chimney Problems) - Boston MA - Billy Sweet ChimneyParts of the Chimney

From bottom to top, there are many parts and materials that make up a fireplace and chimney system. The terms ‘fireplace’ and ‘chimney’ are often used interchangeably, and they work together to get the job done. What we know as the fireplace is actually called the firebox, and what we know as the chimney is actually the flue. These are only two parts of a very large system that must be built and maintained properly. Only then will the system work efficiently and safely.

Foundation – Just as the house itself sits on a foundation that holds it up and prevents settlement and shifting as seasons and weather change the soil, the chimney requires a foundation. Oftentimes this foundation is built when the home is built, but not always.
Ash Dump – Some, but not all, chimneys have an ash dump. This is a space beneath the firebox where ashes can be pushed and stored to cool and collect over time. A chimney sweep can remove these ashes as needed through a cleanout door near the foundation—a service that usually isn’t required for several years.
Hearth – The hearth is the floor of the firebox which usually extends from the back of the fireplace out into the room a bit and is made of a particular firebrick and refractory mortar that protects against heat transfer from the fire.
Firebox – The space where the fire sits and burns is called the firebox. It endures the highest temperatures for the longest periods but receives the least attention. The firebox is constructed of firebricks and refractory mortar.
Damper – The damper is a mechanism, usually made of metal, installed at the top of the firebox and opens and closes the flue opening. When the damper is closed, very little air moves through the chimney system. When the flue is open, air flows freely.
Smoke Chamber – The space above the firebox is called the smoke chamber—so named because this is where the particles and gases mingle with the heat to rise up the chimney. It is shaped like an inverted funnel to direct smoke upward and into the flue. Beneath the smoke chamber, there is a shelf (called the smoke shelf) designed to prevent smoke from falling back into the firebox and into the home. The walls of the smoke chamber should be at certain angles and smooth.
Flue – The flue is the interior vent by which smoke and gases travel out of the home. The surface of the flue should be covered with a liner that keeps heat and corrosive chemicals from damaging or moving through the masonry and gives it a seamless, smooth surface for optimum airflow.
Masonry Crown – At the top of the chimney there is a ceiling that extends from the flue opening to the edge of the chimney. The crown is made out of durable material that can withstand harsh temperatures, sunlight, and precipitation. It is also made at a slant so that water runs away from the flow and onto a drip edge, where it drips down onto the flashing at the roof instead of running down the masonry.
Chimney Cap – The chimney cap is the roof of the chimney system. It keeps water, animals, wind, and weather out. The cap is necessary to prevent chimney water damage and animal intrusion. It is often made of copper or stainless steel.

Common Chimney Problems

Even a well-constructed chimney can become damaged over time—especially through particularly rough winters or when subjected to coastal air and moisture.

  • Spalling masonry can be particularly devastating to chimneys that stand in coastal regions. This is when the mortar cracks and falls away, causing bricks to loosen and take on water.
  • Leaky chimneys can lead to damaged parts of the chimney, but also water damage throughout the house. A chimney leak can occur in any season and cause damage year-round.
  • Smoky fireplaces are usually caused by an obstruction, draft issue, or even the wrong firewood being burned in the fireplace! A smoky fireplace doesn’t always require a repair but should always be troubleshot and a professional should be called if the problem persists.
  • Liner damage is most often due to an old clay tile liner becoming worn out and breaking apart. You might find pieces of clay tile in your firebox or notice problems like masonry that is hot to the touch. Liner damage can also be caused by a dirty flue or a flue fire.

Whether your system is old or new, whether you have a fireplace, a stove, or an insert, whether you burn wood, pellets, or gas, your chimney is important. It can be a great asset, but can also be very dangerous. Make sure you know the ins and outs of chimney function and maintenance. Make sure your chimney system is safe and efficient. It will work better and for longer.

Call and schedule services with Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep today by calling 617-469-4528

Winter Damage to Your Chimney System

Whether you’ve had a harsh winter already this year, or your chimney sustained damage in the past, it’s important to diagnose and repair the damage as soon as possible. Winter-damaged masonry can lead to more serious problems and costs in the future, so the sooner you call a professional, the better.

snowy roof and chimneyCommon Winter Damage

  • Chimney Leaks – When water enters the chimney system it can be catastrophic, leading to water damage in the chimney system itself, the fireplace or appliance, and also the rest of the home. The water may enter by a faulty chimney cap, damaged crown, spalling masonry, or dislodged flashing, but the water may travel through the home and form a leak elsewhere, many rooms away from the chimney. Expert tip: have your chimney system inspected annually and waterproofed after repairs so that the masonry is protected from water penetration.
  • Spalling Masonry – When the masonry becomes cracked, crumbles, and bricks and mortar pieces begin to fall, this is called spalling. Spalling masonry is extremely dangerous for the chimney and can cause bricks to fall onto and damage the roof and landscaping below as it becomes more serious. Expert tip: have your masonry waterproofed with a deep-penetrating water repellent by Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep to prevent water masonry damage. Schedule a professional to repair your masonry through a process called tuckpointing.
  • Crown Damage – Winter weather can wreak havoc on a chimney crown that is old, poorly maintained, and improperly constructed. If a crown is too thin, flat, or made of the wrong materials, water can penetrate it during winter months and then freeze, causing more damage through what’s called the freeze-thaw cycle. Expert tip: ask your chimney professional specific questions about crown construction. It should be constructed with the right materials and design for a lasting crown.
  • Dislodged Flashing – Harsh winter temperatures and storms can lead to dislodged flashing. Since the intersection of the chimney and roof is the most vulnerable part of your entire chimney system, dislodged flashing can have serious hazardous results. Expert tip: look at your flashing after strong winds or prolonged ice or snow exposure. Exposed nails, shifted metal, and missing flashing is reason to call a professional right away.

The Freeze-Thaw Cycle

Winter is the most common time for chimney damage that has nothing to do with the fire. Yes, you’re using your fireplace more, but winter damage is caused by outside forces—temperatures, pressures, precipitation, animals, and more. The worst thing that can happen to your chimney during winter months is water penetration. Because masonry is porous by nature, allowing water to penetrate beyond the surface, freezing temperatures can be devastating as the moisture trapped in the masonry freezes and thaws. Water fills the gaps and voids in the masonry, then freezes as temperatures fall. The water expands as it freezes, breaking apart the masonry. Then when a fire is lit or the sun warms the chimney again the water thaws and moves further into the damaged masonry. This process repeats all winter long, causing serious damage in a short time. If this damage isn’t repaired and the chimney waterproofed, the chimney may require a serious repair or rebuild. If the damage remains throughout the spring months, water will have a direct route into the chimney system to make more damage.

Chimney Repairs and Waterproofing in Boston, North Shore, and Portland

Home and business owners in and around Boston, North Shore, and Portland areas continue to depend on Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep for all their ongoing chimney needs, including repairs and waterproofing services. Our goal to keep our friends and neighbors in our service area safe and warm each winter is the reason why we offer expert services like crown repair, tuckpointing, chimney relining, rebuilds, renovations, and more. We also specialize in preventive services such as waterproofing, chimney sweeps, and CSIA inspections.

Our chimney experts are CSIA certified chimney sweeps, experienced master masons, and trained installers. When you hire a Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep you are depending on the best our service area has to offer. We show up with clear ID tags, clean uniforms, and branded company vehicles. You will never second guess your choice in companies or technicians. We keep your home clean of toxins and dirtiness while we work and hand you a written report when the service is complete. If your chimney requires repairs, we provide before and after footage for your own records and to present to your home-owners insurance or realtor. We use a camera system to get up-close-footage during each chimney sweep and inspection and offer a complimentary carbon monoxide test to insure hidden dangers aren’t present.

Schedule Now

We are only just into winter, but damage can occur in a short time. Damage from previous years can go unnoticed, and all you notice as a homeowner is the repercussion. If your fireplace, stove, or chimney is suddenly working improperly, if you notice signs of water damage, or the system works differently in any way, it’s time to have it checked out.

Contact Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep now to schedule important diagnostic services. Call 617-469-4528 today.

Leaks and Crown Repair

If you are a homeowner in the Boston, North Shore, or Portland area, you may have a chimney that has taken on winter damage. This type of damage may first manifest as a chimney leak or roof leak, but it’s likely a result of winter damage. Most likely the chimney crown is the problem.

The Chimney Crownwhite chimney with blue sky

The chimney may be the largest system in your home, but it can be brought down by water intrusion. In fact, water can destroy a chimney system from the inside out. This damage leads to rust, stains, odors, mold growth, deterioration, shortened chimney life, and more. The chimney crown is an important component that helps to prevent water intrusion and damage. When the chimney crown is constructed improperly, it can become damaged over time due to sunlight and weather exposure. The crown, which is supposed to protect the chimney from the flue opening all the way to the edge of the chimney can become cracked, begin flaking, and even crumble. When the crown becomes damaged, the water from rain and snowfall can go directly into the chimney causing water damage and leaks throughout the entire house.

Diagnosing the Chimney Crown

If your chimney seems to be leaking, it’s time to call a professional. We will check all the parts of the chimney system that might be the cause of the leak. If the crown has cracks, gaps, or flaking, it will definitely contribute to a leak and will need to be fixed. Fortunately, if the crown is made from the appropriate materials and is the right size and shape, it will not have to be recast. We can fix a chimney crown fairly easily, getting your system back to working order before burn season. In order to fix a broken crown, there are two options:

  • We can cover the entire chimney crown in a waterproof sealant which closes up all the gaps and cracks, restoring the crown back to proper function.
  • We can construct a completely new custom crown with the appropriate slant, thickness, and drip edge to conduct optimal water flow away from the chimney.

Prevent Damage Before It’s Too Late

You can prevent water damage and even prevent the need for a new crown construction by scheduling routine chimney sweeps and annual inspections. Your chimney expert will get a good look at your crown during these preventative service appointments, and minor repairs can be made before major damage occurs. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), chimneys that are serviced and inspected annually are the safest and efficient. At Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep we know that chimneys that are serviced regularly and repaired as needed are also the longest lasting chimneys.

Schedule your routine service or chimney crown repair with Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep today. Call us at 781-593-2333 or stop by our Boston, North Shore, or Portland location.

Why Chimneys Leak

Your chimney is designed to withstand time and weather, but it will only hold up as long as it’s properly maintained and used correctly. Part of this chimney care is professional and routinely scheduled services through a licensed and certified chimney sweep company. During these chimney checkups, your system will be assessed for overall safety and structure. Neglecting these appointments can mean a disaster for your chimney, especially when it leads to a leak.

Leaky ChimneysWhat causes a leaky chimney and how to spot it

Causes:
-Missing chimney caps are a major cause for leaky chimneys because the cap serves as a roof for the flue. Without it, precipitation freely falls into the flue and can damage the system from the inside out.
-Damaged or dislodged flashing allows water into the intersection of the roof and chimney. The flashing should be installed professionally so that it protects against water, and should not be nailed or covered in sealant.
-A cracked or damaged crown can allow water into the system from the top, whether water, snow, or ice. Once the crown is damaged, winter weather can add to the issue and worsen the problem.
-Masonry damage allows water into the chimney through masonry that is damaged or unprotected. Once allowed into the masonry, winter weather can damage the masonry throughout winter through the freeze/thaw cycle. Once the water penetrates the masonry, it can cause leaking in the flue and even more damage to the masonry.
Signs:
-Sounds of dripping in the fireplace or chimney system
-White stains on the outside of the masonry, red rust stains at the top of the chimney exterior, and green or black stains in the firebox
-Visible water dripping in the firebox or running along the chimney
-Leaks around the chimney or in other rooms of the house
-Smells of mildew or mold

Water Damage

Chimney leaks are 100 percent preventable, and spending the time and money necessary to prevent the leak will prevent damage later. Your chimney leak can cause leaking in the system and throughout the rest of the home, ruining wall coverings, furniture, and wreaking havoc on the chimney system itself.
When there is a chimney leak, it can cause damage to the working parts of the system, rust to the damper, door hinges, and components, stains and deterioration, and clogged cleanout doors and flues.

Professional Leak-Proofing

Our customers in and around Boston depend on us for chimney waterproofing year-round. We replace chimney caps, repair and replace chimney crown, install flashing, and even waterproof masonry for good measure. Our waterproofing services will protect your masonry completely from water penetration while allowing the heat and gases out. This vapor-permeable water repellent allows the masonry to breathe and vent properly, unlike many purported water-repellents on the market.

In order to prevent leaks this spring, make sure your masonry doesn’t have any winter damage that can allow spring showers to penetrate your chimney system. Call Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep today and let an expert check out your system for possible leaks and apply a waterproofing agent that will last years.

Dial 617-469-4528 to reach our Boston office today.

Spotting Masonry Damage

Masonry damage can be devastating to your chimney, especially during winter time. Minor damage becomes major damage when water gets into cracks and voids where it freezes and expands. It’s important for homeowners to not only schedule valuable services that can prevent and identify masonry problems, but also be aware of signs of damage.

Common Masonry Problems

Spalling—Spalling describes mortar that is cracking and crumbling. It no longer supports the bricks and they begin to flake and fall. Factors such as neglect and water damage cause spalling. A well-constructed and well-maintained chimney will not sustain this type of damage through normal wear and tear.

Spalling masonry is repaired through tuckpointing or repointing, in which a certified professional removes the mortar and replaces it with new of equal consistency, strength, and color. Incorrectly made mortar actually weakens the masonry instead of strengthening it. Failing to match it in color causes the exterior of the chimney to be mismatched, and this actually brings down your “curb appeal”.

Chimney Leaks—When water penetrates the chimney system it can cause all kinds of damage behind the scenes. Water damage can include rusted parts, deteriorated and stained walls and masonry, weakened supports, settlement, and collapse.

Chimney leaks can be caught and repaired through a simple chimney inspection each year. By the time a homeowner notices a chimney leak, it has caused unseen damage that takes time and money to repair. Scheduling routine maintenance gives a certified chimney sweep the opportunity to assess the system regularly as well as apply periodic waterproofing treatments that prevent leaks. Our sweeps at Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep quickly repair any discovered problems. Most water leaks start with missing or damaged flashing, caps, crowns, or masonry. We offer repairs year-round for the convenience and safety of our customers in the Boston area.

Signs to Look For

When it comes to masonry damage, you definitely want to catch it early so that repairs can be made before real damage can occur. Pay attention to how your chimney is working, and note changes. Chimney experts should address any persistent problems.
–A drop in efficiency can mean a problem with your masonry. Leaks, liner damage, damper malfunction and more can cause a drop in efficiency.
–Pieces of mortar and bricks strewn on the roof and onto the yard means spalling. A professional should address this type of extreme damage immediately.
–Dripping, staining, or wetness inside fireplace interior. This means there is water penetrating the chimney system, so there is a masonry problem.
–Mortar and brick pieces inside the fireplace means spalling masonry. Clay tile pieces inside the fireplace means a clay tile liner is deteriorating and the flue needs relined.

If properly built and maintained, your chimney will last for years. Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep can help your chimney last, and will do our job each time with the professionalism and expertise that keeps our customers safe and warm year after year.

Call Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep today at 800-248-4900!