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The Importance of Maintaining Masonry Chimneys

There are masonry fireplaces and chimneys and there are pre-fab fireplaces and chimneys. Masonry fireplaces and chimneys are made for mortar and bricks, block, or stone, while pre-fab fireplaces are made of metal and steel. Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep has specialized in maintaining chimneys and fireplaces for over 30 years and reiterates the recommendations of the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) and Hamon Corporation.

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The CSIA explains why proper maintenance of masonry chimney is so important. “All masonry chimney construction materials, except stone, will suffer accelerated deterioration as a result of prolonged contact with water. Masonry materials deteriorate quickly when exposed to the freeze/thaw process, in which moisture that has penetrated the materials periodically freezes and expands causing undue stress. Water in the chimney also causes rust in steel and cast iron, weakening or destroying the metal parts. Read more at the CSIA’s website.

Chimneys in New England are exposed to many months of constant freezing and thawing, along with exposure to rain, and intense heat, even lighting. Damage to your chimney structure means that the chimney cannot function properly and therefore exposes homeowners to fire risks, seepage of toxic gasses. Damaged masonry weakens the integrity of your home’s structure. Water causes more damages to chimneys than fires. It can cause both interior and exterior damage.

Out of Sight–Out of Mind

With such great risk caused by masonry damage, why is the proper maintenance of masonry chimneys so often overlooked by homeowners? Out of sight out of mind…until there is a problem.

Yearly inspections are the first step to maintaining your masonry chimney. During the inspection the chimney technician will look for cracks, missing bricks or blocks, water staining, and deterioration. If there are any signs of weakening, gaps, or damage, repairs can be made before small cracks become major issues.

During the inspection special attention will be paid to ensuring the chimney crown, also known as the chimney wash, is fully functional. As the CSIA explains in the homeowner’s resources section of their website, “Most masonry chimneys are built with an inadequate crown constructed from common mortar mix that is not designed for years of weather abuse without cracking, chipping or deteriorating. A proper chimney crown should be constructed of a Portland cement-based mixture and cast or formed so it provides an overhang projecting beyond all sides of the chimney by a minimum of two inches. The flue liner tile should also project above the crown a minimum of two inches.

When masonry issues are found, proper repairs should be done by a trained professional. The outside of the chimney needs to be thoroughly cleaned and all masonry repairs done before any waterproofing materials are used. Your chimney professional will know the best waterproofing agents to use to seal out water. Homeowners should not attempt to make the masonry or waterproofing repairs themselves and using paint or clear sealants instead of professional products will cause further damage by trapping the wetness rather than elevating it.

Commercial Masonry Chimneys Need Care Too.

From an industrial point of view, when it comes to maintenance, the chimney stacks at commercial and industrial sites are just as overlooked as they are on residential sites. Hamon Corporation is a group of international companies dedicated to providing “high quality innovative solutions to meet customer needs for energy efficiency and a clean environment”. Hamon urges plant and commercial maintenance teams to recognize that proper maintenance means “extended life for chimney and stacks. These passive structures are often over looked in maintenance schedules.” In an article by Arun K. Bhowmik from Hamon Custodis, Bhowmik cautions, “Chimneys are basically passive structures with few mechanical parts that require maintenance attention to keep them functional. Because of this, it is easy to overlook them – but doing so can be costly.” He goes on,” Chimneys and stacks have only one function: dispersing flue gas into the atmosphere. In the process of fulfilling that function, (chimneys) are exposed to harsh environments, both inside and outside. Flue gas, with its abrasive and corrosive characteristics, can damage the structural materials of the chimney or liner. Climatic conditions, ranging from high winds to extreme cold, place extreme stress on the structure.” To read his entire article on proper industrial chimney maintenance, click here.

When is the last time you had your masonry inspected? Are you guilty of the out of sight out of mind mentality? Don’t delay any longer; contact Bill Sweet Chimney Service today.

Dangers of Neglecting Chimney Maintenance

At first glance, chimneys seem very robust. They live outside all year, exposed to the elements, and can withstand hundreds of degrees worth of heat, fire after fire. Despite all of this, however, chimneys do need some regular care to keep up with these high demands. Industry experts strongly recommend having the chimney swept and inspected at least once every year and for good reason. Failure to keep up with chimney maintenance can have some devastating consequences.

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For wood burning fireplaces and stoves, the chimney will contain a buildup of a material called creosote. This black, tarry material clings to the surface of the chimney and can build up to the point of blocking air flow. Creosote is also highly flammable and is the cause of many destructive chimney fires. It burns at a much higher temperature than wood or gas, and once burning, it can be very difficult to extinguish. To keep your home and family safe, having a chimney sweep remove the creosote is imperative.

Debris found in the chimney can also take the form of an obstruction that reduces or blocks the flow of air. A common obstruction in the chimney is an animal and its nest. Warm chimneys attract small animals like birds, squirrels and raccoons that need a cozy space to wait out the winter. Unfortunately, this means trouble for the home owner. When the toxic fumes from the fire cannot escape through the chimney, they end up in the house. Not only does the creosote and soot leave messy, black residue on walls and furniture, but this lack of ventilation can actually be dangerous. Carbon monoxide, a product of combustion, can cause death when inhaled in high enough concentrations. It also has no color, smell, or taste, making it impossible to detect without relying on a special detector. To avoid the dangers of carbon monoxide from the fireplace, have a chimney sweep out every year.

Chimney inspections should also be done every year. The inspector examines the chimney from inside the house and from the roof to determine its structural soundness. A common problem that inspectors uncover is water damage. In a masonry chimney, water can enter the brick and mortar and cause cracking or even collapse. In all types of chimneys, water can also cause damage to the interior. If the flue lining is made of metal, water exposure can lead to rusted cracks or holes, which then exposes the house to further water damage, carbon monoxide leaks, and potential house fires. A simple inspection could determine if the chimney cap needs to be replaced, which can prevent these problems most of the time.

All in all, failure to keep up with chimney maintenance could cost you money in repairs, your house, and even your life. Instead of risking it, just call to schedule your annual sweep and inspection today. If you live near Boston, Massachusetts or Portland, Maine, contact Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep to speak with a professional.

Find an Expert for a Full Chimney Rebuild

All parts of a home will eventually need an upgrade because time wears down everything. Older homes, which are very common all along the east coast, generally need these updates sooner rather than later. Everything from contemporary style updates to energy savings updates can help bring an older home into the modern world. For homeowners looking ahead to the chilly winter, an update to the chimney or fireplace may be next on the to-do list.

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Chimneys can require a rebuild for a number of reasons, but the most common issue involves a partial or complete collapse of the chimney. Collapse occurs when the structure of the chimney has degraded, often due to long term exposure to harsh weather. Masonry chimneys, in particular, can suffer negative effects from weather. The materials used to construct a masonry chimney – brick, concrete, and mortar – all have a very porous nature, meaning they readily absorb water. Absorbing water alone does not have damaging consequences, but when the temperatures drop below freezing, the issues begin. In freezing weather, water undergoes a freeze and thaw cycle in which it continually expands and contracts. The bricks and concrete saturated with water also contract and expand with the water inside, and this results in degraded materials over time. First, the mortar will crack and fall from between the bricks, and the concrete will split. Then, the bricks come loose, and the entire structure loses its integrity. Eventually, the chimney could collapse.

Other problems that may result in a chimney rebuild include earthquakes and chimney fires. Earthquakes can cause irreparable structural damage to the chimney, and older chimneys usually do not have the stabilizing steel rebar that modern chimneys use to protect against this type of impact damage. The rebuilt masonry chimney would contain this rebar to stabilize the structure in case of future earthquakes. Chimney fires can also necessitate a rebuild, especially with older masonry chimneys. These chimneys often utilized clay or mortar chimney liners, which crack and split under the heat of the fire. This destroys the protection provided by the chimney liner and undermines the strength of the structure overall.

While a full chimney rebuild may not seem ideal from the homeowner’s point of view, if only for the cost of it, this process could mean the difference between a safe fireplace and a hazardous one. In order to make the rebuild process easy and effective, a chimney expert must be employed. This ensures proper and safe construction that meets safety codes. If you live in the area of Boston or North Shore, Massachusetts or near Portland, Maine, you can get in contact with Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep for a rebuild inspection and consultation.

How Winter Hurts Your Chimney

Your beautiful fireplace has always come through for you. It faithfully heats your home during brutal New England winters and creates a tranquil setting on a snowy evening. Even during the summer, the fireplace acts as a majestic focal point in your home. In fact, the fireplace may be credited with helping to convince you to purchase the home in the first place.

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If you want to enjoy your fireplace for years to come, it will need proper maintenance. Most people have the chimney swept every year, which is a good practice but often not enough. The majority of homeowners neglect one piece of chimney care that might result in thousands of dollars in damage: winter effects.

With a masonry chimney, the exterior construction will consist of any material such as brick, stone, mortar or concrete. Additionally, the internal materials may include steel, cast iron or flue tile. Your chimney has some combination of these and each one, except stone, can experience damage after years of exposure to cold, snowy winters.

Brick, mortar and concrete are all very porous materials and will readily absorb water, which includes melted snow as well. When these waterlogged materials go through the freeze and thaw cycle of winter, they also undergo needless distress. This stress inevitably expands and weakens the structure, which leads to cracks or even collapse. While stone is immune to the freeze and thaw stress, if your chimney is made of stone, you still need to watch for water damage. The mortar securing the stones experiences the damages of freezing and needs inspection and repairs even if the stone is unharmed.

The melted snow can also leak inside the chimney, where the steel flue will rust. Now, water can infiltrate the inside of the masonry, which means further damage. If the water travels down the chimney, the damper apparatus eventually rusts, so the fireplace may fail to vent properly. The water may go on to cause more damage such as rusted fireplace face and doors, deteriorated hearth, and soaked ceilings or walls around the fireplace.

The cost of preventing these damages is much more reasonable than paying for the repairs. To properly prevent water damage from melted snow, you have a few options.

Water will first enter the chimney through the top. Having a chimney service install a chimney cap is a great, inexpensive way to prevent interior water damage. Some masonry chimneys also have a structure known as a crown. This concrete slab acts as a roof for the chimney to prevent water from leaking inside. Over time, the concrete will crack, so the crown may require patching or complete replacement to ensure proper water resistance. Another part of the chimney that may leak is the flashing, or the aluminum cover that seals the seam where the chimney protrudes through the roof. The flashing is sealed with tar, which may simply need to be redone. A good way to protect the outside of the chimney is to have a chimney service apply a sealant. The vapor-permeable sealant allows moisture to escape but prevent exterior water from entering the porous materials.

If you live in the areas of Boston, Massachusetts; Portland, Maine, or North Shore, contact Billy Sweet Chimney Sweep for a professional consultation. These experts will ensure your chimney and fireplace will hold up for many more winters to come.