Common Chimney Problems in Aging & Historic Homes in the Cincinnati/ Northern Kentucky Market
Since at least the 1940s, the absence of a chimney liner in a chimney has been recognized as an imminent danger. Historic homes that reflect the architecture and charm of designs from our history have tremendous appeal, but with an old home comes an old chimney. In aging and historic homes, chimney problems are inevitable. This is a list of some of the most common problems associated with the chimneys in old and historic homes.
Dangers of Having No Chimney Liner
Fire safety experts continue to share a quote from that time period in which it was said that not having a chimney liner is hazardous at a near-criminal level.
In the 1950’s Chimney liners became mandatory in the U.S. Historic homes from the 1940s and earlier were usually built with no chimney liner, just bricks and not even fire bricks. These bricks are substandard for fireplaces and can create a lot of issues in a chimney. The following are the primary dangers associated with using any chimney that is not protected with a liner.
The Threat of a House Fire Due to Pyrolysis
A chimney liner protects against fire getting to combustibles which are not fuel (Like your house) When a fireplace is used without a flue liner or with a damaged liner, the exposed combustion materials go through a gradual process known as pyrolysis. As a result of pyrolysis, the structures are altered so that they combust at a much lower temperature. With no warning, a house fire will ignite and spread rapidly throughout the home.
Highly Combustible Creosote
Wood fires produce creosote, a highly flammable tar-like substance that is deposited into a chimney every time a fire is lit. If a burning ember floats up the chimney, it can cause the creosote to ignite. Chimney fires are always dangerous but especially when a chimney is not lined because virtually any chimney fire could easily spread throughout the home.
Bricks are durable, lasting a century or more if undamaged. Mortar, on the other hand, lasts only about 25 years at best. The mortar should be replaced whenever it begins to deteriorate because one of its primary functions is to protect the masonry system from moisture. If moisture intrusion occurs, winter cycles of freezing and thawing create movement in the bricks that break them down. A chimney will begin to lean and could even collapse when this occurs, though moisture can get in through other avenues besides damaged mortar as well.
Spalling is evidence of masonry damage. Spalling is when the front face of the brick pops off, and piles of debris around the chimney on the roof or the ground below provide evidence that the destructive process is occurring.
Exposure to Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is one of the byproducts of fires. Chimney liners keep this toxic combustible gases from fires contained in the chimney until they escape to the outdoors. In the absence of a chimney liner or with a broken one, these gases enter the residence. Carbon Monoxide is known as a silent killer because it is odorless, tasteless, invisible, and symptomless and escape from the deadly fumes is often impossible.
Normal settling of a house doesn’t necessarily cause foundation damage, but in older homes, there is a greater chance of damage caused by a shifting foundation due to the additional time. Cracks in the masonry is one of the symptoms of settling. When the cracks form, they begin to absorb water and then the water freezes and expands the cracks even larger.
TODAY• September 22, 2020
A massive fire that destroyed Rachael Ray’s New York home in August was started in the chimney, according to the celebrity chef. The sad news comes as a reminder to homeowners about the dangers of chimneys as fall begins and cold weather approaches.
Ray told “Entertainment Tonight” the fire started after the fireplace “burped,” causing the roof to catch on fire. The house in Lake Luzerne, about an hour north of Albany, was only 15 years old, she said, and they had the chimney cleaned twice a year.
“Basically the fireplace burped, and when it burped onto the roof, the roof lit, and just the way the day was and the weather, it just went up in kind of no time, but it burned for a long time,” she explained. “It caught again the next day for a short time.”
Russ Dimmitt, director of education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America, told TODAY that the “burp” Ray describes could have been caused by creosote — the deposits that are left in your chimney after you burn wood.
“If you have a chimney fire, what happens is that creosote is very flammable as it burns,” he explained. “It can burn so violently that it will actually shoot some creosote out top and it might land on the roof.”
Dimmitt said that with chimney fires like Ray’s, there’s lot of investigating to be done to determine the actual cause. But it does highlight the dangers associated with having a fireplace at home. Low section of couple resting by fireplace at home (Cavan Images / Getty Images)
According to data provided to TODAY by the National Fire Protection Association, fireplaces or chimneys were involved in an average of 16,030 fires per year from 2012-2016, with an average of 40 civilian deaths, 80 civilian injuries, and $256 million in direct property damage annually.
It’s scary to think about, but there are steps you can take right now to help prevent a chimney fire at your own home.
Have it professionally inspected and cleaned
The NFPA reports that the leading factor contributing to home heating fires is failure to clean the equipment. The organization recommends having your chimney inspected and cleaned every year by a qualified professional who can check to make sure it’s structurally sound and in good working order.
Make sure the wood you burn is dry
Man putting wood in fireplace (Johner Images / Getty Images)
Burning wet wood can create more flammable material deposits (creosote) on the inside of the chimney, Dimmitt explained. That’s why it’s important to make sure the wood you use is dry. “The ideal moisture content for wood to burn is between 15-25%,” he said. “If you just go cut wood, it’s going to be 50% moisture content or higher. So in order to dry that, you really have to split it.”
To split wood, cut it lengthwise so more surface area is exposed, and do so at least six months before you use it, he advised. Also, don’t put anything else in the fireplace except for wood.
“No Christmas trees,” Dimmitt said, adding that doing so can result in a massive house fire.
Make sure you have a chimney cap and take other precautions
Chimney caps are designed to keep animals out, said Dimmitt. “It’s possible (they’ll still come in), but they’ve got to really want to get in there,” he said.
Without a chimney cap, animals can nest inside. When you light a fire, the nesting material can ignite a chimney fire.
Other things you’ll want to ensure: Make sure there are no branches or trees within 15 feet of the top of your chimney, always keep your hearth area clean and void of combustibles, use a sturdy screen to prevent sparks from flying into the room, and never leave the fire unattended.
Know the indications of a chimney fire
“You might hear loud cracking or popping noises,” Dimmitt said. “There might be dense smoke coming out of your chimney. There might be a hot smell — everyone knows that hot smell, although we can’t really describe it.”
Gas fireplaces can also create problems
“It’s possible for someone to think, ‘Well, I don’t have wood so I don’t have a problem to worry about,’” Dimmitt said. “That’s actually not true.”
Your furnace or water heater could be vented into your chimney, and if the chimney is blocked for any reason, carbon monoxide could be coming into your home.
“With a gas burning appliance in particular you don’t have any smoke so you may not know you have a problem,” Dimmitt said. That’s why it’s important to have both carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in your home, he added.
Below is a list of the remedies used by Best Cincinnati Chimney to fix chimney liner issues that can lead to house fires.
- Flue Tiles – Used mostly for straight , short chimneys, this method of lining is used mostly on new construction. You generally cannot replace Terra cotta tiles but you can repair them.
- HeatShield® Cerfractory Flue Sealant Restores Your Chimney tiles– HeatShield® is a specially formulated “Cerfractory®” sealant material that restores the integrity of your chimney’s flue to vent hazardous flue gases from your home. It eliminates the dangers in your chimney caused by gaps, cracks and spalling for years to come. Best Cincinnati Chimney is a certified HeatSheild distributor. By using either the Joint Repair System or Resurfacing System, depending on the defects found, your chimney can be restored to its original peak level of safety and efficiency. View the HeatShield® manufacturer’s website.
- Stainless Steel Liners – This method of relining involves installing a round or oval stainless steel liner in the chimney. The liner can be either rigid or flexible; flexible liners are used for chimneys with offsets. Stainless steel liners are used mainly for woodstoves and oil furnace installations. Best Cincinnati Chimney offers UL Listed stainless steel lining systems that come with a manufacturer’s Lifetime Warranty.
- Aluminum – This method is similar to stainless steel, but the liner is made of aluminum. Aluminum liners do not tolerate the heat that stainless steel will. Aluminum liners can only be used to vent certain types of gas appliances. Note: Gas logs intended for installation in wood-burning fireplaces may not be vented with aluminum liners. We do not recommend, nor will we install aluminum liners in woodburning fireplaces or stoves.
WATER LEAKS IN MASONRY
At Best Cincinnati Chimney we know that durability of masonry depends primarily on its resistance to water penetration and water leaks. Water leaks can cause corrosion, deterioration, dimensional damage, efflorescence, freeze-thaw spalling, staining, damage to interior finishes, and, ultimately, structural failure.
It is well established that water will penetrate a masonry wall that is one unit thick. Even if built to every requirement masonry work can always leak. Material selection, the design itself and the quality of construction can all be factors in water resistance. Understanding the causes and mechanisms of water penetration in masonry will enable technicians to better diagnose and solve problems before severe damage occurs.
The main source of masonry water leaks is driving rains, and the level of penetration is affected by rain quantity and wind pressure. The directional consistency of wind-driven rains can create severe water damage to the affected side of an exposed masonry surface. Damage from wind-driven rain is most severe at the corners and top of a wall or chimney system because of changes in air flow patterns at these locations. Since wind speed and rainfall are such critical factors, a driving rain index for the United States was developed to illustrate climatic patterns. The driving rain index considers the average wind speed and rainfall for the country and creates zones on a scale of one to five, with ‘one’ indicating the least and ‘five’ the greatest exposure. Most severe water damage in masonry occurs in ranges three, four, and five due to frequent freeze-thaw cycles.
Once masonry walls are exposed to hours of driving rains, they usually reach a saturation point. Saturated walls will take from one to several days to lose most of this water. Trees, plants, and micro-organisms like algae can prevent it from drying. With cumulative cycles, a saturation point can be reached in masonry pores that often leads to leaks or damage to the wall system.
Water leaks can also be caused by condensation within the wall system itself. Chimney systems are especially vulnerable to condensation because water vapor is a large component of flue gases. Most of the water vapor escapes out the flue, but some will pass through tile liners and the mortar joints between the liners.
The greatest exposure to condensation occurs during the heating season as surface wetting and use of the system produce high humidity in the air cavities surrounding the liners. When the temperature of outer masonry walls of a chimney falls below the temperature of the air in the cavity, condensation often occurs on the inside walls. Masonry units can absorb up to .5 lbs of water from condensation; though masonry is relatively dense, it is also a porous material composed of a network of interconnected pores called capillaries that circulate water by means of suction. Capillary suction is an important factor for openings smaller than 0.5mm. Pores in clay brick generally have a diameter of about 0.01mm, while hairline cracks can range between 0.1mm to 1mm in width.
Water can enter a wall system through pores and cracks in the masonry units and the mortar joints, but very often water seeps through cracks or separations between the masonry and mortar. The water accumulates until it either penetrates to the interior, drains to flashings where it is redirected through weep holes, or simply evaporates through the exterior wall.
Although we try hard to solve water leaks, they can be very difficult to diagnose and even harder to stop. If you have a water leak going in, it may not be solved by the first attempt. Water leaks are not the fault of the last guy on the roof.
As a homeowner, it is important that your home and each of its components stay in good shape. Regular chimney maintenance and repair will allow you to keep your home structurally safe and it will also ensure that its value is protected against depreciation.
One area that many homeowners frequently neglect to maintain is their chimney maintenance. Roof cleaning and chimney cleaning are often left out of mind simply because they are usually out of sight. While brick chimneys are usually robust for years, indeed, they may be the last thing that remains standing in an old building, they require periodic repairs to remain completely stable and aesthetically pleasing.
What Is Tuckpointing?
Mortar in your chimney usually has a life expectancy of about twenty-five years. After that, it can start to break down and corrode. The deteriorated mortar around the bricks in your chimney allows rain and snow to infiltrate your chimney and damage it from within. This sounds as bad as it is.
Since it is actually the mortar of your chimney that requires touching up and not the bricks themselves, tuckpointing involves routing out the damaged and deteriorating mortar from your chimney and replacing it. Indeed, tuckpointingis the ideal procedure for keeping your chimney in top shape. Tuckpointing gets to the heart of the problem to repair your chimney without disturbing its original design.
How Does It Work?
The process behind tuckpointing is not complicated but it takes a professional hand to do it right. By hiring a professional home services company, you can be confident that the original look and form of your chimney will remain intact. When the team arrives at your home, they will:
- Remove the deteriorating mortar from your chimney.
- Apply new mortar to the cleaned-out grooves.
- Ensure that the coloration of the mortar is consistent with the existing brickwork.
What Are The Benefits?
It is worthwhile to invest in a professional tuckpointing treatment from an established chimney services provider because the costs of replacing a collapsed or damaged chimney can be expensive. Falling bricks may even require more extensive roof repair and the bills for that can add up. Tuckpointing also keeps the interior of your home safe from moisture damage, around the chimney, and will ensure that more serious repairs in your home are not needed.
Keeping your chimney looking its best through tuckpointing will also ensure that your fireplace continues to be a part of your home that adds value to the property rather than detracting from its appeal, especially alongside the right interior painting job. When the time comes to sell your home, prospective buyers will certainly appreciate the condition that your chimney is in due to you conducting regular chimney maintenance.
Inspections And Chimney Maintenance By The Professionals
Extend the life of your chimney by having your home inspected by a chimney services company and having regular chimney maintenance work carried out. Professional roof services companies will also be able to assist you with any power washing or roofing needs that you might have. If you think that your chimney could use some repair, simple chimney maintenance or if you have never had a professional tuckpointing treatment before, then it is important to get on top of this right away.
There is not much worse of a feeling than waking up to water inside your home. A leaking chimney can lead water throughout your home and cause damage to everything from floors to interior painting. That is why it is important to spot areas that need chimney repair as soon as possible. Proper chimney maintenance can point out any weaknesses in your system, hopefully, while they are still minor issues.
A leaking chimney can present a whole host of problems to your home and your family, so you must do everything you can to keep this from happening. There are a variety of ways you can help secure yourself from a chimney disaster, but the most important thing is to remember to take care of it. You can have the best intentions in the world, but forgetting to carry out regular chimney maintenance can cause some major problems.
Keep reading below for some great tips to avoid an expensive chimney repair due to a leaking chimney.
Check Mortar Joints
This is probably a task that is best suited to a professional, as it is quite possible to miss something with your untrained eye. The best time to have this stuff checked out is when you are having your annual chimney cleaning done. The seasonal changes in Cincinnati tend to make the mortar retract and expand, thus creating weak spots and breaks. Your chimney specialist can take care of any joints that are not looking good anymore and make sure there is no possibility of water leaking in through your roofing.
Caps Prevent Leaks
Adding a cap to the top of your chimney is not just for aesthetic purposes as they serve a big purpose. The harder it is for water to get inside your chimney, the harder it will be to do any damage inside your home. Chimney repair is an expensive process once the water gets to it, so adding a cap will give you a much better chance of keeping it in good shape.
Check The Chimney Crown
During your regular chimney maintenance, it is quite likely you will have someone power washing it and getting up-close and personal to do inspections. An educated professional will take a look at the crown, which is normally a concrete slab that protects the chimney interior from nature. There could be cracks or damage to the crown which will allow water to get in, thus causing more issues in the long run.
Add Vapor Barrier
These days a lot of experts agree that a waterproof vapor barrier is the best way to go for extra leak protection. Installing a barrier will cost very little compared to chimney rebuilding, and it can save the rest of your home as well. It pays to get extra protection for your home in areas such as this.
Chimney Repair And Maintenance Stop Leaks
There is a very common theme here when we talk about leaks in your chimney; most of them can be prevented. Chimney repair may be expensive, but it is the price you must pay to keep your home safe and warm. The alternative will cost you a lot more, so it is always best to play it safe and do the required maintenance.
Chimney cleaning is something that people tend to put off or forget about far too often. Your chimney is more than just an aesthetic piece of your home, it provides a variety of functions, as long as you take care of it. You want it working as intended to provide not only a way to vent smoke and fumes but to help save you money on your heating bills. If you don’t pay close enough attention you may end up with some expensive chimney repair work on your hands.
The chimney and corresponding fire source also provide a gathering place and social aspect to your family life. By performing the proper chimney maintenance when it is supposed to be done, you will give your family the best chance at enjoying it for a very long time to come. You will never know how important your chimney is until you can’t use it anymore.
Continue reading below to see exactly why you need to take care of your chimney, and why it is so important to your home.
Chimney Cleanings Help Avoid Expensive Repairs
Most homeowners should know that just like replacing your roofing, repairing or replacing a chimney is not a small or insignificant task. It can be extremely costly, depending on the scale, and is not something any homeowner would want to shell out money for. Something as simple as doing a regular chimney sweeping and inspection can point out minor issues before they become major headaches.
It would make sense to carry out less expensive maintenance and small repairs regularly than to get into chimney rebuilding due to forgetfulness. This would be like spending money to do an interior painting job without cleaning the walls first. Preventative maintenance is the key here and keeping up on small issues and keeping things clean will make sure your chimney has a long life.
Save Money On Heating Bills
Everyone likes to save money as it is essential to living a comfortable life. Annual chimney cleanings, such as power washing, will go a long way to keep your chimney healthy and working well. Keeping your chimney clean will keep it free from any build-up that may happen, either from nature or the fumes going through the chimney itself. It is also going to keep it looking its best and add value to your home.
It Keeps Your Family Safe And Secure
This is by far the most important aspect of having regular chimney cleanings at your home. These cleanings will help keep anything from coming back into the home that should be going out. Smoke from different types of fires and heating systems will be full of toxins that you and your family could get very sick from. By doing the preventative maintenance you will be going the extra mile to keep your loved ones safe.
Chimney Cleanings Are Common Sense
Now that you can see how important it is that you keep your chimney in proper order, you can understand why chimney cleanings are a very popular service in the area. As with most things in home maintenance, your chimney will need attention and regular maintenance to work safely and effectively. You owe it to yourself and your family to keep it running the way it should.
Having a real brick chimney and fireplace in your home is a huge benefit in those nasty cold Cincinnati winters. There are numerous benefits to having a chimney in your home, yet these benefits don’t come without some extra work. Chimney repair is a necessity with any brick and mortar chimney regardless of where it is and how it was built. Your chimney is going to need some tender love and care to make sure your fireplace is always running safely and efficiently.
The process of tuckpointing may be one that most homeowners have never heard of. Anyone familiar with chimney repair will understand the term, as it is a very common way to deal with damage over time. Every chimney is going to experience damage and destruction from mother nature, it is your job to keep up with maintenance to keep it working the way it should.
Keep reading if you are interested in learning more about the process of tuckpointing and why it is needed.
Chimney Repair Is A Necessity
There is no maybe or might when it comes to doing repairs to a brick and mortar chimney. If you are not cautious and keeping up with maintenance you could find yourself doing some chimney rebuilding way before you thought you would. All mortar will start to dry out and crack over time, especially when you have a rough year weather-wise. Chimney maintenance is going to ensure that you keep your unit safe and also that you don’t run into any gigantic extra costs.
What Is Tuckpointing?
It may sound like a complicated process, but tuckpointing is simply an elaborate way to describe brick and mortar chimney repair. While this is not the only way to get the job done, it has been used very successfully for many years. It is going to start with a chimney cleaning that may include powerwashing or chimney sweeping. This is to make sure they don’t have any dirt or debris in the way when doing the repairs.
The experts will then start removing the old grout, normally there will be red grout and white grout to deal with. They will make sure the grooves where the old mortar was removed is as symmetrical and similar as possible. This is going to ensure the new grout goes in properly and uniformly to give you a perfect seal. Once the red mortar has been set in place they will then apply grooves to the middle and add the mortar you typically associate with these chimneys, white.
You Must Take Care Of Your Chimney
You must ensure that you carry out the necessary annual inspections and maintenance to your chimney and fireplace. Chimney repairs can add up fast if you don’t take the time to care for your chimney. If it gets bad enough you could have a chimney fire and if that happens you may need an interior paint job as well. Fire and smoke need to be respected, and one of the best ways to respect these is to take care of your chimney properly at home.
Before you find yourself in the situation where you need to look at chimney rebuilding you should take some time to learn about chimney maintenance and repair. Having a chimney and fireplace is certainly a privilege, and it is also quite the responsibility at the end of the homeowner. Many things can go wrong with your chimney if you don’t take care of it, and chimney repair like tuckpointing can have some major benefits.
Tuckpointing is the process of scraping and removing all the old and dry mortar, that has been damaged over the years and replacing it with fresh mortar. This may sound like a fairly simple process but it takes a lot of training and experience to do the job right. Chimney rebuilding is something that no homeowner wants to get into, it is expensive and time-consuming, you are always much better off doing your annual maintenance and chimney cleaning.
Keep reading for more information on the benefits that tuckpointing can provide for your chimney and fireplace.
It Is Cheaper Than Chimney Rebuilding
If you have never had the pleasure of going through a full chimney rebuild, you can trust that it is something you don’t need to experience in your lifetime. Sometimes you cannot help it, due to an accident or horrific weather, but other times it can be completely on you for not doing the routine maintenance. Chimney sweeping and powerwashing should become part of your annual routine and you won’t have to worry about chimney rebuilding any time soon.
Tuckpointing Keeps The Water Out
Just about the most important part of keeping your chimney and fireplace running well is to keep the water out of it. When mortar starts to dry out and crack over time it creates tiny spaces for water to start to force its way in. Once the water starts to get in it is downright impossible to stop it without doing repairs. If water starts getting in through your chimney, you may find some interior painting on the to-do list next.
Tuckpointing Keeps The Smoke Flowing Correctly
The last thing you want to worry about when you have a fire roaring is the smoke escaping back into your home. Smoke is very dangerous and needs to be ventilated and controlled to make sure it doesn’t hurt you or your family. If you were to leave a leak unrepaired over time you could be looking at serious smoke damage to your home and even major health problems for you and your family.
Tuckpointing Raises Your Home’s Value
Anything that is going to make your home safer, more efficient, and look better is going to add to the value of a listing. Newer masonry work is going to be one of the first things that stands out to potential buyers. If you want more out of your home when you sell it, tuckpointing may be exactly what you require.
Benefits Outweigh Costs
When you are assessing if you should spend on a home improvement project the main question is normally if the price will be worth the time, effort and cost. Tuckpointing and chimney rebuilding is not going to keep you from needing chimney sweeping, but it will make sure your chimney and fireplace are in good working order, looking well, and will stand up to mother nature for another year.
If you own a home there is a very good chance that the home has a chimney to help, at least, with the ventilation. Chimney maintenance is something that doesn’t get brought up enough on average but is something that is most definitely worth talking about. If you talk to anyone in roofing or chimney repair they would all agree that an annual inspection is one of the most import parts of keeping your home safe as well as energy-efficient.
An inspection every year is key to picking up on any issues that may be developing. You will always be much better off fixing a small problem at the root before it starts to grow and cause something much worse to happen down the line. So, it is time to start adding an inspection to the annual list of tasks around the house, it could end up making a big difference.
For more information on chimney inspections, and why they are so important, continue reading.
You Can’t See Everything
Depending on your level of expertise in home design, you may, or may not know that most of your chimney is actually hidden in your home. That is why it is so important to get a certified CSIA inspector to take a look, maybe during your annual chimney sweeping. These professionals are trained to look for any irregularities throughout the whole system and not just what is visible above or outside your home.
The average homeowner is not going to be well versed enough to detect chimney maintenance problems on their own, especially if they are at minor levels. Trust in a professional to get in there and find any small problems before they have a chance to become larger ones. It may seem like a bit of an extra cost upfront, but it is well worth it for peace of mind alone.
Preventative Chimney Maintenance
If you were to look at your home like it was a human body, the chimney would undoubtedly be the lungs. So, when looking at it like this it would make sense to get an annual check-up to make sure everything is working properly. Your house needs to breathe to be healthy and happy, and it is up to you to make that a priority. Between power washing and chimney cleaning, every year make sure you get an expert in to make sure your home is breathing properly.
Small Problems, Small Fixes
Unless you are doing some chimney rebuilding or repair you may not think about having yours inspected by a professional. While these types of projects always require some professional care, you should now know that it certainly isn’t the only time they should happen. By getting a CSIA certified inspector every year you will be able to save money on major repairs and keep you and your family safe and comfortable. It is most definitely worth a short inspection every year to make sure your chimney is working properly and not going to give you any surprises.