Are you a Responsible Chimney Owner?

Being a responsible chimney owner is like being a responsible pet owner.  Each year you get a notice from your veterinarian to bring your pet in for a wellness checkup.  Although you can’t take your chimney to the vet, the same recommendation for an annual exam applies.  The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) recommends annual structural checks and sweeping with mechanical means as necessary.  Actually, a good rule of thumb, especially in Colorado Springs where we tend to burn a lot of pine and aspen, the system should be swept after every cord of wood burned.

It is often overlooked that having a wood-burning fireplace in your home means you have FIRE burning at 900 – 1200o F with flue gases between 700 – 900o F inside your home.  What a lot of people don’t realize is that a chimney fire goes from 900 – 1200o to over 2000o in about 11 seconds!  Often it is the heat transfer from the chimney fire to the closest combustible substance that causes the fire to spread rather than direct flame contact.

Even if you have not used your fireplace in years, there are structural things that can occur which could compromise the safety of its use.  Some of these may include: a damper that will not open or stay open, a firebox backwall that is unstable, or flue tiles that have a crack or cracks that will not contain the flue gases and allow carbon monoxide and/or fire into the home.  These are all conditions, that as a typical home/chimney owner, would not be on our radar.  That’s where a professional chimney sweep company such as Dr. SOOT will provide the trained eyes to asses and document your system.

Look at the following picture. 

      

This is an example of a chimney that is beginning to lean away from the house.  This is a structural issue that will only get worse, potentially, with time.  Although some companies might put a wider trim piece to cover the discrepancy and caulk it over, the correct answer is to mudjack the base to re-right the chimney.  Although Dr. SOOT does not do the mudjacking we can provide high quality referrals for conditions not covered.

A lot of houses built before 1980 have masonry systems as shown below.  Many of the builders in our area built the tops of the chimneys with only about 2 – 3 inches of cement.  This cement top Dr. SOOT refers to as the chimney crown, though many inspectors and realtors refer to it as the “cap”.  When these systems were built there was no local building code defining the thickness required.  Due to this oversight, after 40+ years of weathering, with temperature swings up to 40o F in a day, the crowns virtually disintegrate.

                  Example of Before

Example of After

Using forms that are 5” thick, and filling them to the brim and building in a slight slope for runoff, these crowns can be rebuilt so that the homeowner can be assured of 40+ years of life from the new chimney crown.