Old Houses and Chimney Issues
If you buy an old home with a fireplace and chimney, it can be dangerous to assume that the chimney is safe to use without first having a professional chimney sweep give it a careful inspection. Many fires occur every year because homeowners use a fireplace without first checking to be sure that it is safe to use. When it comes to chimneys that are 50 years old and older, there are additional issues that could be hazardous.
Pyrolysis. One of the most unexpected hazards that catches many homeowners by surprise involves pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is decomposition brought about by high temperatures. Over the course of 50 and even up to 100 years, the wood that is just behind bricks on fireplaces and chimneys in old homes can become dried out and finally ignite, due to pyrolysis. The lack of clearance between the wood and heat from the fire is what creates this danger over time.
Building requirements were different in previous years. If you live in a home that is 60 years old or older, pyrolysis is one of the possible dangers you may be exposed to.
No Chimney Lining. While chimney linings are requirements in new homes and business that are built today, that was not always the case. Liners are the chief safety feature of a chimney, and they also enhance the operation of a chimney. It’s possible you may not have the insurance coverage you think you have if there is no chimney liner. Sometimes homeowners find that they aren’t covered following a major fire because there was no liner. The following are reasons to have a liner installed before using your fireplace again:
- There is a much greater chance that deadly carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes will be released into the home, if there is no chimney liner.
- If your chimney lacks a liner or has a damaged chimney liner, the gaps can expose combustible materials to extreme heat that eventually starts a house fire.
- Whenever you use your fireplace, flammable creosote deposits get on the inside of the flue. All it might take to start a chimney fire is a spark. Chimney fires are excessively hot and are the causes of many house fires.
- A chimney with no lining usually has poor drafting, which means that performance of the chimney is diminished.
- Large amounts of condensation are produced when a modern gas appliance is used with a chimney. The moisture of the condensation can cause deterioration, especially during freeze and thaw cycles in winter.
Deterioration of Mortar and Masonry. Bricks were fired differently in the 17th Century and the 18th Century; and as a result of firing methods, the bricks were far superior to today’s bricks. While the bricks can hold up to the test of time, the mortar that holds bricks together only typically lasts about a quarter of a century. Even the best made bricks start leaning and perhaps even collapse if the mortar wears away.
“Tuckpointing” is a procedure that replaces damaged mortar and can usually prevent the need to completely rebuild a chimney. Tuckpointing strengthens the entire chimney, gives it a new look, and restores the original shape.
Old homes and their fireplaces have undeniable beauty and charm; but, because of the condition of the chimney, it’s not always safe to use an old fireplace. Our professional chimney sweeps can perform an inspection and cleaning, to ensure that you can safely enjoy a cozy fire in your home.
Northeastern Chimney, Inc
37 Cody Street, West Hartford, CT 06110