Your Chimney and The Wicked Witch of the West
Just like the Wicked Witch of the West… “I’m meeeelting”
Water is Your Chimney’s Biggest Enemy too!
Spring and Summer is a time when moisture of all kinds will be bombarding your chimney. The freezing and thawing cycles of the winter may have opened up cracks and gaps that can be exploited by the humid and wet days that lie ahead. Water trumps fire in more ways than one. Water is commonly used to put out fires, but it can also destroy the structures that allows you to enjoy your fireplaces and stoves. All chimneys and especially those in climates like Connecticut and New England must be able to withstand harsh weather, and while strong winds can cause problems, moisture causes the most damage. Unfortunately, by the time the damage is noticeable, lots of destruction may have already taken place. An annual Chimney Inspection is recommended to help prevent chimney problems. Every homeowner should also know how to spot the warning signs of a chimney in disarray themselves. Let’s take a look at a few common problems and what should be done to correct them.
Protect your Chimney from Water Damage and Repair Existing Problems:
Problem: Rust and Liner Deterioration
Everyone knows that water causes rust, so finding rust inside of your chimney is an immediate warning sign that there is excess moisture in the chimney. The firebox may have rusted or some part of the damper may show some water damage. There could also be more damage that is not visible, such as the weakening or destruction of the metal parts or metal liner within the chimney. No matter where the water damage is inside the chimney structure, it is important to find out where this excess moisture is coming from in order to keep it from causing any further issues. Clay Tile Chimney Liners will also crack when the brick exterior of the chimney allows water into the tiles. The smallest crack in the tile is all it takes to open the door to serious damage.
Solution: Chimney Cap, Flashing and Crown Checks
Since this is an exterior problem, there are a few different factors that may have had an effect on how the moisture entered the structure. One of the first places to look should be at the top of the chimney flue. A missing chimney cap is a common cause for water damage inside of a chimney. The cap prevents rainwater, leaves, animals and anything else unwanted from entering the chimney system and if one does not currently exist, it should be installed immediately.
If the chimney cap is in place and in good working condition, check the flashing and chimney crown. Both of these components help keep the structure sealed from outside moisture and sometimes become damaged or deteriorated. If this is the case, have a chimney professional repair these features to prevent more damage from occurring and also to ensure that other problems do not develop. Rusted Flashing that allows moisture in can cause leaks in your attic and ceilings around the chimney leading to wood rot and extensive damage.
Problem: Cracked or Missing Mortar
One common problem chimneys will have is that water and regular wear and tear will cause the mortar between the bricks to start to deteriorate. This is a serious concern for the integrity of the structure as missing or damaged mortar will allow water to get behind the bricks and cause structural damage. It also brings up some superficial concerns about the chimney as cracks become apparent and pieces begin to fall from the brick structure. This destruction is caused by a combination of house settling and the repeated freezing and thawing of the snow and ice during the Connecticut winters.
A process called tuckpointing is the best solution for crumbling mortar joints. The problem is taken care of by removing the damaged mortar and replacing it with fresh mortar with special tools designed for the job that will hold all of the pieces of the chimney together. During this process damaged bricks are also removed and replaced.
Tuckpointing will not only repair the damage that has recently occurred, but it will also prevent further damage to the surrounding bricks. This process will also prevent the water that caused the damage from leaking into your home and causing more damage to the interior of the structure. One great thing about tuckpointing is that you only need to repair the damaged area of the chimney and for aesthetic reasons the color of the original brick and mortar will be matched. This way, the repair will look more like a brand new chimney than a simple patch job. Tuckpointing is an important repair as it will ensure strong and water-resistant joints between the bricks that will increase the life of the chimney and also prevent against future chimney repairs and damage to chimney liners.
Problem: Broken or Damaged Brick Surface
Spalling is the technical word for the face of the brick breaking off from the chimney walls. You may notice brick pieces on the ground along the chimney or if the damage is near the bottom, you may be able to see the damage up close. Spalling is also caused by water damage. In this case, water seeps into the pores of the brick and when they inevitably freeze and thaw during the winter time, this cycle causes the surface of the brick to break away. Once the surface of the brick is missing, the brick is now useless as a structural component of the chimney because it no longer offers any support. Therefore it is necessary to stay on top of repairs such as this so that it does not continue to get worse and cause problems that develop into costly repairs or even necessitate a replacement chimney.
Solution: Waterproofing your Chimney
Although there are many causes for moisture getting into your chimney system and as a result, many repairs, the most common fix for spalling is “waterproofing” the exterior of the structure. This water repellent treatment is made specifically for chimneys, technically there is no such thing as waterproofing a chimney but these solutions do add an important water resistant coating that helps extend the life of the chimney. Natural brick is a porous material that absorbs water and brings it to the interior of the chimney. To prevent water from passing through chimneys, the treatment is made from a special formula that is “vapor permeable”. This means that water from the interior can pass out to the exterior of the structure, but moisture from the outside cannot enter. This way the material is still allowed to breathe, it just will not allow in water that will cause problems. Inside moisture is allowed to escape but no new water from the exterior may enter.
It seems unlikely, but water is actually more of a threat to a chimney than fire. While chimney fires are certainly a concern, water damage accounts for the majority of structural problems with masonry chimneys. Water can rust the firebox, crack the flue liner, cause the exterior to deteriorate, and rot the adjacent wood on the home, among other problems. For these reasons, it is worthwhile to invest in preventative measures and stay on top of maintenance so that problems such as excess moisture can be all together avoided or stopped in the early (and inexpensive) stages. Regular annual visits from a professional chimney sweep are advised to keep your chimney system dry and running well.
Northeastern Chimney, Inc • 37 Cody Street, West Hartford, CT 06110 • Phone: 860-233-5770