Concise Guide to Chimneys
Whether you own a home that has a fireplace or are considering having one installed, it is imperative that you understand the inner workings of a chimney for a number of reasons. Most importantly, of course, is the fact that a chimney that is dirty and in a state of disrepair can be an extreme fire hazard. However, proper installation, repair and maintenance are also integral to function as well. With proper installation and upkeep, a chimney can keep your fireplace burning for many years to come.
Twofold Purpose of Chimneys
Although we know that a chimney serves to carry smoke and toxic gases up and out of the house, a properly installed chimney also serves another equally important purpose. A properly designed and installed chimney also helps to control the ‘draft’ which feeds the fire, keeping it burning adequately. Too much as well as too little draft interferes with keeping the flame controlled and/or lit.
New chimneys should only be installed by contractors who are knowledgeable about the characteristics and functions of a chimney. While most masons are well qualified to do the job, there are a number of considerations that require specialised knowledge such as the linings, flashings and pointing which isn’t necessarily part of a mason’s area of expertise. As a result, only a licensed and experienced contractor should be employed for new chimney installations.
Any fireplaces which burn solid fuel such as coal, wood or even pellets, should be inspected annually in order to ascertain if the chimney is in good repair and clean. This is imperative in terms of fire prevention as creosote which has built up within the chimney is one of the leading causes of household fires resulting in relation to using a fireplace. The structural integrity of your fireplace also helps to prevent gases from building up in the living areas. A properly maintained and structurally sound chimney brings deadly gases up and out of the house while allowing a draft to keep the flame controlled.
After your chimney has been inspected, you may decide that the cost of repair or having a new chimney installed is cost prohibitive. A qualified contractor would be able to remove the existing chimney and seal up the area on the roof where the chimney once stood. Most reputable roofing companies are qualified to either do the removal itself or seal the area on the roof at a bare minimum. Not only is this important in terms of climate control within the home, but also to keep rain and debris from getting in causing untold structural damage.
When a chimney needs to be repaired, one of the most common problems is in the chimney lining. However, keep in mind that not all chimneys were built with a liner! This could be a problem but you can easily have a liner installed. There are several types to consider, the most common being clay tile flues. Second to clay tile flues are metal flues, but both types can easily be installed by a qualified tradesman. The absence of a flue or a flue in disrepair can cause an inordinate buildup of creosote which may lead to a fire hazard.
This is a term which may be unfamiliar to many people. A flashing simply means preventing water from entering the building at the point where the chimney meets the roof. Most often step flashing is employed all along the edges as this is where leaks would occur. Faulty or damaged flashing can oftentimes be repaired, but in most instances, this is indicative of an ever larger scale problem. If the flashing has failed, chances are you will also need a new roof as well! For this reason, qualified roofers are the best source of inspections when it comes to chimney flashings.
Many brick chimneys will need a service referred to as pointing at one time or another. In order to understand just what pointing is, consider the spaces between bricks which were mortared together to form a chimney. Over time those mortar joints crack which can lead to water infiltration. Pointing then is a process of cleaning out those joints and mortaring them again to protect against a compromised structure. A good crew will work to match the original colour and texture of the mortar as closely as possible.
There are very strict regulations regarding chimney vents because they are the part of a chimney’s construction that let deadly gases escape. Common concerns are not only fire prevention but also in terms of pollution as well. A qualified tradesman can either repair a damaged vent or install a new one in keeping with safety codes and regulations. A chimney vent in a state of disrepair can allow those potentially deadly gases to build up in the home when a fire is lit.
Most often chimney caps are used on metal chimneys; however, there are caps available for brick and mortar chimneys as well. There are two major benefits of chimney caps which include keeping water out of both the chimney as well as the structure of the home and secondly to keep birds and small animals from nesting when the fireplace and/or stove is not in use for long periods of time. A buildup of debris is an extreme fire hazard while water can lead to structural damage and may interfere with burning in the first place.
There are so many things to take into account when you have a home with a fireplace or wood burning stove. Most of us realize that a chimney needs to be inspected and cleaned periodically, but there are so many other factors which could lead to fire hazards, a buildup of toxic gases and the inability to keep a fire adequately lit. Choosing the right company to inspect, install or repair your chimney is of vital importance as your safety and the structural integrity of your home could be at stake.