When people think of getting ready for winter, issues like insulation, window seals and furnace maintenance are often top priorities. Fewer people realize that your chimney also needs some pre-winter maintenance and care. Having professional inspections and maintenance before the freezing weather starts can keep chimneys in safe working order all winter long.

For many people, the fall, winter and early spring are when they are most likely to use their fireplace and chimney. After all, there’s nothing like a roaring fire inside while it’s blustery and cold outside. Those extreme weather conditions can damage your chimney right when you most need it in working condition. That’s why you need to take steps before the winter season to make sure your chimney is in tip-top shape.

Freezing and Thawing Is Hard on Masonry

Aging masonry develops cracks, which can result in serious water damage. Small cracks and fissures in masonry can present opportunities for major weather-related damage. The masonry, the mortar and even the bricks of the chimney may be permeable and porous. Water from snow and rain seeps into these tiny spaces. Then, it expands when it freezes. Tiny cracks result. Over time, those cracks can expand and spread. This can lead to your mortar crumbling and your chimney falling rapidly into disrepair.

By the time your chimney is visibly breaking down or has pieces falling off, the repairs needed could be very extensive. After all, the bigger the cracks and crevices, the more water gets in and the worse the resulting damage. Eventually, that will mean water getting through your roof and into your home itself. Your roof, your attic, even your interior ceilings and walls could end up damaged. Ideally, you’ll have the chimney cared for before it reaches this point.

Inspect Your Chimney at Least Twice a Year

You should inspect your chimney at least twice a year. For many people, this means hiring a chimney care specialist to go up on the roof. These inspections are critical to ensuring proper maintenance is performed as needed. Rebuilding your chimney or making major repairs can end up being much more expensive that annual maintenance and inspections.

Issues you should be looking for include mortar that’s crumbling, pieces of bricks that are falling off, damage to the chimney crown or cap, staining inside in areas near the chimney, pieces of the flue breaking off into the fireplace, and even a rusted damper that won’t shut. If you or a professional notice any of these issues, it’s possible you need to do some work on your chimney before the winter hits.

Invest in a Little Structural Maintenance

A chimney cap is the topmost part of a chimney, which extends beyond the edges of the masonry. The idea is to keep water from running down the chimney flue. The crown of your chimney should be cared for, as it diverts water from both the flue and the external edges of your chimney. You should also have flashing around the base and maybe a cricket to divert water. Ask the person who sweeps or cleans your chimney in the spring or fall to inspect the crown and cap.

If you haven’t done it recently, this year is probably a good time to apply a waterproofing agent to your chimney and surrounding masonry. These waterproofing products seal out water and prevent the damaging cycle of freezing, cracking and thawing. It won’t reverse damage that’s already happened to your chimney, but it can protect the bricks, stones and mortar of your masonry chimney from the worst effects of freezing water damage. In the spring, those with pre-existing damage may want to engage the services of a chimney professional to repair and replace damaged parts of the chimney.