Home repair is often not a topic that people want to focus on. There always seems to be something that could be improved, remodeled or repaired, and those things often cost a lot of money as well as hassle. However, while it is often frustrating, it’s also important that you keep up to date with your home repair to keep your home and its occupants safe and sound.

One of the key places to pay attention to, but one that is often overlooked, is your chimney. Here are ten common chimney problems that you should look out for in order to keep it working as it should.

1. Sooty: Just by the nature of what we use chimneys for, they have a tendency to get quite dirty. While it’s unlikely that your guests are peering into your chimney to find out just how well you cleaned up for them, this uncleanliness can cause safety hazards in the future. Fires release something called creosote into the chimney, which is a sort of black tar, in addition to soot. Not only is this flammable, and has been known to cause numerous house fires per year, but it can also block off the gasses from escaping the chimney. Carbon monoxide is odorless and tasteless, so if this gets backed up and leaks into your home, it can be incredibly dangerous. Make sure you use a bright light to check into your chimney, and get it cleaned regularly.

2. Blockage: This is an incredibly common issue with chimneys, as well as a very dangerous one. This blockage could be caused by a number of things, including leaves, birds’ nests, or even parts of the chimney that have fallen in, but it is especially common when you haven’t used you fireplace in a while. Most of the time you can tell if your chimney is blocked merely by looking into it, and if not, you can usually see or smell it as smoke will come more into the house. However, with things like gas, you can’t always tell until it’s too late. Brush over the gas flue once in a while to get out any small bits of webs or nests in order to make sure it’s working properly, and get your chimney checked out annually to ensure everything is OK.

3. Fire: This may seem like a ridiculous sounding problem to have given that you use chimneys for the purpose of having a fire, however a chimney fire is no laughing matter. If a chimney fire is happening, you should see either large amounts of flames coming out of the top, billowing black smoke, or your chimney may even sound like a freight train going through your living room. Be attentive, because you may not notice these signs if they are going on outside your home.

4. Malfunctioning Damper: Often mistakenly referred to as the “flue,” the damper is actually the plate looking object that you can open and shut to make sure you’re letting the gasses and smoke out while you have a fire going. However, if this malfunctions and doesn’t open appropriately, gasses and smoke can fill your home. Make sure the damper is open before you build your fire by looking upward for a circular disc, and ensure that it’s angled so that the smoke can pass through.

5. Leak: While it’s always important to pay attention to the state of your home, be sure to keep a keen eye on walls and ceilings that are close to the chimney. These will be the first things to show if there is a leak, through puddling or stains. This is important to fix quickly, as it can destroy the masonry with freezing and thawing. Chimney crowns and mortar joints are usually the most likely culprits.

6. Chimney Cap and Crown: As mentioned above, chimney caps and crowns have an important job. In order to keep out the outdoor elements, your cap and crown need to be intact. Especially if you’re in an area with a lot of rain or harsh winters, these aspects of your chimney are crucial to both the wellbeing of the chimney and your home.

7. Degradation: Often a result of an older chimney problem, chimneys will eventually begin to bend to the will of the elements after a certain amount of time. If your chimney appears to be a little worse for the wear, and you’re worried about its structural integrity, you either need to rebuild or re-point it in order to ensure that it lasts for much longer.

8. Problems with the Lining: There are two problems that frequently occur in relation to chimney lining. One is that the lining is cracked in some way. This is usually due to the fact that the lining is made from clay, which does not withstand the test of time the same way that stainless steel does. Two is that there is no lining at all. This is more common in older chimneys as well, and is very dangerous as chimneys without linings shouldn’t be used at all. If you have clay lining, check regularly to make sure there are no gaps, and if your older chimney has no lining, do not use it until you’ve had one placed in it.

9. Cracked Flue: The flue is the portion of the chimney (after the damper) that the smoke goes through in order to exit your home. If the lining on your flue is cracked, this could lead to a huge number of dangerous problems. The lining in your flue is what contains the heat from the fire to the chimney. If there are cracks in this, then the heat can reach combustible parts of your home, potentially leading to a house fire. Annual checks are really important to make sure that all of your lining, including that of your flue, is intact.

If you have a home with a chimney, especially one that gets frequent use, it’s important to make sure that you’re giving it proper maintenance. While we all love snuggling up next to a roaring fire, you need to be sure for your safety and that of others that your chimney is clean, whole and perfectly safe.