Every time the temperature starts to drop, must of us start imagining Jack Frost nipping at our noses and humming the tune “Baby, its cold outside.” Those thoughts are often followed by making plans to light up the fireplace and cozy up to the warmth and listening to the crackling fire.
As long as chimneys function the way they are supposed to, it is easy to forget they need to be treated like any other part of the house – with consistent maintenance to keep everything running smoothly. One of the worst enemies of a chimney is water. Almost all of the masonry materials used to build a chimney will break down due to weather exposure and water damage.
Listed below are some of the greatest risks that water has the power to impose and of course, once you know what you are up against, pay attention to the bits of advice that follow. These few hints could save you time, money and heartache.
Risky, Tricky Water and the Problems It Can Create for Your Chimney
Problem: Chemical Changes – Water is known to create a porous and unstable structure by drawing water from the brick and mortar designed chimneys which can allow even more water to pass through. Through a series of chemical reactions, the water can form a highly corrosive acid that breaks down the cement and causes a chimney to crumble.
Solution: Repair and patch cracks as quickly as possible. Especially keep an eye on the chimney crown; there are amazing sealants and top coats available to provide an extra layer of protection against the harsh elements.
Problem: Open-Top Chimney – A chimney without a cover is just like an open mouth trying to catch the rain (and the birds, animals, morning dew, etc.). All of these foreign objects can gather inside the chimney and eventually block the air passageway. A blockage could lead to carbon monoxide being dispersed throughout the house instead of up and out the top of the chimney.
Solution: Make sure you have a reliable cover installed by a professional. An expert can guide you into making the right decision for your home and have it correctly mounted to avoid future problems.
Problem: Water That Doesn’t Run Off – The protective joint that keeps water from collecting between the roof and the bricks is better known as the flashing. Older, tar-based sealants used to keep the flashing waterproof have a very short life. The flashing itself is also prone to decay and often leads to leaks in the roof at these critical joints.
Solution: Make sure your flashing has been updated recently. Today’s standards of chimney care have greatly improved. Before investing in a whole new set-up, ask your local chimney sweep about the repair and maintenance options available.
Problem: Improper Insulation – Older homes may have chimneys that were previously constructed for coal or wood stoves. Thanks to today’s technology it is quite easy to convert an older fireplace into a gas fireplace that you can turn on with the flip of a switch. However, if the walls surrounding the chimney haven’t been upgraded as well, it is likely condensation could get trapped on the structure. This strange source of moisture can cause severe damage to the walls of a home.
Solution: When making any upgrades or structural changes to your chimney and fireplace, consult a licensed professional. If you are looking to convert your early 1900s wood-burning stove into a modern-day gas-fueled fireplace, take a pass on DIY and make sure everything is done correctly. A chimney expert will know how to properly convert your system and ensure the rest of your house only sees the positive effects of the upgrade.
Problem: Waterproofing – While waterproofing sounds like a great option to protect your system against the harsh elements, waterproofing elements have been designed for specific climate conditions or materials. Even worse, if you try to waterproof brick or mortar that is currently holding water, some waterproof sealants will try to keep the water from escaping. The bricks turn soggy and unstable.
Solution: Before you consider waterproofing your chimney, have a chimney sweep administer an absorption test to see if it is necessary. If the consultation leads to a decision to waterproof the chimney, find one that is also breathable. Brick and cement are porous materials and have the ability to contract and expand slightly in order to process any extra moisture.
Bonus DIY Tip: If you start to notice the mortar between the bricks thinning out, try “tuck pointing.” Use a high-speed grinder to grind out weak and crumbly mortar and replace it with a half-inch up to an inch of fresh mortar. This will provide extra structural support and help wick water away more effectively.
Featured photo source: Pixabay.com