Many homeowners are used to routine maintenance for most parts of the home, but the chimney is often neglected. The biggest reason is that they don’t think it’s necessary since everything appears to be working fine. However, that can be a dangerous and costly mistake. Without routine maintenance, including annual chimney inspections and cleanings, there may be a dangerous level of debris and hidden damage growing in the chimney that is severely increasing the risk of fire and exposure to contaminants.
Creosote is a natural by-product of combustion that sticks to the chimney interior as the smoke rises out the flue. With regular chimney, cleaning creosote isn’t a problem. It does, however, become increasingly dangerous when routine chimney maintenance is neglected. As the wood fuel continues to burn in the fireplace, the creosote continues to accumulate in the flue. It also evolves into a dark, tar-like material that is highly flammable. The primary cause of residential chimney fires is due to excessive creosote in the chimney, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics.
Many homeowners don’t realize there are animal nests in the flue until it’s discovered during a chimney inspection. A broken or missing chimney cap is like an open door for small animals like birds, raccoons, squirrels, and other critters looking for a warm place to hide from predators. While inside, they build nests and can make quite a mess. Also, leaves, twigs, and other debris can clog the flue opening. The wildlife and debris can cause a flue obstruction, a hazardous situation. When this occurs, the smoke and fumes cannot be wholly expelled. With nowhere else to go, the exhaust backs-up into the living space, increasing the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that over 50,000 persons are treated annually for accidental CO poisoning.
Broken Flue Tiles
Most flues have a clay tile liner that prevents the high heat in the fireplace from igniting nearby combustible materials. The combination of normal wear and tear and the corrosive combustion gases will cause flue tiles to splinter or crack, requiring repair or replacement eventually. Also, a chimney fire can cause significant damage to clay flue tiles and other components. Without regular chimney inspections, cracked and damaged flue tiles will go unnoticed, increasing the risk of fire and exposure to CO fumes.
Damaged flashing is another severe problem that can occur when neglecting chimney maintenance. The flashing is a metal material that covers the seam connecting the chimney with the roofline to prevent water intrusion. When the flashing is damaged due to warping, corrosion, or weather damage, it can allow water to leak inside the chimney. The moisture can cause significant damage to the ceiling, walls, and firebox resulting in expensive repairs.
Brick masonry in chimney construction is a durable, but porous material. The constant battle with rain, snow, and ice in freezing and thawing temperatures can cause the brick and mortar to crack, crumble, and eventually separate from the chimney. At first glance, masonry damage may be difficult to spot, but as tiny cracks and crevices give way to more significant gaps, the structural integrity of the chimney is at higher risk of a partial or total collapse. It will also reduce the fireplace’s heating efficiency and increase the risk of fire and exposure to smoke and fumes.
Neglecting routine chimney maintenance can be costly. Minimize the risks and uncover minor problems before they become more expensive repairs with an annual chimney inspection. If it’s been more than a year since your last inspection, contact your local chimney professional to schedule a chimney inspection as soon as possible.