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The Usual Suspects – Two Common Chimney Problems and How to Address Them

The chimney is one of the most important parts of a home. It serves as the channel where smoke from the fireplace escapes, yet keeps the warmth inside. With constant exposure to smoke and freeze-thaw cycle, however, a chimney becomes susceptible to damage that can cause problems ranging from minor inconvenience to costly repairs, and even serious health concerns.

If you have a chimney, it is particularly important to have it checked at least twice a year to ensure that it is safe to use. Any problems or damages found in the chimney should be immediately addressed to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and structural fires. Below are two of the most common chimney problems and how they can be resolved.

Common Chimney Problems

1. Fumes or Smoke Inside the Room

If you notice that smoke or fumes blow inside your house instead of going toward the chimney, it is likely that the flue is obstructed with soot, debris and even a bird nest. In such case, it is vital to clean the flue and the entire chimney immediately.

Start by covering the area around the fireplace with a drop cloth, including your furnishings. Then, install a fireplace cover to the firebox and attach a vacuum to it. Next, using a chimney brush with attachment that is the right shape and size for your flue, climb on your roof and clean your chimney from above. Make sure that you wear the right gear when cleaning and take safety precautions while working at heights. Push the brush all the way to the fireplace to remove the clog.

Once you have cleaned your chimney, ensure that nesting animals and other debris will not get inside the flue again by installing a chimney cap.

2. Damp Chimney

If you notice stains on your ceiling, chimney opening and the area around your fireplace, it is likely that the mortar of your chimney is starting to crack or crumble. If caught soon, most cracks can be repaired. Small cracks can be easily filled with caulk or some type of concrete bonding material. You can smooth the bonding material with a putty knife for the solution to properly adhere to the surface.

If the mortar around the joints are crumbling, however, you will have to remove it and apply a new one. You can remove the damaged mortar using a small hammer and chisel. Go at least 1.25 cm deep to ensure that the entire damaged mortar is dislodged. Clean the area with a moist sponge and allow it to completely dry before applying new mortar.

When mixing the mortar, make sure that its consistency is thick – preferably like peanut butter. Using a pointing trowel, spread the new mortar evenly in the damp excavated area until it is filled. Repeat the whole process in areas where you find damage. Allow the new mortar to set properly by keeping it moist for at least 2 or 3 days.

If you have a brick chimney, you can protect the bricks from cracks and leaks by applying a water-repellent sealant on them. The sealant will let water vapor escape, thereby preventing liquid from penetrating the bricks.

If you think that your chimney’s problem is beyond your repairing skills, do not hesitate to call in the pros. Doing this will ensure that the issue will be addressed immediately and will help prevent the problems from getting worse.