Posts tagged with "Repair"

Chimney Caps and Chimney Crowns: Chimney Masonry Maintenance 101

Chimney Caps & Chimney Crowns: Essential to Masonry Chimney Maintenance

Proper maintenance of masonry chimneys extends past the brick work. Chimney caps and chimney crowns are both important for the longevity of your masonry and the safety of your home. Both caps and crowns help protect your masonry chimney interior and flue from precipitation, and the damage freeze and thaw cycles cause.

Chimney Crown with Flue Caps

Chimney with crown and 2 capped flues

Chimney Crowns

The chimney crown is placed atop the masonry chimney as a form of protection against the weather. As crowns withstand a lot of abuse, they need to be made out of a solid material; most commonly, chimney crowns are made of poured concrete and free from cracks and crumbling.

As its primary purpose is to protect your chimney, it should overhang the masonry by at least 2 inches. The top should gently slope away from the chimney opening, encouraging precipitation to run away from the chimney interior. The overhang prevents this water from running down the masonry, and a slight ridge build into the underside of the masonry further encourages the water to drip onto the roof rather than reach the masonry.

Chimney Caps

Copper Chimney Cap

Jim and a shiny new copper chimney cap

Chimney crowns do not cover the chimney interior. Chimney caps serve this purpose. Generally made of metal, they are installed just inside the chimney opening and extend well above the chimney to allow proper venting and draft. They prevent water from falling directly into your chimney, and also help keep out birds and small animals attracted to the warmth.

While most chimney caps are relatively simple, they are not always interchangeable. Chimney caps can affect your chimneys draft and certain styles work better than others with different vent sources.

For example, wood burning fireplaces or fireplace inserts produce creosote and other combustible solids. Not only will these accumulate in your flue, they will also build up your chimney cap. This is specifically a problem if your chimney cap has a protective mesh. As it accumulates, it causes draft problems that can make your fireplace unpleasant and unsafe.

Top Sealing Dampers

Top Sealing Damper

Up close and personal with a top sealing damper

In addition to simple cap styles, you have the option of added functionality. Top sealing dampers, otherwise known as “Top Dampers”, serve the function of both cap and damper. They affix to the top of your chimney much like any other cap, but can be opened and closed to allow venting. These easy to use top sealing dampers are connected to a switch near the fireplace, and with a quick pull of a lever the damper opens and closes. They’re constructed to prevent small animals from entering the chimney when open while shedding most rain, and to seal tight against water and air when closed.

While these top sealing dampers are of particular interest in older homes where the original damper is missing or broken, they can be of great benefit to most homes. They increase energy efficiency by preventing heat loss and down drafts. Relatively simple to install, most homeowners are surprised by how much top sealing dampers can save them in energy costs.

Chimney caps and crowns are an important component of masonry chimney maintenance. If you have any questions about chimney caps, crowns, or top sealing dampers, contact a trusted chimney professional. And of course, if you’re in the market for a trusty chimney professional in the Washington D.C. area, we’d love to work with you to ensure your chimney is safe and functional.

Masonry Chimney Damage & Repair

Damaged Masonry ChimneyRegular maintenance on your masonry chimney will keep it looking great for years. In reality, though, regular maintenance falls through the cracks while you juggle work, life and family. Sometimes, even the most proactive homeowners will be surprised by damage left by previous owners. So while in a perfect world, repointing would be the only masonry service the average masonry chimney would need, in reality you might find unfamiliar problems with your masonry.

Masonry Chimney Damage

Chimney with Spalled BrickSpalled Bricks

Broken (or spalled) bricks are one of the most noticeable types of damage. This is most commonly seen when the front of the brick has either broken or fallen from the masonry.

We’ve mentioned before that the largest cause of damage to brick and masonry is freeze and thaw cycles. Bricks are built to withstand water by finishing them with a hard non-porous outer shell. Spalled bricks break this shell and expose the porous interior of the brick, allowing water damage to destroy your masonry at an accelerated rate.

Spalled bricks are primarily caused when mortar with an incorrect compression rate is used. Mortar is made to absorb the expansion of brick during freeze and thaw cycles. If the mortar is stronger than the brick, however, this role reverses. As brick isn’t meant to be squeezed by expanding materials, it can quickly deteriorate.

The Wrong Bricks

All bricks are not created equal. Brick makers understand that interior bricks don’t need to weather the same abuse as exterior bricks, and thus make different types of bricks. When buying bricks, the difference between these is obvious. It becomes a problem, however, when bricks are salvaged. Inexperienced masons and do-it-yourselfers have a difficult time determining which bricks were meant for interior and exterior use.

Some brick makers even make different bricks for different climates. The Deep South is free from freeze and thaw cycles, so some brick makers decided to change the type of brick they shipped there. Since these bricks didn’t need to withstand the same type of abuse as bricks used in the North, they added sawdust to the brick mix. When the bricks were fired, the sawdust burnt away, creating a lighter, more porous brick. This saved on transportation and made it easier for masons. While this caused little problems for the South, unfortunately these bricks were soon being sold further north, where they easily crumble under the extreme temperatures.

Damage from sandblasters and pressure sprayers

An unexpected source of damage is sandblasters and high pressure sprayers. While these might make cleaning a hands free experience, they do so at the expense of your masonry. As mentioned earlier, brick is made such that the edges are hardened to prevent absorption of water. Sandblasting and even high pressure sprayers can reduce this hardened edge and allow water into your bricks, drastically reducing their lifespan.

Masonry Chimney Repair

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to fix spalled bricks. Removal of the spalled bricks and replacement with strong new bricks is necessary. If the spalling is caused by poorly calculated mortar, repointing with correct mortar may help to prevent the problem from spreading.

If you suspect your masonry might be made with bricks that can’t stand up to your weather, or if you have sandblasted or pressure sprayed your masonry, we can apply a waterproof sealant to help the longevity of the bricks.

And of course, if you notice any spalled bricks, cracks, crumbling mortar, or signs of deterioration on your masonry chimney, it’s time to contact a masonry expert right away. Ignoring masonry problems is dangerous and costly.

If you have questions about masonry repair in Northern Virginia, Washington D.C. or Maryland, we at High’s Chimney would be happy to answer any of your questions or take a look at your masonry and give you an estimate for repairs free of charge.

Masonry Chimney Repair & Relining

Masonry Chimney Repair & Relining

The Washington DC area has a rich history of architectural styles. From brick farmhouses in Fairfax to Victorian row houses in Georgetown, Washington DC has preserved much of its architectural history. These homes have weathered decades (or centuries) of use, remodels and updates while still possessing an undeniable charm. The sturdy construction of these historical buildings plays a large part in their continued existence, but constant monitoring and maintenance is what keeps these charming homes instead of quaint historical exhibits.

Routine inspections and preventative maintenance can help keep houses old and new running smoothly. For many components of your home this can be a simple process. For example, wear around your windows and persnickety plumbing are easy to spot. For other parts of your home, such as your chimney, a little effort is required.

Chimney Masonry Maintenance

Most responsible home owners ensure they have a proper flue with optimal draft and that the major components of the fireplace are functioning properly. This diligence causes the illusion of security; so long as no major problems occur, their chimney must be healthy. In reality, without a watchful eye, water damage can compromise the integrity and safety of your chimney long before you notice the problem. While the rest of your roof is protected from the elements, your chimney is exposed to the worst of Mother Nature.

While the brick itself generally fares well against such odds, without water proofing the mortar is heavily susceptible to water damage. Specifically, mortar absorbs moisture. As the temperature changes, freezing and thawing cycles cause this water to expand and contract, which will cause cracking. This damage is often subtle, and by the time you notice crumbling mortar you will likely need masonry chimney repair. As it progresses the mortar will erode out from between the bricks, causing their weight to shift. This causes additional stress on the masonry, and exacerbates any existing cracks or stress points. Without proper care, mortar erosion will cause an unsafe and unsightly chimney that will need major masonry chimney repair. At this point a chimney professional will need to repoint the brick, and apply a waterproof sealant to prevent future water damage.

Masonry Chimney Relining

Chimneys suffering from masonry damage can let an excessive amount of water into your chimney’s interior. If you actively use your chimney as a vent, this can affect your flue, fireplace, and any appliances that vent into the chimney. For example, rain running down a used flue will mix with creosote and other deposits, causing a corrosive solution that can deteriorate your flue. This corrosive solution can drip down onto fireplace hardware, such as dampers, and rust them. Even if your chimney is perfectly clean, rain water will settle into any joints or cracks in your flue, where temperature changes will cause it to expand or contract, causing damage. This will cause a premature need for chimney relining.

Even if you don’t use your chimney as a vent, masonry chimney repair is important. Crumbling mortar allows moisture to permeate to the interior of a chimney. Inside the chimney, it will run down the joints in the masonry, leaking into cracks. This compromises the structural integrity of your chimney, which is never safe. Relining and repointing the interior of a masonry chimney is an expensive and time consuming process. To be able to work in such tight spaces, it’s often necessary to punch holes in the chimney to be able to ensure the proper work has been done.

If you have questions about masonry chimney repair or suspect you might need masonry chimney relining, contact us at High’s Chimney. We want your home to be a healthy, safe place to live. We offer free consultations on masonry repair, and our real time online scheduling service makes it easy for you to pick a time that works with your schedule. Being proactive about problems as they arise, such as masonry chimney repair and relining, is the best way to ensure your home remains a safe and stylish place for you and your loved ones to enjoy for years to come.

How Can You Tell If Your Chimney Or Fireplace Needs A Repair?

Let’s cover the obvious and more well known insights about chimney and fireplace repair.

Deteriorated or even missing mortar joints are most obvious of all.

At the top of a chimney you can’t see the mortar well, so be sure anyone who works on your roof inspects this for you. A chimney sweep should look over the mortar as a matter of routine.

Bad mortar joints should be dealt with sooner instead of later. Once the joints start to fail the damage accelerates quickly. Water (from rain and snow) freezing and thawing in a small crack turns it into a larger crack and ultimately the mortar crumbles. If this problem is left long enough, your chimney may collapse.

The story in terms of fireplaces is similar, the difference being that there’s not a freeze-thaw cycle but rather high temperatures causing stress on the mortar. Even though high temperature mortar is used (or even refractory cement,) these materials don’t hold up forever.

There’s more danger below as well. There’s always the structural problem, i.e. the fireplace is supporting a stack of masonry weighing several tons. You want to keep things from shifting! There is also the obvious fire danger of having “holes in the system” either in the fireplace or in the chimney as it passes through the house.

Chimney liners have lots of problems but you can’t see them easily.

In the last 25 years many houses have converted to stainless steel chimney liners, and for many different reasons, some of which are not related to chimney damage. While the reasons for lining a chimney with a stainless liner would fill a very long article of its own, suffice to say that there can be a lot of problems with tiled-lined chimneys. The focus of this article is how to find out if you have those problems.

In a word, it takes a careful inspection by someone who knows what he’s looking at. In the early days of chimney sweeping (1975 we’ll say) we used very bright lights to look down a chimney. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know” because when the ChimScan™ came along and boy did we all get an eyeful. A ChimScan™ is a closed circuit camera put on chimney rods used to get a close in look at the inside of the chimney.

A ChimScan™ inspection will show cracks and other deficiencies that can’t be seen by a visual inspection looking down the flue with a bright light.

So said, a visual inspection is better than no inspection at all.

And what problems are commonly seen? First of course- you guessed it- deteriorated or missing mortar joints, and you probably can’t see them without a ChimScan™ inspection. Another is misaligned flue tiles. You’d be surprised how many chimneys are not built properly, some with tiles an inch or two offset from the one below. This problem can usually be seen by a visual inspection.

Cracked flue tiles are more common than most people realize. Again, the reason why broken tiles are a problem is the subject of a different article, but as for how to tell if you have the problem is by having a ChimScan™ inspection. It’s a serious condition, it may or may not be covered by homeowner’s insurance, and a chimney liner is the solution.

Finally there’s the issue of “shaling” tiles. This is when thin slices of the face of the chimney tile pop away. This is very visual. Just pull the connector pipe from the wall or look in the clean out door (wherever the bottom of the chimney can be found) and see if there are chips of the liner piling up. This is especially common in flues when converting from oil to gas heat. A stainless steel chimney liner is the solution to all of these liner problems.

Spalling Bricks

This is just the term used for the same problem (as shaling tiles) when it happens to the bricks on the outside of the house. The faces just pop off and lands in the yard or on the roof. It’s very visual – you’ll know if you have this problem just by looking at the chimney and the roof. When this happens there’s nothing to fix the problem except to replace the bad brick with a good one and waterproof the chimney so it doesn’t happen again. And check the crown, which is my next point.

chimney repair

Problems with the crown are easy to see if you go on the roof.

The crown of the chimney is the cement at the top that covers the bricks up to the flue tiles. This keeps rain and snow, not to mention birds etc., from getting into the brick chase around the chimney liners. The crown is the first line of defense against the weather and takes the most abuse because it’s horizontal and facing the sun all the time. All you have to do is go up (or have someone who know what to look for go up) and look at it.

Cracks in the crown, like the mortar joints, usually start small but grow as water freezes and thaws in them. Eventually you have big cracks or even missing chunks of the crown. Water which enters through the crown seeps into the bricks and liner. This is where a lot of spalling or shaling comes from.

The crown is the source of a lot of trouble yet it’s easy to catch the problem early, easy to fix. There are superb specialized crown coatings available today. These highly elastic and weatherproof materials cover small cracks so they don’t get bigger and prevent new ones from forming. It’s smart to just have the crown coated on general principles- even if you don’t have a problem already.

Everyone gets a problem on the crown eventually (and for reasons I won’t go into here, many, many crowns are bad from the first day they are laid) and there’s so much expensive potential damage that can follow, it just makes good sense to coat the crown and rest easier about the whole thing. It’ll save a lot of money in the long run.

Broken firebricks and other assorted problems at the fireplace

Firebricks usually break from too much heat or from logs hitting them one too many times. The fix is merely a replacement.

There’s sometimes a gap between the face of the fireplace and a metal firebox, and sometimes you can see framing through the crack. The solution is to pack it with ceramic wool and put refractory cement on that. This problem will reoccur so you’ll have to “repair the repairs” from time to time just because of the nature of the materials involved and their different rates of expansion.

The damper may not work properly for a lot of different reasons, and most of them are leaky anyway. There’s more heat-loss through most dampers than any other “hole in the house.” If the damper isn’t closing well or easily, that’s something you can tell easily by feeling and seeing as you work the damper. The heat loss is more subtle, though you may well be able to detect a draft across the floor of the room with the fireplace. The fix is a new damper, and a top-sealing damper (such as the EnergyTop™) is the best choice. They really keep the heat in the house when conventional dampers cannot.

The flashing is a common problem too.

The flashing is the metal that keeps rain or snow water from going into the house at the point where the chimney passes through your roof. The top part of the flashing is actually mortared into the brick mortar joints. It’s a problem if the flashing has holes in it or isn’t sealed into the chimney well. This can be seen but usually only if you go on the roof.

Flashings are the source of almost as many problems as crowns are, whenever anyone is on your roof, ask them to inspect the flashing too. Dissimilar materials with different rates of expansion, coupled with ultraviolet light on the sealants, means that flashings don’t hold up forever. The fix is something most chimney sweeps and all roofers can do. Replacement is always a good choice, but there are repair materials available as well.

Have a problem with the wallpaper where the chimney passes by?

There are two reasons for this problem usually (stress usually- there are a few others too) First is the flashing or crown allowing water to enter the brick structure. The fix for that is to fix the flashing or crown, and maybe install a chimney liner as well. The second is excessive condensation inside the chimney, especially common in gas flues. In this case the solution is almost always a new chimney liner (though you can also go back to a less efficient heater, but nobody is going to do that!)

Rust stains from a chase cover

Very visual indeed. If you have a factory-built chimney, the chase cover is a metal top on the chase surrounding the chimney pipes. Builders commonly put up a galvanized one because they’re cheap to get. The chase doesn’t rust until long after your check has cleared. Don’t make the same mistake twice; get a stainless steel chase cover installed to replace the old rusty galvanized cover. More expensive to be sure (and they’re ALL custom made) but it really is the only smart thing to do. A new galvanized chase top is a false economy.