The first step in making sure your chimney is safe and serviceable is to get a chimney inspection. When you get a professional to inspect your chimney you’ll receive a report of what it looks like inside and outside.

Levels of Chimney Inspections

Chimney inspections have “levels” with Level 1 Chimney Inspection being the most basic. It’s simply a visual inspection of whatever is easy to see during cleaning.

You probably want a Level 2 Chimney Inspection which involves looking at all the accessible areas (the attic, crawl spaces, etc) and, while not required, usually involves the use of a chimney camera to examine the flue tiles. A Level 2 Chimney Inspection is required (by NFPA and most codes) when changing appliances hooked up to a chimney, after a chimney fire or earthquake, and before a real estate transfer. This is the law in Maryland.

In your chimney inspection, the sweep or inspector should:

Check for cracks and weathering

Check for cracks and weathering in the masonry and the mortar joints. That means looking at the bricks themselves, the joints between them. If there are cracks in the brick or bad mortar joints here’s what needs to happen to fix it:

  • When there’s a lot of bad brick at the top, the best solution is to take the chimney down and rebuild it.
  • If there are a lot of bad mortar joints, take the chimney down and relay the brick. If the bricks are in good condition you can certainly re-use the bricks and, in fact, should for aesthetics – you want to match the bricks below if you can.
  • If the damage is more minor, “re-pointing” is an option. This is where you remove a few bricks individually or where you just put some fresh mortar in where old mortar Is worn out. This is an OK solution for small problems, but it’s a terrible solution when a masonry structure is just plain worn out. It would be like putting a Band Aid on a cut artery. Keep in mind that repointing is aesthetically poor as the new mortar or brick is not likely to match the rest. Rebuilding is best option

Check for cracks in your crown (the cement on the top of the chimney)

Again, you make a difference between “big damage” and “little damage.” If your crown is anything but perfectly sealed, you do need to fix it because this is where all the damage below begins. Water that enters through the top of your chimney freezes and thaws all winter long, in time ruining the structure below.

If you have crown damage, here’s what needs to happen to fix it:

  • Big cracks and masonry that is outright coming up in your hand obviously needs to be replaced. The whole crown should be removed and replaced with concrete. A lot of crowns were made with mortar mix and that’s not good- use concrete.
  • If on the other hand you just have cracks in the top (and fact is most chimneys do) then you will be all right with simply sealing the crown. There are good latex sealants these days which hold for a very long time when properly installed.

Check for stability

It is not uncommon to see chimneys leaning away from the wall. What to do is not clear cut. If the chimney is leaning it’s very likely because the foundation of the chimney isn’t right. In any case, either the chimney moved away from the house or the house moved away from the chimney.

If the chimney is built as part of the foundation the house sits on, and had not broken away, then it’s safe to say the house moved somehow. To know this, you must dig around the base of the chimney to actually inspect the foundation.

If the foundation is good, here’s what needs to happen to fix the problem:

  • You either have to tear down and rebuild the chimney or you must caulk the opening. More likely though, the chimney foundation was never part of the poured concrete of the house’s foundation and it has a “movement life” of its own. If so, here’s what needs to happen to fix it:
    • First, tear down the chimney. Then take out the old foundation. Then dig the hole deeper (another couple feet maybe?) and pour a new concrete foundation. Finally rebuild a new chimney.

I know nobody wants to hear that and I know lots of people think about strapping the chimney to the house and drawing the bolts up tight. It is not a good solution. First of all, it may be illegal. More importantly, it doesn’t really fix anything, it only closes a gap. The chimney comes under new stress and will break in the middle, given some time. Don’t think about straps. It’s more of an 1800s thing.

Check for clearances from combustibles

A chimney professional will know code-specific things to check for, but anyone can make sure their chimney complies with the “3-foot, 2-foot, 10-foot rule.”

chimney roof clearance - the 3ft x 2ft x 10ft rule

Take a look at the picture and you’ll understand immediately.

If your chimney doesn’t comply, here’s what needs to happen to fix it:

  • In almost all cases, the solution is to raise the chimney. This can be done by adding rows of brick to a brick chimney, or by adding lengths of factory built chimney both to masonry or factory built chimneys. It looks a bit odd coming off the top of a brick chimney, but it is legal.
  • Check the inside of the chimney- the flue tiles (liner.) Check the liner for mis-aligned tiles, for spaces between tiles, check for cracks or broken sections of tile liner. Check for “spaulling” i.e. little bits of the face of the tile breaking loose and building p at the bottom of the flue. The only way to really know is by video inspection. When you call your chimney professional, be sure to insist that you’re getting a video inspection. If not, hire someone else.

If you have any of the above situations, here’s what needs to happen to fix it:

  • Pretty straightforward really- you need to reline that chimney. The particulars of how that’s done vary so much from one chimney to another that I can’t possibly cover it here. Suffice to say that the one thing you should ask for is to have the old tiles removed. It will cost more and a lot of chimney people would rather not do it because it’s not fun work. But this is your house and you want it done right if at all, right? Have the old tiles removed. The reasons are usually related to proper sizing and to the fact that there is probably creosote on the outside of the tiles where nobody can see it (but it can still catch on fire.)

Check for obstructions

These are usually obvious when cleaning a chimney. Or perhaps you have a tree hanging right over the chimney. If you have an obstruction, here’s what needs to be done to fix it.

  • Just get it out of the way. Overhead branches too close? Cut them off. Bird’s nest in the chimney? Remove it. Debris at the base of the flue? Remove it. This one is obvious what to do, you just need to check to see if any problem exists!

Check for cleanliness

Sometimes a chimney is obviously clean just by look at it. If you can’t say that for sure just looking at it, then play it safe and have the chimney swept.

Check the connections

Wood stoves, fireplace inserts, gas or oil burners and hot water heaters all have pipes that connect those appliances to the chimney itself. They should be secured with three screws at every joint, have an uphill incline, be the right size, attached or joined to the chimney well and have proper clearances to combustibles. Make sure your chimney inspection includes all of these elements. And if something is wrong, here’s what needs to happen to fix it:

  • it varies. Regardless, you need every one of those points to be in order. A bad connection is every bit as dangerous as a bad chimney. Probably more dangerous actually, so pay close attention to connections.

This should give you a good overview of what you want in your chimney inspection and what to listen for when the inspector tells you what needs to happen to fix any problems.

Reasons Your Gas Fireplace Isn’t Working

Gas fireplaces have several benefits: they’re easy to control, efficient at heating, and clean-burning. Every once in a while, however, there will be issues that need to be addressed. Below are some common problems with gas fireplaces and how to fix them:

Why Won’t My Gas Fireplace Start?

There are several issues that might prevent a gas fireplace from igniting. Here are some potential causes: Continue reading

Best Way to Waterproof a Chimney

Asking what’s the best way to waterproof a chimney or what are the best waterproofing products are both understandable enough questions, but they’re also too broad for a simple answer. Best way to waterproof what kind of chimney? Are we waterproofing a vertical wall or the breast of the brickwork? There are brick, concrete block, stucco and stone chimneys and there are different considerations for all of them – meaning you might use different products on different types of chimneys. Let’s peel this back like an onion. Continue reading

Removing 3rd Degree Creosote with Poultice Creosote Remover

Since the other articles were written, there is something new to add. There is a new chemical by Saver Systems called PCR (Poultice Creosote Remover) and it works really well and really fast. By fast I mean overnight. In extremely bad situations it is conceivable that it could take two applications. It is available through chimney service companies, not available to the general public.

Before Poultice Creosote Remover

Source: chimneysaver.com

After Poultice Creosote Remover Image

Source: chimneysaver.com


Who is it good for? It’s good for people who have 3rd degree creosote and… Continue reading

Best Types of Outdoor Fire Pits For Patios & Backyards


ChimineaNothing makes a backyard or patio more welcoming than a warm, safe fire. Choosing the type of fire pit that will fit your space and meet your needs is no easy task. You have to consider how much space you will need to ensure safety, how many people will be enjoying the fire at one time, and which style will complement the landscaping and furniture of your outdoor space.

As experts on fireplaces and fireplace safety, we review the types of outdoor fire pits available and provide some helpful ideas to consider when making a selection. Other than digging a hole in the ground, there are two common ways to have a fire outdoors: outdoor fireplaces or freestanding fire pits. There are a many types freestanding fire pits or bowls which we will review below.

First, here are a few things you’ll want to consider when choosing the best type of fire pit for your space. Continue reading

Reviews: the Good, the Bad, and the Grateful

This doesn’t really fit in any category but I’m in a mood to write it.  Online reviews are an important part of doing business these days. We certainly get our fair share of the good and bad, but ultimately what’s important is our customer. We recently got a terrible review online. The guy gave a long and detailed description of a job gone bad and how terribly inept, unresponsive, etc, etc. we were. You can bet that got our attention and we looked into it right away.

customer reviews speech bubbleThe thing is that we couldn’t find this fellow in the system at all.  And we couldn’t find a job that fit the description around the time he mentioned.  Not to mention, anything that went as bad as this guy’s job could not escape notice around here.  We are certain something is wrong with the review.  Do not think I am saying we never mess up- a company this size has its share of problems (usually from some kind of lack of communication- it’s our constant challenge) but we try to be right on top of every problem.  We try to get things resolved quickly for everyone’s sakes, including our own.  But this review doesn’t ring right. Continue reading

National Fire Prevention Week – Washington, DC

This October 5th-11th marks the 93rd year the National Fire Prevention Association holds their Fire Prevention Campaign. The campaign was first launched in 1922 after President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day proclamation to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire (October 8th, 1871).

This year the theme is “Working smoke alarms save lives, test yours every month!” As part of the theme the NFPA has released some tips for installing, checking, and maintaining smoke alarms. Continue reading

Is Chimney Repair Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

Is Chimney Repair Covered by Homeowner’s Insurance?

Short Answer: It Depends. Here are some answers to questions we regularly encounter, and hopefully, a lot of insight into the whole subject of “insurance coverage and chimney repair.” Continue reading