Category Archives: Chimney Leaks

Having serviced thousands of chimneys on the East Coast, we’ve become pretty familiar with leaking chimneys. If you have a leak in or near your chimney, we recommend starting with “Five Reasons for Chimney Leaks and What to Do About Them” , which has been viewed over 10,000 times.

Also, check out the other articles in this category to learn how to prevent chimney leaks and water damage with a proper chimney cover, chimney crown, and good gutters.

If you have a problem with your leaky chimney in the Maryland or the Washington DC area, we can help.

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

Your Source for Fireplace and Chimney Information

The following library of information is broken up in a way that will educate you on your chimney so you know how your chimney should be properly cleaned, maintained, and/or repaired. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, leave us a note in the comments and we will try to find you an answer!

The Basics

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Five Reasons for Chimney Leaks and What to Do About Them

Causes of leaking chimneys can usually be narrowed down to five reasons. If your problem isn’t solved from addressing the items on this list, your leak probably isn’t from the chimney!

common masonry chimney leak fixes

#1 The Simplest Cause of Chimney Leaking: Rain Going Straight In from the Top

Capless Chimney

Capless Chimney (source: hersheychimneycleaning.com)

It’s not hard to picture that. Chimneys without covers get a lot of rain falling straight down into them. A chimney cover makes sense to most people. Not only does it keep the rain out, but keeps birds, animals and debris out. The greatest value of the chimney cover is really keeping these out because when chimneys get blocked at the bottom, people get sick (or even die) from CO poisoning. While it’s true that sometimes an uncovered flue is the source of water problems, most often this reason for a leak is only when the liner is metal.

How to fix it

Get a chimney cover and have a professional make sure it’s not this simple.

#2 Many Chimney Leaks are from Cracks in the Chimney Crown

cracked chimney crown

Cracked Chimney Crown

The chimney crown is the cement part on top of the chimney. The bricks go up around the tile flue liners, but at the top you need something to stop the rain and snow from just falling in around the tiles. You can see that the very purpose of the chimney crown is to keep rain out. Cracks in the chimney crown can occur from shifting of the structure or from shrinkage dating back to the first day the crown was put on. When your crown has cracks, the water goes right through those cracks.

How to fix it

How to fix a cracked crown depends upon how bad the damage is. Most crowns have small cracks. Even small ones need to be fixed because all big cracks started out as small ones. Water freezes and thaws in the cracks all winter long, year after year, forcing small cracks to eventually become big cracks. There are excellent crown coating materials such as Chimney Saver Crown Coat which cover the masonry and prevent small cracks from becoming a real problem.

Once chimney crown damage is significant, though, the only fix it is to remove and relay the masonry. You can’t put a band aid on a gushing wound and you can’t coat a structurally ruined chimney crown and expect it to work. Best to coat your crown now with Crown Coat and avoid the big hassle and expense later.


chimney inspectionLeaky Chimney? We can fix that! If you believe that your chimney is causing damage to your home please give us a call or schedule an appointment online. We’ll be happy to help you.


#3 Chimneys Leaking From the Inside Out from Condensation

damage from chimney condensation

Damage from Chimney Condensation

I remember a lady whose wallpaper peeled where the chimney ran through the house. She knew it was the chimney because this is the only place with wallpaper peeling. She had tried everything- a chimney cover, flashing, even rebuilt the entire top of the chimney. By the time I met her she’d spent thousands of dollars but nothing fixed it.

This was an older house with an unlined brick chimney. In 1900 when it was built that chimney carried wood or coal smoke I’m sure. Someplace along the way a gas furnace was installed, but the chimney was not lined with a properly sized liner.

How to fix it

Gas fumes are very low temperature and have a lot of moisture in them. These fumes were condensing on the inside of this too-large, too-cold old chimney, literally soaking the bricks and keeping them moist all the time. All it took was a chimney liner and we solved the problem.

#4 Chimney Flashing Causes Leaks

bad chimney flashing

Chimney Flashing Leaks

TThe flashing is what keeps water from going into the place where the brick structure comes through the roof (or otherwise comes close to the roof.) There’s a fairly large gap between the bricks and the roof and water will pour through that hole if it’s not sealed up. Flashing is often aluminum that goes in between a couple bricks and bends to go on top of the shingles. Some sort of water proof “stuff” seals those spots. Though it’s far from the best choice, the “stuff” is often tar. In any event, flashing doesn’t last forever and the tar lasts even less time.

How to fix it

There are better materials for sealing the flashing now. If you get a chimney sweep to fix your flashing, tell him you want Flash Seal by Saver Systems. (As you can see, I like Saver Systems products; but they just work well, so you can’t go wrong!) It seals better and lasts longer.

#5 Chimney Leaks Caused by Leaking Bricks

leaky bricks

Leaky Bricks; Source: doityourself.com

Bricks and mortar both pass water, and often lots of it. The problem here is the same as with the crown- the freezing and thawing all winter long with the resulting damage which causes leaks in the house.

You have probably heard of waterproofing a chimney, but you have to be careful about what waterproofing material to use. When water is absorbed into a brick or a mortar joint in the summer time, the water probably dries out after a while. The exceptions might be for a surface in the shade or on the side of the house where the sun never shines; those walls just stay wet. That water does try to escape by “falling” i.e. the water weight (or head pressure) carries it toward the ground where it forces its way out of the bricks either inside or outside of the house.

If you apply a waterproofing material that physically blocks the pores of the brick or mortar, the water is trapped inside the brick. Some bricks actually get soggy, though it’s more likely that the water will just seep to the inside of the house. To the point, using silicone based water sealants may trap water and cause more damage than you started with. Use polysiloxane type waterproofing agents, such as Chimney Saver by Saver Systems.

How to fix it

To find out if your chimney leaks through the masonry surface, have your sweep do a Masonry Absorption Test (MAT) This is a simple test where a special test tube is attached to the side of the chimney and you record the time it takes for water to be absorbed into the wall. This tells you if you should waterproof the chimney.

Bonus: #6 Chimney Leaks That Aren’t Chimney Leaks

non chimney leak

source: www.orionrestoration.com

Sometimes, a leak starts in a different place but finds its way to the chimney, and then visibly enters the inside of a room at the point of the chimney.

For example, your roof might have a leak through the attic vent or roof shingle at the top.  Water could get into the attic or above your ceiling and either drip to the floor or roll along the stringer (the long piece of wood that spaces out the roof trusses and runs the length of your house). If the stringer is un-level, water can travel a ways – and even wind up at the chimney. It has happened, and usually isn’t discovered until people have spent a terrible sum fixing everything else.

Another event that could happen (although I have never heard of it actually happening) is that you could get so much moisture in your attic that it could condense and roll down the stringer onto your chimney.  This could happen if there were some reason your attic was getting a lot of humidity in it – for example, if your dryer vented into the attic instead of out of a vent perhaps, or if your gas furnace were vented by B Vent but just dumped into the attic (which would be a severe carbon monoxide risk, incidentally).

–Need help with your chimney leak repair in Maryland, DC, or North Virginia? Call High’s!

Four Common Chimney Problems

1. Bricks cracking and falling off the chimney:

The problem is that your chimney bricks are absorbing water and then during normal freeze/thaw cycles the bricks are breaking apart and falling off. The solution is to apply a waterproofing to the outside of the chimney. Waterproofing will prevent water penetrating your chimney and the cracking and flaking of the bricks. A chimney professional will apply a waterproofing coating to the outside of the chimney that will reduce water penetration into the masonry by 99%, and it is also vapor permeable, which means it won’t trap water vapors when using the chimney. Waterproofing your chimney with a chimney liner gives an added layer of protection to this section of your home.

2. Water stains on the mantel or the face of the fireplace:

One possible problem could be water entering through cracks in the crown. To fix this we would, depending on the damage, either rebuild the entire crown, or seal the crown with a crown coating and sealant.

3. Water inside the firebox:

If you notice the inside of your firebox is wet after a rain storm then the most likely cause will be an uncapped chimney or chimney with an improperly sized chimney cap. The fix should be quite simple, install a properly sized chimney cap to keep water from entering the flue.

4. Water stains on the ceiling:

If stains are developing above your fireplace on the ceiling then the most common place for water to be leaking is the flashing between the roof and your chimney. In most cases the problem can be solved by applying a chimney flashing sealant. A high quality flashing sealant is excellent for use in stopping problem leaks around the base of chimneys, stacks and vents. However, sometimes the issue is too difficult to be properly sealed, and you may have to repair your chimney leak or crack.

A professional chimney sweep is usually your best choice for repairing common chimney issues.

How Gutter Guards Can Save You A Lot of Time And Headaches

Leaves are beautiful creations of nature that lend splendor and grace to any outdoor venue — that is, just as long as they stay on the trees. Sadly, when the fall season comes around, it inevitably leads to a torrent of leaves on the ground, as well as on the rooftop of your home. No sooner than this happens, a big rain is sure to come along to wash all of that shed foliage right into your gutters and roof trimming, where you don’t want it. When it does, it means at some point, you’re going to have to get up on a ladder, burn part of a perfectly good weekend clearing them out or purchase chimney sweep services.
Gutter Guards
Unless you have Gutter Guards, that is. If you’ve never heard of them, you’re probably missing out on an inexpensive opportunity to save yourself many years’ worth of wasted labor and time every Fall season. Gutter Guards can be custom fit to roof edging of any dimension and height, and can be installed relatively quickly. They attach using custom-crafted all aluminum components and will hold firmly without requiring a single gutter nail. This makes them a much less painstaking gutter to put in place than what you’re probably used to.

There are several benefits to retrofitting your home with a set of these. First of all, they make it nearly impossible for leaves and debris from strong winds and storms to end up stuck in your gutter system. The guard has a narrow opening that allows even large volumes of water to flow in easily, but solid materials are kept out. This completely stops water from pooling up, and allows it to flow away from areas of your home where it would be possible for too much water seeping in to actually cause damage to the structural integrity of the base of your home, including your foundation.

Gutter Guards are a simple solution to a big problem and are nothing short of an investment in the future value of your house. You’ve worked so hard to be able to have a place you can call your own. You owe it to yourself to be able to sit on your front porch on a cool Autumn day, watching the leaves fall in peace.

Chimney Cap vs. Top Sealing Dampers

Some folks wonder what the difference between a chimney cover (also called a chimney cap) and a top sealing damper is. First, let’s make it clear in what ways they are the same.

Diamond mesh chimney cover

Diamond Mesh Chimney Cover

Both items mount on top of the chimney, keep most of the rain out and will keep larger pests from entering the flue, such as raccoons. There are important differences however.

Allow me to also explain that a damper and a flue are not the same either. The flue is simply the open middle of the chimney that the smoke goes up. Dampers are sometimes miss-called flues or flutes, but they are something entirely different than the flue.

A damper is intended to shut off- either fully or partially- the chimney flue. The reason you’d want to do that is to keep heat ($$$) from escaping up the chimney. This also reduces drafts (usually dramatically!) in the room where the fireplace is. They’re an economical alternative to repairing or replacing leaky old metal damper plates in the fireplace. The payback period is different for different people, but top-sealing dampers pay for themselves over time. They also keep rain out pretty well, though not as well as a chimney cap (explained later) and will keep larger animals out even when open.

Energy Top Chimney Damper

Energy Top Chimney Damper

On the other hand, the sides of a chimney cap always allow air to flow. They do not save money by keeping house heat in. A cap’s functions are to keep rain, debris (twigs etc.) and “critters” out, including and especially birds. The screen also serves as a spark arrestor i.e. it will keep most “hot stuff” that comes up in the smoke from landing on the roof. They do a better job of keeping rain out as well because the lids are larger. These are important functions and no chimney should be uncovered. This option is usually the least costly, especially if installed by a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep Company.

There is the option to have both the damper and cover combined. For a couple reasons, too detailed to go into here, you can’t just put a chimney cover over a top-sealing damper. The biggest reason for this is because a damper lid won’t fit inside a standard cover. With that said, some manufacturers make a combination unit which gives you both the extra animal and weather protection. This combo also allow you to benefit from the heat savings of a chimney cap and damper all in one unit. This is usually the most costly option, but certainly the nicest.

For safety sake, you need a damper. For economics sake, you should invest in a top sealing damper. For the best of both worlds, spring for the damper-cap that provides a little bit of everything and avoid chimney problems.

Guide To Buying Chimney Chase Covers

What’s a Chimney Chase Cover and Why Do I Need It?

First: a word on what a chase cover is not:  Chase covers are not for masonry chimneys, rather they are for the boxes (chases) that house a factory built chimney.  This is the top of the box that runs up the side or through the middle of the house and above the roof.

Buying a chimney chase cover is important and necessary to the life and maintenance of your chimney and your home. A chimney chase cover is a metal covering designed to keep precipitation, debris and animals out.  It is not an option it is a necessity.

Fitting over the top, outer opening of your chimney chase, it is important to buy a cover that fits perfectly and is made to last. Chase covers are custom made to fit your chase perfectly.  It’s up to you to decide what type of material to use.

Chase Cover Material Choices

Rusted Galvanized Steel Chimney Chase Cover

Rusted Galvanized Steel Chase Cover

When it comes to chimney chase covers, the materials used and quality of the design matters. Made from aluminum, stainless and galvanized steel and copper, each of these types has something different to offer.

  • Galvanized steel, which is  always the lowest cost, will rust quickly and need to be replaced very soon after installation so it is usually best not to invest in this choice.
  • Aluminum will not rust, but is generally too soft for the purpose.  It’s often not readily available in the sizes necessary either.  As a practical matter it’s not a good choice.
  • Stainless steel is the strongest of all your choices. It costs more than galvanized steel but will last virtually forever.  Stainless steel is generally considered to be the sensible choice.  It’s certainly the value proposition.
  • Copper is truly the top quality choice, but the price tag will reflect it.  Copper chase covers are generally so expensive that only very expensive houses warrant getting them, and the wealthy owners don’t like the price tag either.

Chase Cover Design/Spec Considerations

Ensuring that your chase cover is made to exact specifications is also very important.  You should allow about ¼ to ½ inch all the way around, and the cover should be spaced off the chase by about 1/8 to ¼ of an inch.  This ensures the cover isn’t too tight to install but protects the entire top of your chimney from small animals while leaving enough space to allow for a little ventilation.  (A chase cover that’s too tight traps moisture which can rot away the house.)

Chimney Chase Cover

Chase Cover Design with Cross Breaks

You’ll also want cross-breaks in your cover,  These look like a big X from corner to corner and keep the cover from catering and collecting water (which is in fact why most galvanized chase covers need to be replaced.)  There’s also the side drop and collar to consider.  The sides usually range between two and six inches, while three or four inches is pretty standard.  While a top collar (around the hole that the chimney comes up through) isn’t actually required, it’s a nice feature of a good chase cover; they’re usually 2 inches tall.

Aesthetics

Finally, the last thing you should consider when buying your chase cover is how you want it to look. Most home owners shop only for utility when it comes to these pieces, and stainless steel is usually acceptable.  However, more and more companies are offering customization. After you have decided on the type, it may be possible to choose a specific color finish so that it matches or coordinates with your home. This can be done tastefully and make your home more attractive, but it will also add to the cost so be sure to ask about the additional cost upfront.  Also, realize that painted surfaces need maintenance you’ll have to repaint every now and again if you want color. You could even hire a chimney sweep to complete such upkeep for you and your family.

Summary:

Good Stainless Steel Chimney Chase Cover

Excellent Choice, Sir

To recap, High’s recommendations are:

  • All factory-built chimneys need a chase cover.
  • Material best buy: stainless steel chase cover
  • Sizing: allow about ¼ to ½ inch extra all the way around
  • Cross breaks (“x” ridges) are essential

Remember that it is smarter and more cost effective to buy a quality piece now. When purchased wisely and installed correctly, a chimney cover will last for a very long time.

Are you in Maryland, D.C. or Northern Virginia and in need of a quality chimney chase cover installion? High’s Chimney has you… covered:)

Capping Your Chimney

Chimney Caps

A fireplace can be a lovely, warm centerpiece for your family to gather around. In colder climes, a wood fire is often more cost-efficient than operating a furnace. However, to enjoy your fireplace safely, you must maintain your fireplace. Along with professional sweeping, capping your chimney is also essential.

For anyone who owns a home with chimneys, a chimney caps is a necessary facet of home maintenance. Capping your chimney will keep out rain water and prevent animal intrusion.

Chimney Water Damage

Water damages your chimney in two ways. First, water is absorbed by the masonry of your chimney. This can lead to mold and fungi growing in the creosote and ash that lines an unclean chimney. These spores can enter the home and cause allergic reactions and breathing difficulties.

Capping Your Chimney

The biggest and most visible problems are caused by the freezing and thawing of the water in the brick, which leads to cracking, crumbling masonry. Repairing such damage can cost thousands.

When water comes down the open chimney lands of a metal firebox, the steel will rust. The structural integrity of your firebox is compromised, and in severe cases of neglect, a rusted firebox can be the cause of a house fire. Such a huge fire hazard but so easily- and inexpensively- avoided.

Finally, your uncapped chimney is a haven for all kinds of unwelcome guests. While fuzzy raccoons may be cute, you do not need one descending your chimney in the middle of the night. Lured by the warmth, opossums and squirrels may also make nocturnal intrusions. Bats and birds are drawn to an open chimney as well. Be aware that many of these animals may carry lice or rabies. All animals will damage your home and possessions in their frenzied attempts to escape if they can’t get back out easily.

Capping your chimneys is not a task to delay. It is inexpensive, and especially compared to the wide-spread damage that deferring can cause. A chimney sweep should be able to cap your chimneys for you if you don’t want to climb onto your own roof. To avoid water damage to internal structures and masonry, as well as keep out animal visitors, cap your chimney today!

All About Chimney Crowns

What’s a Chimney Crown Anyway?

Your chimney crown protects your chimney from water damage entering through small cracks. Some experts believe that less than one percent of all chimneys are properly crowned. Most bricklayers simply finish off the chimney with brick mortar – this is probably due to expediency or lack of education. In either case, this ultimately leads to severe damage, especially for those who live in parts of the United States where freezing is an issue.

Why Are Chimney Crowns Important?

Without a proper chimney crown- or if you have a cracked one, rain water seeps into the bricks and mortar of your chimney structure. In the winter this water constantly freezes and thaws. When water freezes, it expands by about ten percent turning small cracks into large cracks and causing “spaulling” (peeling) of the bricks, and deterioration of the mortar.

Chimney-Crown-Finished

Even minute amounts of water can result in brick flaking, mortar deterioration, and unsightly salt deposits on your chimney. Without a good crown that has been sealed your chimney does not have any protection. Eventually, the bricks and mortar break up enough that the chimney is no longer structurally sound.

How To Tell If Your Chimney Crown Is Properly Built

A properly built chimney crown has a slope to protect your chimney from water damage. The crown will slope from the flue liner at a certain distance from and past the walls in order to protect the chimney. An overhang will keep water from dripping off of the chimney crown and onto the face of your chimney.

If your crown is not built like this, as important as chimney waterproofing is to everyone, it’s even more important to you! While checking your crown, be sure your bricks are not soaking up water, be sure your flashing at the roof-line is sealed, and that you have a chimney cover!

Seal That Crown!

While your entire chimney needs to be protected, your crown is particularly vulnerable. For protection from freezing and thawing, the crown must be sealed with a durable sealer, such as Crown Coat by Saver Systems or Flexible Crown by WeatherTite Industries.

Call your chimney sweep to have your chimney inspected for water damage. What might appear to be minuscule damage may only require one more season of wet weather to ruin your chimney. Modern crown materials allow for quick, affordable repairs while your cracks are still only small cracks. It is a hard fact that paying for a new crown and set of chimney caps and seal now is much less expensive or messy than paying for a whole new chimney later!