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What are the different types of chimneys?
Basically there are three types of chimneys. First is the masonry chimney which is made of brick, concrete, and mortar.
Second is the prefabricated (prefab) chimney which is manufactured at a factory and is installed as a unit. There are several kinds of prefab chimneys, which include the Isokern which can be made to look like a masonry chimney.
Lastly is the hybrid chimney which has a masonry base, firebox, and smoke chamber but it then transforms into a high temperature pipe with a steel stud frame.
What is a prefab chimney?
A chimney system prefabricated or manufactured at a factory. It typically has a metal firebox and a thin metal pipe. The pipe is kept cool by air rushing through the cooling cavity in the pipe.
How can I tell what type of chimney I have?
Real bricks in the firebox usually mean you have a masonry system. The top of the chimney offers clues as well. If you can see a clay type square or oval pipe protruding out the top of the chimney stack you have a masonry fireplace and chimney system.
If you can see a metal pipe with a metal cap that fits the pipe perfectly, protruding out the top, chances are you have some kind of a prefab.
Look at the firebox. Does it have a metal box? If so, you have a prefab. If it is all brick and mortar but with the metal pipe protruding out of the top you probably have a hybrid
What is creosote?
The smoke from a wood fire usually contains a dark brown or black substance which has an unpleasant odor. This tar-like substance is called creosote and is found almost everywhere in a wood burning system. Creosote is very flammable and is responsible for many “chimney fires.”
What position should my damper be in?
Open during a fire but closed during cold days because the heated air from the furnace will rise and escape out the chimney. A damper in the closed position will stop this flow of heated air out your chimney and save you money.
What is a top-mounted damper?
A damper installed at the top of the chimney. A cable runs down the chimney to a metal “L” shaped bracket which is mounted on the side wall of the firebox. The cable comes down and runs through the bracket. To close the damper at the top you pull down on the cable and lock it in the bracket. That pulls a stainless steel plate down over the top of the flue, thereby sealing it off.
How often should I have my chimney swept?
It depends on what you burn and how well your system operates. When we see a build up of 1/8 to 1/4-inch of creosote we recommend the chimney be swept. If you can’t see the flue by looking up from the firebox and you use the fireplace 10 times per season then you should have it swept yearly. The NFPA 211 (National Fire Protection Association Code 211 - www.nfpa.org), which is the industry’s standard, states that all systems should be inspected annually. So, if you use your fireplace you should have it cleaned and inspected once per year
is the NFPA and what is their purpose?
chimney does not draft properly. How can I solve this problem?
Is there a danger that carbon monoxide may escape from my chimney back into my home?
Yes. Carbon monoxide affects people differently. There are recorded cases where some persons have suffered devastating effects from carbon monoxide exposure while others in the same room suffered none. A gas fireplace, if it is not drafting properly and not burning the gas completely, will put deadly carbon monoxide into the living space. Chimney Sweep LA recommends that all gas fireplaces have carbon monoxide detectors installed around the fireplace.
What does a typical chimney inspection cost?
It depends on the type and size of chimney and how many fireboxes are involved. However, a standard price on a visual inspection of a one story chimney with one firebox is $79.
Why should I get a chimney inspection?
NFPA 211 mandates annual inspections as well as after every major event such as an earthquake or windstorm. Also a chimney inspection should be done when the home changes owners.
Doesn’t a regular home inspector also expect a chimney to the degree necessary?
My home inspector said that my chimney was in “A” condition. Why should I hire a chimney inspector?
If the chimney has been used successfully and there are no “red flags” visible then a complete chimney inspection is probably a waste of money and time. However, if you want to be 100% sure, a complete inspection by a chimney professional is recommended.
Is it possible that a home inspector may miss something that is seriously wrong with a chimney?
Yes, almost all home inspection contracts cover the fact that they are performing a visual inspection and that they do not guarantee they will discover every problem that may exist.
There was an earthquake in my area; it is a good idea to have a chimney inspected?
Yes, small cracks in the chimney can develop over time and cause costly repairs.
When buying a home I noticed that the bricks near the firebox opening have been painted over. Should I be concerned?
Yes. This usually indicated that the fireplace did not work well so the owner tried to hide this fact by painting over the soot stained bricks. In addition, the paint may not be a high temperature paint and when subjected to high temperatures it could release toxic fumes.
When looking for homes I have noticed that some chimneys have been painted over. Is this a “red flag”?
Yes. The owner may be trying to hide a structural break by caulking or otherwise patching up the crack and then painting over it. This is unacceptable as it does nothing to improve the condition of the chimney.
When looking to buy a home I noticed some fireplaces in older homes have never been used. Is this something to worry about?
Yes. 9 times out of 10 when we come across an older home that has a chimney that has never been used there is something wrong with the chimney. Remember, back when the house was built the fireplace was usually the only source of heat. One that has never been used means that there is almost certainly something wrong with it.
Why is it a good idea to inspect all chimneys built before 1940?
Chimney design changed after the Long Beach earthquake. Prior to 1939 most chimneys were not reinforced, had ash mortar and many were not lined. A single width ash mortar chimney can be a real safety hazard and must be carefully looked at.
What is mortar?
Today mortar consists of Portland cement mixed with sand and water. It hardens to be very hard and has an excellent bond. Mortar before 1939 was made from sand, lime and ashes. Although it had compression strength it had a poor bond strength which is what is needed to hold the chimney together in an earthquake.
Why should all prefab chimneys be inspected?
Simple mistake made during prefab installations could be disastrous. If the pipe comes apart inside of the wood framed chase a fire is very likely. Most chimney fires are caused by prefab chimney systems.
What is the point of greatest stress on a chimney?
Where the chimney meets the roof. Also called the roofline.
If I see a crack on my chimney is it something to worry about?
Yes, you should contact a chimney professional as soon as possible.
What would cause a chimney to leak?
There are several possibilities. The number one cause is the roof/chimney intersection. If this is not properly flashed it will leak. The number two cause is no rain cap. Rain will come into the flue of the chimney and begin to saturate the inside of the chimney.
Is it a good idea to have a rain cap installed on my chimney?
Yes, it will keep out water, leaves, animals, and all sorts of unwanted things.
I am noticing a white-looking substance growing on my chimney where it got wet. What is that exactly?
This white powdery substance is called efflorescence. It is harmless and is formed from a mineral which is basically a water soluble salt. It will wash away with special detergents and will stop appearing once the source of water is removed.
What are “chimney fires”?
A chimney fire is a fire that takes place in the smoke chamber and the flue of a chimney. When the flue and or smoke chamber accumulates ¼-inch or more of the sticky tar substance called creosote a chimney fire is possible. The creosote ignites and if supplied with enough oxygen a roaring chimney fire can ensue. Chimney fires are dangerous and are responsible for houses burning to the ground. If your chimney has ever had a chimney fire you must get the system inspected by a professional before attempting to use it again. Chimney fires can be prevented by annual inspections to make sure your system remains clean and is operating correctly and by burning dry wood.
What is tuck pointing?
Today tuck pointing is the term used when referring to a joint being repaired. The process consists of removing the existing mortar from between the bricks, stone, or blocks down to a depth of approximately ½ inch and then replacing the removed mortar with new mortar. Tuck pointing is not considered to be a structural repair, it is for aesthetic reasons.