If you own an older home with a fireplace, there are some extra issues you’ll have to think about when evaluating and maintaining your chimney. When dealing with your chimney, you’ll have to determine if it was constructed properly and complies with modern safety standards and how it has held up over time.
Chimney liners are a vital part of a safely operating chimney. However, homes built in the early 20th century often were constructed without chimney liners. A chimney without a liner is considered a major hazard. Gaps in an unlined chimney can give sparks access to a home’s structure, causing a fire, or they can allow carbon monoxide to leak into the home. If a gas heating appliance has been hooked up to an unlined chimney, the condensation created by the gas fireplace or stove can cause the chimney’s masonry to deteriorate quickly, compromising its structural integrity. At the very least, an unlined chimney can cause serious drafting problems, causing smoke to flow back into your home, rather than up and out of the chimney.
Chimneys built before 1900 often didn’t include a damper. Your damper is necessary for sealing off your fireplace when it’s not in use. That keeps cold air from flowing into your home and warm air from escaping. It also can keep animals and debris that find their way down your chimney from finding their way into your home. In older chimneys with dampers, those dampers can become rusted or jammed or, if they haven’t been opened for a while, debris can settle one top of them making them impossible to open.
Of course, one of the primary concerns with chimneys in older homes is damage and deterioration. The good news is that bricks and masonry can hold up extremely well over time. The bad news is that masonry also can be susceptible to freeze-thaw or water damage. That can cause cracked and crumbling bricks, mortar, chimney crowns and tile chimney liners. Fortunately, those problems often can be fixed relatively easily by an experienced mason. Sometimes, older chimneys can have more serious structural problems. As the ground settles beneath them, they can crack or begin to lean. Entire sections of a chimney can crumble and give way, or there can be improperly performed repairs.
Many times in older homes, chimneys were constructed without modern safety considerations. They should always be inspected to make sure that there is proper clearance between the chimney and the home’s infrastructure and that the chimney is high enough above the home’s roof. Especially in older homes where fireplaces share a chimney, the chimney structure should be checked to make sure that cable, electrical or phone lines have not been run through the chimney.
Of course, the best way to make sure the chimney in your older home is structurally sound and safe for operation is by having it inspected by a certified chimney sweep. If you have concerns about your older chimney, call the experts at Fluesbrothers; we can clean and inspect your chimney, and help you with any needed repairs.