Santa's Friend Chimney Service

Santa's Friend Chimney Service Blog

Water and Your Masonry Chimney

There are two important things to think about in connection with water and masonry chimneys: crowns and caps. The first function to keep water out of the chase and away from the chimney. The second are designed to prevent it from entering the flue, but “full coverage” caps protect the entire crown.

Water Damage - Jackson MS - Santa's Friend Chimney

A Wash?

The crown is the highest masonry component of your chimney. Above it are only the flue liner top (typically clay) and its cap (typically metal). It closes the chase around the flue liner and overhangs the rest of the chimney to direct water away from it. Sometimes called a “chimney wash”, it more than pays for its construction and maintenance with its prevention of much more costly damage.

If a crown fails to do its job and the problem is not corrected, the scale tips increasingly toward expensive repairs. Once water gets into the chimney, it freezes and thaws, constantly expanding little cracks into bigger ones. Moisture reacts with creosote and releases smelly gases, and odorless toxic ones have more chance of slipping through cracked liners to remain indoors.

Water begins its slow and steady destruction of your masonry chimney, rusting metals and rotting woods. Neglected long enough, the whole chimney can collapse if its worst enemy is let in on the roof. A crown in good repair and a strong chimney cap are anything but a wash when it comes to safety measures.

King of the Hill, Top of the Heap

Chimney caps are equally important because they do the same thing for the protruding flue liner. The fact that caps are missing from so many chimneys is baffling, although lightweight ones can be taken by wind and animals. Either lots of homeowners are ignoring the good advice of certified chimney sweeps or there are lots of critters on their really windy roofs! That, of course, also calls for chimney caps.

By Jim Robinson on April 20th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

The History of Chimney Sweeps

We tend to forget that the history of chimney sweeps is fairly short, extending back only to the middle of the seventeenth century. Unlike “short histories” in travel brochures for London that pre-date Christ, a presentation of one is in fact possible for its chimney sweeps. Apprenticed to master sweeps after the city’s Great Fire in 1666, young boys in London were the world’s first professional sweeps for modern chimneys.

Chimney Sweep History - Jackson MS - Santa's Friend Chimney

From Smoke Vents to Modern Chimneys

Master sweeps have probably been around for another five centuries, even if only cleaning the chimneys of the very rich. Chimneys appeared early in the 13th Century, but they were big enough for anyone to get into. Better than unvented open fires at the centers of houses, they were still essentially vents for smoke. Only the wealthy would have called in chimney sweeps to routinely tackle the creosote buildup on the inside of the chimney.

All of that changed with London’s Great Fire, because suddenly chimneys were required to be so small that only small boys could climb into them. Then fairly commonplace in middle class homes, chimneys were now required to create an updraft in order to lessen creosote accumulation. That meant much smaller chimneys than before; combined with urban density, their increasing popularity additionally meant joining chimney components at sharp angles.

Not a Good Fit

Those two things combined to make it impossible for master sweeps to do the jobs at which they claimed to excel. Orphans and street kids were abundant, and they had the small bodies and poor circumstances that made them perfect targets for apprenticeship. In no position to make demands about safety, wages, or working conditions, these young boys were the Olivers of chimney sweeping.

Completely unprotected and largely unnoticed until 1778, child chimney sweeps daily took on the difficult and dangerous job of these professionals. It took another century to get children out of chimneys and begin to license professional chimney sweeps. Romanticized in film and literature, the job that professional chimney sweeps do has been dangerous throughout its “short” history.

By Jim Robinson on March 22nd, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Why Chimney Repair Should NOT Be A DIY Project

Let’s make this easy:

  • It has to happen on a roof.
  • There is a lot to take in at the same time while you’re up there!
  • It calls for a specialist’s knowledge.

Those are probably the top three reasons that chimney repair should NOT be a DIY project, so they are worth a closer look.
Don't DIY the Chimney - Jackson MS - Santa's Friend Chimney
Up On The Roof

Any house that has a chimney is likely to have a slanted roof to let snow fall off it. A roof would not present the world’s safest surface to work on if it were sitting on the ground; it basically invites you to twist an ankle. To make matters worse, that uneven surface is probably at least ten feet off the ground. This is not exactly a safe situation, especially considering that heavy materials and tools will also have to be carried up the ladder.

All in all, it is just a bad idea to attempt an already difficult, unfamiliar job in an environment that presents dangers. Attention has to be paid to a great many things, starting with identifying what caused the chimney to need repair. Fixing it without understanding fully what caused it to decay is asking to reconsider this DIY decision further down the line.

A chimney professional will start there, finding the faulty flashing or cracked mortar that started the problem and addressing that as part of his chimney repair. It does not do much good to repair only the chimney if something other than time is to blame for its deterioration. Furthermore, if the chimney is crumbling, the flue liner needs to be checked as well, as it could be dented or warped.

In the final analysis, chimney repair simply involves too much specialized awareness to be taken on by do-it-yourselfers. That awareness starts with the danger of working on a roof and extends to knowledge of waterproofing agents. With a poorly done job resulting in greater expense down the line, DIY chimney repair just is not worth the risks.

By Jim Robinson on March 7th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Do a Chimney Inspection After a Heavy Storm

Buying a home with a working fireplace is the dream of many homeowners. However, what most of them do not realize is that there is quite a bit that can go wrong with a chimney. This is not to deter anyone from buying a home with a chimney, just to warn them that chimney’s do require regular maintenance and inspections, especially after a heavy storm.

Heavy Storms & Your Chimney - Jackson MS - Santa's Friend

Chimneys look simple, but they have a rather complex makeup. Any one of the working parts being damaged could create a backflow of smoke into the home or possibly lead to structural integrity problems. As most know, a chimney should be inspected every year before the winter season hits, but it should also be checked after a major storm to ensure it is still in good working condition.

When heavy storms hit, high winds usually mean the structure of the chimney can be damaged. These storms also mean debris could fly around and get into the chimney. This could cause some type of blockage, preventing the flue from performing its natural duty as an airway for the smoke to escape.

If a chimney cap was in place, it may have been ripped off during the storm. If this happens, local wildlife may have chosen to use your chimney as a safe haven while the storm passed. Another danger is excessive water getting into the chimney, causing cracks and possibly mold and mildew buildup. This will be obvious with a bad smell emanating from the fireplace area.

Most homeowners simply assume that if the chimney looks okay at first glance, it probably weathered the storm okay. Unfortunately, many of them only realize the damage caused by the storm when they try to start a fire and end up with a room full of smoke. If your home is in an area where recent storms have caused damage, take the safe route and schedule a professional chimney inspection before using the chimney again.

By Jim Robinson on February 19th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Chimney Spalling and What Can Be Done

Spalling is the crumbling of bricks that occurs when moisture has penetrated them, which in turn has frozen. When the water absorbed by the chimney freezes, it expands, pushing the brick face outward and off. Not only unsightly but ultimately the downfall, quite literally, of the chimney itself, spalling cannot be ignored.

Example of Chimney Spalling - Jackson MS - Santa's Friend Chimney

First, the damaged brick will need to be removed and replaced by a professional trained to do the job correctly. Crumbling mortar will also have to be addressed and removed before fresh mortar is applied. Finally, the cause of the problem will have to be identified and corrected so that it does not recur.

In all likelihood, the culprit will be either the chimney chase cover or the chimney cap. When these are cracked or rusted, they allow water to penetrate the chimney and chase, and a variety of problems result. The one signaled most by chimney spalling is the expansion of the brick when the moisture in it freezes.

Generally used by builders because they are less expensive, soft bricks are much more susceptible to penetration by moisture. Another added expense that builders tend to avoid is a chimney crown, with an overhang designed to carry water away from the chimney. Without it, water can enter the chimney chase, and even with it, routine inspections need to confirm that no cracks have appeared in the crown.

Once moisture is allowed to enter the chimney chase and flue, serious damage to the chimney begins to unfold. It does not help that flues can also be compromised by the steady flow of corrosive gases to which they are exposed. When cracks occur, more moisture is admitted, and when that moisture freezes and thaws, the bricks expand and spalling begins. Chimney spalling is a sign of serious water damage and needs to be corrected by a trained professional as soon as possible.

By Jim Robinson on February 4th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment

Why Your Home Could Be Too Airtight

For all their energy efficiency, homes can actually be too airtight. They lack the little leaks and cracks that allow fresh air to enter the house. Without replacement air, exhaust fans are unable to vent stale air. Starved for air, the house can even depressurize, which causes a buildup of carbon monoxide.

Home might be too airtight

It is important, therefore, to learn to recognize signs that your home is not getting enough air. Condensation on windows is a good indicator, as is persistent high humidity. Mold in corners and on pantry shelves is another warning sign, and residual smells from cooking and smoke carry a message to homeowners. Smoke coming into the room from a fireplace should worry you if other possible causes of it have been eliminated, from chimney pots of the wrong size to closed dampers.

Poor ventilation causes serious health problems, including headaches, breathing difficulties, irritated eyes, and dizziness. People who suffer from asthma experience increased and more severe episodes and, as always, the very young and the elderly are at heightened risk. If symptoms appear, open a window on each level of the house about an inch and leave them open for 24 hours. Continue to leave the upper window open, and if symptoms reappear, again open the downstairs window.

You may need to open windows more than an inch. It may even be necessary to have a device installed that will draw in outside air, heat it, and blow it around the house. This will counter the heat loss caused by open windows and will keep heating bills within reason relative to those incurred when the house was suffocating.

Home systems require adequate air to function properly. By way of example, a furnace mixes air with fuel as it combusts. That air comes from somewhere and has to be replaced. If none is available, the furnace will steal it from the flue pipe of the water heater, leaving it with insufficient air. That means the combustible exhaust inside the heater will backdraft into the house, and the by-products will cause a buildup of carbon monoxide. Whether termed too airtight or insufficiently vented, houses need to breathe.

By Jim Robinson on January 28th, 2013 | Tagged with: Tags: , , | Leave a Comment