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Water problems with your Masonry (brick) Chimney?


The damage water can do to your masonry chimney and how to prevent it!

Water carved the Grand Canyon and if you do nothing to thwart it, this awesome and powerful force of nature will cause slow but persistent damage to your home year after year.

Water will literally “rain havoc” on unprotected chimneys. The durability of a masonry chimney depends most of all upon it’s ability to repel water!

Brick, stone and concrete are not as strong and solid as they appear. They will expand and contract with changes in temperature. Masonry absorbs moisture and heat at varying rates, which will cause movement within the structure. Masonry is a very porous material, readily soaking up water. We tell our clients to think of a brick chimney as a “GIANT SPONGE!” Because it is one!

The sun’s movement across the sky causes “differential expansion”. As the temperature on the “sunny” side rises, the temperature on the “shady” side falls. This leads to deterioration of the mortar (the mortar is the “glue” that holds all the brickwork together). Even a chimney that is no longer in service can have an active water infiltration point. Especially a chimney that is no longer in service. No one is paying attention to it anymore!

The one major component of a masonry chimney that goes bad is the top or “crown’.  The concrete or mortar crown is the first line of defense in keeping water infiltration at bay!

We Repair Chimney Crowns!

We use the SaverSystems™ line of repair products.

A masonry chimney must be protected from the elements and serviced, or, at the very least, inspected on an annual basis.

Here are some of the “harbingers” of water issues with a masonry chimney

  • Wet or “damp” areas inside of or around the structure (this may lead to mold/mildew problems)
  • Water forming at the base (may weaken the foundation). Ever seen a chimney “leaning” away from a home?
  • A white “powdery” stain on the outside (or) inside surfaces (This staining is called “efflorescence”)
  • A rusted or rusting damper in the fireplace
  • Strange “organic” and mostly unpleasant odors emanating from the fireplace. Especially in the warmer spring and summer months. (This where you would become more concerned about possible mold/mildew issues.) A chimney’s “structure” is hollow! When water penetrates its outer”shell” , mold and mildew may become issues that you don’t want to deal with! (We will talk about mold remediation in another post!)

If you see (or suspect) any of these issues, call a CSIA Certified Chimney Professional to inspect/evaluate.

Exterior moisture problems are relatively easy for someone with a “practiced eye” to spot BUT any troublesome interior areas are far is a far tougher call to make.

Some chimney maintenance companies will conduct an inspection with nothing more than a handheld flashlight. Others use a little more technically sophisticated means by using a “Chim-Scan”.  This is industry leading technology developed specifically for use in the chimney industry by Estoban Corp. It is a computer controlled and recorded video inspection of all the internal portions of a chimney that normally could never be looked at before without demolishing (at least) some portion of the structure.

High efficiency gas or oil fired appliances (mostly furnaces) venting into an unlined chimney (this is a chimney that does not have a terra cotta ceramic, or other type, “liner”. This is typically referred to as a “flue”). Or a chimney with a flue that is “oversized” for its application may have issues with high volumes of acidic condensation collecting on the walls of the flue and causing severe damage. This damage is called “acid delamification” or “spalling”.

Mortar and masonry may erode away, placing a chimney into an “out of code” classification. Rendering it as unfit, or unsafe for service.

Another very common occurrence associated with water is for creosote, ash or soot along with debris (think leaves from overhanging trees) that is “washed down”, concentrating and obstructing the flue. This problem presents itself as a threat from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning as a burning appliance’s exhaust gasses (odorless/colorless) cannot vent properly to the outside atmosphere and infiltrate the home. 

That is why, when a new higher efficient gas or oil appliance is installed, a new “code compliant” venting system (liner) is also installed (or should be!). Many chimney maintenance company’s offer this service. Seaside Sweep, Inc. certainly does!

Remember! A neglected chimney can cause a home to be “predisposed” to having a structure fire due to the flames of a creosote induced chimney fire finding it’s way through a missing/cracked or misaligned chimney flue! Excess heat can radiate through the chimney walls and ignite nearby combustibles. 

If chimney fire damage is not to severe,  a chimney flue may be able to be repaired. Either by the “HeatShield” Cerfractory method, (We are the only chimney sweep professionals in the Wilmington area trained and licensed for this method). Call or email us at Seaside Sweep, Inc. for more details.

Do not, however, allow the application of a “waterproofing” type compound! (Thompson’s WaterSeal® comes to mind) This will seal the pores of the masonry and it can no longer “breathe”. A masonry structure must be able to let water vapor pass through to the exterior or it will experience what is called the “freeze/thaw” cycle. This is where water is “trapped” in the masonry and when it freezes will cause the outer portions of the brick to “pop off” into flakes or chunks. This is known as “spalling”. This can lead to extensive (and expensive) repair!

One of the simplest things that a homeowner can do to prevent water from entering a chimney, is to insure that there is a chimney cap installed. This not only keeps H2O out of the system, but prevents animal intrusion such as birds, squirrels and raccoons. 

Ask your chimney professional what style or model of chimney cap would work best for you!  Seaside Sweep, Inc. has a large selection of chimney caps and covers to choose from. Call or email Seaside Sweep, Inc. today

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