How to Maximize the Life of Your Chimney and Minimize Repair Costs

Written by John Bard of Integrated Home Improvements
Updated July 14, 2014
Outside of a yellow house
The exposed portion of your chimney receives more weather abuse than any other masonry on a building. (Angie's List/Eldon Lindsay)

By paying yearly attention to your chimney crown to catch issues early, you can save yourself costly chimney repairs and extend the life of your chimney.

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The chimney is literally a pillar running through your entire house, but it is also something that most homeowners don’t pay attention to until damage is severe and repair is costly. But with some routine attention, you should have no problem maintaining your chimney and avoiding chimney failure.

Why your chimney is at risk

Chimneys get their start inside your house, in the basement where their weight can be supported, and run up through the building to terminate above the roof. They vent the exhaust gases for furnaces, water heaters, stoves, fireplaces or any combination of these, and in the old days incinerators were vented through them as well. Inside your house they usually don't provide much in the way of trouble as they are shielded from the elements and cold, but outside is a different story.

Chimneys need to be a minimum of two feet above the roof that is ten feet horizontally adjacent to it and three feet above the roof where they come out. These are lots of numbers, but they mean that the exposed portion of your chimney receives more weather abuse than any other masonry on a building. They also have the unique situation of freezing solid through in the winter since they aren't subjected to the same ambient warmth from the home.

This combination of excess moisture exposure and freezing temperatures means they are particularly prone to failure. A chimney is usually the first masonry on a home to require repair and because of the nature of chimneys and their location, it's usually quite labor intensive as well.

Video: Prevent Chimney Fires With Proper Maintenance

How to take care of your chimney crown

Your chimney's first defense against weather is it's crown. Just like the hood on your jacket keeps your head dry in the rain, so too a chimney’s crown is it's first defense against water penetration. Remember what I said about chimneys freezing through in the winter? Well if water gets inside the chimney through a faulty crown, it freezes and expands and starts cracking the structure apart.

1. Visually check your chimney crown regularly. Using a pair of binoculars, inspect your crown yearly to look for any cracks or gaps in the crown and mortar joints. The brick and mortar closest to the top generally always start to wear first. If you can use an inside window to peer out, do this as well. Depending on your house layout, you may be able to see a fair bit of the roof side of the chimney by looking out a window.

You can also have a mason come and inspect via a ladder to get even closer. Ask for pictures of any issues so you know exactly what the issue is and how severe.

2. Seal cracks in your chimney crown as soon as you find them. If cracks in the crown are caught early, they can usually be sealed up with sealant and extend the life of the crown for years, consequently saving all the masonry underneath wear and tear.

Often when you actually take a look at your chimney crown, you'll find a big gap between the crown and flue tiles. This is a huge area for destructive water to get in and needs to be sealed up as soon as possible.

3. Consider replacing your chimney crown entirely. If you're one of the unfortunate people that doesn't have a real concrete or stone crown with an overhang, then you more than likely have a mortar crown. These are useless. Do yourself a favor and have a mason cast a real crown on this before the top needs to be rebuilt as well.

Most owners don't give their chimney any notice until there are pieces falling off and by then, any repair is going to be much more costly. So save your home and your bank account by catching little issues before they become big problems.

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About this Experts Contributor: John Bard  is the owner of Integrated Home Improvements, which provides masonry services in Buffalo, NY. John has been in masonry for over 15 years. His extensive experience ranges from work in residential, commercial, institutional and industrial areas. You can follow this contributor on Google+.

As of July 14, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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