Protect Your Chimney
From the Rain
As you probably know, Southwestern Virginia is no stranger to wind and water. In fact, almost a third of the year has some sort of precipitation.
But the bulk of it comes in the spring and summer. The same time that most people forget about their chimney.
Most people start to worry about their chimney right before winter, when they start to use it.
Forgetting about your chimney in the warmer months may be more detrimental than you realize because your chimney’s material is porous, so it doesn’t do a good job repelling the water.
As water enters, it encourages cracking in the bricks and mortar.
Why It Matters
One of the most obvious signs that your chimney is leaking is something you can hear…drip…drip…drip.
Unfortunately, though, you can’t always see where the water is dripping. All you can know is that you have a leak and it has begun to puddle somewhere.
Another sign that you have water trouble in your chimney is that if you smell the musty, dank scent of still water coming from your fireplace.
I find that this one is also pretty scary because, once again, you know that you have a water problem, but this time you didn’t hear it happen.
Nor do you know exactly where it is coming from (or ending up for that matter). All you know is that it stinks (in more than one way, right?).
Or picture this: you go to turn on your fireplace after a long night of raining and see a puddle of water sitting on the floor inside your firebox. This one isn’t fun, by no means, but at least you know where the water is, right?
Well, not all the time. You see, just because you have water that you can see, you can’t assume that there isn’t water hidden somewhere else like in the two previous examples.
SO YOU HAVE WATER LEAKING SOMEWHERE…
The most frequent cause of this is that some structural damage exists in your chimney (unless you just don’t have a cap, in which case you should get one).
Moisture in the chimney can cause even the most well-built chimney to collapse and fall to its knees.
If you have any suspicions of your chimney leaking, I highly recommend that you get in front of this as soon as possible. Otherwise, I would suggest that you do what you can in the meantime to prevent it.
In addition to structural damage, water in your chimney could be indicative of a much larger issue, like mold and fungi growing in your walls and attic.
Mold can be found anywhere that moisture and oxygen are present (like the draft in a chimney or oxygen being let in from the cracks in your chimney).
There are hundreds of species of mold, most of which are not as dangerous, but keep in mind that there is no species of mold that is “safe” when inhaled.
Symptoms of mold exposure may include headaches, sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and fatigue. And of course, those of us with asthma, these symptoms can be heightened.
How the Water Enters
Just like there’s more than one way to skin a cat, there’s more than one way for water to leak inside your chimney.
Water tends to take the path of least resistance, but we’ve narrowed it down to four primary areas that allow water to leak through: the crown work, masonry, flashing, and your chimney cap.
Think of your chimney cap like an umbrella.
It may not protect from all water, but it will keep you from getting wet from above.
The chimney cap doesn’t prevent your chimney from getting wet, but it certainly helps keep water from getting into your chimney flue and, therefore, leaking into your chimney box.
The cap’s main purpose is intended for preventing the entry of rain, snow, animals, etc. and for preventing downdrafts.
Your chimney cap can become damaged pretty easily if it wasn’t properly installed, debris from surrounding trees have hit your cap, or extremely high winds have blown your cap off the chimney.
When you get your chimney inspected each year, your chimney professional should check to make sure the cap is still snug up there.
Think of your chimney crown like a rain cap. Whereas the chimney cap covers the flue, the crown actually covers the entire top of the chimney.
The main purpose of a chimney crown is to protect the chimney from deterioration, due to weather exposure.
They do this by extending between 2-2.5 inches over the actual chimney structure to help direct the water away from the chimney and onto the roof without damaging the bricks and mortar of the chimney structure.
Oftentimes, crowns are constructed with mortar and bricks, which are porous, meaning it’s fairly easy for water to soak in.
When the water is in the pores of the mortar it can go through a cycle of freezing and thawing, encouraging cracks, which allows water to leak into the flue and firebox.
I like to think of the masonry work as the rain jacket. Of course, most of the chimney is masonry, but what I’m talking about here is the portion between the flashing and the crown.
This is the actual body of the chimney. Like the mortar on the crown, bricks are very porous making them easily susceptible to the same freezing and thawing effect the crown receives.
Luckily, this rain jacket section of the chimney is easier to spot water damage. From the ground, you can see larger cracks, missing bricks, and even water stains on the outside.
But sometimes it’s not as convenient as that and you’ll need to be up on your roof to inspect for hairline or spider cracks.
These types of cracks need to be treated differently because mineral particles in the mortar patches are too large to fit and need to have a highly liquid water repellant.
No Masonry? No Problem!
Even if you don’t have a masonry chimney, your chimney is still subject to water damage. What you have is typically a “prefab” chimney. Instead of masonry, your chimney has the same siding as on your house.
The source of leaks in prefab chimneys usually starts at the top and usually can be traced back to poor construction. This could mean the chase cover (similar to the crown. See the rusted metal on the photo below) is deteriorating because the builder used an inferior metal.
Or the caulking is deteriorating (caulk doesn’t last forever).
If the metal is rusty, your chase cover likely has pinholes that are allowing water to enter into the chimney. If the caulking is deteriorating or non-existing, then water is getting into those areas.
Finally, think of the flashing as your chimney’s custom rain boots. Simply put, your chimney’s flashing is what seals the space between your roof and your chimney.
Keeping your flashing in tip top shape is critical because it keeps water from leaking off your roof and into your house.
The corner of your chimney, where the flashing is located, is a particularly vulnerable spots and leaving this unmonitored can result in significant damage to your ceilings and walls.
The flashing can become damaged for many different reasons from natural causes, like weather and rust, to having your shingles replaced and the roofer covered the flashing with tar diminishing the effectiveness of the flashing.
What we do to fix it.
The first thing we do is give your chimney a full inspection.
This includes a camera inspection so that we can look for any cracks or deficiencies within your flue. We’ll look high and low to see what is causing the leak.
Sometimes we can detect one core issue. However, most of the time it’s not just one issue, but rather a combination of a faulty chimney cap, cracked mortar and brick, and a deteriorating flashing.
Throughout your inspection, your technician will keep you updated on any issues that we see. Your safety is our priority so we want you to know everything that could be wrong with your chimney as soon as we discover it. We tell you what it is, why it happens, and how to fix it.
Following the inspection, we will discuss everything that we found and the steps that we recommend to keep your chimney from leaking. We’ll send you a proposal and go over everything in it so you know exactly what we recommend (no chimney jargon).
If you like what you see and agree to let us do the work, we get started by filling in any gaps in the bricks to help maintain and strengthen structural integrity of the bricks. Then we take a mortar-like material to “paint” on a coat of mortar on your crown (literally called a crown coat).
To make sure we cover all of our bases, and to prevent future cracks, we spray the whole chimney with a water repellent. This soaks into the porous bricks to make sure they will not be absorbing any water for a long time!
Finally, to finish the job, we repair the flashing and seal it off with an aptly named “flash seal.” This is final thing that will make sure your chimney is in the best position to NOT leak during the rainy season.
We Think We’re Great. So Do Our Clients.
Schedule Your Inspection
If your chimney is leaking, then you shouldn’t wait to have your chimney fixed. And you also shouldn’t just let anyone take care of it.
At Patriot Chimney, we have a few CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps, we’re members of the National Chimney Sweep Guild, and we’re insured for up to $1 million per occurence, so you’ll have peace of mind that you, your family, and your home are all safe from the elements!