With the holiday season in full swing, many homeowners here in Minnesota are lighting up their fireplaces for the first time. But before you pull out those matches and set fire to the logs, you need to make sure your chimney is in good shape. Why? Because chimney problems can lead to roof damage - or worse.
- Each season before you use your fireplace for the first time, you want to make sure it's been cleaned. A build-up of creosote (an oily resin that accumulates in a chimney) can lead to a chimney fire. Creosote is highly flammable. There are a number of ways to get rid of it. The most thorough is to have your chimney professionally cleaned. The other is to use one of those creosote-cleaning logs. These can be purchased at most home improvement and hardware stores. It is less expensive, but one of the benefits of having your chimney professionally cleaned is that the chimney sweep with also be able to do a visual inspection of your chimney for possible problems.
- Critters (birds nesting inside your chimney, rodents having found a warm place to spend the winter, etc. The culprit here is a loose or missing chimney cap or screen. Those animals can do more than damage or clog your chimney. That missing protective cover gives them access into your attic space or other parts of your home. You could end up with chewed wires, problems with insulation, or worse.
- Loose, damaged, or missing flashing. This is often a problem with older homes. Flashing around the chimney needs to be properly sealed to the roof to prevent leaks that can cause water damage inside your home. As the water leaks underneath the compromised flashing, the first thing it encounters is the roof deck, which will eventually rot if the problem is not corrected. Flashing should be repaired immediately, even if you don't intend to have a fire this season. Melting snow on your roof can cause water leaks.
- Crumbling mortar, missing bricks, etc. This one is not a problem but an indication of one. Crumbling mortar is the result of water infiltrating the mortar. The Minnesota freeze/thaw cycle will cause damage to both the mortar and bricks. If the damage is not repaired, the chimney will eventually collapse. Roof damage and/or damage to other parts of your home will result. It's also a safety issue, because that collapsing chimney could fall on someone.