Dangers of Neglecting Chimney Maintenance
It won’t be long before homeowners in Overland Park and throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area fire up their fireplaces to stay warm and cozy during the winter. The chimney is vital for expelling the smoke and fumes from the fireplace or heating stove, protecting your home and family from fire and exposure to carbon monoxide fumes. That’s why annual chimney inspections & cleanings are so essential. Here are four dangers of neglecting chimney maintenance.
Perhaps, the most significant danger of neglecting chimney maintenance is the increased risk of a chimney fire. It is the primary cause of house fires, according to National Fire Protection Association statistics. The combustion of wood creates several by-products, one of which is creosote. It sticks to the interior masonry and components as the smoke and fumes are venting up the chimney. Without regular chimney sweeping, the creosote hardens into a dark, tarry, and highly flammable substance. The intense heat inside the flue or a hot ember is all it takes to spark a chimney fire. Chimney fires are more common than many homeowners realize and often go unnoticed until a chimney inspection reveals fire-related damage like cracked flue tiles and masonry damage. However, not all chimney fires are small. A chimney fire can get out of control very quickly and spread to nearby combustible building materials engulfing an entire house in flames in a matter of minutes that can cause catastrophic property damage, injuries, and even death.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
When operating your wood or gas fireplace, the smoke and fumes are expelled from the home through the chimney to protect your family from exposure to dangerous carbon monoxide (CO) gas. However, when routine chimney maintenance is neglected, excessive creosote, small animals, nests, and other debris can obstruct the flue opening increasing the danger of carbon monoxide gas leaking into your home. It can also cause a dangerous backdraft that sends smoke, soot, and carbon monoxide fumes to suddenly pour out of the fireplace and into your living space without warning. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. It is virtually undetectable without a CO detector, which is why it is called the “silent killer.” Carbon monoxide depletes oxygen levels and can lead to unconsciousness and death. Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath, and nausea, to name a few.
Water leaks are incredibly destructive to masonry chimneys, and without annual chimney inspections, homeowners may not realize they have a chimney leak until severe damage occurs. A damaged or missing chimney cap, cracks in the chimney crown, flue liner cracks, and masonry damage are all common areas where chimney leaks can occur. When caught early through annual chimney inspections, repairs are usually minor. However, if water leaks are left unrepaired, the chimney damage will continue to worsen. For example, the flashing is the sheet metal that seals the seam where the chimney meets the roof. If the flashing is damaged due to extreme weather conditions, corrosion, or normal wear and tear, rainwater will seep through any gaps damaging the ceiling, attic, roof, and masonry, resulting in expensive structural repairs. Common signs of a leaky chimney include water in the fireplace, sounds of water dripping in the chimney, stains around the ceiling and walls near the fireplace or stove, cracked or spalling bricks, or a musty odor after it rains.
Another danger of neglecting chimney maintenance is masonry damage. Although bricks and mortar are durable, they are porous materials and absorb moisture like a sponge. The moisture can penetrate deep into the bricks drawing out the salts deep in the material. When it dries, you may notice white stains or efflorescence, indicating that water is getting into the brickwork. The continuous freezing and thawing of rain and snow during the winter months is another danger. As the moisture-laden masonry freezes, the expanding ice crystals cause bricks and mortar to chip, crack, and crumble, exposing gaps in the mortar joints. The eroding mortar can cause entire blocks of bricks to loosen and separate from the chimney, leading to the need for chimney tuckpointing or other repairs. In addition to an increased risk of fire and carbon monoxide exposure, severe masonry damage can ultimately lead to a partial or complete chimney collapse, requiring expensive repairs.