Fireplaces serve as a beautiful focal point for many homes, providing warmth, comfort, and a place to gather. However, even fireplaces that are frequently used or receive regular maintenance may be hiding underlying issues.
Fireplaces and chimneys in older homes may no longer meet current building standards. While this may not seem like a problem – especially if your chimney still works well – it can lead to major issues including structural damage or house and chimney fires. If your home has an older chimney, there are a number of special considerations that should be taken into account before you continue using your fireplace system.
What constitutes an older chimney?
Most fireplaces and chimneys built after the 1950s should meet modern building codes. “Older” chimneys are those that are more than 60 years old. These chimneys almost always have a masonry base, although your older home may have a block chimney.
While a block chimney is functional, it is less than ideal. Block chimneys should still be surrounded by masonry as exposure to the elements, especially over a long period of time, leaves them more vulnerable to frost or water damage, settling, or cracking.
Importance of chimney liners
Often the first thing that should be done to bring an older chimney up to code is to replace the chimney liner. Many old chimneys were built without liners or have undesirable and no longer used masonry liners, whereas modern chimneys are required to use liners.
Chimney liners are extremely important because it protects the rest of your home from heat transfer from the hot air and gasses in the chimney. Insufficient chimney liners may cause house or chimney fires. Older chimneys should be relined as soon as possible to bring them up to code; a cast in place liner creates a smooth, well lined flue that can also reinforce and strengthen the chimney structure itself.
Water damage and waterproofing
Even well-built masonry chimneys can experience damage over time. As bricks age, they may begin to develop small cracks or holes which allow small amounts of water into the brick. If this water freezes it expands, creating larger holes that can be filled by even more water. The freeze thaw process can cause significant damage to bricks and mortar include cracking, chipping, or even entire bricks falling apart.
To combat this, damaged bricks should be replaced as soon as possible to prevent further damage. In addition, a waterproof sealant can be applied to the masonry. These specially designed sealants allow gas to pass through the brick but keep water out.
Debris or blockages
An older chimney, especially one that has fallen into disrepair or disuse, may have blockages or debris in the chimney. This may include dried leaves, twigs, animal nests, or excessive amounts of creosote or soot buildup. Because of this, homeowners should have their chimneys swept before using the fireplace in an older home for the first time. In addition, a chimney cap should be installed to prevent animals, debris, or other blockages from entering the chimney.
If you have questions about the health of your older chimney, contact Coopertown Services today. Our expert staff can help get your chimney back to like-new condition, making it safe for you and your family to enjoy fires in the future.