We rely on our fireplaces and chimneys to burn safely and efficiently year after year. Many homeowners assume little maintenance beyond chimney sweeping is needed for a fireplace because of its sturdiness. Unfortunately, even the most well-built chimney system can experience masonry issues. Fortunately, it is possible to spot – and prevent – many masonry problems.

Signs of a masonry problemcracked brick wall

An inspection by a certified chimney sweep is necessary to diagnose a problem, but there are some signs homeowners can look for first.

– Chips, cracks, or holes in the bricks

Start on the ground by looking at the masonry. Large cracks, sections of missing bricks and mortar, or masonry that is flaking or chipping away are all signs of a problem. Often, these problems are due to water damage.

While chimneys are built to withstand the elements, water is one of the most damaging forces masonry can face. Because bricks and mortar are naturally porous; while this allows hot air and gasses from the fireplace to safely pass through, masonry also absorbs small amounts of water from rain, snow, ice, morning dew, and even sprinklers. When the water freezes it expands, creating progressively larger holes and cracks – and allowing even more water to be absorbed.

Although the freeze-thaw process is the primary cause of water damage to the chimney, there are a number of other ways water can cause masonry damage. Sprinklers that hit a specific spot on the chimney, clogged gutters, or improper roof pitch can all cause water to repeatedly pool in a specific area and lead to cracks and holes forming.

– Discolored or stained masonry

While slight variations in color are expected, major changes to the color of your masonry can indicate the presence of a bigger problem. However, the color of the discoloration may give you a clue as to what the problem is. White stains are caused by efflorescence, which occurs when salt from evaporating water is left behind. Brown or black stains around the top of the chimney indicate a buildup of creosote and soot in the flue. Red streaks down the sides of the chimney can mean a metal part of the chimney is rusting; this is particularly common with the metal chimney chase covers of factory-built fireplaces. Dark green discoloration may indicate mold or mildew growth.

– Fireplace odors and smells

If your fireplace develops a noticeable odor, don’t immediately reach for the air freshener; chimney and fireplace odors are the results of a variety of different chimney problems. The type of odor can help determine the problem the fireplace is experiencing. Smoky odors are often the result of excessive creosote buildup in the flue, while musty smells can indicate a chimney leak.

Our walls may not be able to talk, but the look and smell of our fireplaces are telling. To schedule a chimney inspection or to learn more about identifying types of chimney damage, contact Coopertown Services today!