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Chimney Maintenance and Safety Tips: What Homeowners Need to Know



Home inspectors check chimneys during a home inspection because they play a critical role in removing dangerous combustion gases from the home. If not maintained properly, chimneys can become clogged or damaged, leading to a buildup of deadly gases such as carbon monoxide. Additionally, damaged chimneys can pose a fire hazard, potentially leading to serious property damage or personal injury


When it comes to chimneys, there are two main types: factory-built and site-built. Factory-built chimneys, also known as pre-fabricated chimneys, are made in a factory and shipped to the construction site in sections. Site-built chimneys, on the other hand, are built on-site by masons or other construction professionals. Each type has its own pros and cons, as well as unique maintenance requirements.


Factory-Built Chimneys:

Factory built chimneys, also known as pre-fabricated chimneys, these are made of metal and come in sections that are assembled on-site. They are a popular choice for new homes, as they are less expensive and easier to install than site-built chimneys. However, they are not as durable as site-built chimneys and have a shorter lifespan.

Pros:

  • Cost-effective

  • Quick and easy to install

  • Can be installed in areas where site-built chimneys are not possible or practical

  • Available in a variety of sizes and styles to fit any home's needs

Cons:

  • May not be as durable as site-built chimneys

  • Cannot be customized to the same extent as site-built chimneys

  • Limited lifespan, typically 15-20 years

Maintenance:

  • Inspect the chimney annually for signs of wear and tear

  • Check the flashing around the chimney for leaks

  • Clean the chimney regularly to prevent creosote buildup

  • Replace any damaged or worn components as soon as possible


Site-Built Chimneys:

Site-built chimneys are built on-site using bricks or stone, and are often custom designed to match the style of the home. Site-built chimneys are more durable and can last for decades with proper maintenance. They are also more expensive and take longer to build than factory built chimneys, but they add value and character to a home.

Pros:

  • Can be customized to fit the home's design

  • More durable than factory-built chimneys

  • Can last for decades with proper maintenance

Cons:

  • More expensive to build than factory-built chimneys

  • Installation can be time-consuming

  • Not suitable for all locations or types of homes

Maintenance:

  • Inspect the chimney annually for signs of wear and tear

  • Check the mortar between the bricks for cracking or deterioration

  • Clean the chimney regularly to prevent creosote buildup

  • Replace any damaged or worn components as soon as possible


Don't Forget to Open the Damper!

The damper is an essential component of your chimney system, as it regulates the airflow and helps to control the temperature of your home. It is a metal or ceramic plate located at the top of your chimney, and can be opened or closed using a lever or chain.


In the winter months, it's important to remember to open the damper before starting a fire. This allows smoke and gases to escape through the chimney, preventing them from entering your home. It also allows fresh air to enter the firebox, which helps the fire burn more efficiently.


During the summer months, when you are not using your fireplace, it's a good idea to close the damper to prevent hot, humid air from entering your home. This can help keep your home cooler and more comfortable.


Remember, always check that the damper is fully open before starting a fire, and be sure to close it when your fireplace is not in use. Regular maintenance and inspection of your chimney and damper system is also important to ensure their proper functioning and safety.


What Home Inspectors Look For with Chimneys

Regular maintenance and inspection of chimneys can help ensure their safe and effective operation, making it an important part of a home inspection.

  • Cracks or deterioration in the chimney structure

  • Proper clearance from combustible materials

  • Proper installation and flashing

  • Proper venting and draft

  • Creosote buildup


Creosote: What You Need to Know

Creosote is a flammable substance that accumulates inside chimneys as a result of burning wood. It can ignite and cause a chimney fire if not cleaned regularly, which can damage the chimney and even spread to the rest of the home. Homeowners should have their chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional at least once a year to remove creosote buildup. Even if you use your fireplace infrequently, creosote can still accumulate over time, so it's important to stay on top of regular maintenance.


In conclusion, both factory-built and site-built chimneys have their own advantages and disadvantages. It is important to choose the right type of chimney for your home's needs and to properly maintain it to ensure it lasts as long as possible. A home inspector can help identify any potential issues with your chimney and recommend the appropriate course of action to address them.


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