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Your Chimney and Winter

As the official start of winter approaches, the last thing on anyone’s mind is the chimney. Last minute holiday shopping, having winter tires put on the car, and shoveling snow are more common winter concerns. However, the chimney should be high on the priority list because winter can have cause serious damage to the structure.

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First, masonry chimneys have a special vulnerability to winter weather. The materials used to build masonry chimneys include brick, mortar, concrete and stone. Of all these materials, only stone is water resistant. All the others have a very porous texture, meaning they quickly absorb any water that comes into contact with them. Having water in the bricks or mortar does not cause much damage itself, but around winter time, the problems become more evident. When temperatures fall below freezing, all water begins a freeze and thaw cycle. This process involves the cyclic expansion of the water into ice and the consecutive contraction back into the liquid form. The water inside the masonry materials undergoes this process as well, so the materials experience a rhythmic swelling and shrinking motion too. Constant motion like this degrades the strength of the materials over time, and it can result in cracked bricks, missing mortar and even a caving chimney. While cracks and missing mortar can be repaired with tuckpointing, the damage will continue until the inevitable collapse if the root of the problem is not addressed. To prevent this costly problem, a chimney specialist can apply a special permeable sealant to the exterior of the chimney.

Another common winter issue involves water leaking into the chimney. The warmth of a burning fire can melt any snow or ice on the chimney top, creating water that seeps easily into the chimney. The first problem this can cause is a rusted flue liner. If the liner is made of metal, the water can rust cracks and holes into it, and this renders the liner useless. The purpose of the liner is to protect the chimney and the home from the heat of the fire. It prevents the smoke and other fumes from entering the house and stops the adjacent woodwork from catching on fire. When water damages the flue, it no longer functions this way. Water can also leak down to rust the damper, which controls the flow of air and smoke through the chimney. Other evidence of water damage includes a degrading hearth and water stains on the walls and ceiling around the fireplace. A cheap alternative to repairing these damages is having a chimney specialist install a chimney cap.

If you live in the area of Norfolk, Suffolk, Barnstable or Plymouth Counties in Massachusetts, you can contact Above and Beyond Chimney Service to speak with an expert about protecting your chimney this winter.

Maintain Your Chimney Crown to Protect Your Chimney

The robust structure of chimneys, often made of brick or stone, deceives a lot of homeowners. Many people assume chimneys were designed to withstand the elements for years without suffering any damage. Unfortunately, this type of thinking can result in large, expensive chimney repairs for the unsuspecting homeowners.

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Despite being made of tough brick or stone, chimneys are surprisingly delicate. While they can resist immense heat and high winds, they are not indestructible. In fact, chimneys are astonishingly sensitive, particularly to water damage. Chimneys are designed to endure outdoor elements, but they require regular upkeep and inspection to prevent water from creating expensive damage.

Materials used for masonry chimneys, like brick and mortar, have large pores that absorb water. Over time, the water breaks down the integrity of the materials, and therefore, the integrity of the entire structure becomes compromised. Particularly during frigid Boston winters, the freeze and thaw cycle causes the water, and thus the masonry, to expand and contract, which is how the materials begin to break down.

Homeowners have several options available to maintain a safe, sturdy chimney. One of the most important options that many overlook is keeping the chimney crown in good repair. The chimney crown acts as a roof or umbrella for the chimney by directing water away from the structure. The ideal crown should hang over the outside of the chimney by two inches and should have a drip edge to catch water that runs under the overhang. Generally, the chimney crown is made of concrete but occasionally can be found as a metal, stone or steel-reinforced concrete.

Over time, the chimney crown will begin to deteriorate, which is when it needs attention. If the crown has suffered minor cracks, a mason can patch it with a chimney crown sealant. With larger cracks, the mason should first fill the damaged areas with high bond patching material, finishing with a chimney crown sealant. The waterproof sealant prevents water from seeping into the concrete, damaging the crown, and seeping into the masonry to cause additional damage there. If the damage is caught early, these repairs can add up to 15 additional years to the life of a lightly worn chimney crown.

In more serious cases, the chimney crown may be missing large pieces or have shifted structurally. Here, replacing the weakened structure instead of patching it is the best course of action. A good mason will walk you through choosing the right type crown for your chimney. Most likely, a concrete structure with a two inch overhang is a safe, effective choice. Although rebuilding is more costly than patching, rebuilding will save you significantly more money in the long run by preventing extensive water damage to the chimney.

As part of your yearly chimney sweep and inspection, the mason should examine the crown for any wear or damage. This will let you know when you need to have the crown repaired. If you live in Norfolk, Suffolk, Plymouth or Barnstable Counties in the Boston area of Massachusetts, call Above and Beyond Chimney Service for a professional consultation. These experts will help you properly maintain your chimney and fireplace for years to come.

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