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Repairing Your Chimney, Understanding The Challenges

It’s a natural instinct: you see something that’s broken around the house and want to fix it.  While that kind of willingness to get to work is admirable, it’s not always the best idea, especially when it comes to chimneys.  For most people, trying to fix their chimney themselves is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s a clear case of “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Chimneys may look like simple openings from the inside of your home to the outside but they’re not. They are actually complicated machines with multiple pieces. So when you notice common chimney issues that require repair, try to resist the urge to jump into action. You could end up doing more harm than good.

Instead, step back and assess. Is this really a repair project that you can handle yourself? To help with that assessment, here are some details about chimney repair that you may not know.

Accessing the Chimney

In order to work on the chimney, you need to have access to it. If your house is a simple ranch home, that should be no problem as they generally have low-sloping roofs that you can easily and safely stand on. But what if that’s not the case?

If your home has a steeper roof, you may need specialized scaffolding to conduct the chimney repair. This scaffolding allows the repair team to access all four sides of the chimney on flatwork platforms.

Putting the scaffolding up safely and securely isn’t simple. It requires experience and expertise. Plus, the stakes for doing it right are high. If the scaffolding isn’t correctly assembled, it could collapse when you load the platforms with heavy brick and mortar.

Assessing the Problem

Let’s say you decide that one way or another, you will be able to access the chimney to complete the repair. The next step is diagnosing the chimney issue.

You may know something is wrong, but do you know exactly what the problem is? Correctly diagnosing the problem with your chimney is key to solving that problem. Some problems like cracked crowns are fairly obvious but others can require an experienced eye to spot.

There are many components to a chimney, including the chimney crown, smoke chamber, chimney liner, chimney cap, flashing, and more. If you don’t know what all of those parts should look like when they’re working properly, it’s much harder to determine if there’s a problem with one or more of them.

Before you start any costly and time-consuming repairs, you need to be sure that you’re addressing the underlying issue with your chimney.

Someone who inspects chimneys professionally will have a much easier time finding the source of the problem and deciding how to fix it.

Demolishing and Rebuilding the Chimney

If you decide you can both access the chimney safely and accurately diagnose the problem, there’s still the matter of handling the actual repairs.

With many repairs, you’ll need to take off the top few feet of your chimney. This requires knowledge of how to inspect the bricks and salvage any, if possible.

When rebuilding, you’ll have to keep in mind protocols surrounding chimney crown flashing and general chimney crown construction, as well as hydrated lime mortar. That may sound like a lot of information to keep straight, and it definitely is. But if one piece falls out of place, it could render the whole repair useless or even cause additional damage.

You could do some research online about the best practices for whatever chimney repair project your chimney needs but would you be certain that’s enough. We all know that information from the internet isn’t always the most reliable and even good research isn’t equivalent to hands-on experience.

There’s also the issue of equipment. You can buy some equipment to use during the chimney repair at your local hardware store but it’s hardly the same as the equipment that professionals use. Professional level chimney repair equipment can be very expensive and difficult to use. It’s more cost-effective (and convenient) to simply hire a professional who already has access to that equipment.

The Bottom Line

Repairing your chimney is a serious project that comes with more than a couple of risks. It takes a high level of skill and experience to be able to handle everything that your chimney might throw at you.

There’s also simply no room for error. Missing a “small” issue during repairs could lead to compounding problems later and a very expensive repair bill down the line. You don’t want to take on the repair project only to do more harm than good. That’s a waste of time and effort.

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