Many homeowners in Washington DC are considering fireplace installation. Pellet stove fireplaces offer a home heating option that provides not only heat but also another place to cook. Knowing more about what they are, how they are installed, and the pros and cons will make it easier to decide if installing a pellet stove is an investment you want to make in your home.
What is a pellet stove fireplace?
A pellet stove fireplace is both a stove and a fireplace. It can burn a variety of materials, including biomass pellets and compressed wood. A source of heat is then created for your residential space. The fire is fed fuel from a hopper that goes into a burn pot area. By doing so, a constant flame is produced, reducing the physical adjustments that have to be made.
A variety of makes and models are available on the market. This ensures that homeowners can find a design that works with their overall décor.
A pellet stove fireplace is considered a renewable energy source. Depending on how it is operated, it can reach an efficiency factor of 90 percent or above.
The earliest concept of the pellet stove fireplace as in 1930, which included the Presto-Log made from scrap sawdust. In the 1980s, a miniaturized pellet stove emerged. Over the past 30 years, it has gone from being a box-shaped workhouse design to a modern appliance. They are often made from cast-iron or steel and then encased in stainless steel for exhaust and circuitry purposes.
How do pellet stoves operate?
There are various models of the wood pellet fireplace. Some will only burn pellets that are made from wood, bark, sawdust, and wood byproducts. Other models will allow you to use an array of biofuels, ranging from nutshells and barley to beet pulp and sunflowers.
Many of the units are electric. This means that you will be able to find some sophisticated units, many with control panels and thermostats that are wall-mounted. It will allow you to control the temperature more efficiently.
The pellet stove operates with the use of pellets. The pellets are compressed and may only measure about half an inch in length and diameter. They’re commonly available in bags that weigh 40 pounds. They could be made of any number of materials. The higher the quality pellet, the better the stove burns clean and hot. On average, a home will go through two tons of pellets in a heating season, which comes out to be approximately 50 bags at 40 pounds each.
The pellets are poured into a storage hopper located at the top of the stove. There is then an auger that sends the fuel from the hopper into a burn chamber. A sensor in the unit will monitor the fuel supply. If the amount is low, a signal will be sent to the auger to send more pellets down. The system is smart enough only to drop enough pellets to keep the fire hot, while still relatively small.
The stove contains a combustion blower that pulls air from the outside and through the stove. The smoke and fumes are then blown out through an exhaust vent. A convection blower also takes air from the room into the stove and blows out the heated air into the room. This is done through several heat-exchange tubes. The heat is delivered automatically based on the setting of the thermostat.
The only thing that you need to do is keep the hopper loaded with pellets.
A pellet stove has the potential to produce around 40,000 to 50,000 BTUs per hour, which can heat a living space of roughly 2,000 square feet.
Your maintenance on the pellet stove fireplace will depend on the model as well as the quality of pellets. Often, it will involve light daily maintenance and cleaning out the ash pan on a weekly basis. Be sure to read this article with maintenance tips for pellet stoves.
How are pellet stoves installed?
There are many options for pellet stoves. It is best to consult with a professional installer to review options and select what works best for your home and budget.
One popular option is a free-standing unit. The unit will be brought into the area where it is to be installed. Freestanding units can even be installed in homes that currently do not have a fireplace. It should have the necessary clearance from all combustible surfaces. The vent pipe is then attached to the stove. Ventilation pipes will need to go from the inside to the outside, which involves cutting and caulking. The power cord is then plugged in, and the hopper is filled.
Knowing a few things about a free-standing pellet fireplace will guide you:
- You will likely need a hearth pad
- The fire can be adjusted to burn hotter
- You can place a fireplace in virtually any room of the house
- You will save energy in comparison to running central heat
The other option is to install a pellet stove inside of a pre-existing fireplace. This is known as an insert. It might be more decorative and include a metal chimney liner so that all of the gases and smoke go up through the chimney. If you have an existing fireplace, this is likely to be the best option. Fireplace inserts have a reasonably simple installation process because the ventilation aspects are already done for you.
There are a few things you need to know about an insert:
- Uses existing ventilation system
- You must have an existing fireplace.
- Tends to have more style options
Regardless of whether it’s free-standing or going inside of a fireplace, it’s important to note that the average unit is around 400 pounds. This means that it’s best to get professional assistance with the installation. The stove also needs to go on a fire-resistant surface, such as stone or tile. If the room has hardwood or carpeting, a hearth pad will need to be installed first
The venting required will also vary based on where it’s being placed in conjunction with windows and doors. If the stove isn’t given the proper ventilation, it can lead to a lot of smoke and fumes lingering inside the home.
By working with an experienced fireplace installer, you can rely on them to design a system that is designed to work within your specific home.
Additionally, some thermostats will need to be installed. Many are hard-wired, but it’s also possible to invest a little bit more to get a wireless remote thermostat, which provides a lot of conveniences.
Advantages & Disadvantages of pellet stoves
It’s important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of pellet stove fireplaces. It will make it easier to decide if it’s going to save money and provide the desired benefits inside the home.
There are quite a few advantages to installing such a fireplace:
- It is an eco-friendly option
- Lower heating costs in comparison to central heat
- It uses a renewable source of energy
- You reduce carbon emissions
You might not realize some of the advantages until after the fireplace is installed. For example, when you buy pellets from a local fireplace installer, you’re probably supporting a local business by purchasing their materials. This means you’re also giving your local economy a boost.
The cost of pellets has also been relatively low and has been stable over the past ten years. If you install the fireplace in a room where you spend a lot of time, you can lower your thermostat and watch the cost savings on your thermostat.
You will also want to explore tax credits that are available. You may qualify for credit up to 10 percent of the cost of the fireplace.
Just as there are advantages, there are also disadvantages:
- The feeder needs to be kept full, which means loading daily
- The fireplace needs frequent cleaning
- Lower quality pellets will produce a higher amount of ash
- The cost of the unit is relatively high
- If your power goes out, you lose your heat as well
Most units recommend that the fireplace is cleaned lightly on a daily basis and more thoroughly at least once a month. This is done for safety as well as efficiency. You will have to decide if you want to do the cleaning on your own or hire a professional company to come in and do it for you.
Overall, it’s important to look at the various makes and models available to see what would work for within your home. If you use the heat a lot within your home, you can save a lot of money over time by installing a pellet stove fireplace. It’s a chance to be energy-efficient at the same time, thus allowing you to reduce carbon emissions and help the environment.
Many people use the changing seasons as an opportunity to create new decoration ideas for their fireplace hearths. It is also important to make sure that any Washington DC chimney repairs are completed before the cold weather arrives. Chimneys, along with fireplaces and wood stoves are involved in close to half (42%) of fires related to home-heating systems. Before you begin to use your fireplace. You can follow some basic safety steps to get your chimney and fireplace ready for the cold weather in Washington DC.
Here are some key steps to take to prepare your chimney and fireplace for the cold weather:
Chimneys Maintenance Tips
Hire a Professional Chimney Sweep: As emphasized in the beginning, proper maintenance prevents chimney fires. Hiring a professional chimney sweep it the first and most important step. The National Fire Protection Association advises that you have your chimney swept once per year by a professional chimney repair company. Not only will a professional chimney sweep get rid of soot and debris, which could potentially catch fire, they will also check for damage to your chimney. The chimney liners and other structures will be checked for cracks, leaks, missing mortar, loose bricks and other hazards.
Cap Your Chimney: If your chimney does not have a chimney cap, then you need to have one installed. Chimney caps which will protect your structure from unwanted animals, such as birds and squirrels, and will also keep out rain and debris. A cap with wire-mesh sides covering the chimney’s top will keep these things out. If your cap is missing, replace it. If your cap has suffered any damage, be sure to make all the necessary repairs.
Tips for Wood Burning Fireplace
Cleaning: If you have a wood burning fireplace, you need to make sure that you properly clean it before the heating season. In particular, be sure to clean the firebox using a vacuum. You should also remove soot that has accumulated on the fireplace’s walls or the chimney’s opening.
Using Your Wood Burning Fireplace: There are also some basic tips to follow when it comes to choosing the right firewood, preparing the firewood, building a fire, and ensuring safety.
Choose Seasoned Hardwood: It is best to burn wood that is dense and seasoned, for example, oak. This wood should have been split and have been stored in a place that is dry and high for no less than six months. By contrast, green wood and softwoods, including pine, produce greater amounts of creosote, a byproduct of combustion that is flammable. If allowed to build-up and the internal flue temperature reaches a certain level, there is a high risk of a chimney fire, according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America.
Preparing the Hardwood: If you choose to cut your hardwood yourself, you want to adhere to some core principles. First, the wood needs to be split so that the pieces will fit into your fireplace. As well, keep your pieces to no larger than six inches in diameter, in turn helping them to burn correctly. Regarding stacking the wood, the split-side should be positioned downward and not directly on the ground. Also, the wood should be kept covered, so as not to suffer damage from rain or snow. It is also important that you store the softwood for a minimum duration of six months, and hardwood for at least 12 months.
Testing the Moisture: Make sure that you buy a wood moisture meter. Aim for a moisture reading no higher than 20%, which means the wood is dried enough. Too much moisture will result in the wood not burning properly.
Consider Buying Local Wood: If you decide not to cut your wood, or realize it’s not feasible for you to store it for an extended period, you may want to consider buying local wood. Be sure to find out whether your state or city has any special ordinances relating to firewood.
Avoid Overloading Your Chimney: As we mentioned before, creosote is a highly flammable byproduct of combustion. Large fires produce higher amounts of smoke, and in turn, greater amounts of creosote buildup. By comparison, smaller fires produce less smoke and less creosote. For this reason, you want to avoid overloading your chimney. The risk of cracking your chimney lining also increases with a larger fire that’s higher in heat.
Building Your Fire: Logs should always be placed close to the rear of the fireplace and should be put on a metal grate. Additionally, make sure to use kindling to start a fire as opposed to flammable liquids. Also, make sure that the fire has air and that you keep ample space between the logs.
Practice Safety with a Spark Guard: Another important measure is to use a spark guard, which serves as a buffer preventing embers from coming out of the firebox. Typically this is mesh metal screen or sometimes glass doors.
Move Flammable Objects Away from the Area: It is critical that you move any flammable objects far away from either your wood stove or fireplace.
Use a Fan to Circulate the Air in Your House: You may want to consider running your ceiling fans on low speed to circulate the warm air in your home generated by your fireplace.
Tips for Gas Fireplaces
If you have a gas fireplace, you don’t have to worry about removing and cleaning up ash. While there is typically less maintenance involved with gas fireplaces, there are still some basic steps you should take with your gas fireplace in preparation for the colder weather and the heating season:
Clean the glass: Consult your owners manual, and make sure you are using a cloth that is soft and the right type of cleaner. You do not want to scratch the glass, which increases the risk that the high heat could result in it shattering.
Use a Vacuum to Clean the Inside of Your Fireplace
Inspect Your Fireplace Thoroughly: Any damage, including cracks or rust, should be appropriately dealt with, and the parts that are affected should be replaced.
You can find additional gas fireplace safety tips here.
Tips for Pellet Stoves
Pellet stoves offer many advantages. In general, they are cleaner than wood. Also, they provide greater efficiency than electric wall heaters and gas furnaces. However, just like your other home heating solutions, they require cleaning before their use during the cooler months.
Consult Your Owner’s Manual: The manual provides instructions regarding how to remove the particular parts of your pellet stove. Once you have done this, you will be ready to clean and vacuum your pellet stove. Be sure to take the following steps:
Cleaning the Exhaust Piping and Venting: The vent cap should be removed to clean it. Since ash can build-up in the T pipe, it is important to open it and thoroughly vacuum it.
Take Out the Combustion and Distribution Fans: After vacuuming out soot and ash, you should use a brush to get rid of anything that remains stuck. Before putting the fans back in, be sure to replace gasket seals that are worn and have cracks.
Clean Behind All Panels.
Carefully Check the Gasket on your Firebox Door: Issues with the gasket can result in decreased efficiency. A simple way to check your seal is to put a dollar bill on the seal, close the door, and then check if you can pull the dollar out from the door. If you can do this relatively quickly, that’s a sign that the gasket might need to be replaced. Be sure to check a few, as opposed to just one area around the door.
Finally, Clean the Firepot and the Hopper: Remove ash, any pellets in the hopper and pellet dust.
Whether you have a wood burning fireplace, gas fireplace or pellet stove, it is critical that you take the right steps to prepare your structure for the cooler months. By practicing these tips, you can help ensure that your fireplace and chimney will work toward heating your home efficiently and safely as we head into Autumn and Winter.
Many homeowners the Washington DC Metro area want to enjoy the increased value and comfort from having a fireplace installed. Unfortunately, the wide selection of fireplace options available today, can make this a confusing process. One of the sources of this confusion is understanding fireplace terms. It is hard to make the right fireplace decision if you do not know understand the terms that are being used by your fireplace supplier and installer.
Local fireplace and chimney installation companies like ours will help you select the best products for your particular installation. This guide will help you find a quick definition to many of the terms that are frequently used by installers. This guide will give you a clear understanding of common fireplace terms but will not cover chimney repair terms that were covered in our previous article concerning chimney repair terms.
Fireplace Terms from A to Z
AFUE — Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency, a measurement used for rating wall heaters and furnaces as an official heat source.
Ash Pan — A metal tray designed to catch and hold ashes falling from solid fuel fires for easier cleaning of the fireplace.
Air Vent — A small vent in the wall sometimes needed for gas fireplaces.
Agean Limestone — limestone from the Agean region of the Mediterranean, highly valued for its density and often used in fireplaces and surrounds.
Andiron/Bars/Dogs/Firedogs — decorative iron bars that hold logs or coal and help air flow to the fire.
B Vent/Natural Draft Appliance — a system without a sealed combustion chamber that uses a single wall flue to vent.
Bellows — a device for blowing a controlled blast of air to stoke a fire.
Blue Flame Rectification — safety shut-off controlling and maintaining gas flow.
BTU — British Thermal Unit, used to measure heat.
Builders Opening — the precisely measured hole in the wall or chimney breast where the fireplace will go.
Burner — device containing orifice, mixing tube, and burner head where gas and air can safely combust.
Burner Ports — holes in a gas burner where gas/air comes out.
Carbon Dioxide — gas produced by complete combustion.
Catalytic Combuster — a device used to reduce the temperature at which smoke is ignited.
Casting/Cast Iron/Brass/Steel — the process where molten iron, brass, or steel is poured into a mold to produce solid pieces.
Chenet — one-piece unit to hold logs similar to an andiron, connected by a fender across the front, commonly just inside the firebox.
Clearview — fireplace with glass doors for viewing flames.
Combination Fireplace — unit with attached shelf needing no separate surround.
Carrara Marble — popular marble prized for its natural veining.
Carbon Monoxide — the poisonous gas product of incompletely burning fuels that should be safely vented in all installations by a certified professional.
Clearance — the measured space required by law to keep combustible surfaces a safe distance from fireplaces and other heat-producing units.
Ceramic Fiber Back — lightweight fireback used in tiled gas fireplaces to reflect heat into the room.
Decorative Gas Fire — appliance with living flame used for decorative purposes rather than heating.
Electric Insert — used where there is no chimney to simulate a heat-producing fire of coal or wood.
Electronic Ignition — installed electronic device for lighting a fire.
Emissions — by-products of combustion.
EPA Regulations — federal rules mandating emissions from wood burning appliances.
Fender — the low metal guard at the front of an open fireplace that keeps the burning logs or coal from falling into the room.
Fire Back/Fireback — the panel at the back of the fireplace designed to reflect heat into the room and protect the firebrick in the chimney.
Fireplace Insert — a unit designed to fit behind pre-built surround used with solid fuel, gas, or electric.
Fire Basket — a free standing device holding burning solid fuel.
Fire Box/Firebox — space where the fire actually burns.
Fire Stops — noncombustible devices sealing openings between floors to stop smoke & fire from spreading.
Fireguard/Firescreen — device preventing sparks from escaping fireplace and young children from reaching fire.
Fireplace Surround — decorative material (wood, brick, stone, tile, etc.) on the wall around the fireplace opening.
Free Standing Fireplace/Stove — compact appliance that sits away from the wall, normally on legs or a pedestal.
Front-view Fireplace — traditional fireplace built into the wall.
Gas Cock Assembly/Valve Control — combination valve controlling supply of gas to the fireplace.
Gas Insert — a gas-burning unit installed into an existing fireplace. This is a popular option for gas fireplace installation.
Gas Log — simulated logs and frame creating an open gas flame in a fireplace.
Glass Doors — a device used to close the opening of the hearth and keep heat from escaping through the chimney.
Grate — cast iron or steel frame holding the burning fuel.
Grate Polish/Black Lead/Zebo — traditional polish used on cast iron stoves and fireplaces.
Hearth — traditionally refers to the floor of the fireplace and non-combustible shelf in front of it but now also refers to all devices and equipment connected to the fireplace/stove industry.
Kindling — small pieces of dry wood that easily ignite to start a fire.
LP/LPG — Liquified Petroleum Gas, separated from wet natural gas, light crude oil, and oil-refinery gas into a colorless, odorless, non-toxic gas.
Manifold Pressure — amount of wc inches supported by various types of gas.
Mantel — Shelf above the fireplace or ornamental facing surrounding the opening. Many people like to decorate their mantels.
Multi-fuel — appliances designed to burn a variety of fuels.
Multi-view — fireplace offering multiple sides for viewing the fire.
NG/Natural Gas — colorless, highly flammable gas with high energy value.
Oxygen Depletion Sensors — safety devices detecting dangerous lack of oxygen, triggering shut off of appliance.
Pellets — man-made solid fuel designed for specific appliances. Pellets are ofen used in pellet stoves.
Piezo Starter — red button placing pressure on the crystal of a standing pilot system.
Pilot — small flame used to ignite gas at the burner.
Propane — a type of petroleum gas (LPG) in liquid form, also can be found in gas or vapor form.
PSI — pounds per square inch
Safety Pilot/Standing Pilot System — a safety device stopping the flow of gas to the appliance until needed and providing a small flame to ignite the main burner.
Seasoned Wood — fuel wood that has dried 6-12 months for optimum use.
Simulated Embers — a non-combustible decorative feature that looks like burning coals.
Solid Fuel — wood, coal, or pellet fuel that must be used in a unit designed for the particular fuel.
Spark Arrestor — a screen in front of the fireplace opening that keeps sparks inside, also the mesh placed on top of the chimney for the same purpose.
Spillage — dangerous backup of flue gasses into the building.
Spill Switch — a device used to detect spillage of flue gas.
Therm — a unit of heating value equal to 100,000 BTUs.
Thermo Sensor — automatic control of blower based on temperature.
Unvented/Vent Free — an appliance theoretically designed to burn so efficiently it needs no venting.
Wall Thermostat — electrical switch with sensors to maintain temperature by turning heat sources on or off.
WC/Water Column — unit of measurement of gas pressure: 28 wcs are in one pound of PSI..
When you are selecting a new fireplace for your home, be sure you understand what the salesman and installers are talking about. This list should help, but when in doubt, ask for an explanation of any term that is confusing. A professional in the fireplace industry should be able to answer all your questions before you decide which fireplace is best for you and your family.
As a homeowner, you do everything you can to protect your home from needing costly repairs, including regular maintenance. However, if your home has a chimney and you’re not scheduling professional chimney inspections at least once a year, you could be setting yourself up for expensive repairs down the road. Fortunately, homeowners can get chimney repairs in Washington DC fairly easily. It’s not too late to begin scheduling chimney inspections and cleanings. In between professional inspections, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for some common signs of chimney problems. The earlier a chimney problem is discovered, the easier and more affordable the repair will be.
Perhaps the most serious and obvious sign that your chimney needs some work is that of a chimney fire, which can be a scary situation for any homeowner to encounter. Specifically, chimney fires occur when creosote along the interior of the chimney is ignited by a flame. This highly flammable material builds up over time and can be easily removed with a professional chimney cleaning. Unfortunately, many homeowners fail to have this basic maintenance done each year, drastically increasing the chances of a chimney fire. When a chimney fire ignites, you may notice a very loud cracking or popping sound coming from the chimney, as well as thick smoke. It is important to evacuate your home immediately and call 9-1-1 to have the fire put out safely.
Even if you’re not experiencing an actual chimney fire, you may still notice large amounts of smoke when you use your fireplace. Excessive smoke coming from your chimney could be a sign of a liner that’s in need of repair or replacement. Check to make sure that your chimney vent is open; if it is and you’re still experiencing a lot of smoke, then you will need to call a chimney repair company as soon as possible. In the meantime, stop using your fireplace, as smoke can be damaging to your lungs and other aspects of your health.
Ceiling and/or Wall Stains
If you notice any staining or discoloration on the walls or ceiling around your fireplace/chimney, this will also need to be investigated by a chimney repair specialist like us. There’s a good chance that the discoloration you’re seeing is due to moisture getting into your chimney and gradually seeping into your home. Over time, this can be very damaging, especially if the water damage reaches the framing of your home and begins to rot it out. Moisture getting into your home through the chimney can also lead to mold and mildew problems that can hide behind walls, so be sure to have your home checked for these issues. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Flaking Chimney Liner
Another relatively common chimney problem that you’ll want to address is that of shards or flakes of your chimney liner falling down into your fireplace. This is known as “shaling” and occurs when the liner of your chimney deteriorates over time. In some cases, this is simply as a result of wear and tear, meaning that your liner will need to be replaced or repaired by a professional. In other cases, an underlying problem with your chimney could be to blame. Either way, your chimney’s liner plays an important role in protecting your home and your health, so this is not a problem that you’ll want to ignore.
Chimney Crown Cracks
The “crown” that surrounds the exterior of your home’s chimney is made of cement and is designed to help keep out moisture and debris. Over time, exposure to the elements (especially precipitation and fluctuating temperatures) can cause small cracks to form along the chimney crown. Eventually, these cracks will allow water and other debris to enter your home, which you definitely don’t want. Unfortunately, the chimney crown can be difficult (and sometimes impossible) to see from ground level, which is why scheduling annual inspections on your chimney is so important. Small cracks can be easily patched and repaired by a specialist before the problem worsens. You will find it helpful to read our recent article about a chimney crown repair project.
Missing or Damaged Chimney Cap
All chimneys should have a metal or aluminum cover that is designed to prevent rain, debris, pests, and other unwanted items from entering your home through the chimney itself. These caps are designed with ventilation holes or flaps to allow smoke to exit the home effectively while keeping unwanted items out. Over time, however, these covers can become damaged by the elements and will need to be replaced. Rust and corrosion are common problems in chimney covers, especially in areas with high rainfall. Fortunately, these are easy to replace by an experienced chimney professional.
Pests Getting Into Your Home
While a pest infestation in your home isn’t always necessarily caused by a chimney issue, it’s a possibility you’ll want to consider if you’re experiencing insects or rodents getting into your home. Sometimes, this can occur when a damaged or missing chimney cover allows access through your chimney. This could especially be the case if you’re noticing that the pests getting into your home tend to be found mostly in the room where your fireplace is located. Of course, pets can also be getting in through your garage, attic, or other areas of the home, so it may also be a good idea to call a pest control specialist if you’re having trouble figuring out where the pests in your home are coming from.
Visible Settling of Chimney
From the outside of your home, take a look at your chimney. Does it appear straight and sturdy? If not, then it may be time to call a repair specialist. Over time, the brick and mortar joints that make up the exterior of your home’s chimney can become damaged by the elements, especially when moisture is present. This can cause cracking and crumbling of the chimney itself, which can become dangerous if it becomes too progressed and compromises the structural integrity of the chimney. This is another scenario where it’s wise to have a chimney inspection every year, as an inspector will be able to notice cracks and other damage to your chimney that you may not be able to see yourself.
White Stains on Chimney Exterior
You may not think much of white staining on the exterior of your chimney, but this is actually something that indicates the need for repair. This staining often has a chalk-like appearance and is known as “efflorescence.” It usually occurs in chimneys where there is excessive moisture beginning to affect the brick and mortar joints themselves and is not uncommon in chimneys that have begun to lean or crumble. If you see any white staining on your chimney, be sure to call a professional as soon as possible.
A Rusted Damper
Your chimney relies on a firebox or damper to protect itself (and your home) from moisture. Therefore, if you notice that your damper has become difficult to operate or if you can see visible rust beginning to form on it, this needs to be addressed by a chimney repair specialist right away. Specifically, rust and/or corrosion of the damper is a sign of a moisture problem that will not go away on its own and can lead to serious water damage inside your home if not repaired quickly.
Framing Rot in Your Home
Finally, always keep an eye on the ceilings and walls around your chimney and fireplace. If you begin to notice any bowing inwards or outwards of the drywall, this could be a sign of water getting into your home and rotting out the wooden framing on the affected wall. As the rot takes over the wood framing, it will begin to buckle and the wall or ceiling will begin to lose some of its structural integrity. A chimney repair specialist will be able to pinpoint not only where the water is getting in from the chimney, but how to repair it as well. However, you will most likely need to have a general contractor come out and rebuild the damaged wall framing as well as install new drywall to complete the repair.
As you can see, there are a number of possible “red flags” to watch out for when it comes to your home’s chimney. The good news is that many of these signs are early warnings of underlying issues, meaning they can be addressed and repaired relatively easily. Still, when you notice any potential signs of a chimney problem, it’s important to make calling a repair specialist a top priority. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for more costly repairs down the road in addition to potential damage to your home from moisture seepage, smoke build-up, and other issues.
Many homeowners don’t realize that their chimney requires regular maintenance in the form of inspections and cleanings. Usually, these homeowners are blissfully unaware of the importance of chimney maintenance until they end up with a chimney leak. Periodic heavy rains often result in the need for chimney repairs in Washington DC homes. These leaks can be quite damaging and costly if not caught early, which is why it’s good for all homeowners to be aware of the most common causes of chimney leaks, how to avoid them, and what to do in the event of a leak.
Common Causes of Chimney Leaks
A chimney leak occurs when water is allowed to bypass the liner of the chimney and find its way into your home. The resulting water damage can be expensive to repair, especially if it has been going on for a long time and has reached the wood framing of your home’s walls. Take a moment to become familiar with these common causes of chimney leaks. From there, you can take steps to avoid them in your own home.
Cracked Chimney Crown
A chimney crown refers to the cement part that runs along the top of a chimney and wraps around the vent. Crowns are very effective at keeping moisture away until they begin to chip and crack, which is inevitable over time. When cracks form in the chimney crown, water can gradually begin to make its way down the chimney flue and directly into your home.
Not all chimneys have crowns (some has covers, as will be explained in the next section). However, if your chimney has a crown, it’s a good idea to inspect it at least once a year for cracks and chips. If you live in an area that sees all four seasons, the best time to inspect is during the spring, as water freezes and thaws in even tiny cracks during the winter months.
Small cracks can occasionally be caulked and patched, though more extensive damage may call for a total replacement of the crown by an experienced chimney repair company. The best chimney repair companies use floating cast crowns.
Lack of Chimney Cover
For chimneys that don’t have a cement crown, there should be a chimney cover in place. These covers are usually made of metal or aluminum and are placed directly on top of the chimney vent with a tight fit around the vent itself. These covers prevent rain and other precipitation (not to mention pests) from traveling straight down into your chimney but have ventilation built into the sides to allow proper ventilation (especially while you’re using your fireplace).
Unfortunately, chimney covers can go missing or deteriorate over time. This is especially common in older covers that are made of metal, which can rust and corrode. The good news is that replacing a missing cover is relatively simple and inexpensive when done by a reputable chimney repair company.
Cracks in Brick and Mortar
Chimneys are usually constructed of brick that is held together by mortar, and these are very durable materials. Still, over time, the cement holding the brick and mortar together can crack and crumble (just as it can on chimney crowns). When this occurs on the chimney structure itself, water can penetrate the chimney and gradually, the structural integrity of the chimney can even be lost. If you can see cracks or “wavy” areas of your home’s chimney, there’s a good chance that this type of leak is already happening. Because brick is a naturally porous material, it’s not a matter of “if” brick will eventually give way to cracking and crumbling, but “when.”
Applying a special brick sealant to the chimney is a temporary way to stop water from entering your home, but eventually, a long-term solution will need to be done by a chimney repair service.
Bad Roof Flashing
Finally, perhaps the most common cause of chimney leaks in residential buildings is that of bad roof flashing. When roofing is installed on a home with a chimney, a waterproof material known as flashing is installed around the chimney before the roofing shingles are put on top. Unfortunately, poor installation or even deterioration over time can render flashing ineffective. There are several things that can cause chimney flashing to leak. Find out more here.
When this occurs, water can seep into the chimney flue right around the base of the chimney where it meets the roof of the home. This is a repair that can be completed by a roofing or chimney company, as new flashing will need to be installed.
Telltale Signs of Chimney Leaks
The best way to avoid chimney leaks is to have your chimney inspected at least once a year for the most common causes. Still, in between inspections, there are some “red flags” homeowners should watch out for that could indicate the start of a leak in the home.
Peeling Paint or Wallpaper
One of the most common signs of a chimney leak is that of peeling paint or wallpaper inside the home near the chimney flue itself. Homeowners may notice peeling or bubbling paint around a home’s fireplace, which is likely caused by moisture inside the flue. If you have wallpaper on the walls near your fireplace, you may also notice it beginning to bubble or peel, especially at points where two pieces of wallpaper come together.
Spots of Discoloration
Before the paint starts to peel, you may also notice odd, discolored spots on ceilings or walls near a chimney flue in the home. On a white ceiling or wall, these spots will appear yellow or tan. They will darken over time as water damage becomes more widespread and serious.
Chimney Settlement or Collapse
While getting up on top of your roof and inspecting your chimney yourself may not be advised, you can conduct a quick visual inspection of your chimney from the ground in most cases. If your chimney appears to be tilting to one side, warped, or visibly settling, you’re most likely going to have water leaking into your home.
Wood and Framing Rot
When water damage inside the home progresses, you could even end up with more serious structural issues, including rotting out of the wood that makes up your home’s framing. The most obvious sign of rotted framing will be bulging or warped drywall, but only ripping out the drywall and inspecting the framing underneath will determine the extent of the damage. In some cases, mold or mildew will also become an issue in the home when this occurs.
While these are the most common signs of a leaking chimney, some other possible signs to be on the lookout for include:
- rusted fireplace components
- corrosion of damper assemblies
- stains on chimney exterior
It is important to act quickly when you see signs of a chimney leak, as water damage can spread in the blink of an eye.
What to Do if You Have a Chimney Leak
If you notice any signs of a chimney leak, the only course of action is to contact a professional chimney repair company. Chimney leaks are not something you can repair on your own, and of course, climbing onto your roof can be dangerous. When you call a professional chimney repair company that meets professional standards like these, you can have the peace of mind that the problem will be fixed. The water leaks will stop and future water damage will be prevented.
A chimney repair specialist will be able to determine the cause of your leak and advise you on how any water damage inside your home should be repaired. Some repairs that a chimney repair company may be able to assist with include:
- chimney crown repair or replacement
- chimney cover repair or replacement
- repair of brick and mortar cracks
- replacement of chimney liners
- replacement of flashing around the chimney
Furthermore, a professional chimney service will be able to advise you on additional services to protect your home, chimney, and fireplace. For example, many companies offer chimney fireproofing, which involves the sealing of the chimney structure itself to make it less susceptible to damage from water, such as cracking and crumbling. A special sealant must be used to fireproof the chimney, as it is necessary for the sealant not only to keep water from getting in but for continuing to allow gasses to escape. In other words, the sealant must allow the brick to retain its porous structure to gasses but not to water. Waterproofing a chimney is a complex task that should only be done by an experienced professional.
There are so many different problems that can lead to a disastrous water leak in your chimney, but the good news is that they’re all 100% preventative with just a little maintenance and care. Be sure to have your chimney and fireplace inspected by a professional at least once a year, and you’ll be able to avoid many of these issues. Furthermore, if you ever spot signs of a chimney leak, don’t hesitate to call a chimney repair service to get things under control before the leak causes widespread and costly damage to your home.