Is Your Old Chimney in Workable Condition?

Shannon Lee

A beautiful old house might come with an equally old chimney. Before you use the fireplace, make certain your chimney is up to code. Here are a few steps to help you decide if it's safe.

Chimney Inspection: Making Sure Your Fireplace is Safe

If your chimney has not been used in a long time, it needs an inspection. Here's where to begin:

  1. Check the chimney and hearth for overall soundness. Look for major cracks, crumbling bricks and mortar, or stones that have slipped from their original placement.
  2. Over time, chimneys might show signs of minor leaning in the direction of the prevailing winds, but that doesn't mean it is a structural problem. Major leaning, cracking, or imbalance can mean a problem. If you're not sure, call a professional contractor to help you decide whether your lean is a problem.
  3. The chimney should be at least three feet taller than the roof surface, and at least two feet taller than any roof surface within ten feet. Any chimney shorter than that can lead to sparks on the roof.
  4. Modern building codes require flue liners in chimneys. If the home was built in the early 1900s or earlier, there may be no liner at all. If there isn't, you need to add one before you can use the chimney.
  5. Look for obstructions. This could be bricks that have fallen into the chimney, leaves and other debris buildup, nests built by wildlife, or even cables and other wiring that was run through the chimney while it was not in use. Remove everything before you start that first fire.
  6. Clean out the area around the cleanout door and damper. If these are not features of your old chimney, your fireplace needs some work by a contractor to bring it up to par.
  7. Check for patches in the masonry. Often homeowners used what they had to fill the spaces, such as pieces of aluminum, bricks or rocks, or other quick fixes. These fixes can be potentially deadly if there is ever a chimney fire. Keep it safe by repatching the area with the proper materials.
  8. Inspect the chimney cap to be sure it is up to code. Many of them are not, so it could be one of the things that must be replaced to restore your fireplace to good working condition.

If you are ever in doubt about what needs to be done to your fireplace and chimney, call a contractor. Remember that when it comes to the safety and security of your old house, it's always better to err on the side of caution.

About the Author

Shannon Dauphin is a freelance writer based near Nashville, Tennessee. Her house was built in 1901, so home repair and renovation have become her hobbies.

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