Spring Chimney Maintenance

Mattox/stock.xchngAs the heating season winds down, a quick spring maintenance check of your chimney can have you resting soundly through the summer months and be ready for fall ahead of your neighbors.

One good sweep deserves another

If you burn a lot of wood through the season, it is not uncommon to need a second sweep.  This is true especially if your fires run cooler and tend to build soot or creosote. 

Springtime is often a slower season for sweeps and chimney professionals, so getting an appointment can often be much easier than in the fall, when people are rushing to prepare for the heating season. Sweeps may also offer discounts at this time of year.  

Check the flashing and rain caps

Winter temperatures and wind speeds make roofing work and chimney work difficult, if not impossible.  Spring is your first chance to make any needed repairs to flashing or rain caps that might have been damaged or lost by months of relentless wind.  I often hear stories of people finding rain caps or spark arrestors out in their yards when the snows start to recede.  Getting these items back in place before the wildfire season is primed makes for a safer home and neighborhood.

Critter check

Springtime is also a season of increased animal activity.  Part of your springtime inspection should include an inspection of the rain cap, and vent screens that are located on the top of your flue.  Masonry fireplaces and flues often have nooks and crannies between bricks or stones, both inside and outside of the smoke path. Some of these areas are protected from the weather and provide ideal nesting sites for local birds. A collection of dried sticks and grasses (aka bird nest) is not something that is very compatible with a place that sees routine combustion temperatures.

Larger animals like squirrels and raccoons have also been know to set up “house” in chimneys and flues.  Traditional clay lined flues or brick flues are pretty easy for these for these animals to climb and often lack the screens or grills that are common to wood stoves or fireplaces that use tubular metal chimney pipes. Another common entry area found in brick and stone fireplaces is the external ash clean out.  A loose of missing door here can lead right inside to an idea squirrel-nesting site.

Leak and brace check

Summer seasons are often filled with more rain than winter (unless you happen to live in Portland or Seattle), and the freeze-thaw cycle that has occurred through the seasons may have caused some caulking or sealant to open up, providing an inroad for water damage.  Areas that often see gaps are along the interface between the masonry and the roof flashing, and where the roof flashing meets the roof. Armed with a caulk gun and a tube of roof sealant, these threats can be subdued painlessly.

For those that have chimney pipe, rather than masonry, the roof flashing and “storm ring” should be inspected for gaps or loose components. Metal roofs in heavy snow areas often slide if not fully protected with “snow” bars or stabilization controls. I have seen a good handful of chimneys nearly ripped off from these types of snow slides.  Your chimney may still be standing after one of these slides, but the flashing may have come loose. Chimneys that use pipe may also have supports or braces that keep longer runs of pipe stable from the effects of wind and other stresses.  These should be checked to ensure that the attachment bolts and fittings are secure. 

DIY or go pro?

Some of these tasks are pretty simple and are possible DIY projects, others can be more challenging and will require a roof repair contractor with the proper equipment. Whatever route you choose for your chimney, having caps and screens secured, flues free from soot or creosote and cracks and gaps sealed, your chimney will be ready for a summer’s rest before the next heating season.  Your time can now be spent on the pleasures of the season, like gardening or grilling on the deck.

Kevin Stevens is a Networx writer.  See more articles like this one, or get help with your home project on Networx.com.

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