There are a number of ways to spot that your fireplace system needs to be repaired; crumbling exterior masonry, leaks, unpleasant odors, or fires that don’t burn correctly are just a few signs that it may be time to call a chimney sweep. However, there is one part of the fireplace that is often ignored, but may need to be repaired – the firebox.
The firebox of your fireplace is built to withstand extremely high temperatures, direct heat from flames, the accumulation of soot and ash, and exposure to smoke and other byproducts of combustion. While extremely sturdy and durable, there are a number of things that can cause damage to the firebox. Because the firebox plays an important role in protecting the surrounding building materials from heat transfer, repairing firebox damage is extremely important.
Causes of firebox damage
Fireboxes are built using special, refractory masonry; this makes them capable of withstanding high temperatures, direct exposure to flames, and other wear and tear from firewood and fireplace use. While designed to safely contain fires for years, there are a number of ways that fireboxes can be damaged. The following are three of the most common cause of firebox damage.
- Settling. All homes – and therefore all chimney systems – are prone to settling. As time passes, the soil surrounding the home can shift and compress; this causes the home to move, or settle, and can lead to cracks in the foundation, walls, chimney, and firebox. Because settling can occur for decades after a home has been built, cracks in the firebox may appear seemingly overnight and progressively get worse over time. Firebox damage caused by settling is often due to footings that cannot bear the full weight of the chimney system.
- Improper building materials. Because the firebox is exposed to direct heat and flame, it is important that special, refractory bricks and masonry is used. If improper building materials were used during firebox construction, the firebox may deteriorate prematurely; surrounding floors, walls, or building materials may experience heat transfer is the firebox was not correctly built. This type of damage can also be seen if a firebox was built by a contractor instead of a trained mason.
- Exposure to moisture. While fireboxes are meant to withstand high heats, they can be severely damaged by exposure to moisture. Water damage is primarily caused by a leak somewhere in the chimney system, but can also occur if water is used to prematurely extinguish fires.
Rebuilding damaged fireboxes
Damaged fireboxes can make it unsafe to use your fireplace; because of this, it is important to have it professionally repaired as soon as possible. Refractory panels with minor damaged may be able to be replaced without rebuilding the entire firebox. In addition to better containing and reflecting heat from the fireplace, replacing refractory panels can help make an aging firebox structurally sound. The masonry joints in the firebox can be repaired through a process called tuckpointing. Tuckpointing involves carefully removing the damaged mortar before applying new mortar to the joints.
Don’t let a damaged firebox prevent you from enjoying your fireplace this winter. Contact the fireplace experts at Jack Pixley Sweeps today for more information on rebuilding your damaged firebox!