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Chimney Masonry Repair is Seasonal

Winter in Minnesota arrives sooner, lasts longer, and is significantly colder than many other states. Because of this, fireplaces are often an integral part of keeping our homes – and our families – warm all winter.

While our fireplaces may be used heavily during the fall and winter, many chimney repairs cannot be made in cold weather. This sometimes leads homeowners to rush, hiring the first company they find instead of one that can provide long-term, quality repair.

How masonry damage affects your chimney

Bricks and mortar are built to withstand the elements. However, even the best-constructed chimneys may suffer due to Minnesota’s extremely harsh winters. Because of this, repairs may be necessary to keep the fireplace burning safely and efficiently.

One of the most common causes of masonry damage is the freeze-thaw cycle. The freeze-thaw cycle occurs when small amounts of water become trapped in the bricks and mortar of the chimney. When temperatures drop below zero the water freezes and expands; the creates progressively larger and larger holes and cracks in the chimney.

Finding the right chimney repair company

If the fireplace is not working properly or the chimney is starting to show signs of wear and tear, it is important to have these issues addressed as soon as possible – particularly in a part of the country where winter masonry repairs are often impossible. However, it is still worth the effort to spend time researching a chimney company before hiring. This can help ensure you hire a qualified, trained mason – even if it means waiting until spring to have repairs made.

Things to look for in a masonry repair company

Not all masonry repair companies or chimney sweeps are created equally. Because of this, it is important that homeowners do their research before jumping into repairs with a new company. Unfortunately, this sometimes means waiting until spring until repairs can be made. The following are a few of the things to look for before hiring a masonry repair company.

  • Contractor’s license – A reputable repair company should hold a contractor’s license. Not only does this ensure they are qualified to make repairs, but it also protects homeowners; in the event, there is a dispute over the repairs, the state’s dispute resolution program may help compensate homeowners.
  • Proof of insurance – Verifying proof of insurance before a chimney company starts making repairs protects both homeowners and workers. For homeowners, insurance ensures you will not be sued in case a worker is damaged as well as protecting you in the event damages are made to the home.
  • Reputation and reviews – Most reputable companies are happy to provide potential customers with a list of reviews or referrals. Likewise, the Better Business Bureau or websites like Angie’s List can be helpful in vetting the reputation of potential companies.

In northern states like Minnesota, chimney repairs need to be made before Mother Nature drops the temperature below freezing until spring. However, it is still important to research the company you are hiring before trusting them to work on your fireplace or chimney. For more information on what to look for when hiring a chimney sweep company, contact the CSIA-certified chimney sweeps at Jack Pixley Sweeps today.

Anatomy of your Chimney

Fireplaces continue to be beautiful additions to many homes. Additionally, many homeowners find that they rely on them in winter to add warmth and comfort to their homes.

Despite their popularity and widespread use, most people do not understand how their chimneys work. This can sometimes lead to homeowners misidentifying the cause of an issue or not realizing it is time for maintenance.

The following are some of the most important components of your chimney that many people are unfamiliar with. Learning more about the anatomy of your chimney can help you identify and understand any chimney issues you may have in the future.

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Chimney cap

The chimney cap covers the top entrance of your flue, allowing smoke to safely exit while preventing water, animals, and debris from getting in. Uncapped chimneys or those with damaged caps are more likely to have issues with water damage, blockages, or animals nesting in the chimney.

Chimney crown

A chimney crown is a slab, typically made of concrete, which protects the masonry of your chimney. Damaged chimney crowns may allow water into the chimney structure or allow the masonry of the chimney to receive water damage.

Chimney chase cover

Similar to a chimney crown, a chimney chase cover protects the top of the chimney. Typically made of metal, chase covers were used regularly in the 1970s and 1980s with factory built or prefabricated chimneys. Over time, chimney chase covers may deteriorate, causing rust stains on the masonry of the chimney.

Chimney damper

The chimney damper separates the firebox from the flue. Open and closed using a pulley or a lever, the damper prevents heated or air conditioned air from escaping as well as minimizing drafts. Likewise, dampers help prevent moisture, debris, or animals from getting into the firebox. While dampers should be closed when the fireplace is not in use, the damper should always be opened before starting a fire to prevent smoke from backing up into a room.

Chimney flue

The chimney flue is the chamber through which smoke, gas, and other byproducts of combustion are vented to the outside.

Chimney flue lining

Chimney flue liners protect the surrounding building materials from the hot air, smoke, gas, and other byproducts of combustion that are travelling up the flue. There are three main types of flue linings: clay tiles, metal, or cast in place. Over time, creosote can build up on the flue lining. This byproduct of combustion is highly flammable, and it’s removal is the primary purpose of annual chimney sweepings.

Smoke chamber

The smoke chamber is designed to help compress smoke from the firebox into the flue without creating a backdraft. Smoke chambers are created with a sloping wall just above the firebox. A well designed smoke chamber with allow smoke, gas, and other byproducts of combustion to smoothly and quickly travel up the flue.

Smoke shelf

Located behind the damper, the smoke shelf is designed to catch any water or debris that enters the chimney. The smoke shelf also helps compress the large amounts of smoke created in the firebox to the much smaller entrance to the flue.

Chimneys are complex structures with a number of working parts that must be kept up in order to keep your fireplace working well. Contact the experts at Jack Pixley Sweeps today to schedule a sweeping and inspection to ensure your fireplace and chimney are in prime condition.

How Winter Impacts Your Chimney

As the temperatures drop outside, people come indoors to work, play, and spend time with friends and family. Oftentimes during the winter, this time is spent in front of a fireplace enjoying its warmth and ambiance. Unfortunately, what some homeowners fail to realize is that winter weather can have a negative impact on your chimney over time.

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While winter means the coming of the festive holiday season, it also brings frigid temperatures, freezing rain, ice, and snow. Because the winter is typically the heaviest use season for fireplaces, it is important to have an annual sweep and inspection done as early as possible to ensure that your heating appliance is working efficiently, has not been damaged, and is safe to use all winter long.

How water damages chimneys

One of the most common – and most preventable – ways that chimneys are damaged is through long term exposure to moisture. Water can wreak havoc on a chimney and fireplace system, affecting everything from the bricks and mortar to the flue and damper.

While chimneys may appear to be simple structures, they are actually surprisingly complex. Because of this, finding the exact cause of water entry may be difficult. Here are two common ways that water enters a chimney.

Chimney cap: A chimney cap, sometimes known as a rain guard, covers the top portion of the chimney. This allows smoke out while keeping sparks and embers in. If damaged, water, debris, and even animals can get into the chimney.

Masonry damage: The bricks and mortar of a chimney are constantly exposed to the elements. Because of this, absorbed water constantly freezes and thaws, creating cracks that allow more water to enter. Over time, the freeze-thaw process can cause major damage to the chimney as bricks crack and crumble.

Preventing water damage

Although it is inevitable that chimneys are exposed to water from rain, ice, and snow, there are steps that homeowners can take to prevent and minimize water damage. Preventative maintenance is the most effective way of preventing water damage. During an annual sweep and inspection, a trained technician will inspect the chimney for any signs of damage to the masonry, chimney cap, or other parts of the chimney. When spotted early, many minor problems can be fixed before they turn into major concerns, saving both time and money.

In addition, the trained technicians at Jack Pixley Sweeps can apply a variety of protective sealants to existing masonry structures to prevent water from seeping in. These professional grade products can provide as much as ten times the water prevention of standard brands. These sealants can greatly extend the life of your chimney and prevent any existing damage from getting worse.

Animal entry

Just as people tend to stay inside more during the winter, birds and other small mammals seek shelter as the temperatures turn cold. Because of this, uncapped chimneys or those with un-repaired openings often become hiding places for wildlife. In order to continue safely using your fireplace, it is important to have the animals safely removed as quickly as possible. Following removal, repairs can be made to make sure the animals cannot reenter the chimney structure.

If you have questions about preparing your chimney for winter, contact the experts at Jack Pixley Sweeps today!