One of the most neglected components of a modern home is its chimney. It serves an important function, as well as lending a property aesthetic value. In spite of this, chimneys are rarely maintained as well as they should be. Let’s take a look at exactly how one should go about caring for a chimney – and what to do if a chimney needs replacing.
What does a chimney do?
Before we can establish how best to keep a chimney in good working order, it is worth first examining exactly what it is that a chimney is supposed to do. If you were to light a fire in your living room without a chimney, the room would quickly fill with smoke. A chimney provides the smoke with a way of exiting the room by funneling it upward into the sky.
Since its job is to funnel burning hot gas, the interior of a chimney needs to withstand a great deal more stress than, say, the brickwork outside your house. Fortunately, the brickwork is not directly exposed to the smoke, since the smoke will be directed upward within a long metal tube, called the lining. This lining can degrade over time, thereby exposing the brick and mortar beneath. If the brickwork is exposed to burning hot ash for a long enough period of time, it will degrade. It may even lead to the collapse of the chimney.
It is therefore wise to periodically check the lining to see whether it is entirely intact. This is particularly the case if you happen to use your fireplace regularly – if you are lighting the hearth more than once a day, then bi-annual check-ups will be helpful. If your fireplace is used more occasionally, then once a year should be sufficient.
While slow degradation of a chimney should be guarded against, there exist other, more acute dangers. Small objects, such as bird’s nests, can become lodged in the chimney. Bricks can end up falling down them. Some homeowners might even deliberately block a chimney in order to prevent such objects from falling down! It is almost impossible to tell at a glance whether this has been done – a fact which has led many new homeowners to light a fire and immediately regret the decision.
If you have just moved in and plan on lighting a fire for the first time, then try to take a look up the chimney before doing so. If you can see daylight, then you may proceed; if you cannot, then further investigation is in order.
What about gas fires?
We may associate coal fires with ash and smoke and the need for a chimney sweep. But gas fires, too, require annual maintenance. While the short, blue flame on your gas stove is perfectly safe, the long, orange flame on the inside of a gas fire is not. This is because the gas has not been entirely burned; some carbon monoxide still remains. Since human beings are incapable of smelling carbon monoxide, you will be unaware of the problem until it is too late. It is wise, therefore, to ensure that the gas is properly able to escape up the chimney.
It can be difficult to know exactly who to pay to sweep your chimney. Fortunately, there exists an organisation whose role it is to certify quality sweeps: the National Association of Chimney Sweeps (NACS). This certification will ensure that the sweep is suitably qualified. Such people are issued cards to prove their credentials, which they should be happy to show you if asked.
There are some occasions, however, which require more extensive work. Perhaps the chimney itself has begun to degrade because of adverse weather; perhaps it has been knocked off by a strong wind. Whether the damage is chronic or acute, it is best that a chimney is repaired sooner rather than later.
What if I need a new chimney?
If you chimney has been deemed to be irreversibly damaged, then it will need to be replaced. Unfortunately, replacing a chimney is not an easy task. This is fairly obvious; any building project which must be carried out on a precarious rooftop will be a great deal more difficult than one which can be performed at ground level. It is best that you seek the services of a specialist, such as Marcus Roofing, who are able to remove, construct and repair chimneys, as well as offering a range of roofing services. Their website can be found at www.marcusroofing.co.uk.