Older homes with brick chimneys are a subject of concern during a home inspection. These days, if a home has a true brick chimney, then you can be sure it is likely a pretty old home. Brick chimneys have almost entirely been replaced with metal flue piping. However, old brick chimneys have a certain charm to them. If you have one on your home, or you are planning to purchase a home with one, it is important to give it a thorough periodic inspection.
There are a few common problems typical to brick chimneys. One that we see fairly often is the settlement of a chimney. The chimney itself is not always sitting on the foundation wall like the rest of the home, so it is possible that the foundation of the chimney or the ground below can settle. This can cause the chimney to lean away from the home, as shown in the image to the right where the chimney has pulled away from the home. The settlement of the base can also cause stair step cracking at the mortar lines between the bricks. These can be very expensive repairs if not caught early on.
A less common problem is the one our inspector Dave found at one of his home inspections. The top of a brick chimney is often covered by a concrete or brick sealant or cap that covers and seals the larger brick chimney surround to the smaller interior clay or metal flue. This particular chimney cap had eroded so much that the chimney cap material had crumbled and fallen into the chimney cavity. This essentially allowed moisture to enter the chimney whenever it rained or snowed, potentially allowing moisture to get into the home. Leaves and debris could also fall down into this cavity. Needless to say, this will have to be repaired immediately, but a quick periodic visual check for deterioration earlier on could have avoided the problem.
There are a few other minor things that can go wrong with a brick chimney, but it is important to have your home inspector give the chimney a good visual inspection when buying a house. For homeowners, it’s good practice to take a look at your roof, chimneys, vents, and gutters every few years to make sure things look normal, or to have a home inspector or professional come and take a look at things periodically.
For more informative posts on taking care of your home, check out our Ask Your Inspector page. Have something to add to this story, or have you had a crazy experience with your brick chimney? Leave us a comment below. Read more about our Inspection Services.