Parts of your chimney

Anatomy of a Chimney

Of all the complex features in your house, a chimney is perhaps the simplest – but there's more in there than you may think. If he were not so magical, Santa could not possibly get through to the fireplace.

1. At the top there's the chimney cap (sometimes called a crown, wash or splay) that keeps weather and animals from getting in.
2. The "flue" refers to the open space inside the chimney where air can flow.
3.The chimney chase is the portion above the roof line.
4. The flue is lined with metal to reduce the risk of fire.
5-6. The smoke chamber and smoke shelf for the open space where smoke rises through the damper.
7. The damper is where you open and close access to the flue.
8. The mantel.
9. Fireplace face.
10. The lintel is the horizontal metal plate supporting the bricks above the firebox opening.
11. This space leading to the damper opening is called the throat.
12. The firebox is lined with firebrick designed to withstand the heat.
13. The firebox.
14. The outer hearth, usually brick.
15. The inner hearth, usually cement.
16-17. The ash dump door is a metal trap door through which you can sweep the ash through an opening to the basement level.
18. A clean-out door opens to the outdoors.
19. The ash pit must be cleaned out periodically if the ash dump door is used.
20. Foundation.
21. Footing.

Chimney caps

The chimney cap plays an important role in the chimney system. Often made of metal, stainless steel or copper, the chimney cap is responsible for protecting the chimney's flue from animal invaders, water damage and downdrafts. Failure to install a chimney cap is like leaving a window open on the top of your home. Raccoons and squirrels can enter an unprotected chimney for nesting. Water can damage the mortar inside the chimney and lead to mold growth and unpleasant smells. The chimney cap can also prevent sparks from landing on your roof, which could lead to a serious home fire.

Trainees at the Plainfield, Ind.-based Chimney Safety Institute of America witness a planned chimney fire. There are about a dozen CSIA-certified sweeps in central Indiana. Photo by Brandon Smith

The Risk of Chimney Fires

It's very important to have your chimney cleaned on a regular basis -- at least once every two years -- to remove soot and creosote that builds up inside. Creosote remains flammable and sparks floating up the chimney can start a fire that can quickly spread to your house.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, about eight percent of all home fires are related to fireplaces and chimneys, and most of these fires are caused by creosote build-up.

Creosote can be found in more than one form, but in the context of chimneys it is a dark brown or black tar left behind by wood smoke as it passes over a solid object like the inside of your chimney.

In small quantities it poses little risk, but because it is flammable the risk increases because sparks or even just heat can cause it to ignite.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about a creosote fire is its potential to spread very quickly throughout the home, often without any warning.

According to a study of the causes of fires conducted by the Fire Analysis and Research Division of the National Fire Protection Agency, the leading factor contributing to home heating fires was failure to clean creosote from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys.

Customer Reviews

Chimney cleaning and repair companies are among more than 120 home repair professionals regularly reviewed by Angie's List members. You can look up your location and find local chimney experts who have been given top ratings by people in your community. Join Angie's List to get started right away.

Whoever you hire, you'll usually save money if you schedule your cleaning during the warmer months when chimney cleaning and inspection companies aren't as busy.

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Comments

Don Champagne

Subject: Bad advice when using a fireplace insert

The comment "It's very important to have your chimney cleaned on a regular basis -- at least once every two years -- to remove soot and creosote that builds up inside." is not necessarily correct. I have experience only with the one chimney in Edgewater MD, where my wife and I had a fireplace insert and burned a lot of firewood for the 16 years 1990-2006. I bought my own wire chimney brush (which exactly fit the cross-section of the flue) and rods and would periodically brush and examine the flue from the top. Never in 16 years did I find any creosote or soot in the chimney. The exhaust from a fireplace insert - basically a metal stove that fits into the fireplace - is very hot when the insert is used properly. Use of our insert did not to produce combustion products that had to be cleaned from the flue "at least once every two years".

T

Subject: Adding a damper to an existing chimney

We had a new fireplace insert installed, and a flexible stainless steel chimney liner was added from the insert all the way up to the new stainless steel chimney cap. When this was done, the original fireplace damper was removed (you had to reach up inside the chimney to open or close it). Now the chimney has no damper, and cold air comes down the chimney through the fireplace insert into the house when there is no fire.
How much would it cost to have a damper installed on the chimney that could be opened and closed through the fireplace face or just below the lintel (although this is now covered by the fireplace insert)?

Angela Doane

Subject: You'll need to get a drop in

You'll need to get a drop in top mount damper installed by a local company.
I work for one in King a county in Washington state.
Anywhere from $295 to 395 installed if you have 6-8" inner diameter pipe. It will need to be on top of your flex liner and might require 1 to 2' of chimney pipe if there isn't anywhere to attach it to.

Roland Reschreiter

Subject: pricing

$850 for a chimney cleaning!!! not fair at all.
you have 3 stages of creosote build up. Stage one cleaning could run anywhere from $100 to $165. Stage two and three add another $100 to 300, because special tools are required to remove creosote build up.

Angela Doane

Subject: Creosote

Special tools to "rotary" clean as well as spray in chemicals to work at loosening up that glazed creasote. Regular cleanings are much more reasonably priced, but once you are in that stage, it's a completely different animal. It is no longer brushable soot that you think of from Mary Poppins.
We charge $275 to start and an additional $75 per story of four. If you have damaged your glue yikes (very likely and that is what a cleaning is trying to avoid) your chimney is no longer safe to use and you'll need either the clay tile replaced or bypassed with a stainless steel liner. Neither option are going to cost under $500, and you are probably looking at least $1,000 to bypass. Once you have that damage, it is not easy or cheap to fix. Regular maintenance is extremely important, especially with risk of a chimney fire.

Kathy

Subject: A fair price for "trying" to put in a liner?

I got someone to look at a problem I was having. It's an old house, and old (interior) chimney, used only for the gas furnace. Dampness was seeping through the plaster wall around the chimney.
The guy looked at the situation and said I needed a chimney liner and gave me an estimate to put one in. Fine. He got large equipment, spent the better part of a day there (it's a two story-house/chimney).
Ultimately, he could not get the liner in, because he said that there was an off-set in the chimney which prevented it going in, even though it was a flexible one. He got someone to come in and clean the chimney. But no liner. Then he charged me for the rental of the large equipment, and all of the labor (his and a helper for a good part of a day) ...less than the $1,300 estimate, but still $850 which I feel is a steep price just to have the chimney cleaned. Does this seem fair?

Angela Doane

Subject: Safe contractors.

No, but you need to make sure to hire a qualified professional and read reviews on google, yelp, Angie's list, or the better business bureau to ensure you are hiring someone sufficient to do the job and do it well.

Jo

Subject: chimney repair

the bricks on my chimney have cracked and broken off and I've called two chimney companies who claim to be expert in chimney masonry repair to inspect damage and give me an estimate for the repairs. after visual inspection of chimney they said I also needed a liner and submitted estimates. their quotes are far apart. I plan on researching another company but my question is how to determine who is the professional and who might be a scammer. What do I base my decision on before making a selection, price?

Angela Doane

Subject: Safe professional

Always ask when a business was established. I know there are a lot of individuals that can low ball an estimate just to put good on the table. Is he working with a contractors license? Bonded and insured? Is he going to give you a warranty with that repair? And sometimes, your different bids could be apples and oranges to each other. Make sure they are really comparable and the scope of work is equivalent. I get it all the time from a lower quote, but they might not be replacing the sane amount of bricks or might be spot pointing instead of a full tuckpoint. We do not warranty the same if the full recommendation is not all done. Some people want to save money (chimney repair is expensive!) but the warranty to guarentee not to leak in the next 5 years is so worth it that a couple hundred dollars if you have to keep having someone come back out to try and correct it.

Roland Reschreiter

Subject: Metal stack

You want to start by having your fireplace inspected. get at least 3 quotes!! Most Chimney sweeps will do that kind of work.

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