Have you recently purchased an older house with one or more fireplaces? Are some parts of the house in less than stellar condition? Having a damaged fireplace can be a hazard, but it's not always immediately obvious when a chimney has been damaged by time or careless use. Fortunately, there are some things that you can look for to let you know that you are in need of some repairs. Before you go lighting any cozy winter fires, check for the following things.
Rust: Your chimney damper and other metal parts can look worn, but they should not look rusty. Rust inside of your chimney can be a sign that you have cracked flue tiles or other damage higher up in the chimney. These cracked tiles would then be allowing rain and other precipitation to enter the chimney, causing the rust. It is possible to have a little rust without actually needing any chimney repair, but you should have your chimney checked out just in case. Having cracked flue tiles could eventually result in a chimney fire that would then spread to the rest of the house.
Debris: When you moved into the house, did you have to clean any debris from the fireplace? Not leftover ash and charcoal from the last fire, but either twigs and leaves or little bits of mortar? A chimney that's in good condition would allow neither of those to get down to the fireplace below. Leaves and twigs may indicate that your chimney-repair needs are no more complicated than replacing a cover screen at the very top. However, manmade debris can be a serious problem. Thermal expansion, such as what happens when a fire is lit, followed by contraction when the chimney cools again, can cause bits of mortar and brick to flake off. It's similar to the natural erosion process of rocks and boulders outside. And just like that natural process, this one can eventually cause your chimney to crumble. If caught in time, you may only need to add more mortar or cement to make your chimney safe once again. If the prior homeowners let things get too out of hand, however, you may actually need to have part of your chimney rebuilt.
Damaged chimney crown: This one is one of the most difficult issues to spot since you need to be on the roof to do so. If you are unable to climb onto the roof yourself, you'll either need to hire a chimney-repair specialist to inspect the chimney or ask any roofers, air-conditioning repair technicians, or other tradespeople to let you know if there are any cracks in the chimney crown. The crown is a layer of mortar that seals the chimney flue against the elements. If it's only recently cracked, there may not have been time for the dampener to begin to rust. Fortunately, when the damage is relatively minimal, you can often have the crown resealed with a waterproofing layer.
Talk to a company such as Excel Chimney & Fireplace Service for more information.