Make sure you protect your chimney

While having his front stoop repaired, Jeffrey Miner glanced up at his brick chimney and thought: Something looks wrong.

Miner was right to be concerned. The chimney’s bricks had cracked at the roofline, and the chimney was leaning. A structural engineer confirmed that the chimney bricks were in danger of falling through the roof and into the bedroom.

The chimney repairs started almost immediately. The bricks were removed, reinstalled and treated with a water-proofing material. As a final touch, a new chimney cap was installed to replace the old top, which had rusted and cracked.

“We never thought about anything being wrong with the chimney,” said Miner of Sandy Springs. “I am glad I looked up when I did.”

The chimney is one of the most taken-for-granted parts of the home, according to the nonprofit Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA). Whether chimneys are masonry or factory-built, prolonged water exposure can result in cracks and gaps in them.

One of the best and least expensive ways to prevent water damage is with a chimney cap, also referred to as a cover, topper or shroud. A chimney cap keeps out rain, but also animals and debris.

But besides performing an important function, chimney caps can add an architectural interest or a design element to a home.

“If the chimney is in the back of the house where it is not visible, you don’t need to get fancy,” said Livtar Khalsa of Chimney Caps Atlanta. “But if your chimney is in front, you can add to the look of your home with a custom-fit cap.”

If a new chimney cap is in your renovation plans, consider these tips from the CSIA, Khalsa and Alpharetta-based European Chimney Works.

What to consider

  • Location. Within the chimney itself is a chamber called the flue, which acts as a ventilation shaft for smoke and gases. If you were on your roof and looked at the chimney, you would see the flue (open hole) at the top. A chimney cap is placed over the flue or flues (if more than one).
  • Purpose. Why do you want a cap? Is it to protect the chimney? Is it for looks? Or both?
  • Masonry vs. prefabricated? Masonry, brick and stone chimneys can be fitted with a variety of chimney caps.

If you have a prefabricated fireplace, the top is covered by a sheet of metal, called a chimney or rain pan. The pan keeps rain out of the “chase,” which is the outer covering of the prefab chimney. The chase is usually made of brick or some type of siding. If you develop a leak inside your chimney, the pan is the first place to look. Over time, the chimney pan rusts out and allows water inside the chimney.

If you want to dress up the top of your prefab chimney, add a chimney shroud, a decorative piece that hides the rain pan and flue cap (pipe) sticking out of the top.

  • Materials. Caps can be made from various metals, including galvanized steel, stainless steel, colored steel and a selection of coppers. There is also a stucco-look finish.
  • Budget and cost. The price can range from $150 to install a simple, galvanized metal chimney or flue cap to more than $4,000 for a custom copper cap. The cost varies depending on the size and style of chimney cap, materials and the complexity of the installation. If cost is a concern, choose galvanized steel. Caps made of copper and stainless steel will last longer and look better.

Caps may be designed to cover a single flue or multiple flues. They also can cover a large portion of the chimney or the entire chimney top. A full coverage chimney cap — with a bird guard — is a larger initial investment, but it offers long-term protection because of its ability to protect the entire chimney crown.

  • Styles and shape. A chimney cap should be proportionally sized, color coordinated and architecturally tied to the rest of the home. A cap (shroud) can be curved, flat, arched or round. It also can have a louvered or textured look. Chimney pots are another way to protect and dress up your chimney top. These pipelike structures come in a variety of sizes, shapes and styles.

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