What Are The Common Problems of Chimneys In Old Houses?

Old houses and historic homes tend to have chimneys that not only add to the visual appeal but also keep the property warm and cozy. As everything ages with time, chimneys are prone to cracks, damage, and other complications as well. Let’s discuss common problems of chimneys in old houses so you know how to address them with chimney repair and cleaning.


Creosote buildup is perhaps the most common problem in chimneys especially when it comes to old houses. Regardless of what you are burning, creosote will build up one way or the other and will stick inside the chimney if you do not clean it. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent creosote buildup.

Creosote buildup can lead to fire hazards that can also threaten lives. This is why, it is important to regularly clean the chimneys before creosote buildup takes place. Moreover, take note that creosote buildup occurs in three stages.

While the first two stages are slightly easier to overcome, the final buildup creosote stage is a lot more difficult to clean. In this case, you are going to need a professional to thoroughly clean the chimney as creosote buildup becomes too hard to remove.

Cracked/Spalling Bricks

Although chimneys are expensive to build due to the materials used but they come with a lifespan as well. With time, the bricks tend to crack and fall. This could also happen due to extreme weather conditions. Cracked or spalling bricks means the structure of the chimney is compromised and you will need to immediately fix the issue.

The only way is to replace some of the bricks, apply new mortar to the bricks, and even rebuild the chimney. A chimney comprises many other parts than just bricks. The chimney flue and other components do age with time and can become damaged due to external factors such as thunderstorms.

This is why, it is extremely important to perform regular inspections to ensure the chimney’s structure is intact. Otherwise, you simply risk getting hurt if a spalling brick happens to land on you. So, if a house is older than 40 years, you should avoid repairing the chimney and consider a full rebuilding of the chimney with flashing and flue.

Damaged Mortar

Another important factor that keeps the chimney intact is the mortar. Irrespective of the technique and type of mortar installed, it will weaken over time. The reason is moisture being the biggest enemy. If the mortar is constantly exposed to moisture, it will not be able to keep the chimney together.

If your chimney is relatively new, a professional can help replace the existing mortar with new. However, If the chimney happens to be old, the professional might suggest installing a new chimney considering the age and condition of the structure.

Missing Chimney Caps And Chase Covers

Chimneys are covered with chimney caps and chase covers that prevent animals, moisture, and other debris from entering. In other words, the chimney caps are designed to protect the chimney crown. Chimney caps and covers also need replacement after a few years if they are damaged.

One of the common mistakes influencing the life of chimney caps is improper installation. If you are doubtful of your chimney caps, you should consult a professional for inspection. Once the inspection is done, the professional will let you know if the chimney cap needs to be replaced or fixed.

Cracks In The Chimney Flue

Even though the chimney flue takes years until a replacement or repair is needed, it is difficult to inspect it without using a camera. If you live in a region where chimneys are not used during the summer season, there is a good chance that birds and other animals will take up space.

As a result, the chimney flue might be cracked or damaged. Then again, you will be needing a professional’s help to fix the issue.

Rotting Wood

Chimney building is a process that might look easy from the outside but a lot goes into planning the type of materials used along with the technique. It is often that homeowners come across rotting wood indicating questionable building practices.

This usually happens when the contractor wraps the chimney with vinyl siding and wood trim allowing too much moisture inside, resulting in rotting wood.

No Chimney Liner

Chimney flue liners carry huge importance when it comes to old houses. The reason is that back in the day, chimney liners were not even considered. However, chimney liners are essential in terms of safety for your chimney and home. Today, in modern homes, chimney liners aren’t suggested but installed as a necessity.

Properties that do not have a chimney liner installed or improperly installed can run into problems sooner or later. The biggest risk with an unlined chimney is fire. If properly installed, a chimney liner will serve as the first line of defense against the chimney fires. However, if there is not one, the fire can easily break into your house.

Furthermore, carbon monoxide risks are the deadliest. What makes carbon monoxide deadly is the fact that it does not carry an odor. So, if it were to sneak into your room while you were sleeping, you can easily turn unconscious in your sleep.

This is why having a chimney liner is more important than everything else. Most homeowners drop the idea of having a chimney liner upon hearing about the costs. However, it should be thought of as an investment as it helps keep risks at bay.

How Often Does a Chimney Need Cleaning?

Chimney cleaning primarily depends on the usage intensity. If you live in an area where the temperature is cold most of the year, you will need to perform cleaning at least once a month. Keep in mind that the type of wood used for burning also impacts creosote buildup.

So, if the wood is wet, creosote buildup, as a result, will be relatively more as compared to using dry wood. As a general rule of thumb, you should always hire a professional to clean the chimney inside out.

Climbing on the roof or coming in contact with potentially flammable materials carries a huge risk. Even though expert services will cost you, at least assure that your chimney is intact. Therefore, always hire chimney sweep services Ellicott City for cleaning your chimney.

An expert performing maintenance will not only clean the chimney but also identify and replace the parts that seem broken or worn.

Can I Clean The Chimney Myself?

Cleaning the chimney on your own is not a risky business as long as your chimney has been maintained. If the case is otherwise, you should avoid sticking your hands inside. As mentioned earlier, creosote buildup at its last stage can be seriously dangerous.

Additionally, you are going to need special tools and equipment to access the liner and other areas. Therefore, hire an expert and simply pay for the services without having to worry about the expensive tools.


Chimneys require repairs and replacements. Although, you cannot stop them from occurring but certainly avoid them by following the tips mentioned above. Most importantly, always consult expert chimney contractors Columbia MD for your chimney-related tasks to keep serious incidents at bay.

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