Homeowners can miss the early warning signs of chimney leaks, mistakenly believing its worn or weathered appearance is due to age when in reality, it is a sign of water damage. A chimney leak is not always as apparent as water dripping in the fireplace on a rainy day. Efflorescence and other symptoms like water stains, dripping water sounds, and foul odors indicate a potential chimney leak.
Bricks are made from clay or shale, which naturally contain several salts, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and aluminum sulfates. Although bricks have a hard shell which makes them durable, constant exposure to moisture and extreme temperature swings can accelerate their deterioration causing tiny cracks to develop on the surface. Water then can get inside the porous brick material drawing the salts to the surface. When the surface dries, a white or chalky film covers the bricks. This is efflorescence, a sign of water-damaged bricks that can eventually lead to chimney leaks.
Although efflorescence is often a warning sign of potential masonry damage, there are other signs to watch for that indicate the presence of a chimney leak.
Brick spalling occurs when the absorbed moisture in the bricks continuously freezes and thaws, causing them to flake, peel, or chip. Think of it as a process where water and ice are chipping away the masonry. When it rains or snows, the bricks will absorb additional moisture, and the freeze-thaw cycle will cause more spalling, and the expanding cracks in the bricks will eventually cause them to crumble or separate from the chimney. It also results in the erosion of mortar which leaves gaps in the mortar joints. Water can seep through these crevices resulting in chimney leaks.
One sign of a potential chimney leak is dripping water sounds when raining or immediately after rainfall. Even though you don’t see water in the fireplace, it can be leaking in other areas that are more difficult to spot, like the chimney flashing or chimney crown. These sources should be investigated for a potential chimney leak to prevent internal damage to the structure.
An obvious sign of a chimney leak is water pooling or staining in the firebox. Water stains appearing on the walls and ceiling around the fireplace also indicate a chimney leak due to damaged flashing. If the chimney leak is not repaired, it could cause water damage to the attic and roof deck.
Since mold and mildew grow in moist, humid conditions, a damp or musty odor near the fireplace is a sign of moisture intrusion. Moisture can get inside of the chimney through several ways, including masonry damage, damaged or missing chimney cap, and a cracked chimney crown.
If you are spotting one or more signs of a chimney leak, it is imperative to schedule a chimney inspection as soon as possible. Our Certified Chimney Sweep® performs all three levels of chimney inspections per National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) industry standards.
A level 1 is the basic chimney inspection that homeowners need every year to maintain their chimney, vents, and attached heating appliances. It’s a visual inspection that encompasses all readily accessible areas of the chimney system.
When the chimney technician discovers potential chimney damage, a level 2 inspection is necessary to locate the source. The technician will use video scanning equipment to carefully examine internal surfaces and joints for signs of leaks or damage closely. This more advanced inspection is also required if there have been any changes to the chimney system. It is also required before the sale of a property.
This is the most advanced chimney inspection and is required when the chimney technician needs to remove chimney components to gain entry to an otherwise inaccessible portion of the chimney to locate and repair the source of a chimney leak or damage.