*Important: We are still currently serving customers under mandatory safety policies to help protect all involved from COVID-19. Learn more here.

Call today!

Your Chimney’s Parts and What They Do

The first thing you need to understand when dealing with your chimney system is that you could have one of two types of systems and should know which one you have. This goes beyond wood burning or gas. You will need to discover whether your system is a masonry fireplace and chimney system or a factory built fireplace and chimney system.  While you might not think this important, it is.

Knowing what type of system you have, as well as the life expectancy and parts that wear out over time,  are all things that make you a better homeowner. This will also allow you to know what to expect over time.  So while each share parts, let’s look at one at a time and see how they are alike and more importantly, where the differences lie.

Masonry Fireplaces are considered the workhorses in the hearth industry as they are built to last a long time and can add great value to your home as well as enjoyment if properly taken care of. One of the first things to know about masonry systems is their weight. They can weigh between 6 and 7 tons! This is why you need to watch the foundation to make sure it is not cracking or sinking under this massive amount of weight distributed in a very small area.

Masonry Chimney - Chesapeake VA - Magic Sweep

Masonry Chimney – Chesapeake VA – Magic Sweep

You will need to watch the hearth area at the base of the fireplace as well as any cracks in the brick or stone in the firebox or on the fireplace facing. Outside you will want to take a look at the brick and surface of the stone to see if there are any signs of stress. This can be cracks or leaning of any kind. All of these areas can be a sign that the weight of the unit may be getting the better of the situation and needs to be addressed.

The hearth area is the open area in front of the firebox that will need to be free of any combustibles so there is nothing that catch on fire from a flying spark or ember and extends as the base of the firebox. Sometimes there is an ash dump that is also connected to an area in a basement or to the outside where the ash can be easily cleaned out.

When a fire is burning in the firebox, smoke has to be able to get to the outside. To do this there is a series of parts that allow this to happen. The first is a throat damper, which is still in many of these systems. If the damper remains closed, smoke will back fill into your home and you will have a big problem. Making sure the damper is opened and working properly before a fire is ever lit is extremely important.

Once the smoke passes through the damper is sits in the smoke chamber as the draft pulls it up the flue and out into the open atmosphere. There is also something called a smoke shelf that keeps any debris from falling back down into your firebox. This is one place creosote is often found and is removed during sweeping.

Another part that is not always on a masonry system is a chimney cap. The cap is attached to the top of the flue and acts as a spark arrest-or for combustibles leaving the system. It also stops water and animals from entering the system when not in use. Many chimney professionals recommend adding this part for obvious reasons.

The mortar crown finishes off the masonry chimney system and seals off the top of the chimney. Because of the elements this part of the system is exposed to it is one of the areas that will most likely need to be repaired or replaced in time. Talk to your professional chimney services guy about sealing this with some of the newer materials that have come on the market to protect it even better over a longer period of time.

The last “part” would be the brick or stone the system is built with. These materials are porous and can erode over time and exposure. There are many so called fixes that simply do not work due to lack of permeability, which is allowing air to move through the material even though water is blocked. Masonry materials must be able to breathe!

Having a well-built masonry fireplace is a great item to have in a home but unlike engineered products like factory built systems, having a professional to build these systems is a must. Masonry fireplaces will not work well if it is not built to a standard that chimney specialists work with every day. Get referrals if you are having one of these built or repaired.

Factory-Built Fireplaces are often referred to as prefabricated fireplaces and are engineered products much like any other appliance in your home. And just like those appliances, there is a life expectancy that must be taken into consideration when dealing with one of these units. They are a complete system from top to bottom and are not interchangeable from system to system.

These units come with a hearth much like a masonry system as well as a firebox. However, the firebox is made up of panels on each side and not firebrick like in a masonry fireplace. Replacing these panels is an option. However, there are times units stop being manufactured and the panels are really hard to find. Dealing with a reputable chimney company can help as they have resources with other sweeps to find panels that are no longer being made.  This is also when many people decide it’s time to upgrade to a more efficient factory built unit and just get a new one.

These appliances will have a chimney or flue and have a fire stop to keep the smoke going up the chimney and out the top through the chimney cap. There are very specific instructions that come with installing one of these prefab units so please make sure you use someone that is experienced and certified to do so. There are clearances to combustibles to take into consideration as well as modern building codes for these units as they are not made to undertake the punishing heat you can get away with in a masonry chimney. There are set limits so make sure you have a clear understanding of what type of factory built unit you have and what type of fuel you should burn in it.

There is no doubt that having a fireplace is one of the most relaxing things you can have as a part of your home, it is also an appliance that will need to be maintained, repaired, cleaned and sometimes replaced. As long as you understand that, you should have a positive and wonderful experience with your masonry or factory built fireplace system.