Jack fell down and broke his crown

by Maureen McCabe on May 8, 2007

chimney sweepChimney’s have crowns and caps. Between sales where there are chimney issues I forget what the cap is, where the crown is. I don’t know about you but I love a good chimney diagram.

Bill & Kevin Burnett are home inspectors who write a column on Inman News. Their “Chimney cleaning exposes cracked crown:” caught my eye the other day. They responded with “Do-it-yourself replacement advised.”

Or maybe Mrs. Burnett’s boys aren’t home inspectors… maybe they do a column on home maintenance for Inman? There is another columnist on Inman who is a home inspector… Barry Stone, I believe.

From the Burnett’s May 2, 2007 column on Inman:

Q: I have just had my brick chimney cleaned, and the chimney sweep said the crown — the top layer of mortar covering the top of the chimney — is cracked in several places and needs replacement.

The sweep took a photograph and I can see what looks like smoke stains around one of the cracks. I don’t have a cap, but would like to get one. My house was built in the 1970s, and I understand they didn’t always put them on back then.

I don’t see why we can’t just replace the mortar ourselves. But I’m concerned about the smoke. How did it get there if the flue is solid? Would the contractor do more than just fix the crown if there’s smoke leaking through it? The estimate to replace the crown is $425. Does that sound reasonable?

A: We suspect that over the years water infiltrated the mortar crown, causing it to deteriorate. But $425 sounds a bit pricey for simply replacing the crown.”

If you’re comfortable on a ladder and walking around on the roof, by all means replace the crown yourself. It’s a pretty easy job, and with a little attention to detail you can do as good a job as any mason.”

How to fix it… they lost me at the ladder and going up on the roof, I’d fall off and break my crown for sure. Their directions are…. and I am paraphrasing the heck out of them here…

1. Remove the “rotten” mortar….do not break any of the bricks or the flue liner.

2. Clean the newly exposed brick with a wire brush and then a sponge and water.

3. Apply the new mortar. They recommende buying “a sack of mortar mix, available at any home center, and enrich it with extra Type II Portland cement.

4. Re-point any mortar joints between the bricks as long as your are up there…. then “Scrape the loose mortar away from the joints.”

Piece of cake?

The thing that scared me in the question was the “smoke stain.” The columnists wrote:

“it’s impossible to know if it indicates a serious problem without inspecting it. We assume that you have a flue liner. If that’s cracked, that could be the cause of smoke stains. If it’s not, the stain is probably just a combination of dirt and soot.

But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When you go up on the roof, take a flashlight, or better yet a drop light, and look at the inside of the chimney liner. It’s probably clay pipe mortared together in 2-foot sections. Look for cracked liner segments or deteriorated mortar joints inside the flue. If you see something suspicious, get the chimney professionally inspected. The chimney sweep should have done this, but it sure won’t hurt for you to double check.”

Of course be safe but wouldn’t the chimney sweep be recommending a flue ectomy if they could get that job rather than replacing the crown? $425 is steep for the chimney crown… a new fllue, cracked liner repair is big bucks I believe…

The brothers Burnett said about the cap:

If you’re interested in putting on a cap, you can do this yourself at the same time. You may need to remove the top course of brick from the chimney to install the cap. There are different types and styles of caps available. Check out the examples at: www.fireplacemall.com/Chimney_Caps/chimney_caps.html. Then measure the flue pipe, buy a cap and install it. You might also consult with a fireplace shop. The employees should be able to suggest the type of cap and guide you in installation.

I’ve been involved in a few sales with racoons in the chimney. A chimney cap keeps the rascals out. I sold a house in Kenmore Park neighborhood with a dead raccoon in the chimney about two years ago. I had a listing with a raccoon (living) in the chimney on Chase Rd. just south of Worthington….

A chimney cap keeps rain out too… a chimney cap is a good home improvement.

I have home maintenance tips on my website. Posted new each month.

It’s important to have a home inspection when buying a home, you may want to have a fireplace and chimney inspected further before closing.

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1 dave May 9, 2007 at 10:46 am

Yeah, caps are good if only for racoons. Boy, do those things smell when they’re rotting – just pulled a dead one out from under my porch! I think the smell is burned into my nose.

2 MaureenMcCabe May 9, 2007 at 06:51 pm

I will have to blog about the dead raccoon in the chimney story. It didn’t smell… but the flys and fleas were horrendous. I have many dead animal real estate stories.

Thanks for the comment Dave.

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