Your Chimney Versus the Polar Vortex
Chimneys in Connecticut have had it tough lately. In January 2014, a Polar Vortex struck, bringing unprecedented low temperatures across the United States and Canada. Not so long ago, in February of 2013, Winter Storm Nemo dumped 40 inches of snow on Connecticut in a blizzard worse than any since 1888. All of these cycles of freezing followed by thawing can wreak havoc on masonry work; and the result can be moisture in the chimney system. Nothing is as damaging to a chimney as moisture, especially in wintry conditions.
Connecticut chimneys should be specially built with harsh weather in mind, since they are regularly subjected to freezing temperatures and harsh winds. The mortar makes up a substantial portion of a chimney, and it must be capable of withstanding countless freeze-thaw cycles; its performance depends upon its properties. The type of mortar mix used can determine how well a chimney can withstand extreme temperatures. We do not advise you to rebuild your chimney during the winter because if fresh brickwork freezes, the mortar will turn to ice and crumble.
Evidence of moisture damage can show up in other places besides the mortar, such as the chimney crown, flashing, liner, and brickwork.
- Mortar. The mortar in Connecticut chimneys often deteriorates as a direct result of freezing and thawing of ice and snow as well as from the house settling during the winters. The structure becomes vulnerable to moisture, when the mortar isn’t doing its job effectively. The integrity of the chimney itself can be compromised if damaged mortar is not quickly repaired. A procedure called “tuckpointing” makes it possible to replace damaged mortar without having to do a teardown of the masonry. Tuckpointing restores the aesthetic beauty of a chimney and provides a fresh line of defense against destructive moisture.
- Chimney Crown. Chimney crowns are often referred to as a chimney’s “first line of defense against moisture,” and they can also be vulnerable to extremely cold temperatures. When a chimney crown becomes cracked, moisture can leak between the chimney and the flue lining and cause a significant amount of damage before you realize there is a problem.
- Flashing. The flashing of the chimney prevents leakage where the chimney meets the roofline, and it can become damaged as a result of too much moisture. There are special challenges to correctly install flashing; and if the installation is less than adequate, moisture damage is a threat sooner rather than later.
- Chimney Liner. When moisture enters the chimney system, the chimney liner can deteriorate more rapidly, creating the risk of a hazardous chimney fire.
- Brickwork. When moisture enters the exterior brickwork of your chimney during winter, the freezing and thawing cycles of winter can create spalling, which is breakage of the brick face. Spalling becomes apparent when pieces of brick begin breaking off and falling around the chimney.
Connecticut homeowners should not assume that their chimneys are standing up well to these glacial winters. Annual chimney inspections by a professional chimney sweep should be scheduled. If you wait until problems are visible, by that point there has usually already been a great deal of damage that requires expensive repairs. Moisture damage is something you want to catch as early as possible, and professionals know what to look for in early stages of deterioration.
Northeastern Chimney, Inc.
formerly Nayaug Chimney Services, LLC
37 Cody Street, West Hartford, CT 06110