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What’s Wrong With Your Fireplace?

Running a fireplace is a fairly easy task.  Maintaining and repairing a fireplace and chimney is a little more complicated.  This is because a number of problems can occur without you being aware of them.  These problems can lead to expensive repairs or rebuilding and in some cases dangerous operating conditions.

Let’s look at four common things that can go wrong with your fireplace and chimney.

fireplace cleaning in Madison WI1. Obstructions

If there are smoke stains on the interior fireplace bricks or if you see smoke backing up into the room, it’s likely your chimney has some kind of obstruction.  Leaves, twigs, animal nests and dead animals often are the cause.  Other possible causes included a house that’s too air-tight to allow smoke to properly draft, and a chimney that’s the wrong size for the fireplace.

Keep in mind that with back-drafted smoke comes carbon monoxide, which can’t be smelled or seen but can be lethal to humans and pets.  If your chimney is obstructed, hire a professional to clean it.

2. Excess creosote

A large buildup of creosote is another possible reason for a drafting problem.  Every time wood burns in the fireplace and smoke goes up the chimney, the smoke condenses and creates creosote, a tar-like substance that is highly flammable.

Of more concern here than an air-flow problem is the potential for a chimney fire.  Creosote is responsible for the majority of these fires that are reported every year.  A certified chimney sweep should be engaged on an annual basis to thoroughly clean your chimney.

3. Structural damage

As years pass, the bricks and mortar that once formed a strong chimney can begin to deteriorate.  When cracking or crumbling is present, water can infiltrate the system and cause major damage.

If there is damage to any part of the fireplace or chimney that comes into contact with the home’s building materials, excess heat can be released to unprotected areas.  An annual chimney inspection by a trained technician can spot minor damage and get it repaired before it becomes serious.

4. Component damage

Various fireplace/chimney components are in place to do a specific job.  If your chimney crown, chimney cap, flashing, fireplace damper or other components aren’t in proper working order, problems are sure to arise.  A thorough inspection will focus on these and all other components.

What you can look for on your own

While you can’t do everything a chimney technician can, there are a few things you can keep a lookout for that will tell you it’s time to call in a pro:

Chimney fire:

Some start and go out on their own.  Others can cause major destruction.  You may not see the fire at first, but a rumbling or ticking sound coming from the fireplace indicates a fire.  In this case, extinguish the fire, call 911 and don’t use the fireplace again until it has been inspected.

Chimney inspection in Platteville WI


This white staining on chimney bricks means water is getting soaked up and retained or literally leaking through the system.

Debris in the firebox:

Pieces of flue tiles, chunks of brick and mortar dust inside the firebox tell you that damage to the chimney has begun.  Have this checked out by a chimney sweep before lighting another fire.

Water in the firebox:

This is another sign of damage, indicating that a compromise exists somewhere in the system.  It’s another reason to call a fireplace technician.

Chimney Specialists of Highland, WI, can help with all these problems.  We specialize in the inspection, cleaning, repair and rebuilding of chimneys of all shapes and sizes.  If you have questions about your fireplace or chimney, or would like to schedule an appointment, please call (608) 929-4887.

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