How Ivy Can Damage Your Chimney

At its best, ivy growing up the sides of a home or a chimney can provide a soft, romantic, woodsy feel. Many types of ivy are invasive, however. It can grow out of control and, at its worst, it can cause extensive damage to your chimney or home’s masonry.

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The problem with ivy

While ivy initially doesn’t cause damage as it makes its way up your home, chimney, or fence, the tiny roots that allow the plant to grow can take hold in cracks or other weaknesses in a structure. As the ivy grows, it can embed itself into those cracks, making them grow larger and compromising the integrity of a structure. Over time, ivy can cause major problems with your chimney’s masonry that could lead to the overall failure of your chimney’s foundation.

Ivy growth is particularly worrisome on homes that were built before 1930, when builders began using Portland cement rather than lime mortar to construct masonry walls and chimneys. Old, lime-based mortar is softer and more likely be cracked, allowing ivy roots in, or to crumble under the pressure of ivy growth. If you’re concerned about the ivy growth that has taken hold on your home, it is important to either call in professional help or take great care in removing it. Pulling ivy away from a masonry chimney can cause chunk of bricks or mortar to pull away, weakening the chimney structure. Once ivy is removed, you will want to have your chimney inspected for damage. Tuck-pointing or other chimney repairs may be necessary to restore your chimney’s strength.

Preventing ivy problems

If you like the look of vines climbing gently up your home, there are steps you can take to safely grow ivy or other climbing plants on or against your home.

  • First, inspect your home’s exterior to determine if it is safe for ivy growth. If your home is newer and masonry is secure, growing ivy may be a safe option. Ivy should not be grown on cracked masonry, older masonry, dry-stacked stone, wooden walls, siding, stucco, or painted surfaces.
  • Second, you will need to consider which species of ivy is best for planting. English ivy traditionally is what we see growing up old brick buildings and homes, but it is an invasive plant that is banned in some states and communities, as it is hard to remove and will make its way up trees and structures that it wasn’t intended for. Boston Ivy and Virginia creeper have aerial roots that won’t make their way into cracks and cause further damage.
  • Finally, consider alternatives. There are climbing plants, such as roses, clematis, wisteria, and jasmine, that will make their way up wooden or metal supports against your home to provide you with the soft, romantic look of ivy without the damage.

If you suspect ivy damage

If you’re concerned that ivy already has damaged your chimney’s masonry, call the experts at Mason’s Chimney Service. We can inspect your chimney’s masonry for damage, and recommend and perform and repairs that may be needed to keep your chimney sound.