Have you thought about your flue liner?
Sara and Scott had just moved into their first home, and they were so excited! They loved the neighborhood, with quiet, tree-lined streets and the sort of smaller, quaint little homes that were commonly built after the Second World War. Theirs was one of the fixer-uppers, but they were young and ready for the challenge. If all went well, they would have the repairs and upgrades finished before the fall, and then they could enjoy their favorite season of the year in their comfy new living room, snuggled up in front of a warm and cozy fire.
Sara and Scott are like a lot of first-time homeowners. In the coming months, they will be busy making important choices about flooring, fixtures, electrical, plumbing and even paint colors. They will most likely be taking their home apart down to the bare studs before building it all back again, just the way they want it. But will they remember to inspect and repair the chimney system, to make sure that it will be safe to use on that first cold evening they’ve been dreaming about?
The chimney flue (the tall part of the fireplace system that serves to exhaust smoke and hot, dangerous gasses safely out of the living space of the home) requires regular inspection and maintenance in order to ensure safe operation of your fireplace. Inspecting the flue for potential problems is hard to do, because it is a dark, long, narrow space, mostly hidden from view, and thus is often not even considered. But the condition of the chimney flue is critical, and cannot be overlooked.
Chimney liners (often just called flue liners) may be made of clay or terra cotta tiles. Over time, these tiles will be exposed to extreme temperature changes, moisture conditions and other kinds of structural stress. Older homes with fireplaces built before 1940 may not even have a lined chimney at all. If a fire is built in a damaged or unlined chimney, it could leak deadly carbon monoxide or smoke into the home, or transmit heat or flames into combustible materials in the areas surrounding the chimney. If you have just moved into a home, you should always have a complete chimney and flue inspection performed before using the fireplace or gas or wood stove for the first time.
Once the inspection has been performed by a licensed and trained chimney professional, that person may recommend repairs, including relining the flue. Relining can be done in several ways, depending on the age and condition of the existing chimney.
- Clay tiles. These are probably the most common in wood-burning fireplaces. They are prone to cracking and do require consistent, regular maintenance in order to remain serviceable. They are also difficult to repair or replace if damaged.
- Metal liners. These liners are continuous construction, which means that there are no seams or gaps that could become leakage points as they age. Sometimes made of aluminum, the best and safest ones are constructed of stainless steel. When an existing chimney is not lined or contains damaged clay tiles, a new metal liner is often an economical and extremely safe option for repair or upgrade.
- Cast-in-place. New techniques and materials advances make this option a popular one for old chimneys. It adds some structural integrity improvements, in addition to providing a new, smooth and continuous flue that will last a long time and work well with all fuel types.
If your chimney professional recommends relining your chimney, especially if you have no previous knowledge of the chimney system, it is a good idea to make the investment. Thankfully, Sara and Scott had already thought about this important part of their home. They had money in the budget set aside to have their flue properly relined. The first season in their new home was everything they had imagined it to be, and would continue to be enjoyable every year, for years to come.