Your house’s chimney needs regular maintenance and occasional repairs just like any other part of your house.
Damage to the chimney can lead to massive structural problems for other parts of your home if left untreated.
Luckily, with proper care, the cost of repairing your chimney can remain quite low.
How Often Should I Have My Chimney Inspected?
As a rule of thumb, you should aim to have your chimney inspected at least once per year.
If you use your chimney year round, consider having it inspected more frequently, such as every 6 to 9 months. You should also have your chimney cleaned at least annually to prevent a buildup of soot.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and a qualified chimney expert will make sure that your chimney stays healthy for a long time.
Regular inspections are also the best way to catch issues early, making the repairs easier and cheaper.
When to Repair a Damaged Chimney
Some signs of chimney damage are more noticeable than others. Any obvious large cracks need immediate repairs. If you notice your chimney leaning, or any damage to the crown, you should also seek repairs as soon as possible.
A less obvious but more dangerous threat is water damage. Brick chimneys can absorb up to a cup and a half of water per brick.
This additional weight puts strain on the chimney and on your house, compromises the integrity of the mortar, disrupts the chemistry binding the bricks, and can seep into other parts of the house, leading to worse damage.
Proactively repairing your chimney will help stave off serious issues before they arise. If your chimney has recently had to withstand an extreme storm, it may be a good idea to have an inspector come and check that it is still strong.
It is far better to pay a couple hundred dollars straight away than pay thousands when your chimney begins to crumble.
Should I DIY or Hire a Professional?
Other repairs, such as fixing rain damage, major cracks, or leaning, will require professional workers and equipment.
When you get your chimney inspected, they will be able to fix minor damage on the spot, so if you already have a good inspection schedule, your repair schedule should look very minor.
Cost of Repair
The cost of repairing a chimney depends on the kind of damage it has sustained, the severity, and the location.
Damage to only exterior portions of the chimney tend to be less expensive to fix, as they can be repaired at the surface.
Deeper damage, such as water damage, will be more expensive than surface damage. Hopefully, the chimney damage will not have led to damage on other parts of your home.
If this is the case, however, costs will be higher.
Brick and Mortar Repairs
The most common repairs chimneys need is to the exterior brick and mortar. These repairs can range in cost from about $200 to $2,000 depending on the severity of the damage. Although cracks can be the lightest form of damage seen on a chimney, they can also end up being the worst.
It is not unheard of for a crack starting at the crown of a chimney to eventually travel all the way down and split the chimney in two. Cracks most commonly form at the corners of the chimney first, growing over time.
Sometimes a chimney can crack in worse ways, such as straight down the middle. If the damage is only to the exterior portion and does not extend all the way down to the fireplace, even bad cracks can be repaired without too much cost.
Cracks can occur in a chimney naturally through changing seasons. The cold causes the bricks to contract, and heat causes them to expand. Just as a road is worn down by consistent expansion and contraction, your chimney is too.
Cracks allow fumes like smoke and carbon monoxide to seep out, potentially into your walls or directly into your home. Even worse, cracks can sometimes let sparks through, posing a serious fire hazard.
If you see any visible damage to the brick structure of your chimney, don’t hesitate to call a repair person.
Water Damage Repairs
As long as the water damage is not extensive enough to compromise the entire chimney, these repairs tend to be on the cheaper side, ranging from around $200 to $500. Of course, the longer water damage goes untreated, the more mold and wood rot can deteriorate your chimney and your house.
Water can also cause damage when it seeps into cracks and undergoes a freezing and thawing cycle. This cyclical expansion and melting can push cracks open further as well as causing new cracks to form.
Even if you don’t live in a very rainy climate, normal rainfall is still acidic enough to cause cumulative chemical damage to the creosote in the chimney, leading to rusting and structural damage.
If the water damage occurs in a chimney venting a furnace or other heater, it can also potentially cause a buildup of carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals.
It can also cause heat to buildup, reducing the effectiveness of your furnace and posing a fire hazard.
Crown repairs typically cost between $200 and $400. However, crown damage is worth fixing immediately, since it can quickly lead to other issues that are more expensive and harder to fix.
The crown serves many functions, namely keeping out rainwater, keeping out pests, protecting the brick and mortar structure of the chimney, and keeping stray sparks away from flammable areas like the roof.
If one or all of these functions are compromised, your chimney can become unsafe to use.
Chimney Cap Repairs
The chimney cap is often an inexpensive accessory to replace. The cap sits at the very top of the chimney over the opening, keeping rain and snow from being able to directly enter the flue.
Replacing a damaged chimney cap typically costs around $150 to $200.
Total Replacement or Removal
The cost to totally remove or replace your damaged chimney is in the ballpark of $10,000. Since your chimney is literally built into the structure of your house, taking it out requires massive rebuilding and a very long time.
Still, there may be times when you want to fully replace or remove your existing chimney.
If your chimney is simply too damaged to continue using, you will have no choice but to replace it. However, if you wish to switch your traditional wood fireplace to an electric fireplace, you may also want to remove your chimney since it no longer serves a function.
You may also want to replace a cheap chimney with one of a better material, for example replacing stucco with red brick.
Repairing Wood Rot
Wood rot occurs when the internal wood structure of your house has been exposed to water and is beginning to rot. Rotted wood cannot be repaired, only replaced.
Wood rot will actively progress, so you should make sure to get it taken care of as quickly as possible.
Small scale wood repairs can cost as low as $100, but serious repairs may cost $2,000 to $4,000 or even require fully replacing the entire chimney.
Repairing a Leaning Chimney
In some extreme cases, you may even find your chimney beginning to lean in some direction.
A tilted chimney indicates a problem with the foundation, and will usually require structural repair.
In some cases, the repair person may be able to redo the horizontal mortar joints to secure the chimney upright against your house. This kind of repair work can cost around $3,000.
If your chimney needs restructuring but you don’t want to pay to have the whole thing rebuilt, you may be able to do something called tuckpointing.
It means replacing the old mortar between the bricks with new, fresh material. If the bricks of your chimney themselves are not damaged, this method can be far cheaper.
It also allows you to focus on the portion of the chimney most in need or repair, rather than having to replace the entire thing.
How Long Will it Take to Repair My Chimney?
Many chimney inspectors are prepared to make minor repairs on site. For example, if your inspector comes and notices some very minor cracking, they will likely be able to repair it right then and there in only a few minutes.
More complex repairs may take a week or more. The time required also depends on the accessibility of your roof and the weather.