If you look at all the houses in the Upper Peninsula, you’ll see a lot of variation. But one thing that is common to almost every house in the U.P. (especially the historic homes) is a chimney. Most fireplaces today lie empty, but many Yoopers still use wood-burning stoves for heat, and a fair number of people light up their fireplace – even if it’s just for Christmas day.
The prevalence of chimneys, and especially chimneys that get regular use, presents a unique challenge for Upper Peninsula home inspections. Why? Chimneys are among the heaviest and most structurally vulnerable of all exterior components of a building. Accidents caused by their collapse can lead to death, or at the very least, cause costly structural damage to the building and its surroundings. Inspection and proper maintenance are critical safeguards against chimney collapse. Earthquakes are the number one cause of chimney collapse, but wind and other elements may also cause an already weakened chimney to collapse.
Although we don’t have to worry about earthquakes in the Upper Peninsula, our Northern climate causes chimney damage in other ways:
• The freeze-thaw cycle, which can happen dozens of times a year, causes mortar to shrink and expand. This results in cracks and reduces the stability of the chimney. Melting snow that freezes in these cracks will make them expand, causing further damage.
• Damaged chimneys increase the risk of sparks or smoke entering the living space or small building cavities, where they could start a fire.
• Birds love to make their nests in chimneys. Old nests can block air flow, causing smoke in the living area and/or chimney fires.
• Falling sticks and leaves can clog the tops of chimneys, creating blocks similar to bird nests.
Because damaged and blocked chimneys present so many hazards, you should always have your chimney inspected by a certified chimney inspector before using a fireplace for the first time. The National Fire Protection Association says, “Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary.”
Is your chimney due for an inspection?
Rich Beasley, owner of U.P. Home Inspection, LLC is an InterNACHI certified chimney inspector. We provide inspection services in Marquette, Alger, Schoolcraft, Baraga, Delta, Dickinson, Houghton, and Iron counties. Schedule your chimney inspection today for peace of mind.