Chimneys tend to be very heavy and are one of the most vulnerable of all building components. Chimney collapse can cause injury and death. Collapse can also cause damage to surrounding buildings or homes. Preventing chimney collapse may be accomplished through home inspection and maintenance.
Nature is often blamed for chimney collapses. High winds and earthquakes are both responsible for collapses. During earthquakes hundreds of chimneys can collapse completely without warning. Even partial collapses can cause injuries and extensive damage. In San Diego, frequent home inspection will need to be done to consistently assess the condition of the chimney.
During the chimney inspection process the following defects will be noted if present:
- Crumbled mortar between the bricks
- Lack of lateral support, or support that is insufficient
- Tilting or any gap that would indicate that the chimney may separate from the structure
- Undersized or deteriorated footings
If any problems are found they will need to be repaired. Weak areas will need to be strengthened, and extra support added if needed. Chimneys that are in extremely poor condition may need to be torn down and completely replaced. As a precaution, play areas for children and patios should never be located near the chimney.
Note that the fireplace should not be used if the chimney is tilted or leaning. This could prevent smoke from escaping as it should. San Diego residents are advised to not use the chimney after an earthquake until it has been cleared for use by a qualified home inspector.
Though chimney collapses are quite common during earthquakes, they are not all that common at other times. This does not mean that your chimney is completely safe. Consider having a chimney inspection done periodically so that any potential problems can be addressed right away. Note that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommend a Level II chimney inspection whenever a home is sold. Learn more by visiting their respective websites.