Does your chimney need a cap?
No, we are not talking about a casual snapback or an elegant bowler (even though that would look pretty funny). A chimney cap is essentially a “lid” that is installed on the chimney’s flue and often looks like a tiny, metal house. The cap consists of a flat, angled, or rounded roof and the four walls are made of metal wire-mesh. Chimney caps can be constructed out of a variety of metals, although the most popular choices are copper, aluminum, galvanized steel and stainless steel.
If your chimney doesn’t already have a cap, we strongly recommend that you get one installed as soon as possible, and not just because they can add beauty or character to your chimney. They also serve three practical—and very important—purposes:
Keep Out Critters
We will start with an obvious one: having a chimney cap can prevent animals from nesting in your chimney or using it as an access point into your home. Birds, squirrels, bats and raccoons are often drawn to the chimneys in human homes because they provide heat and shelter from the elements. Unfortunately, it is often much easier for an animal to get inside the chimney than it is for them to get out, so it is not uncommon for animals to become trapped inside their new living space. This, combined with the smoke inhalation and excessive heat hazards that are created when an unsuspecting homeowner decides to use their fireplace, means that a live animal staying inside the chimney can quickly turn into a dead animal decomposing inside the chimney! It is a gruesome—or at least extremely unpleasant—situation for a homeowner to be in.
When a chimney cap is in place, access to the chimney is denied to any “furry friends” who find themselves on your roof. While animals might still flock to the chimney so they can warm their paws or inspect any interesting smells wafting out from the fireplace, they will quickly figure out that the chimney is not a good location for a nest or new home. Eventually, they will give up and move on.
Water, Water, Everywhere
Although chimneys are designed to endure various weather conditions, they are certainly not impenetrable. During rainstorms, water can drip down the chimney’s flue, and the moisture is more than capable of damaging the “body” of the chimney (that is, the brick and mortar), the damper and even the firebox. Water can also seep into your attic, ceilings and walls, causing problems there. If you are the type to store keepsakes and other items in your attic, an unchecked drip-drip-drip every time it rains can completely ruin these irreplaceable belongings.
Water damage is particularly sinister because it usually flies “under the radar” until a massive amount of damage has been done. Thus, once a homeowner realizes that something is amiss, cleaning up and fixing the problem is usually complicated and costly. Installing a chimney cap now instead of waiting until you notice water on your hearth, can save you from having to pay an arm and a leg when things go wrong!
Keep it Clear
Like rain gutters, chimneys can occasionally become clogged with debris like leaves, sticks and even trash caught by the wind. And while most people think to clean their gutters every once in a while (or at least pay a professional to do so, since the process can be pretty disgusting), it is very common for homeowners to completely forget about checking their chimney for foreign objects. That is bad, because refuse lodged where it shouldn’t be can prevent your chimney from working properly. At best, you will just have problems with the damper letting warm air escape when the chimney’s not in use. At worst, though, a clogged chimney can be a fire hazard (when debris ignites and creates dangerous sparks) or a smoke inhalation hazard (when smoke and other gasses from the fireplace can’t escape upward).
Fortunately, the same wire mesh that keeps out animals can also block the paths of various debris. While air and smoke will easily pass through the grating, any leaves, sticks and wayward pieces of garbage will be stopped in their tracks. This is just another example of chimney caps preventing damage—whether minor or major—to your home! Meanwhile, if you have reason to believe that something is clogging your chimney (whether it be natural or man-made), do not use the fireplace until the issue has been resolved.
Now, one thing to keep in mind is that having a chimney cap doesn’t mean that your chimney will never have problems. It also doesn’t mean that you can have the cap installed and then “forget” about the chimney entirely. Like all things related to your home, your chimney should receive regular maintenance—remember to have it professionally inspected at least once a year. A cap, however, is a great tool for reducing your risk having chimney issues. And it is one that we strongly recommend at Chimney and Wildlife Specialist!