The beginner’s guide to fireplace repair

The beginner’s guide to fireplace repair

Nothing is nicer than a roaring fire on a cool autumn evening or chilly winter day. It’s no surprise that a fireplace is one of the most sought-after features buyers look for in a new home.

But a poorly maintained or damaged fireplace is more than just an eyesore that detracts from the value of your home. It can also pose a real danger to you and your family. Last year, faulty fireplaces caused over 22,000 home fires.

Here’s a look at the most common fireplace problems, what you can do to fix them, and how you can finance the project

What are the most common fireplace problems to watch for?

Unlike problems with many other features in your home, it’s not always obvious to the naked eye if there’s a serious problem with your fireplace or chimney. It’s important to be vigilant about inspecting your fireplace on a regular basis to check for hidden problems that may cause fires, permit carbon monoxide to seep into the home, or even lead to mold and rot.

Creosote buildup

Creosote is often used to treat wood burned in fireplaces. When you burn creosote-treated logs in your fireplace, they release creosote resin, which can build up on the walls of your chimney. Creosote is highly flammable; a few errant sparks from a cozy fire can cause the the walls of your chimney to ignite.

A slow-burning fire, or one that fails to burn at all, is about the only visible symptom of creosote buildup. It’s important to inspect the walls of your chimney using a flashlight and scratch at the walls to check for buildup. If the buildup is ⅛” or less in thickness, you should schedule a thorough cleaning with a chimney sweep. If the buildup is greater than ⅛” thick, stop using your fireplace immediately and call a professional right away.

Some chimney professionals suggest burning citrus or potato peels, which may help dry out the creosote resin and prevent it from catching fire. This DIY fix shouldn’t replace regular cleaning and maintenance, however.

Blockage

A chimney blockage can be caused by a buildup of leaves and debris, or even a bird’s nest, especially if you haven’t used your fireplace for a few months.

A blockage is difficult to diagnose on your own, but if you notice that your fires are smokier than usual, it’s a good idea to call a chimney repair technician to inspect for blockage. If you’re not sure where to find a qualified fireplace repair pro, BuildZoom is a great place to connect with licensed and well-recommended technicians in your area.

Cracks

Depending on how your fireplace was initially built, you could have either a tile or stainless steel lined flue. This lining experiences an intense amount of heat and stress. Tile liners are less sturdy than stainless steel ones, but both can become cracked, causing fire to break out in your home’s wooden foundation. A cracked flue can also cause carbon monoxide to leak into your home.

The masonry joints in your fireplace are another common area for cracks to develop. If they are not detected and repaired early, they can lead to structural damage in your home, which can cost several thousands of dollars to repair. You can generally spot these cracks on a visual inspection of your fireplace and chimney, or your chimney sweep may bring them to your attention during routine cleaning and maintenance.

Water leaks

Cracks in the roofline can easily lead to water damage—and potential wood rot and mold. If water seeps into the flue, it can rust out the damper, causing it to fail.

If you are a handy DIY-er, you may be able to manage these repairs on your own, but replacing the flashing and sealing the cracks may be better left to a professional.

Damaged chimney cap or crown

These structures serve two essential functions in your fireplace—they keep rain and snow from entering your home through the flue and prevent dangerous sparks from flying out of the chimney and onto your roof.

A cracked crown, which is the top level of the chimney and usually made of leftover mortar or cement, can wreak havoc on your home, especially if water gets into your home’s wooden foundation or the bricks and mortar of your chimney. Water expands when it freezes, causing larger cracks to develop in these structures, ultimately compromising the integrity of your entire fireplace and walls. Costs to repair these extensive defects can easily run into thousands of dollars.

The cap, which is like a little stainless steel rain hat protecting the flue, is significantly less expensive to replace or repair, but extremely important in protecting your fireplace from the elements.

When can I perform fireplace repairs myself and when should I call a professional?

If you are fairly handy, and you are lucky enough to spot minor cracks and leaks before they cause damage to other structures, you may be able to do these repairs on your own with a mortar repair kit and sealant.

On the other hand, given the potential for house fires and carbon monoxide seepage into your home, it’s usually a good idea to contact a professional for all but the most basic fireplace repairs.

In particular, call a chimney repair professional for any of the following issues:

  • Routine inspections. A professional knows what to look for and can spot potential dangers before they threaten your home or family.
  • Chimney cleaning. This is a very dirty and labor intensive job best left to the pros. In most cases, you’ll get a free inspection included with the cleaning service.
  • Large cracks of ¼” or more. These cracks generally indicate a more serious problem, potentially even water damage, wood rot, or mold.
  • A leaning chimney. This indicates structural damage has already occurred, and the entire chimney structure may be compromised. Don’t attempt to prop up the chimney or try other stop-gap measures; call a pro right away.

Be sure that you only use licensed chimney repair professionals, and get several estimates before you begin a major repair project. If you need help finding a qualified contractor in your area, BuildZoom can connect you with reputable chimney professionals in your area.

How much do fireplace repairs cost?

The average cost for routine fireplace repair is about $930, although repairs and maintenance costs can range between $150 and $1,700 if there is no significant structural damage.

Of course, if there is water damage, large cracks, or other structural damage in the fireplace or chimney itself, repairs can easily cost $5,000 to $7,000 or more.

Here’s a breakdown of some common fireplace repair costs:

  • Chimney sweep and inspection – $200 to $300.
  • Repairing cracks in the flue – $250 to $1,000.
  • Replacing a damaged flue liner – $2,500 to $5,000.
  • Simple chimney crown repair – up to $1,000.
  • Complete chimney crown rebuild – $2,500
  • Install new chimney cap – $250 to $700.
  • Rebuilding a firebox – $1,000 to $1,500.

If your fireplace problem has caused structural damage to the wooden structures in your home, or there is mold or rot, you can expect to add $5,000 or more to your fireplace repair costs.

What are my options for fireplace repair financing?

Fireplace maintenance and inspections are fairly inexpensive and not generally urgent, unless your fireplace is showing signs of a more serious problem like a blockage or creosote buildup. Paying cash for these minor services is usually the best way to go.

On the other hand, if you have cracks, leaks, or other more serious fireplace repair issues, and you don’t have cash on hand to repair them right away, you may want to consider your financing options.

Let Heart help you explore financing options for your fireplace repair or other renovation project.

Can I use a home improvement credit card for fireplace repair financing?

Home improvement credit cards are a great solution for those times you need a small amount of money for a short period of time. Many credit card lenders offer 0% introductory interest rates for the first 6 to 18 months after you open an account. If you can pay off your balance during the introductory term, you pay nothing in finance chargers.

If you need minor fireplace repairs, such as a simple crown repair or new chimney cap, a credit card is a good choice.

Keep in mind, however, that interest rates go up quickly after the introductory term expires, which means your payments could get uncomfortably high. If you don’t think you’ll be able to pay off the cost of your fireplace repairs during the introductory term, you may want to consider other financing options, such as a personal home improvement loan.

When should I use a zero-equity home repair loan for fireplace repairs?

If you’re looking at more extensive repairs, such as replacing a damaged flue or rebuilding your chimney crown, a personal home improvement loan may be your best option.

Most lenders offer personal home improvement loans of between $1,000 and $35,000, so you can borrow what you need to get your urgent fireplace repairs completed right away. These loans are not secured by the equity in your home, so you aren’t putting your home at risk if you can’t make your payments on time.

And they have a streamlined application process and time to funding, unlike home equity loans which can take up to six weeks to close.

Here are a few advantages of personal home improvement loans:

  • No application costs and no appraisal or inspection expenses—you pay a small loan origination fee once your loan is approved.
  • Fixed interest rates over the life of your loan, typically much lower than you would get on a home improvement credit card (after any 0% introductory term).
  • Loan terms of between 3 and 7 years so you can get the monthly payment you need and repay your fireplace repairs off quickly.
  • Fixed, reliable monthly payments so you can budget your repair costs responsibly.
  • No prepayment penalty lets you pay your loan off early if you have extra cash.
  • Fast funding—in some cases as soon as 24 hours after approval—means you can get needed repairs done right away before they pose a danger to your family and your home. In 60 seconds, you can view your loan options and start a loan request.

If your fireplace or chimney were damaged in a covered event under your homeowner’s policy, you can use a home improvement loan to quickly cover the cost of your deductible so your repair work can start as quickly as possible.

Conclusion

This guide won’t answer all of your fireplace questions. But hopefully now you have an idea of what to consider as you begin your fireplace repair. For more detailed questions, we recommend consulting a professional.