A Chimney Challenge

Small Home Gazette, Winter 2016

A Chimney Challenge

Two decades of avoided maintenance end in a small emergency

Light fixture

Rainwater was running down this kitchen light fixture and onto the counter below.

I’ve known there was something wrong with my bungalow’s chimney for most of the 20 years I’ve lived here. I just didn’t do anything about it until, during a heavy rainstorm last fall, I noticed a pool of water on the kitchen counter. Above it, a section of the ceiling was glistening, and water was running down a pendant light fixture, streaming off the edge of the glass shade. I dashed up into my unfinished attic and saw water running down one side of the chimney, starting at the roof decking and disappearing into the insulation on the floor.

Before this incident, the only time I thought about the chimney was when water occasionally appeared in the basement around its base after a drenching rain. It didn’t do any harm down there, so I’d mop it up, fret for a few minutes, and move on. But the mini-waterfall in the kitchen spurred me to action.

Where to Turn?


My chimney needed help—mortar was missing, bricks were loose, and the top was wide open, admitting a lot of rain. The pipe emerging from the top vented the hot water heater in the basement.

Having no idea where to find a reputable chimney repair company, I turned to the Internet. There I found several local companies claiming chimney and fireplace expertise. Judging them solely by their websites, some seemed to specialize in homes far more extravagant than mine, and some seemed more approachable.

I finally settled on Blue Sky Chimney Sweeps. According to their website, they are a family-owned business with two decades of experience; are certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America; and are a member of the National Chimney Sweeps Guild. (I imagined the entire family dressed like Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins.”) They’re also accredited by the Better Business Bureau. Okay, good enough. I needed to get the problem fixed.

Up on the Roof

Inside the chimney.

Inside, the clay chimney liner and crumbled and collapsed. At least the weed was doing well, thanks to all the rainwater.

After a telephone consultation and a $360 deposit paid over the phone by credit card, Blue Sky sent a friendly young man to inspect my chimney. The next day, employee Dave Lambert emailed the bad news: the brick and mortar of the chimney stack above the roofline was damaged and decayed, and the clay flue liner had crumbled and partially collapsed. And, wrote Dave, “There is no crown—or ‘roof’—to the chimney, so tons of water leaks in.”

I pictured my chimney as a giant rain gauge, gulping down untold gallons of water over a 20-year period. I do not recommend my course of inaction to other homeowners.

Chimney with cap and vent.

After brick and mortar repairs, a masonry cap with a vent was installed to keep moisture out. I now sleep a little better at night, knowing it’s up there.

Dave estimated the repair would cost between $1,600 and $1,800. I gave the go-ahead, and Dave said they’d bump my project up their job board because of the water intrusion issue. A week or so later while I was at work, masons came and repaired my chimney’s brick and mortar; then added a crown with a capped vent.

I had assumed I’d be making several trips to the rooftop over the course of the project to survey the damage and inspect the repairs, but Blue Sky emailed enough “before” and “after” photos that I didn’t bother.

The total cost, including the original deposit: $1,800. I felt it was a fair price, though I admit I have no point of reference—just peace of mind.

Rain Redux

A week or two later, during another heavy rain, the pool of water reappeared on the kitchen counter. Water was once again running down the light fixture. Blue Sky sent someone out to inspect the situation and explained that there might be an issue with the metal flashing around the base of the chimney stack. The flashing dates to a couple of years ago when I’d had my roof re-shingled. Had the roofers not sealed it properly back then? It’s possible.

Photo of sealant at chimney base.

An “elastomeric sealant” was applied at the chimney’s base.

At any rate, Blue Sky sent workers out again, who applied what they called an “elastomeric sealant” around the chimney base. It isn’t pretty, but at least it’s up there out of sight, and they didn’t charge extra for it. The end result? No more waterfalls.

Plaster and Paint

The only remaining issue is the water damage to the kitchen ceiling. Surprisingly, it’s not bad—the plaster isn’t sagging, and it’s not “crunchy.” But that may be because the ceiling is reinforced.

Within a year or two of purchasing my bungalow, I had extensive repair work done to its plaster walls and ceilings. I’d read in old-house magazines about a product called Nu-Wal Plaster Restoration System. It consists of a thin fiberglass mat applied with a liquid acrylic coating. When dry, it creates a tough, stable, paintable surface. I highly recommend it.

If my kitchen ceiling had just the original plaster and lath, the water baths probably would have caused extensive damage, perhaps even falling plaster. With the Nu-Wal coating, however, the only visible issue is cracks in the paint, which aren’t noticeable unless one looks up directly at it.


Blue Sky Chimney Sweeps

Nu-Wal Plaster Restoration System

Chimney photos courtesy of Blue Sky Chimney Sweeps.