Those are always words that will send a shiver up your spine. After all most of the time you are relying on a professional who knows his business. Or does he?
I have been sweeping chimneys since 1980 and have seen my share of cracked chimneys. When I started out I was really concerned about all those hairline cracks I was seeing and dutifully alerted the homeowners to what I thought was an imminent danger. But over the years of cleaning the same chimneys and noticing no difference in the hairline cracks, it has made me rethink the way I approach the subject.
If you go exactly by the book, yes, any crack must be repaired, even hairline cracks. And this opens the door up to “professionals” with concerns other than the best of the customer.
I was brought to tears many years ago when I cleaned a customer’s chimney in my hometown. I had moved from there but came back to clean a chimney for an old friend who happened to be her neighbor. He said she wanted her chimney cleaned too. When I first cleaned her chimney her husband was still alive and I noted hairline cracks on my inspection report but otherwise it was in good shape. When I returned I noticed the chimney had been relined. I asked the elderly widow about it and she said she hired a chimney sweep to clean it and he advised her it had numerous cracks and was very dangerous. From what I saw it looked the same as when I first cleaned it. I told her I thought she had been ripped off. We both sat down and cried together.
I took that personally as I was the first chimney sweep in that part of the country and someone else came along a ripped off my customers. An elderly widow no less. It doesn’t get any lower than that in my book.
I am apparently not alone in my thoughts about hairline cracks in chimneys either. One of the industry bibles is Jay Shelton’s “Solid Fuels Encyclopedia”. On page 81 concerning hairline cracks Jay says, “Dangerously large cracks are rare but do occur….Small hairline cracks are common, and a chimney can have a good many of them without being seriously weakened or leaky. But repeated chimney fires cause gradual deterioration.” He continues to say, “…with reasonably careful inspection of a chimney before use, and most importantly, reasonably careful operation and maintenance of the system(not overfiring the appliance, and keeping the chimney clean), problems are very unlikely to arise.'”
So one of the foremost experts in the field says hairline cracks are of little concern if monitored. But he does say let an expert look at it first. And that is where we come in.
A little common sense will go a long way here. Hairline cracks are just that, hairline-not cracked enough to leave a gap. If you have any doubt about the crack have it looked at by an honest, reputable sweep. In slower times or times when business is not great is when we hear of a lot of these reports. Hungry sweeps seem to find a lot of things wrong with chimneys.
So if you note hairline cracks in your chimney ask us to have a look at it and let us monitor them from year to year.