Photograph of a brick chimney separating from the building. Chimney Leaning, Building Separation, Movement
Inspection, Diagnosis, Repair

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Chimney leaning or separation diagnosis:

This article describes the detection and diagnosis of leaning or separating chimneys that have moved away from their building. Because a moving masonry chimney is likely to be unsafe, risking fire and carbon monoxide gas hazards, inspectors and building owners need to be alert for clues indicating that the chimney has moved or is experiencing ongoing movement. Expert chimney evaluation and repair are required.

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Chimney Leaning, Building Separation, Movement - Outdoors

Photograph of a curved chimney separating from a building, viewed from outside (C) Daniel Friedman Chimney inspection from ground level (C) Daniel Friedman

The first photo at above left shows even from a distance that the chimney is curved, so we'd be alert for flue damage or for evidence that the chimney has separated from the building. Any movement in a masonry chimney risks damage to its interior liner and could be a safety concern.

A chimney may appear to curve away from the building at mid-height (above left) when it has not been properly secured to the building with lateral support.

Curved brick masonry chimneys may also be caused by a combination of lacking an interior flue liner and sulphation - a process we describe in detail at  CURVED BRICK CHIMNEYS, SULPHATION.

The second photo at above right shows a chimney to viewed from the ground, with our camera zoomed, and photographed during a rainstorm - not an unusual inspection conation. We can see some incomplete repairs to a brick at the chimney top and other spalled, loose bricks. This chimney needs further inspection and probably some repairs, as well as a rain cap.

The condition of the top exterior section of the chimney and the exposed flue liner will generally reveal the soundness of the chimney above the roof line. The exterior of the upper portion of a chimney can be seen from the ground level though not in detail.

Below we begin our photos and detailed investigation of evidence of chimneys that are cracked, leaning, or separated from their building. We identify clues indicating chimney movement, evaluate the extent of chimney movement, the probability of internal flue damage (an unsafe condition and a fire and carbon monoxide hazard), the probable cause of chimney separation and movement, and the chimney repairs that are needed.

Photograph of a brick chimney separating from the building. Photograph of a brick chimney separating from the building.

Chimney Movement detected outdoors: movement such as curving (see CURVED BRICK CHIMNEYS, SULPHATION) or leaning or separation from the building, especially in masonry chimneys, can cause damage to the flue liner or openings that might admit sparks (fire risk) or gases (carbon monoxide hazards) into the building structure or even into occupied spaces.

The photographs just above show a chimney which probably lacked a good footing, possibly aggravated in its lean by roof spillage onto the area where a footing should have hold the chimney steady. Movement at both of these chimneys has been significant, the chimney interior and fireplace are likely to be damaged and unsafe, and major repairs are needed.

Goofy Moving Chimney Repairs and Attempts to Hide Chimney Movement

Photograph of a brick chimney separating from the building.

Attempts to hide chimney movement can be dangerous since if there is a safety problem the building owner or inspector may not pick up its clues.

The fresh and thick band of caulk between the chimney and the wall as shown in this photograph were traced to a chimney separation that had been "repaired" simply by more caulking at the wall.

Because caulk is flexible, if it has been recently applied caulking may hide an ongoing chimney movement problem. But even if the chimney is no longer moving (or we think it is not moving) an inspection for flue safety and fireplace safety are essential.

The observation of evidence of movement in chimneys was introduced at CHIMNEY INSPECTION from GROUND and continues here in detail. Readers should also be sure to review additional chimney moment and hazards discussed at CHIMNEY COLLAPSE RISKS, REPAIRS.

This article series on diagnosing cracked, leaning, or moving chimneys includes a series of detailed diagnostic articles on diagnosing chimney cracks and movement: Chimney Movement - Causes, then CHIMNEY MOVEMENT, ONGOING vs STATIC where we describe determining whether chimney movement is ongoing.

at CHIMNEY LEANING, SEPARATION, MOVEMENT: OUTDOORS, we explain how to spot outdoor clues of dangerous masonry chimney leanign or movement.

Readers should also be sure to review  CHIMNEY COLLAPSE RISKS, REPAIRS.

For help understanding the significance of smaller cracks in chimneys see CHIMNEY CRACK DETECTION & DIAGNOSIS and  CURVED BRICK CHIMNEYS, SULPHATION which provide other examples of cracking, moving masonry.


Chimney Leaning, Damage, Repair Articles


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