Split brick chimney in a basement (C) Daniel Friedman What to Do About Splitting or Collapsing Brick Chimneys

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This article describes a collapsing brick chimney and gives simple advice for immediate life-safety measures to be taken in the building. Readers should also see CHIMNEY COLLAPSE Risks, Repairs.

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Split Openings in Brick Chimneys & Chimney Collapse Risk

Watch out: Chimneys with splitting or movement such as that shown in our photographs below should not be patched, repaired, or re-lined. Nor can this chimney be used safely, not even for a moment. The chimney structure, material, and probably its footings are or were inadequate and unsafe. A chimney tear-down and replacement are in order. In some cases by converting a heating system to a direct-vent flue it may be possible to cut the costs of this repair in half.

Split brick chimney in a basement (C) Daniel Friedman Split brick chimney in a basement (C) Daniel Friedman

Inspect chimneys carefully throughout the building for evidence of holes, cracks, or damage, but pay special attention to brick chimneys that may split and actually break apart in their lowest sections.

We suspect that the combination of the heavy weight of a very tall brick masonry flue combined with the use of soft bricks and construction that used only a single brick width to form the thickness of the chimney caused the severe splitting of the brick masonry flue shown in these two basement photos.

This damage pattern is more likely to be found on single-wythe thick brick chimneys than on chimneys built with multiple thickness of bricks forming the chimney wall.

This chimney was in use and was very dangerous. The hazards of a split brick chimney include at least these:

  • Risk of sudden catastrophic collapse of the whole chimney, injuring occupants and damaging the building. See Chimney Collapse Hazards & Chimney Support & Bracing Requirements.
  • Potentially fatal carbon monoxide gas leakage in the building
  • A fire risk from sparks that could fly out of the chimney split
  • Inadequate chimney draft (due to the split which admits excess air into the chimney base) which in turn causes improper and unsafe operating of heating equipment venting through this chimney, including the production of carbon monoxide.
  • FAQs below discusses field reports of problems & solutions for this topic


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