Photograph of a curved chimney separating from a building, viewed from outside. Outdoor Chimney Inspection, from the Ground
Ground-level detection of Leaning Moving or Separating Chimneys on buildings

  • CHIMNEY INSPECTION from GROUND- CONTENTS: Ground-level chimney inspections: curved, collapsing chimneys. Evidence of chimney foundation defects. Leaning, separated or cracked chimneys; missing chimney supports. Collapsing metal chimneys. How to detect chimney movement. What causes chimney movement or collapse. Other chimney defects & hazards visible by outdoor ground-level inspection. Overgrown chimneys & flues - trim back vegetation. Bird or other animal nests in or on chimneys - fire & gas hazards
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Chimney inspection points & procedures from outdoors:

This article describes chimney inspection procedures and critical chimney defects which can be observed from outdoors at ground level. We begin with the detection of chimney movement, its causes, its symptoms.

These articles continue with other chimney defects that can be found by visual inspection from outdoors at ground level, then from an on-roof inspection, followed by indoor inspections and ending with chimney-flue interior inspections.

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Chimney Inspection Procedures - Starting Outdoors

Components of a masonry chimney (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Here is a list of some (not all) common chimney defects visible from a more distant view, perhaps at ground level. Later we detail chimney defects that can best be observed from roof-level access.

[Click to enlarge any image]

We describe these and other chimney defects in detail in the following sections of this article.

Chimney Separation from House, Settlement, Leaning, Movement, Cracking

A chimney which has settled and moved away from the building is almost certainly a serious safety hazard risking fire and flue gas leaks into the structure, and it is likely to require costly repairs or complete reconstruction. Details of how to see and evaluate chimney movement and separation are provided here.

Foundation Support for Masonry Chimneys

A summary of the chimney footing problem is just below.

What happens if a chimney footing is missing or inadequate? Masonry chimneys represent a heavy concentrated load on the soil or support structure. Therefore, proper footing support is critical and is generally separated from the building footings except possibly at the exterior wall.

Chimney with no footing (C) Daniel FriedmanSome masonry chimneys are constructed with an inadequate footing, or no supporting footing whatsoever. Future settlement, movement, tipping, or separation of the chimney from the building is certainly likely in such installations.

Even a casual inspection from outside would raise the question about the absence of a footing for the chimney shown in our photo. You will notice the erosion of soil from below a little concrete skirt around the chimney base of this concrete block chimney.

Homes built upon dry-laid stone foundations may have a chimney installed with its base sitting atop the foundation wall itself. Those chimneys might be stable, but be sure to review our warnings about dead end flues that are usually in use where such chimneys were built with no extension very far below ground level.

We provide a series of articles on diagnosing chimney cracks and movement beginning at CHIMNEY MOVEMENT CAUSES, then CHIMNEY MOVEMENT, ONGOING vs STATIC where we describe determining whether chimney movement is ongoing.

We continue below with an explanation of the causes of chimney movement, followed by a demonstration of how we spot evidence that chimney movement has been ongoing. Other articles in this series outline most other chimney defects that can be found outdoors or indoors on buildings.

Other Chimney Defects Visible by Outdoor Ground-Level Inspection

Overgrown chimneys & flues - trim back vegetation

Chimney overgrown at top - fire hazard (C) Daniel Friedman Chimney completely overgrown with vines is a fire and carbon monoxide hazard (C) Daniel Friedman

Watch out: As you can certainly see from our photos above, tree, shrubbery or vine growth close to or covering a chimney can be a serious or even fatal hazard including risk of

See VINES & SHRUBS on BUILDING WALLS, CHIMNEYS for advice on removing vines from building walls and chimneys.

Bird or other animal nests in or on chimneys - fire & gas hazards from blocked chimneys

Chimney with no footing (C) Daniel Friedman

As you can certainly see from our photo (left), this chimney, located in Rabat, Morocco, serves as a home for a stork's nest. This chimney top is essentially totally blocked by highly-combustible material - a bird's nest.

Watch out: even in areas where storks are not common, other smaller birds, squirrels, and some other animals may make a smaller nest inside the chimney or its flue, presenting hazards of blocked flue, fire, and potentially fatal carbon monoxide poisoning.

Risk of Hidden Chimney Damage - hybrid structures

This next chimney shown at below left ... well we're not sure what the heck we've got here.

Wood cover on masonry chimney - unsafe (C) Daniel FriedmanWe see a fired clay masonry flue tile projecting through a flat, leaky, too small, metal chimney cap surrounded by a wood and plywood structure.

We suspected that this was a masonry chimney that had suffered frost damage.

The owner installed a new clay flue tile at the very chimney top and boxed in the masonry chimney to cover the frost-damaged chimney structure (the home was being sold).

We've got a few concerns:

See CHIMNEY CAP & CROWN DEFINITIONS for definitions of chimney rain cap, chimney cap, chimney crown, and for more examples of chimney top defects that may be visible from the ground or from an on-roof inspection.

Poorly-secured or poorly-supported factory-built chimneys risk collapse

Collapsing metalbestos chimney (C) Daniel Friedman

As you can certainly see from our photo (left), this chimney is collapsing and is unsafe. More about this chimney is found at BRACING for METAL CHIMNEYS.


Continue reading at CHIMNEY LEANING, SEPARATION, MOVEMENT: OUTDOORS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see CHIMNEY INSPECTION at ROOFTOP that describes chimney defects which may be difficult or impossible to detect from a ground-level inspection,





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