For many homeowners, fireplace season means warming cold toes by a crackling fire, safe from the strong winds and chilly weather that fall brings. However, without a proper chimney cap, the fireplace could provide no such haven—homeowners may be forced to deal with rain and snow in the home, animals looking for shelter, and potential chimney fires.
Do I Need a Chimney Cap?
There’s no reason why a homeowner would want to avoid capping their chimney. Chimney caps are a must-have if you want to keep out the following:
Without a proper cap, your chimney leaves a square foot (or larger) hole in your roof, making your home vulnerable to the elements. For example, if Mother Nature puts a two-inch downpour on your house, and there’s not a chimney cap, you get two inches of rain inside your chimney. Additionally, wind can create problems in the home if your chimney is not adequately protected by a cap; persistent drafts may cause you frustration and wasted money on heating bills. Instead of inviting stormy skies and cold air into your living room, consider a cap for your chimney.
What to buy: A basic chimney cap will prevent rain or snow from getting inside your home. Special wind-resistant caps can also be installed if your home has a problem with downdrafts. Homeowners can choose to connect a spring-activated cable to the fireplace’s damper that will create a weatherproof seal.
Even if you live in a climate that experiences very little snow or heavy rain, capping your chimney is still a good decision. Without a cap, you will most likely have to ward off critters looking to set up camp in your chimney. Your typical chimney crashers are birds, squirrels, and raccoons.
Not only do raccoons make bad roommates, but the nesting materials create a fire hazard by inhibiting proper ventilation through your flue. There are two primary openings on the top of your chimney for ventilation. One opening vents the fireplace. The other vents your furnace or your boiler and hot water tank. A nest that blocks this ventilation will quickly become a hazard.
What to buy: Consider getting a cap that not only protects against weather, but also comes equipped with a protective screening that will prevent animals from getting into your chimney.
Inspecting Your Chimney
Whether you have bought a brand-new home or simply a home that’s new to you, you will want to have your chimney inspected before using the fireplace. Most new homeowners don’t necessarily have a documented history of maintenance on their fireplace or chimney. They don’t know the last time it’s been cleaned. It’s kind of like getting a car when you don’t know the last time it’s gotten an oil change.
So how can you determine whether or not you need to have a chimney cap installed? Most chimney caps are visible from the ground, but you won’t know whether or not your cap is rusted over or damaged until a professional takes a look. Only then can a professional tell you if you need a chimney cap replacement.
Choosing the Right Cap
If selected and installed correctly, chimney caps can last the lifetime of your home.
What caps tend to fail over time? Galvanized steel caps will be subject to peeling paint and rusting. Those are the ones that are usually found in people’s backyards as they have blown off from the wind because the attachment screws have rusted and failed. Instead of putting a ticking time bomb atop your chimney, consider having a contractor install a stainless steel cap. They not only look brand-new 20 years down the road, but they also require little maintenance and can save homeowners money long-term on energy bills.
If you have a chimney and fireplace system that’s been manufactured, all of its components are designed to work safely and efficiently together, including the chimney cap. The cap on a prefab chimney would be determined in specifications by the manufacturers. But, it is not uncommon for a prefab cap to be blown off in a storm or damaged from rust, depending on the material of the cap. Hiring a chimney professional can help you determine the right manufacturer and the proper replacement cap.
The size of the opening atop your chimney, known as the flue size, will determine the type of cap that you need. A professional can take these measurements for you and install the correctly sized cap.
Custom chimney caps
While caps can be as simple as a stainless steel box, you have an array of design options when it comes to customizing your chimney cap. Many homeowners have multi-flue caps that have been custom-designed. If you want to match design accents and accessories on your roof, you can find many manufacturers that deal in decorative caps and other popular choices, such as copper caps.
Installing a Chimney Cap
Even the most intrepid homeowners should be wary of installing chimney caps themselves. Not only do hardware stores carry a limited selection of chimney caps, but chimney cap installation must be done in a very unforgiving environment. Removing a rusted cap on a two - or three-story house can be challenging, although most chimney capping installations are fairly simple. Professionals will carry the common sizes on their truck. Unless you need a custom chimney cap, appointments typically take under two hours.
Having a proper chimney cap is just one part of practicing chimney safety for your home. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) also recommends having your chimney inspected once a year. In addition, having your chimney cleaned annually by a certified chimney sweep who can accurately gauge creosote buildup and assess any potential problems is essential. With a capped, clean chimney, you’ll be more than ready for fireplace season.