If you have a wood burning fireplace, then you have a chimney that you need to care for. You probably have it cleaned once a year to reduce the risk of fire hazard, but do you ever examine it for signs that it is breaking down and needs to be repaired? Your chimney is not indestructible, and it will require repairs over time. You should know a few of the signs that show your chimney is in need of repair.
If you notice loose, white powder scattered all over your chimney, then it is time to have it repaired. The coating of white powder is called efflorescence. The white stains are an indication that moisture is trapped deep inside the bricks and is pushing out salt, which gives the white stain when it's exposed to the air. Although it is rather simple for you to clean off these white stains, usually they come off with soap and water, you need to contact a chimney repair professional to get to the root of why efflorescence is occurring. If you don't, your chimney will start to gradually break down.
The mortar is the glue that holds the bricks of your chimney together. If your mortar starts to crumble and break off, it is usually due to excessive moisture. If too much of your mortar starts to break down, the bricks in your chimney can start to become loose and even work themselves out of the chimney completely. You need to locate the source of the moisture and prevent it from seeping in, and then re-mortar the areas that are crumbling and breaking down.
Although your actual brick chimney shouldn't ever have rust problems, rust can be found in your metal dampener and in your fire box. If you notice that either of these items has started to rust, that most likely means that moisture is present in your chimney. Moisture should not be found anywhere within your chimney. If you notice that these things are rusted, you need to find the source of the moisture, cut it off and then have the rusted parts of your chimney replaced.
If you have noticed any, or all, of these signs in your chimney, it is time for you to call up a chimney repair professional, such as those at Victoria Steve's Masonry Service. They will be able to better assess the damage, as well as make any repairs to get your chimney back in tip-top shape.