Your fireplace should be a safe place to build a fire, whether you want it for warmth or just comfort. Yet, it can also pose a hazard if it is in need of repairs. The following are three things to inspect every year before using the fireplace. If you spot any damage, call a chimney repair and restoration service for more help.
The mortar is the cement-like material that holds the chimney bricks together. Generally, mortar is not quite as durable as the bricks themselves, so it tends to begin cracking and crumble long before you need to replace the chimney. If you notice cracks, crumbling, or missing mortar, the chimney is at risk of collapse, and the fireplace should not be used. The good news is that you don't necessarily need to replace the chimney. A repair person can remove the old mortar and replace it with new mortar, giving your chimney a facelift and a new lease on life.
Spalling is what occurs when moisture penetrates the surface of a brick. The moisture then freezes and expands in cold weather, causing the surface of the bricks to flake. Not only is this unattractive, but it also weakens the bricks and can make the chimney unsafe to use. Unfortunately, there is no repair for a spalled brick—the only option is to replace any that have become damaged. Going forward, have a masonry sealant applied every few years to prevent the issue from happening again.
The firebox and chimney liner are what ensures fire and embers in the fireplace and chimney stay there and do not get into your walls or cause a chimney fire. If the liner is cracked or damaged in any way, it is very risky to continue to use the fireplace. If you have a tiled flue, you may see bits of tile or masonry in the firebox. This is the flue liner degrading and crumbling apart. Solid metal liners are generally resistant to damage, but they still should be checked annually for cracks. You may need to have a new liner installed to solve the problem. Issues with the damper or flue should also be checked. Rust, for example, can cause a damper to become stuck shut or open, which can be problematic if you don't get it fixed.
Catching damage early isn't just necessary for safety; it also increases the chances that you will only need to repair the chimney rather than just replacing it.