Nailing It Down: Is your chimney ready for winter?

Well we’re officially into autumn now and it feels like it! But never fear, there’s still plenty of time to get your home buttoned up for the cold season ahead.

A couple of weeks ago we had you thinking up – to your roof. And this week we’re going to be talking about more roof-related concerns, like chimneys, vents and stove pipes.

Remember, as important as checking out all those things is, it’s certainly not worth risking your life over.

So, if you are not an able-bodied do-it-yourselfer, please call a professional to tackle these chores. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, please take extreme care. A $50 ladder stand-off is cheap insurance for sliding and ladder fall protection.


It’s important to give your chimney a little attention before the cold weather hits. Either call a professional or pick a dry day and watch your step.

What you don’t want to see are cracks in the mortar or bricks, soft mortar between the bricks, loose bricks, moss or damaged flashing and plant growth!

Can you shake the chimney at all? If any of these conditions exist, you may want to call a masonry expert.


Unsealed chimneys tend to absorb moisture like a sponge. On the Harbor, with our windy and rainy winters, it is not unusual to have chimneys that become so saturated with rainwater that they leak past the normally protective flashing and into the attic.

To prevent this absorption, you can seal your chimney with a product call Fabrishield ®. It’s simply a liquid that’s sprayed, rolled or brushed on and makes water on your chimney bead up like a waxed car.

You can find it locally or better yet, call a local masonry contractor to apply it.


You also might want to peer down your chimney before you light the first fire of the season to make sure that no industrious bird has decided to take up residence inside.

Depending on how much you use your fireplace, most fire departments recommend that you have your chimney cleaned each year to remove built-up soot and resins that could ignite in the flue and cause a fire.

If you’re not up to any of this, call a chimney sweep or masonry contractor to inspect your chimney and seal it.


Many homes have a gas, oil or wood-fired stove, furnace or pellet stove. These appliances have unique needs.

Most are usually vented through a metal type stovepipe and require regular inspections, too.

Look for soot or ash build-up, rust, pinholes, warped pipes, loose pipe connections and missing or damaged roof-caps. If any of these defects are found they should be corrected before use.

While you’re at it, if you have a gas water heater, it too should be checked. Your gas or oil company service person might be the best inspector for these applications.


Hopefully your heating appliance is not vented into one of the old “mid-wall” type chimneys. These obsolete chimneys are responsible for numerous house fires and should be removed and replaced with a modern and much safer vented-flue system.


As we mentioned last week, from the shingles themselves to fascia boards, gutters, flashings, varge boards and chimneys, it’s important to make sure all components are well maintained.

And, it doesn’t stop there. Think about “roof penetrations” for a minute.

Plumbing jacks, attic ventilation or “pot” vents, skylights, your electrical mast’s weather collar, satellite dish and through-the-roof fan vents are all penetrations in the roof’s weatherproof surface. They are also major potential sources of leaks.


Let’s look at each penetration to your roof starting with the plumbing jacks.

These “jacks” are waterproof collars or boots surrounding or wrapping around each plumbing vent pipe that goes through the roof.

They are a seal to keep moisture from entering the hole made by the pipe, through your roof.

Some are made of rubber while others are made of lead.

Either way, they should be in good shape – supple, tight to the pipe and without holes or surrounded by debris, such as moss or leaves.

Next, if you have the square, plastic attic vents (called pot vents) they should be crack-free and clean. The screen inside should be intact, clean and free of rust.

Caulk any small cracks or replace the vent if a screen is rusted or big cracks are found. Again, remove any moss or debris around each vent to let the rain water flow freely by the vent.

Skylights should be cleaned and examined for any defects and of course, for moss and leaf build-up. If they are leaking, you may need a roofing expert to fix the problem.


Your electrical mast is the vertical pole (usually above your meter) where the PUD’s wires attach to the house. This is a very dangerous area for you to be doing any work!

Where the pole goes through the roof requires a weatherproof collar, like a plumbing vent “jack,” to be used to make a weather-tight connection.

Over time it can fail, but usually only needs a bit of caulk to prevent water from getting below the roof.

You may want a professional to do the looking and sealing. The wires are very high voltage and may need to be temporarily wrapped by the PUD before doing any work in that area. Call the PUD for availability of this service – think safety first.


Every moisture-producing room, including bathrooms, kitchen and laundry room should have a powered fan that directly vents to the outside.

Whether they go through the exterior wall or through the roof, all should have a weatherproof connection and a working flapper inside the vent.

Like the other vents, check their condition and turn the fans on and off to determine that the flapper works freely and closes completely.

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks® of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is the executive director. This is a non-profit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County.

Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner? Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen.